Leyte Gulf: The Greatest Naval Battle in the History of the World

padresteve:

Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I am out in California on a trip I will write about sometime soon, but here is an article with links to a number of other articles that I have written about the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The battle was a result of a desperate attempt by the Japanese to defeat and throw back the American forces engaged in liberating the Philippines. Most of my writing as of late has focused on the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War as well as my own issues dealing with PTSD and moral injury. However, I have always been attracted to Naval History and the sacrifices of brave sailors no matter what navy’s flag that they fought under. I hope that you enjoy.
Peace
Padre Steve+

Originally posted on Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate:

gb_at_samar

USS Gambier Bay being attacked by Japanese Surface Forces battle 

I will break into Leyte Gulf and fight to the last man…would it not be shameful to have the fleet remaining intact while our nation perishes?” Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita – 1944

”In case opportunity for destruction of a major portion of the enemy fleet is offered, or can be created, such destruction becomes the primary task.”

Admiral Chester Nimitz – In his order to Halsey, prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf – October 1944

battle-line-leyte-gulf_life1

The Old Battleships of the 7th Fleet

Sixty-nine years ago the largest and most geographically expansive naval battle ever fought began. A few days before the forces of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific command and Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific command joined to invade and liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. It was less than three years since Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and two…

View original 730 more words

About these ads

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

The Anger of Moral Injury

IMG_0230

“I think, when one has been angry for a very long time, one gets used to it. And it becomes comfortable like…like old leather. And finally… it becomes so familiar that one can’t remember feeling any other way.” Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation, The Wounded

When I returned from Iraq in 2008 I was angry, Angry at at the trinity of evil, the politicians, pundits and preachers of the political right who I had believed, followed and trusted during the previous decades. That anger diffused itself so it was  not an all the time kind of thing but it remained, while I tried to believe that I was different then them, even though I no longer agreed with them I was just as angry as the most foul talk radio host, pundit or politician.

Jesus told us to “be angry and sin not.” Truthfully I haven’t figured out how to do that, the anger I have has become a part of me, and I really don’t like it.

My anger I believe is valid because those people betrayed not just me, but so many others in the drive to an unjust, illegal and immoral war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. A war that cost the lives of far too many Americans, not to mention our allies and the Iraqis, a war that hurt this country economically, strategically, militarily and helped build up the radicalized Islamists who had attacked us on 9-11-2001. The war was one of the most bungled, inept and disastrous moves ever launched by a political administration, despite the brave sacrifice and even battlefield successes of our troops. When I came home I found that some of the people who I had trusted in the Chaplain Corps, really didn’t care about me, just what I could do for them now, past service, sacrifice or experience be damned. I felt betrayed, that betrayal is is something that is part of what is called “moral injury.”

I was able to convince myself that even if I disagreed with them and occasionally got angry that it was not that much a part of me. But the anger remained, compounded by the very real symptoms of PTSD I always notice the comments, the lies, the and the invective spewed by these apostles of hate. I would hear them, watch them, and read what they said and the anger continued to build, and at times in absolute frustration, pain and just wanting to strike out in any way I could I occasionally launched into very angry blogs and social media posts, posts that when I read them later, or had someone point them out were embarrassing to read.

Those posts might have been justified based on how I felt, but they were not good. I am sure that I lost some friends because of them, but in some cases I still don’t feel too bad, because some of those “friends” only liked me if I agreed with them. Since I have many real friends that span the political, economic and religious spectrum, men and women that often hold radically different views than me I know that my ideology does not consume me.

What consumes me is anger at those that don’t care. those who would use me and others for their own ends and then be the first to throw us under the bus.

A couple of days ago one of those idiot, pompous and hate filled men that populate the right wing radio airwaves. a man named Michael Savage called Veterans with PTSD weak crybabies and that with such soldiers that it was no wonder ISIS was beating us. If you want to read his remarks the link is here. Coming from a man who has made his money off of those in the military, the wounded that he so savagely mocks, who has never served in uniform or put himself in harm’s way for the country does anger me.

http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/10/21/michael-savages-disgusting-rant-ptsd-and-depres/201248

When I saw it, all of the anger, all of the pain, and yes, even the hatred burst forth. On a social media network I commented that I Savage deserved to be taken out and shot and made some other unseemly remarks. Was my anger okay? Yes. Was I factual about things that he was saying and doing in what I wrote? Yes. But did my outburst made me look like as much of a hateful ass as Savage. 

A friend, a fellow combat vet and senior NCO sent me a note about it. One thing that he said cut me to the bone because he was absolutely right. He was not defending Savage at all, but he said that he didn’t like to see me, a friend that he respected “spewing hate.”  When I thought about it overnight I realized that he was right and thanked him.

Now do I care that some people think I’m an ass or disagree with my positions on various issues? Not at all, in fact there are times that admittedly I try to provoke a response just to thin out the ranks of the haters. But this went beyond that. I was wishing someone dead, but as much as I may disagree with a person, as much as I may hate everything that they stand for, as much as I think my anger is justified, saying that the man “should be taken out and shot” is inexcusable. It is no different than the very things that Savage and others like him say all the time, three hours a day five days a week.

My anger at such people and their continued lies, deceit, self justification and hatred has become comfortable as comfortable as “old leather” as Jean Luc Picard so eloquently stated. The episode of Star Trek the Next Generation episode where he said it is one that always makes me think. During the episode, the transporter Chief, Chief O’Brien tells a Cardassian officer, a representative of a still distrusted recent enemy something that was reminded of when my friend mentioned me “spewing hate” at Savage.

O’Brien told the Cardassian “It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.” 

So I still have to work through this, but once again I think that the writers of Star Trek the Next Generation have helped enlighten me about what is going on in my life. After loyally trusting and following the politicians, pundits and preachers of the right I realize that I hate what I have become because of them.

So I’ll get ready to sign off. I only had a couple of hours of sleep last night and I have been up a long time as I flew to California today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD

They Answered Every Expectation: Black Regiments in the Civil War

41_090_lg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The following is a newly added except to the first chapter of my Gettysburg Text. It is part of the chapter the “First Modern War” which I recently updated on this site. In order not to simply repost a massive article I have only posted the new material.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The war brought about another change to warfare in America. This was a societal and political and a political change that has shaped American military history, culture and life ever since. The Emancipation Proclamation gave African Americans, both Freedmen and recently freed slaves the opportunity to serve in the Union Army. The change of policy instituted by Lincoln was revolutionary as well as controversial and it had strategic implications for the war effort. There were many doubters in the north whose attitudes towards African Americans were not much different than Southerners, especially among the Copperheads.

8thUSCT_Olustee

Prior to the Emancipation some Union commanders in occupied Confederate territory “had unofficially recruited black soldiers in Kansas and in occupied portions of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1862. But the administration had not sanctioned these activities.” [1] But as the war continued on, consuming vast numbers of lives the attitude of Lincoln and the administration began to change.

Lincoln and the closest members of his cabinet were beginning to understand that the “North could not win the war without mobilizing all of its resources and striking against Southern resources used to sustain the Confederate war effort.” [2]

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton; who was a passionate believer in the justice of emancipation “Instantly grasped the military value of the proclamation. Having spent more time than any of his colleagues contemplating the logistical problems facing the army, he understood the tremendous advantage to be gained if the massive workforce of slaves could be transferred from the Confederacy to the Union.” [3]

emancipation

Lincoln emphasized the “military necessity” of emancipation and “justified the step as a “fit and necessary war measure for suppressing the rebellion.” [4] The process of emancipation now became not only a moral crusade, but now became a key part of national strategy. Lincoln wrote to his future Vice President, Andrew Johnson, then the military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of, force for restoration of the Union.” [5] The idea of simply mollifying the border states was dropped and policy changed that of “depriving the Confederacy of slave labor. Mobilizing that manpower for the Union- as soldiers as well as laborers- was a natural corollary.” [6] Reflecting President Lincoln’s and Stanton’s argument for the military necessity of emancipation, General Henry Halleck wrote to Ulysses Grant that:

“the character of the war has very much changed within the past year. There is now no possibility of reconciliation with the rebels… We must conquer the rebels or be conquered by them….Every slave withdrawn from the enemy is the equivalent of a white man put hors de combat.” [7]

Grant concurred with the decision. Grant wrote to in a letter to Lincoln after the assault on Battery Wagner “by arming the negro we have added a powerful ally. They will make good soldiers and taking them from the enemy weakens him in the same proportion as it strengthens us.” [8] Lincoln wrote after the Emancipation Proclamation that “the emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.” [9] The change was a watershed in both American history as well as the future of the U.S. Military services.

Emancipation allowed for the formation of regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT), mustered directly into Federal service, which in numbers soon dwarfed the few state raised Black Regiments. However, it was the the inspiration provided by those first state raised regiments as well as the violence directed against Blacks in the draft riots helped to provoke “many northerners into a backlash against the consequences of violent racism.” [10] The valor of the state regiments, as well as the USCT units that managed to get into action was remarkable, especially in regard to the amount of discrimination levied at them by some northerners, and the very real threat of death that they faced of captured by Confederates.

In May of 1863 Major General Nathaniel Banks dared to send the First and Third Regiments of “Louisiana Native Home Guard regiments on a series of attacks on Confederate positions at Port Hudson, Louisiana” [11] where they received their baptism of fire. They suffered heavy losses and “of the 1080 men in the ranks, 271 were hit, or one out of every four.” [12] Banks said of them in his after action report: “They answered every expectation…In many respects their conduct was heroic…The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leave upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success.” [13]

negro-regiment-54th-ma

But the most famous African American volunteer regiment was the 54th Massachusetts, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the “North’s showcase black regiment.” [14] Raised in Boston and officered by many men who were the sons of Boston’s blue blood abolitionist elite, the regiment was authorized in March 1863. Since there was still opposition to the formation of units made up of African Americans, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the formation of the 54th under the command of white officers, a practice that with few exceptions, became standard in the U.S. military until President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948. Governor Andrew was determined to ensure that the officers of the 54th were men of “firm antislavery principles…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” [15]

220px-WilliamCarney

Sergeant William H Carney of the 54th Massachusetts

The 54th saw action first in early June and at Gould’s urging sent into battle against the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863. Leading the attack the 54th lost nearly half its men, “including Colonel Shaw with a bullet through his heart. Black soldiers gained Wagner’s parapet and held it for an hour before falling back.” [16] Though they tried to hold on they were pushed back after a stubborn fight to secure a breach in the fort’s defenses. “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” [17] For his actions at Fort Wagner Carney became the first African American awarded the Medal of Honor.

The_Storming_of_Ft_Wagner-lithograph_by_Kurz_and_Allison_1890a

Shaw was buried with his men by the Confederates and when Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.” [18] As with so many frontal attacks on prepared positions throughout the war, valor alone could not overcome a well dug in enemy. “Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments as good as white men, but that was about all.” [19]

Despite the setback, the regiment went on to further actions where it continued to distinguish itself. The Northern press, particularly abolitionists papers brought about a change in the way that many Americans in the North, civilians as well as soldiers, saw blacks. The Atlantic Monthly noted “Through the cannon smoke of that dark night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see.” [20]

Douglass.JPG

Frederick Douglass, who had two sons serving in the 54th Massachusetts, understood the importance of African Americans taking up arms against those that had enslaved them in order to win their freedom:

“Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S… let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny he has won the right to citizenship in the United States.” [21]

HD_NgroWarFL640116p264cz.preview

At the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana a training camp where two regiments of newly recruited blacks were camped was attacked by a Confederate brigade attempting to provide relief to the Vicksburg garrison was repulsed by raw, ill-armed and untrained black troops:

“Untrained and armed with old muskets, most of the black troops nevertheless fought desperately. With the aid of two gunboats they finally drove off the enemy. For raw troops, wrote Grant, the freedmen “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Dana, still with Grant’s army, spoke with more enthusiasm. “The bravery of the blacks,” he declared, “completely revolutionized the sentiment in the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who had formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express after that as heartily in favor of it.” [22]

HD_4USCinfantryDetail.preview

Soldiers of the 4th USCT Regiment 

By the end of the war 179,000 African American Soldiers, commanded by 7,000 white officers served in the Union armies. While most were confined to rear area duties or working with logistics and transportation. The policies to regulate USCT regiments to supporting tasks in non-combat roles “frustrated many African American soldiers who wanted a chance to prove themselves in battle.” [23] Many of the soldiers and their white officers argued to be let into the fight as they felt that “only by proving themselves in combat could blacks overcome stereotypes of inferiority and prove their “manhood.” [24] Even so in many places in the army the USCT and state regiments made up of blacks were scorned:

“A young officer who left his place in a white regiment to become colonel of a colored regiment was frankly told by a staff officer that “we don’t want any nigger soldiers in the Army of the Potomac,” and his general took him aside to say: “I’m sorry to have you leave my command, and am still more sorry that you are going to serve with Negroes. I think that it is a disgrace to the army to make soldiers of them.” The general added that he felt this way because he was sure that colored soldiers just would not fight.” [25]

The general of course was wrong. In the engagements they USCT units were allowed to fight, they did so with varying success most often attributable to the direction of their senior officers. When given the chance they almost always fought well, even when badly commanded, this was true even when they were thrown into hopeless situations as when Ferrero’s Division, comprised of colored troops were thrown into the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg when “that battle lost beyond all recall.” [26] They advanced in good order singing as they went, while their commander, General Ferrero took cover in a dugout and started drinking; but the Confederate defenders had been reinforced and “Unsupported, subjected to a galling fire from batteries on the flanks, and from infantry fire in front and partly on the flank,” a witness write, “they broke up in disorder and fell back into the crater.” [27] Pressed into to carnage of the crater with white troops from the three divisions already savaged by the fighting had taken cover, the “black troops fought with desperation, uncertain of their fate if captured.” [28] In the battle the division lost 1327 of just under 4000 men. [29]

When captured by Confederates, black soldiers and their white officers received no quarter from many Confederate opponents. General Edmund Kirby Smith who held overall command of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi instructed General Richard Taylor to simply execute black soldiers and their white officers: “I hope…that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma.” [30] This was not only a local policy, but echoed at the highest levels of the Confederate government. In 1862 the Confederate government issued an order that threatened white officers commanding blacks: “any commissioned officer employed in the drilling, organizing or instructing slaves with their view to armed service in this war…as outlaws” would be “held in close confinement for execution as a felon.” [31]

On April 12th 1864 at Fort Pillow, troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest massacred the bulk of over 231 Union most of them black as they tried to surrender. While it is fairly clear that Forrest did not order the massacre and even attempted to stop it, that he had lost control of his troops, who with the fury of men possessed by hatred of a lesser race slaughtered the Union troops as they either tried to surrender or flee; but he was not displeased with the result. Ulysses Grant wrote that:

“These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.

“The river was dyed,” he says, “with the blood of the slaughtered for up to 200 years. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed; but few of the officers escaped. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part that shocks humanity to read.” [32]

”The bulk of the killing was directed at the black soldiers of the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery which composed over a third of the garrison. “Of the 262 Negro members of the garrison, only 58- just over 20 percent- were marched away as prisoners; while of the 295 whites, 168- just under sixty percent were taken.” [33] A white survivor of the 13th West Tennessee Cavalry, a Union unit at the fort wrote: “We all threw down our arms and gave tokens of surrender, asking for quarter…but no quarter was given….I saw 4 white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy….These were all soldiers. There were also 2 negro women and 3 little children standing within 25 steps of me, when a rebel stepped up to the and said, “Yes, God damn you, you thought you were free, did you?” and shot them all. They all fell but one child, when he knocked it in the head with the breech of his gun.” [34]A Confederate Sergeant wrote home a week after the massacre: “the poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and shot down.” [35]

African American soldiers proved themselves during the war and their efforts paved the way for Lincoln and others to begin considering the full equality of blacks as citizens. If they could fight and die for the country, how could they be denied the right to votes, be elected to office, serve on juries or go to public schools? Under political pressure to end the war during the stalemate before Petersburg and Atlanta in the summer of 1864 Lincoln reacted angrily to Copperheads as well as wavering Republicans on the issue of emancipation:

“But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done.” More than 100,000 black soldiers were fighting for the Union and their efforts were crucial to northern victory. They would not continue fighting if they thought the North intended to betray them….If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive…the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept…There have been men who proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors. “I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will.” [36]

Despite this, even in the North during and after the war, blacks, including former soldiers would be discriminated against sometimes by the white men that they served alongside. Those rights would be fought for another century and what began in 1863 with the brave service and sacrifice of these African American soldiers began a process of increased civil rights that is still going on today. It would not be until after the war that some blacks were commissioned as officers in the Army. When Governor John Andrew, the man who had raised the 54th Massachusetts attempted to:

“issue a state commission to Sergeant Stephen Swails of the 54th…the Bureau of Colored Troops obstinately refused to issue Swails a discharge from his sergeant’s rank, and Swails promotion was held up until after the end of the war. “How can we hope for success to our arms or God’s blessing,” raged the white colonel of the 54th, Edward Hallowell, “while we as a people are so blind to justice?” [37]

8512218

Lieutenant Stephen Swails 

In the South, politicians and many senior Confederate Officers fought against any allowance for blacks to serve, for they knew if they allowed this, that slavery itself must be swept away. Despite this a few such as General Patrick Cleburne, an Irish immigrant, a non-slave owner who commanded a division in the Army of Tennessee demonstrated the capacity for forward thinking in terms of race, blacks serving as soldiers and emancipation.

fig25

Major General Patrick Cleburne 

Cleburne, known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” was a bold fighter who put together a comprehensive plan. He noted that the Confederacy was losing the war because it did not have soldiers, that it did not have supplies or resources and most significantly that “slavery, from being one of our chief sources of strength at the beginning of the war, has now become in a military point of view, one of our chief sources of weakness.” [38] Cleburne recommended that “we immediately commence training a large reserve of the most courageous of our slaves, and further that we guarantee freedom within a reasonable time to every slave in the South who shall remain to the confederacy in this war.” [39]

His proposal was radical. He was asking more from his fellow Southerners than they could risk. He was “asking them to surrender the cornerstone of white racism to preserve their nation” [40] and he presented it in stark terms that few could stomach “As between the loss of independence and the loss of slavery, we can assume that every patriot will freely give up the latter- give up the Negro slave rather than be a slave himself.” [41]

In January 1864 General W.H.T Walker obtained a copy of Cleburne’s proposal and sent it to Davis. Walker opposed it and expressed his outrage over it, rather than being a military matter it was now a political matter and Davis intervened to quash the proposal. “Convinced that the “propagation of such opinions” would cause “discouragements, distraction, and dissention” in the army, Jefferson Davis ordered the Generals to stop discussing the matter…The only consequence of Cleburne’s action seemed to be the denial of promotion to this ablest of the army’s division commanders, who was killed ten months later at the Battle of Franklin.” [42] In fact Cleburne was “passed over for command of an army corps and promotion to lieutenant general” three times in the next eight months, and in “each care less distinguished, less controversial men received the honors.” [43] All copies of Cleburne’s proposal were destroyed by the order of Davis.

Cleburne was not the only military man to advocate the formation of Negro units or even emancipation. Robert E. Lee was one of the chief proponents of this. Lee said after the war that he had told Davis “often and early in the war that the slaves should be emancipated, that it was the only way to remove a weakness at home and to get sympathy abroad, and divide our enemies, but Davis would not hear of it.” [44]

Ten months later Davis raised the issue of arming slaves as he now believed that military necessity left him little choice. He was opposed by some of his closest political allies including Howell Cobb who warned “The day that you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” [45] Lee wrote to a member of Virginia’s legislature “we must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced on our social institutions…” and he pointed out that “any act for the enrolling of slaves as soldiers must contain a “well digested plan of gradual and general emancipation”: the slaves could not be expected to fight well if their service was not rewarded with freedom.” [46]

The debate began in earnest in the fall of 1864 and revealed a sharp divide in the Confederacy between those who supported the measure and those against it. Cabinet members such as Judah Benjamin and a few governors “generally supported arming the slaves.” [47] They were opposed by the powerful governors of Georgia and North Carolina, Joe Brown and Zebulon Vance as well as the president-pro tem of the Confederate Senate R.M.T. Hunter, who forcibly opposed the measure. Led by Governor “Extra Billy” Smith Virginia’s General Assembly voted “to permit the arming of slaves but included no provision for emancipation, either before or after military service.” [48]

Finally in March of 1865 the Confederate Congress passed by one vote a watered down measure to allow for the recruitment of slaves. It stipulated that “the recruits must all be volunteers” [49] and those who volunteered must also have “the approbation of his master by a written instrument conferring, as far as he may, the rights of a freed man.” [50] While this in itself was a radical proposition for a nation which had went to war to maintain slavery, the fact was that the slave’s service and freedom were granted not by the government, but by his owner, and even at this stage of the war, few owners were willing to part with their property. It was understood by many that giving freedom to a few was a means of saving the “particular institution.” The Richmond Sentinel noted during the November debate: “If the emancipation of a part is the means of saving the rest, this partial emancipation is eminently a pro-slavery measure.” [51] Thus the law made “no mention of emancipation as a reward of military service” [52] and in deference to “state’s rights, the bill did not mandate freedom for slave soldiers.” [53]

But even the watered down measure was opposed by diehards. Robert Kean, who headed the Bureau of War and should have understood the stark reality of the Confederacy’s strategic situation, note in his diary, that the law:

“was passed by a panic in the Congress and the Virginia Legislature, under all the pressure the President indirectly, and General Lee directly, could bring to bear. My own judgment of the whole thing is that it is a colossal blunder, a dislocation of the foundations of society from which no practical results will be reaped by us.” [54]

It was Lee’s prestige alone that allowed the measure to pass, but even that caused some to question Lee’s patriotism. The Richmond Examiner dared to express a doubt whether Lee was “a ‘good Southerner’: that is, whether he is thoroughly satisfied of the justice and beneficence of negro slavery.” [55] Robert Toombs of Georgia stated that “the worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves” [56] and a Mississippi congressman stated that “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves.” [57] On March 23rd 1865 the War Office issued General Order Number 14, which authorized the call up and recruitment of slaves to the Confederate cause and on March 25th two companies were formed for drill in Richmond’s Capitol Square and as they did so to the sounds of fifes and drums, “Small boys jeered and threw rocks” [58] at them. None of those few volunteers would see action as within a week the Confederate government had fled Richmond.

But some would see that history was moving, and attitudes were beginning to change. It took time, and the process is still ongoing. As imperfect as emancipation was and though discrimination and racism remained, African Americans had reached “levels that none had ever dreamed possible before the war.” [59] In April 1865 as Jefferson Davis and his government fled Richmond, with Davis proclaiming “again and again we shall return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.” [60]

richmond

Entering Richmond 

The irony in Davis’s empty vow was stunning, with a week Lee had surrendered and in a month Davis himself would be in a Federal prison. The Federal troops who led the army into Richmond came from General Godfrey Weitzel’s Twenty-fifth Corps, of Ord’s Army of the James. The Every black regiment in the Army of the James was consolidated in Weitzel’s Corps, along with Ferrero’s former division which had suffered so badly at the Battle of the Crater. “Two years earlier in New Orleans, Weitzel had protested that he did not believe in colored troops and did not want to command them, and now he sat at the gates of Richmond in command of many thousands of them, and when the citadel fell he would lead them in and share with them the glory of occupying the Rebel capital.” [61] were regiments of black “cavalrymen and infantrymen. Many were former slaves; their presence showed their resolve to be free.” [62]

Some of those early African American soldiers went on to distinguish themselves on the prairie as the immortal Buffalo Soldiers. Other blacks would fight in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In the First World War, despite there being some instances of racial harmony, blacks, including officers faced discrimination and met with violent acts. “Refusals to arrest white soldiers who physically assaulted black soldiers accompanied by the tendency to rescind unpopular racial orders and to discourage black officers from demanding salutes from white soldiers” [63] was common.

The all black 94th Division fought in combat under French command in World War one when it was denied the chance to fight as part of the American Army, which mainly regulated black units to rear echelon duties, something that was the standard practice again in the Second World War. Even after President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948 African Americans, as well as other racial minorities, women and gays have faced very real discrimination. The military continues to make great strides, and while overt racist acts and other types of discrimination are outlawed, racism still remains a part of American life.

pride_over_prejudice-reeves-b-of-nashville

USCT Guarding Confederate Prisoners after Battle of Nashville

But things have changed, and that in large part is due to the unselfish sacrifice in the face of hatred and discrimination of the men of the USCT and the State Black Regiments like the 54th Massachusetts and the Louisiana Home Guards who blazed a way to freedom for so many. A white soldier who served with the 49th Massachusetts wrote “all honor to our negro soldiers. They deserve citizenship. They will secure it! There would be much suffering in what he termed “the transition state” but a “nation is not born without pangs.” [64]

Those birth pangs helped to bring about a new birth of freedom for the United States.

Notes

[1] McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief Penguin Books, New York and London 2008

[2] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.101

[3] Godwin, Doris Kearns Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln Simon and Shuster, New York and London 2005

[4] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.318

[5] Ibid. McPherson Tried by War p.159

[6] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.159

[7] McPherson, James M. Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford 1991 p.35

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.381

[9] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.35

[10] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[11] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[12] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.398

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.379

[14] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[15] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.101

[16] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[17] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp. 380-381

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom pp.686-687

[19] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.697

[20] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.686

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 381

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.634

[23] Gallagher, Gary W. The Union War Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2011

[24] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.89

[25] Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox Doubleday and Company Garden City, New York 1953 p.227

[26] Ibid. Catton A Stillness at Appomattox p.249

[27] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.537

[28] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 pp.384-385

[29] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.537

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 377

[32] Grant, Ulysses S. Preparing for the Campaigns of ’64 in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume IV, Retreat With Honor Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ pp.107-108

[33] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.111

[34] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 378

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.112

[36] Ibid. McPherson Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution p.89

[37] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 376

[38] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[39] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[40] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[41] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[42] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.833

[43] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.262

[44] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.47.

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 370

[46] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.643

[47] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.293

[48] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three pp.754-755

[49] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p. 755

[50] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.296

[51] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.836

[52] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.755

[53] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[54] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[55] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.837

[56] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[57] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.835

[58] Ibid. Foote. The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Three p.860

[59] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p. 386

[60] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.241

[61] Catton, Bruce Grant Takes Command Little, Brown and Company Boston, Toronto and London 1968 p.411

[62] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.241-242

[63] Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London 2001 p.88

[64] Ibid Gallagher The Union War p.113

2 Comments

Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military

AIDS, Death, Cold Religion and Simple Christian Love

IMG_1915

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have to admit I never know what will get me going and what will trigger memories of different events in the past. The situation with the Ebola outbreak flooded me with memories, memories of my experiences as a hospital chaplain and as a medical personnel officer dealing with those afflicted with HIV/AIDS. I have shared those over the last two nights. So tonight I will finish that story line with two very different experiences with dying AIDS patients from my Clinical residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Tomorrow I will be posting a newly written except from a chapter of my Gettysburg text dealing with emancipation and the contributions of African American soldiers in the Civil War.

Peace

Padre Steve+

For me it is still hard to comprehend, a young chaplain; two relatively young men dying of AIDS, two partners, two families and two radically different experiences of humanity, faith, religion and authentic loving relationships.

I was still a relatively inexperienced minister and chaplain back when I was doing my Pastoral Care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas Texas back in 1993 and 1994. Yes I had graduated from seminary. Yes I had a bit of chaplain experience as an Army National Guard chaplain and as a counselor at a major evangelical Christian ministry, and yes I had experience in dealing with AIDS as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.

Despite that, I was so ill prepared to deal with the massively different treatment of people dying from AIDS from their families. Families that in some cases shared the same Christian faith as me. I think that is one of the things that young ministers struggle with when they enter the nether world between life and death, mortality and immortality, faith and unbelief in the real world. When I was in seminary the senior pastor of the mega-church that I attended told a story about being approached by a family member of someone who was very sick and in hospital. The person wanted him to visit them while they were a patient. He had been their pastor for years. When they ask him if he would come, he refused. He recounted that the “parishioner asked just how sick he would have to be to get a hospital visit?” The pastor told us his response. He laughed and said “you don’t want to be that sick.” The congregation laughed and I was devastated.

The pastor was a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a friend of John Wimber, Rick Joyner and others who helped to pave the way to the heartless, unfeeling, political “Christianity” and “Dominion theology” that is in vogue with the Tea Party and Religious Right today. When I questioned him about his comments later he told me that thought that pastoral care of those in his congregation, especially in regard to hospital visits was “below his office as an apostle, that others had that responsibility.” The thing that disturbed me the most was that he had ordained me as an Evangelical minister in that church to be a chaplain barely two years before this. I had respected him and now I felt a tremendous sense of emptiness when I left his office.

So when I began my pastoral care residency at Parkland I found that I had a lot to learn about the real world of religious faith, religious hypocrisy and religious hatred and intolerance.

Early in my residency I dealt with a number of AIDS cases. I wrote about one of those cases last night, although that was not really early in my residency, it was closer to the end of it. There were two cases besides that one that made such deep impressions on me that I can never forget them. Both involved young, white, homosexual men dying of the complications from full blown AIDS. Both came from very “Evangelical Christian” families (both were Southern Baptist) and both were being grieved by what we called then, their “significant others” as well as their biological families. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first case was in the second month of my residency, when I was the chaplain for the Medical ICU, before the Pastoral Care Director wisely moved me to the Trauma and Surgery department. A patient came to us, a man, about my age, a successful architect with many friends who was experiencing pneumonia brought about by his immunodeficiency brought about by HIV.

When he arrived he was still able to communicate and he had many of his friends as well as his significant other visiting him. They loved him and he loved them. There was a sense of community and if I dare say real family as they visited. In those first few days I got to know him and these people, most of who were homosexual but not all. There were a number of women there, who I am sure had the patient, who was a remarkably handsome man, been a heterosexual, would have loved to have been his wife.

My encounter with him, before his condition worsened to the point that he had to go on a ventilator and was sedated was transforming. He grew up in the church, knew that he was homosexual, attempted to live with it and finally came out as gay, and was disowned by his family. Despite this he became a highly successful architect, had many friends, was active in charitable works, and still maintained his faith in Jesus. I came to appreciate him, the man who for was for all purposes his spouse and his friends.

However, when his condition deteriorated his estranged family, the people who had disowned him, rushed to his “rescue.” In good Christian form they brought their pastor who though their son was unconscious proceeded to preach at him regarding his need to “repent” and “to come back to Jesus.” The family also took advantage of the law. They were his biological family and next of kin. They banned the man’s partner and friends from his room as he lay dying.

The family’s  pastor preached at the dying man and glared at the people closest to him while he was present.  I was appalled by his, and their behavior. While they isolated their son from those closest to him and allowed their pastor to condemn him as he died, I remained with his partner and friends. I prayed with them, I cried with them, I embraced them. When the family left I went with them to be with this young man’s mortal body. We prayed and after the nurses prepared his body and the doctors completed their final notes, I walked with them as we took his body on that long trip from the ninth floor to basement, where the morgue awaited. I still cry when I think of this encounter, of how supposedly Christian people would not only keep their son, who they had rejected and condemned from those who loved him the most as he lay dying.

A couple of months later I was in my element as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain, but I still had on call duty where I was responsible for crisis situations anywhere in the house. One of those wild nights I got a call from the nursing staff of Nine South, the Medical Step Down unit where the lady that I wrote about last night had passed away, but that was still in the future.

This time there was another young white man, another partner, another family. This young man was not in the ICU fighting for his life, he was passing away in the quiet solitude of his room with his mother and father, his partner and his friends at his side. Like the other young man he was a man of faith. He loved Jesus, he loved his family and he loved his partner.

He was from the area west of Dallas, the area between Fort Worth and Abilene. His mom and dad were ranchers, dad was wearing his cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, classic western Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots. His mom was wearing a simple dress. Both were thing, tanned and their faces lined by the sun and weather and from being out on the range with their cattle. The young man who was with them, the dying man’s partner was casually dressed but though he was from the same area was not a rancher.

I spent time with all of them. The contrast between the “Christian” parents and pastor of the first young ma could have not been more profound. Like the architect’s parents, they were Christians. In fact they were Southern Baptists who attended a small country church in the town that they lived. By any sense of the word they could be described as “Fundamentalist” Christians, but unlike so many fundamentalists they focused on loving God and loving people, even people that so many Christians reject out of hand.

I arrived as the patient was breathing his last. I remained with him, his parents, partner and friends as he passed away, and when his parents asked I offered a prayer commending his soul to God. As I did this his partner was in a state of near collapse, exclaiming “I have no one now, I am alone!” His grief was overwhelming, he had no legal status, in the eyes of the law he meant nothing, though the man that he loved had just died. My heart was rent, and I held on to him.

As I did, the patient’s father came alongside of us. The father said to the young man “You are not alone, you are our son now, we love you.” When this dear man said this we all were in tears, as I am right now. I stayed with all of these dear people as the nursing staff prepared the young man’s body to go to the morgue. At some point the parents escorted their son’s now widowed partner out of the hospital. Mom and dad walked on either side of him as they left the ward. If there was anyone couple on this either who were true Christians, it was this dear couple. As we parted I could not hold back the tears, and the father of the deceased gave me a hug and thanked me for being with them and honoring his son.

I remained with the nursing staff and the internal medicine resident as they complete their duties and took the young man’s body to the morgue. After that I went back to the emergency room where some of the nursing staff, including a RN who at one time had been an Assemblies of God pastor, but was now an avowed atheist who loved to torment chaplains, except me, comforted me in my grief. It is funny that an atheist would be comforting the chaplain after such an event, but then if I do believe in God, why can’t I believe that anyone cannot share in the grief of others and of comfort and care.

It was a story that I could only share with my pastoral care residency supervisor, in our residency group and with my wife Judy, as I knew if I shared my experience at church that at best I would only be humored, and most probably be ostracized.

But, in a way it was a step to freedom because I realized that what I had been taught for so long was so horribly at odds with the message of Jesus.

Two deaths, two men, two partners, two families, two experiences of God’s grace, two experiences of a common humanity and the experience of one very flawed, but no longer confused chaplain…

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, healthcare, Pastoral Care

The Enduring Mystery of an Encounter with an AIDS Patient

lent

Last night I wrote about my early experience dealing with AIDS while serving as an Army Medical Service Corps personnel officer in 1987. In the 1990s that experience changed as I began to deal with men and women who were dying of the effects of full blown AIDS while serving as a hospital chaplain. The experiences of being with those men and women, and in some cases with their families, or loved ones was another chapter in my acceptance of Gays as well as other people marginalized and abandoned by my fellow Christians.

This is an account of one of those encounters at Parkland Hospital in Dallas where I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education residency, it is not about the politics of AIDS, instead it is about humanity, connection, faith, mystery and things that I cannot explain. Those who know me or have followed my writings on this site know my struggles with faith and God, belief and unbelief.

Even today thinking about this encounter brings tears to my eyes and makes me wonder about faith, life, reason and mystery. Frankly, it is something that I cannot explain, nor do I care to. I am content to live with the mystery of something that I cannot explain, but then at the same time, I am not.

As Anais Nin wrote: “The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Sometimes death comes unannounced but other times it sounds a warning.  Most of the time we think of such warnings as what our body is saying to us, maybe someone is having chest pains or that we know of a terminal condition which is getting worse and the doctors say that there is nothing else that they can do.  Other times it appears that some people almost have a sixth sense about their impending death and leave notes or say “goodbye” to loved ones in a different way than they would normally do.

When I see or hear about the sixth sense kind of incident I find that I am intrigued.  As a student of history I have read countless accounts where soldiers know that they will not survive a particular battle and leave things or messages for their friends to give to loved ones.

There have been times when I have had a sixth sense about what was going to happen to someone and the feeling is like you are watching something unfold in slow motion but can do nothing to stop it.

This story is a bit different and took place during an overnight as the “on call” chaplain at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas during my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency. Parkland is a rather large, at the time of my residency a 940 bed county hospital and Level One Trauma center.  The “on call” chaplain after normal hours was the only chaplain in the hospital to cover all emergencies in the house.  Usually I stationed myself in the ER area as that was the “hottest” place for ministry at any given time.  I would always take a spin around our 9 ICUs sometime in the evening to make sure that nothing was brewing; but unless something was going bad on one of them would always end up back in the ER.

One night I had just finished with a situation involving a violent death in the ER when about Nine PM I got a page from “9 South” our General Medicine Step-Down ward. This was a ward that not much usually happened on, in fact as a critical care and trauma type I considered it and other wards like it as a bit boring as nothing much usually happened there.

The nurse that I talked to when I returned the page told me that I needed to come up right away. She said that she had a patient who was convinced that she was going to die that night.  Intrigued, I told the nurse, that I would be right up and made my way up to the ward.

I got to the ward about 9:15 PM and met the nurse who further explained the situation to me while I reviewed the chart.  The nurse was an RN who had come to the United States from India and she was obviously unnerved by what was going on. She told me about the patient, I reviewed the chart as is my normal procedure and then went in to visit the lady. There was nothing in the chart to indicate any problems, in fact she was listed as improving enough to go home the next day, discharge orders were already in the chart.

The lady was in her mid-30s and she was HIV positive. She was married, and her husband who was also HIV positive and in a more advanced stage of the disease had been discharged from the hospital the day before. She had come in for a few day stay as she had been spiking a fever but that was under control, and she had no other medical issues. She was not at the point of having any of the major opportunistic infections or diseases associated with full blown AIDS, her T-Cell count was good.  Clinically she was stable and expected to do well for a number of years to come.

But despite all the good numbers, stable condition and good prognosis the woman was convinced that she was going to die, this very evening.

Just after the evening shift change the patient had told the nurse that “the Lord was going to take her home tonight.”  This troubled the nurse as it would any normal rational person, so she called the duty Internal Medicine resident physician to come and speak with the lady. The resident could not convince here that she was going to be okay and that she told both of them that she was going to die that evening and “go home and be with Jesus.”

Now for those who have never lived in the south “going home” is not like leaving the office at the end of the day.  Elvis “went home” wherever that was (see “Men in Black”) and if you are talking with someone raised in the South and they start talking about “going home” you better stop and clarify to make sure that they are going home to watch the Braves on television and drink a beer, or if they are planning on dying.

I had a grandmother who told me from the time that I was 5 years old that she was either “going home” or “wasn’t going to be around much longer.” Of course she was convinced that she was going to die, and once I stirred up a hornet’s nest when after she told me that “she wast going to be around much longer  So I asked her “where are you moving to?” Granny was not impressed and gave me an earful. Granny lived to be almost 90 years old when she finally “went home”  when I was 40 after giving me 35 years worth of warning, but I digress…

Now patently I am of the mind that if the numbers say that you will live I believe the numbers.  I’m a baseball guy, God speaks to me through baseball and I play the percentages. It is the rational thing to do, which means that while I believe that God can intervene in situations I don’t bet on that happening. I read the chart. I talk to the nursing staff, and I talk with the physicians.

After talking with the resident and nurse I was convinced that this lady would walk out of the hospital in the morning and probably outlive her husband. Then I met the lady.

I walked into her room. She was sitting up in bed with her Bible open beside her on her mattress. She appeared to be very calm and there was a peaceful sense about her.  She was from Jamaica and very polite and when I introduced myself to her she greeted me warmly with the accent characteristic of that island nation.

“So you are the pastor?” she asked.

I replied that I was the Chaplain and that the nurse and doctor had asked me to spend some time with her.

She then said “Ah yes, they do not believe me because I told them that Jesus told me that he will take me home tonight.”

So I asked her what she believed was going on with her. She then described to me what had occurred that evening to make her think that she was going to die. “You see pastor, the doctors say that I will go to my house tomorrow but I will not.”

She paused and even more curious I nodded for her to go on and said “really? Tell me more.”

She continued “Pastor you see this evening Jesus came to me, he visit me and tell me that I will go and be with him tonight.”

Now I have to admit that I was skeptical. However, she was not acting emotional or even bothered about what she just said. Normally I might ask for a psychiatric consult, but she seemed to be completely rational, and her chart made no mention of any mental illness or psychological issues.

I was fascinated and asked her to tell me more. She then went on a fairly long recitation of her faith journey from the time that she was a young girl. She told me how she frequently would sense God’s presence and hear his voice at different points in her life. She told me how she had gotten HIV from her husband, who had been a drug abuser and how much it meant for her to be right with others and God.

So I asked her about the specifics of “why she thought that she would die tonight?”

Calmly she explained. “The doctors tell me that I will be well and go home tomorrow. They tell me that I am in good condition and that I will live a long time, but that does not matter to me because Jesus told me today that he will take me home to be with him….tonight.” 

The word tonight was said with a confidence that stunned me. She talked as if this was a regular every day occurrence and her face was radiant.  She continued “I love Jesus and know that he will not lie to me so I know that I will be with him tonight.”

Her faith was touching and powerful in its simplicity and the amount of trust that she showed even to a message that she believed to be from Jesus that was completely different than the news of the doctors. After our conversation, which lasted about 30 minutes involved me probing her faith, asking what she understood about her condition and talking about her family. It seemed to me that our visit was a time for her to tie up the loose ends of her life and that I was the person that she was taking the time to share them with.

As we closed she asked me if I would pray with her and give her a blessing which I did.  She thanked me, reached out and asked for a hug. She embraced me weakly and then let go, and she thanked me again.  I was moved by this, still not convinced that Jesus would take her home. I didn’t she was going to die but there was a certain finality in her words and actions that gave me a bit of doubt about the facts and numbers that I trusted in.

When I left her room, I charted my visit, wrapped things up with the resident and the nurse and went back down to ER where more carnage was waiting, shootings, motor vehicle accidents and drug overdoses.

About 2:30 AM my pager went off. It was the nurse’s station on Nine South. I returned the call and the nurse that I had talked with earlier was on the line.

She was nearly frantic and said: “Chaplain, please come quick, I went in to check her vitals and she is dead!”  I put on my best calm voice and said “Who is dead?” 

The nurse nearly in a panic said “The lady that said that God was going to take her home, she died!”  I looked up from the Trauma ER nurses’ station and realized that there was nothing immediate and told the nurse  “Okay I’ll be right up” and went up to the ward as quickly as I could.

When I got to the ward to find the nurse pacing anxiously outside the door of the patient’s room.  I asked if the nurse if she was okay, meaning her and not the now deceased patient. The poor nurse replied that she was upset by the death because the lady should not be dead. She was frightened and that she didn’t understand how the patient could calmly know that she was going to die.  Now the nurse was not a southerner unless it was the south part of the Indian subcontinent.  She was relatively new to Texas and the American South she was not as attuned to some of the religious and cultural aspects of either the South or some of the Caribbean islands, where the lady had come.

After helping the nurse calm down I met the resident who was in the room looking perplexed, when I walked in he said “This women shouldn’t be dead.” 

I couldn’t think of much else to say so I just said to him “sometimes it’s just someone’s time even if the numbers don’t say so.” 

He said: “Yeah, I know, but this was really freaky because she told me that she was going to die tonight and she did.”

I did concur with this young doctor that what had happened was a bit on the unusual side but that we couldn’t discount what she believed especially since she had been correct. As the resident went to finish up paperwork I looked at the woman. It looked like she had simply fallen asleep. Her Bible was on her lap and opened to the book of Revelation, the 21st chapter. Although I cannot be sure exactly what she was reading can only imagine that it was this verse “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3b-5 NRSV)

This dear woman had passed away, gone home looking forward to a place where whatever tears or sorrows she had experienced would be wiped away. I closed her Bible, gently placed her hands together over it and prayed a prayer of commendation before pulling the bed sheet over her face and body.

On leaving the room I spent a bit more time with the nurse who was beginning to gather herself after this unusual death.  A couple of hours later I would escort the body of this woman to our morgue accompanied by the nurse and a LVN.

If you have never made the walk to a morgue it is always the longest walk you will ever make. At Parkland it seemed that no matter where you were coming from the walk took forever as it is a massive facility, and in the wee hours of the morning while most of the world sleeps, that walk is an eternity.

As we rode the elevator down to the basement where the morgue was located we continued to talk a bit more. When we got to the basement and commenced the walk down the long and empty corridor to the morgue we did so in silence. I unlocked the door and then the door to the walk in refrigerator, which could hold up to eight adult bodies on cold stainless steel gurneys at any given time. Dimly lit and damp the morgue has a truly macabre ambiance which is magnified by the sight of bodies of the deceased wrapped in body bags and covered by white sheets.

Once I had admitted the body and locked the door to the morgue the two nurses left to head back to the 9th floor. I took the chart and other paperwork up to our office where our decedent affairs clerk would complete the death certificate. The daytime duty chaplain would have the responsibility of discharging the woman’s body after an autopsy was conducted and a funeral home came to take her body to her final resting place.

I thought how unusual this case was as I sat for a while in the office. I had heard of similar things but had never seen something like this before where the person in question made such a claim and was right defying the numbers that said she would walk out of the hospital. After a the rest of the evening, or rather the early morning was relatively uneventful and my shift came to an end as the rest of the staff came in for the day. I briefed the chaplain who was taking the pager, did my debriefing with my fellow Pastoral Care residents and went home, wondering what had happened.

Physicist Max Planck who originated Quantum Theory said: “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

It is a mystery, so I guess I should leave it there…

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, healthcare, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

And the Band Still Plays On: Religion, Politics, HIV and Ebola

262210_5_

‘“At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic many Americans had little sympathy for people with AIDS…The feeling was that somehow people from certain groups ‘deserved’ their illness. Let us put those feelings behind us. We are fighting a disease, not a people.”C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General 1986

I met someone with AIDS for the first time, at least knowingly for the first time in the summer of 1987 while serving as a Medical Service Corps personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences, Fort Sam Houston Texas. I was the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, which is the unit that all medical training courses fell under for administrative and command and control issues. My job normally was consisted of basic personnel administration, working with commanders and legal officers when court-martial proceedings were needed, appointing investigating officers for different purposes, reviewing line of duty investigations and running duty rosters. It was nothing to write home about.

But that summer, after years of ignoring the issue the Reagan administration, which had made light of the disease and refused to do anything about it following the initial clinical diagnosis of it in 1981, belatedly, directed the Defense Department to start testing servicemen and women for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected personnel.

Since it was considered by most in the mainstream to be a “gay” disease the Reagan administration treated it with distain, during some of the White House press conferences, Press Secretary Larry Speakes mocked and laughed about it to reporters who asked questions about it.

On October 15th 1982 this exchange took place: in the White House Briefing Room.

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

MR. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?

Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Q: No, I don’t. MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke? MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

MR. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—

Q: Nobody knows? MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester. Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—

MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.

Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?

MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.

Q: Didn’t say that?

MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)

Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)

MR. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q: Oh, I retract that.

MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.

Q: It’s too late.

Read more: http://www.alan.com/2014/10/18/that-time-the-reagan-white-house-press-briefing-erupted-with-laughter-over-aids-13-times/#ixzz3GcMPItu7

The late Congressman from San Francisco, Phil Burton told those seeking government help in diagnosing and treating the new disease that:

“I’ll introduce a bill. But if all the angels came dancing down to earth like the Rockettes, even they couldn’t get a dime out of this administration for anything with the name “gay” on it.”

I seriously doubt had Reagan’s friend, Rock Hudson, a closeted homosexual who was a cinematic idol in his day had not died of AIDS in October of 1985 if the administration would have even acted then. Their intentional disregard and negligence was criminal. But they finally did act, and the military acted to begin testing for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected service members.

Back then no one wanted to deal with AIDS or the people infected by it. This was especially true in much of the military. Since I was the junior Medical Service personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I was told that I would coordinate all services to those infected and work with those appointed by the Army Surgeon General’s office to develop appropriate personnel policies. People in the office joked that I was “CINC AIDS.” That was not a compliment.

When a soldier was diagnosed then they were given a form by their physician stating that they would let any partners know that they were HIV positive and that if they had sex they would only have protected sex. These were a host of other restrictions given in that medical “counseling” and all of these were reinforced as each soldier was then given an order by their commander to the same effect. The difference was that what the doctor gave was “counseling” and what the commander gave was an order, which if disobeyed could result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

10399639_55558982058_3465_n

 

 

The Author in 1987 shortly after becoming “CINC AIDS” at the Academy of Health Sciences 

Following this they were sent to me to discuss assignment limitations and career options. When people saw a soldier sitting outside my door, they pretty much knew what the person was there to see me for, as my job became more and more about dealing with those infected with HIV. As I took the job I read everything that I could and discussed the matter with physicians dealing with the disease.

Despite that in the beginning it was a scary experience. I attended a local mega-church and much of what I heard, read and listened to on Christian radio was full of paranoia, conspiracy theories and an attitude that could only be explained as an almost joyful gloating that the “homosexuals” were being judged by God. Not only that since HIV was determined to come from Africa, there was a tremendous amount of “old South” racism interspersed with their theological pronouncements.

Dr. James Dobson and Dr. D. James Kennedy, early leaders of the political religious right were particularly vindictive. These unscrupulous leaders helped spread much disinformation about HIV from the a book published by a charlatan named Gene Antonio who wrote what was then a popular book called “The AIDS Cover Up,” They claimed that AIDS could be spread by kissing, mosquito bites or even by touching surfaces that had been touched by those infected. These men were bolstered by their allies in the Reagan White House, Secretary of education Bill Bennett and his assistant Gary Bauer who were the official administration spokesmen regarding AIDS.

They marginalized the Surgeon General, Dr C. Everett Koop who noted in the early days of the epidemic was “completely cut off from AIDS” by Bennett and others in the Reagan Administration. They were so wrong that Koop, who was by no means a liberal took them to task on their hateful, dishonest and un-Christian proclamations. Koop told a journalist:

“the Christian activity in reference to AIDS of both D. James Kennedy and Jim Dobson is reprehensible. The first time that Kennedy ever made a statement about AIDS, I saw it on television. It was so terrible, so homophobic, so pure Antonio that I wrote him a letter.”

Koop said of Dobson, who he had worked with earlier on HIV/AIDS: “I don’t know what happened to him. He changed his mind, and last August in his paper he attacked me for two pages as leading people down the garden path. But again his arguments were full of holes. I just cannot believe the poor scholarship of so many Christians.”

But that was the world that part of me lived in. The other world was one of logic and reason, informed by human compassion, so unlike what I was being fed by church leaders and the “Christian” media that I immersed myself.

The sad truth of the matter is then, as today, that far too many Christians, especially influential leaders intentionally and malevolently spread lies to bolster their position. For them it is far easier to profit from demonizing people than it is to work with people they hate, to find solutions that help everyone. In my view many of these supposedly “Christian” leaders, apart from their fashionable clothes, are no different than the Nazis who blamed the Jews, Socialists and homosexuals for every ill in society; or the Japanese leaders who organized the Kamikaze Corps to send true believers to their deaths in a hopeless cause simply to maintain their power.

There is no love, there is no care and there is no empathy in any of them. As Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert noted at Nuremberg “evil is the absence of empathy.”

When you do not know or have never have met someone being demonized by religious people it is easy to surround yourself in comfortable theology. However, when a family member, friend or colleague becomes one of those being demonized it tends to blow up your comfortable theology unless you are a sociopath.

I never will forget the day in the late summer of 1987 when an officer came to my office. He was the first person who I had ever met who was HIV positive. He was a medical professional, an Army Captain who had been selected for promotion to Major. He was married, had children and was a “born-again Christian.” He had contracted HIV when dealing with a combative drunk patient, who was HIV positive. The patient smashed glass, cutting himself severely and started bleeding. The shattered glass cut this officer as he tried to intervene and subdue the man. The officer was infected by the man’s infected blood, which entered him through his own wounds. Though he attempted to disinfect himself by normal protocols he became infected. I was looking at a man, just a few years older than me. A man who loved God, loved his family, who had did all the right things but had become HIV positive.

Even now I can see and hear this man, his face is etched deep into my memory, struggling to fit what happened to him into the message of God’s judgment that his fellow Christians and church members said was the cause of his disease. As I talked to him I realized that what I was being told by men who I was listening to every day on the way to work, as well as what I was reading by “Christian” authors and what I was hearing in church was a lie.

My worldview was forever changed that day. I realized that this man had done nothing wrong, in fact he was trying to do his job as a medical professional to keep a patient from further harm. I was able to help him get into a Master’s degree program in Healthcare Administration since he was no longer allowed to serve in a clinical environment. I have no idea what happened to him after I left the active duty Army to attend seminary in late 1988, but I presume since the mortality rate for HIV/AIDS was so high back then that he probably died years ago. I would hope that by some miracle that this man was fortunate and like NBA great Ervin “Magic” Johnson has not only survived but continues to do well. But I know that the odds were not in his favor.

When he left my office we shook hands, something that my fellow Christians said that I needed to avoid. Not only did I shake his hand, but I gave him a hug and I did not wash my hands or disinfect myself. I figured that God wanted me to get HIV from caring for and accepting someone infected with it than it didn’t matter.

Since that time I have worked with, cared for and ministered to more victims of HIV/AIDS, their families and their friends than I can count. Many of them have made significant impressions on me, my life, and my faith. Without them my life would not be as rich as it has been. I continued to deal with case after case and it is interesting to read he citation from my end of tour award for my time as the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade. It is almost all about AIDS.

So we fast forward to 2014. I’m still in the military, only now I am not a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army but a Navy Chaplain. I have spent about eight years in the critical care environment of major medical center ERs, trauma departments and ICUs. I have a rather unique perspective having experience with AIDS and other highly infectious diseases, as well as the ethics of treatment.

Since I was previously qualified as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense officer when I served in the Army in the 1980s, I understand the importance of, as well as the limitations of personal protective equipment and decontamination procedures. Of course because I know a good number of physicians who specialize in critical care, infectious diseases and pandemics and try to remain current in regard to such diseases, their causes, and the vectors by which they spread.

Thus I realize when I see and hear the Trinity of Evil; the politicians, pundits and preachers who make their living promoting fear, panic and hatred to keep their jobs and obscene profits coming in are at work in demonizing President Obama, the CDC and NIH and poor Africans in Liberia, Ghana and other countries. Like the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the same cast of disingenuous, unscrupulous and dishonest preachers, pundits and politicians are at work today as we wrestle with the Ebola crisis, which is neither an epidemic nor a judgment from God.

Sadly, these people are not limited to their own religious networks to spread their lies, propaganda and hate. They have the full buy in from a major cable news network and countless political “news” services, “think tanks” and Political Action Committees; who are their fellow travelers in their quest to demonize those that they hate and dominate society.

The Ebola crisis has provided these same people, this Trinity of Evil, and their followers; with the avenue to create havoc without taking any personal or corporate responsibility to demonize people, to hinder rational and reasonable solutions to meet the crisis and to ensure the political destruction of the Black man in the White House who they hate with a hatred beyond comprehension.

Their words and actions, often clothed in the language of faith may seem to some as a demonstration of righteousness; only now they are even more closely linked to political and economic entities that simply want more power and profit and use them to achieve their malevolent purposes.

The sad thing is that while the leaders of the “Religious Right” benefit from this deal, their followers do not. In fact should Ebola ever reach epidemic or pandemic status in the United States because of their actions which have helped to hinder the government’s response to it; they don’t have to worry, they have good healthcare coverage which is paid for by their followers; and little threat of exposure. On the other hand their followers will have to fend for themselves, paying exceptionally high insurance rates if they can even afford it all the while the people that they support fight to ensure that they do not have affordable, or reliable access to health care.

The sad thing is that Ebola, as bad is it is, is a hard disease to catch, unless you happen to get blasted by a load of the massively infected vomit or bodily fluids of someone in the final stages of it. In fact Ebola is a lot harder to catch many forms of the Bird or Swine Flu, which are airborne viruses and highly contagious. History has shown that both are far more deadly in terms of numbers killed than either Ebola or AIDS have ever been.

Sadly, the same people who fought against treating HIV/AIDS and Ebola are the same people who mock public health experts and agencies when they warn of potential Influenza epidemics or pandemics, and fight against reasonable vaccination and prevention programs and education.

The actions of these religious and political leaders and their media supporters are unethical, irresponsible and at odds with measure of human compassion. It is like they have a death wish for the planet. But truthfully I have to say that it does not look to me that they seem to care so long as they reap a political and economic benefit from it.

Dr Koop was condemned by fanatical extremists like Phyllis Schlafly who said that Koop’s recommendations in his report about preventing AIDS looked “like it was edited by the Gay Task Force” and Schlafly, ever the loving, honest and ethical Christian that she is accused Koop of advocating that third-graders learn the rules of “safe sodomy.”

Koop replied in a very courageous manner to Schlafly, who in my view is one of the most loathsome people to ever unite religion and politics: “I’m not surgeon general to make Phyllis Schlafly happy. I’m surgeon general to save lives.”

In 1988 Dr Koop said something that most people in positions of any public responsibility, be they public health officials, medical professionals, politicians or even loathsome preacher should abide:

“I separate ideology, religion and other things from my sworn duty as a health officer in this country.”

But then as it did in the 1980s, the band continues to play on… and those that unite religion and their hatred of others continue to do everything that they can to ensure that people die as they lie. As for me, I am glad that finally saw the truth about these people and I thank people like that HIV positive Army officer who walked into my office in 1987 who humanized that terrible virus, and for helping me see the light.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, ethics, healthcare, History, Political Commentary, Religion

The Absence of Empathy

padresteve:

Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I have been thinking about some of the reactions that I have heard from some of the politicians, pundits and preachers regarding the latest Ebola outbreak, which for the first time has come to the United States. What amazes me in all of this is how little regard and empathy most of these commentators, especially those representing supposedly conservative or Christian organizations for the actual victims of the disease. It seems that they are using this human tragedy to promote their own ideological beliefs, which many times have more than a tinge of xenophobic racism throw into the mix. The conspiracy theories that some spout, the virulent hatred shown by others and the drumbeat of people saying that this is God’s judgment is simply beyond the pale and I am saddened to see these responses. The fact is that as a nation, as people of different political parties, religious or non-religious views or secular ideologies we have a responsibility to do the right thing, not the expedient thing. We have to be prudent, rational as well as compassionate. But I don’t see much of that going on.
Since I noted the absence of empathy in so many of these people, especially professional muckrakers such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and a host of others I figured that I would reach back into the archives and re-post this article, “The Absence of Empathy.” It is quite chilling when you see some of the commonalities in what Nazi war criminals said of the Jews and what some say today. I am tired, not planning on doing much tonight, so I wish you a nice night.
Peace
Padre Steve+

Originally posted on Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate:

hqdefault-2Colm Feore as Rudolf Höss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hJqNuRH1A

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” ~Rush Limbaugh 25 September 2009

One thing that I find amazing in our world, particularly among many pundits who profess themselves to abide by supposed “Christian Principles” who like Rush Limbaugh make comments that defy any sense of Christian morality. If Limbaugh was a lone person making such comments we could blow him off. However there are many like him, professional pundits and politicians but even more concerning are the preachers who make similar statements.

Some of these men and women are quite influential. Their ideas penetrate to many parts of our society, and not just religious people. They include pastors of some of the most politically influential churches and ministries in the country. Whether the comments are directed against Native Americans as was this particular quote from…

View original 1,667 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings