Monthly Archives: March 2010

Back in Commission: Padre Steve’s Long Journey Back

Padre Steve is Back in Commission

Today I know that I am back fully in commission.  I have been feeling this for a while and have seen some extraordinary progress since my “Christmas Miracle” and even since Lent began.  Like an old battleship worn out by service and damaged in battle was for the better part of two years doing my best to stay afloat and survive after my return from Iraq.  During that time if something could go wrong with me it seemed like it did, physical, psychological and spiritual…such is PTSD and all the other stuff that one can return home from war with.  For those that are new to this website or just happened to stumble by I have a lot of stuff on that ordeal posted here.

I have felt good since Christmas and with the exception of being knocked down by a kidney stone for almost a month have been doing pretty good for the most part.  I have been very careful to make sure that I am not just entering a manic period but have been really to be careful so I don’t build myself up to crash later.  Since I have crashed hard a number of times at points during the aforementioned ordeal when I thought that I was doing better I am really conservative about such comments.

USS West Virginia in the 1930s

Personally I am lucky and blessed that I have good people at work who have kind of protected me from myself over the past year as it when apparent to them that I was going down.  In a sense I was like a damaged ship pulled out of action in order not only to be patched up but fully overhauled.  I was damaged and not a lot of my systems were working right.

Now of course even a ship that has been fully overhauled and even modernized to make it equal to new ships is immune from problems, after all there is only so much you can do with an older platform.  I am living proof of that fact; there are things that while better than they were are not up to the original design specs.  At the same time despite everything I am in remarkable health and my physical, emotional and spiritual life is coming back together faster than I thought it would even after the Kidney stone ordeal.

Damage to the West Virginia

I had a yearly physical health assessment last week and all of my numbers were those of a 30 year old so I guess fifty is the new thirty. Yesterday I weighed in and was found to be within the DOD body fat maximum which combined with a high score on my Physical Readiness Test (PRT) or what common is called a PT test.  It is funny, the numbers that I have to make on this at age 50 in the Navy are not much less than then what I was required to do as 21 year old in Army ROTC or 23 year old Army Second Lieutenant then was 68 push-ups, now 65, then 69 sit ups, now 85.  Then I needed a run time of about 12 minutes and 30 seconds for a two mile run to get the maximum points.  Now at age 50 I need slightly less than 10 minutes to get the maximum score on a mile and a half run.  Today I did 90 sit-ups, 61 push-ups and my run time was about 12:15 (converted from a Life Fitness bike.)  I did the bike because of the low number of people running the “early bird” session and because I still have occasional ankle and knee problems.  I need completion to do really well on the run as it motivates me better than running alone or with a small number of people. I came one push-up short of an overall outstanding on the test so I have something to shoot for next time.

USS California 1945 after her rebuild

This will be enough to take me off of the “fat boy program” which I so ignobly entered last fall after my summer crash. Back then I was put on the “Fitness Enhancement Program” where I had weekly weigh ins and taping for body fat and a program called “Shipshape” which is about healthy living.  That was humbling and for me even humiliating because that has not happened to me in 28 years in the military and I pride myself in being in great shape, in fact the EOD techs that I was assigned with asked my assistant “what kind of steroids I was using” because of how I ran and how well that I did on the PRT.   Now I am not where I want to be on any of this yet, I think I have farther to go.  So I am working to keep my life in balance and take a lot better care of myself; especially in diet and exercise although I still have problems sleeping.  Part of what I learned over the past 5 months is that I have to be consistently consistent if I am to get the weigh off, lose body fat and both get back in shape and then keep it off.  I am not where I want to be yet but know that I am not going back to the way that I exercised self care prior to this as I never want to be in that situation ever again. My plan is to continue to lose about 2 to 3 pounds a month and take off about 4 inches from around my waist by late September or early October. I think this is totally doable doing what I am doing now and I plan on continuing to do it.

USS West Virginia 1944 after the rebuild

So anyway going back to the old battleship metaphor I have been thinking about that a lot. I wrote an article a while back titled “The Battleships of Pearl Harbor.”  Of course as almost anyone who has seen the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” knows that the attack on Pearl Harbor was pretty bad.  If you had the misfortune of watching “Pearl Harbor” sorry it does not do the story justice.  Anyway, I digress. The point is that there were two battleships in particular that were heavily damaged and sunk, The USS California and USS West Virginia. Both were salvaged, refloated and sailed to the West coast where they were not only repaired but modernized with the latest in air and surface search radar, fire control systems, formidable anti-aircraft batteries and large anti-torpedo bulges that increased their survivability.  When rebuilt they resembled the fast modern battleships of the South Dakota class. The two ships spent a long time in the yards but the price was worth it. At the Battle of Surigo Strait the West Virginia and California led the battleships of the US 7th Fleet in annihilating the Japanese Southern Force led by Admiral Nishimura and a follow up force of heavy cruisers. In the battle the two ships sank the Japanese Battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and most of their escorts with the exception of one destroyer the Shigure.  Later they participated in every major operation leading to the defeat of Imperial Japan.

Today I feel like the West Virginia or California. I am older than most of the people that I work with by a large margin, I came back damaged from Iraq and was not able to do half the things that I was capable of doing before Iraq.  Now I am out of the yards and have passed my builders trials and in action again and this my friends really makes me happy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, philosophy, PTSD, US Navy

Dad’s Gift of Baseball to Me…a New Season Begins

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Harbor Park

Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball.  For me there is something mystical about the game.  It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other.  George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on.  Not all holes or games are created equal and as Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) said in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was in 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me.  The seed of course had been planted long before watching games on a black and white TV and having my dad play catch, teach me to throw, field and run the bases.  In 1967 we even saw the Seattle Pilots in person while stationed in Washington State. While my dad thrived on all sports but baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball.  Golf it is an interior and individual game whereas baseball is a game where individuals depend upon one another in community much as in an ideal world Christians depend upon one another in the Church.

Me with Angels Manager Left Phillips 1970

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine not having done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  I cannot remember a time that I did not have a ball, glove and bat as well as at least one baseball hat. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score.  I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teaching me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him that I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls but complained that he did not teach me to hit.  He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”  Obviously he understood that I would never hit much above the Mendoza Line and stuck to teaching me defense and pitching.

Oak Park Little League Rams Stockton CA, the Team Sponsor was San Diego Chargers Owner Alex Spanos

Back in the days at Anaheim Stadium when it was still called “the Big A” I really did fall in love with the game.  I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest.  For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate.  I met so many of the players on that team and those of opposing teams and it was that personal connection of ballplayers giving a 5th grade kid the time of day that endeared me to the game. Players like Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, Sandy Alomar and Ken McMullen as well as coaches and managers gave me some of the best memories of childhood.

Billy Hebert Field

When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers.  Seeing the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome.  However our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because of the inhospitable location and added distance from home.   If you have ever seen a baseball game at Candlestick you will know that it is a perfectly miserable place to see a game as in that if nothing else that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold.  One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.

While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California where we lived. In the summer she would let me see the Stockton Ports several times a week. Back then the Ports were the California League Single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun, chasing balls down and chomping down peanuts that cost a quarter a bag.  I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor league player in the 1960s.

Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5766041

In high school and college due to other diversions I stopped playing baseball and did not have as much contact with it.  However the call of baseball never completely left me and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game. I think that the biggest mistakes that I ever made were taking on hockey for a couple of seasons and an ill-fated one year career in high school football. It was like I sold out baseball for games that seemed more exciting but were not me.  I have dreams of what it would be like to get the chance to play at my advanced age for one inning in a minor league game.

Moonlight Graham

I feel in a sense like Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams when he tells Ray Kinsella:

“Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” I can totally relate.

Other major sports do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is a spiritual dimension that the game has which makes it timeless.  Other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks there are no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock.  If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time making them seem somewhat hypocritical to me.  “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time.  It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock. Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Jeff Fiorentino Going Yard at Harbor Park

Baseball is not like that.  In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner.  Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious and have a wonderful playing surface in heaven.

I love baseball parks. I like their individuality and savor their differences and save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have kept their individuality.  Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team.  Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers.  And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Although the ivy of Wrigley Field, the Green Monster of Fenway are about all that are left of the great old ballparks however the new ballparks have returned to what makes every ballpark special in its own way.  Gone are the ugly drab oval stadiums with their fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf with only a small cut out for the bases.  The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble or retired to serve in other capacities and replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

Oak Harbor Little League where I played my first organized baseball

Last year for the first time in my life I bought season tickets for my local AAA team, the Norfolk Tides who are the AAA Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. I also went Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.  The ballpark is a place of solace for me that was after I returned from Iraq one of the few places that I could have peace, even church was a dangerous place but walking onto the concourse and taking in the lush green diamond and immaculately trimmed infield there was a place of peace.  I found that watching the young players striving to reach or get back to the majors to stay helped motivate me as I recovered from PTSD, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and a crisis of faith that scared the hell out of me.  I appreciate the young pitchers that I have met behind home plate as the chart the game following their starts, and my hope and prayer for them is that they will see their dreams fulfilled and eventually make it to the show and stay there.  So Jim, Andy, Chris, Ross, David This year I look forward to again taking me seats in Section 102 Row B seats 1 and 2.  Opening day is the 8th of April and the Weather Channel’s 10 day forecast says that the weather should be good.  However this is Hampton Roads, opening day was rained out last year and in 2005 the temperature at game time was 38 degrees with winds of 25-40 knots coming out of center field.

Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.”   When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground.  The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view.  There is not a bad seat in the house.  My seats in Section 102 row 2 are right behind home plate and offer a field level view of all the action. I love the people in the section, Elliott and Skip the Ushers, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Marty the Card Dealer, Ray, John and the Vietnam Veterans of America at the beer stand and of course legendary General Manager Dave Rosenfield and President Ken Johnson as well as Linda, Heather and the rest of the staff.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolds again as I gaze in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different than last year but similar my dad is still in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the disease is taking its time and now has robbed him of everything that he once was. In November I saw him and he did not know me.  It is so sad to see.  A year and a half to two years ago he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants and bad mouth the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.”  I never shared that opinion or the fact that I have been a closet Baltimore Orioles fan for years as he could barely handle my liking the Oakland Athletics.  He did not like Earl Weaver one bit but was a lot like him in his approach to the game and life…however he did admire Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

Dad told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he made sure that there were books of baseball stories around the house.  I learned to read with books about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Rogers HornsbyJackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Dad was an avid fan of Pete Rose; he loved “Charlie Hustle’s” high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall dad yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard at second base to break up a double play.”   Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard.  I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era where players who were Hall of Fame caliber sacrificed their reputations by doing steroids.

My Dad and I May 2009

I don’t know how long my dad will live. He has outlived his doctor’s expectations by well over a year maybe even a year and a half. He doesn’t know what is going on for the most part but somewhere in his Alzheimer’s ravaged brain he must still be there.  Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball.  Sure, it’s only just a game.  Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond.  I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.

Play Ball!

Peace, Steve+

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Going to War: Flying in Al Anbar on C-130s

C-130′s in Iraq

This is another installment of my “Going to War” Series that I began last year.  In the Fall I had to take a break from posting anything more on the story of my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 due to issues that I was having dealing with the effects of PTSD. I have reached the point that I can again write about this so on occasion I will post these articles which now deal with our actual operations and experiences supporting our Marine Corps, Army and Joint Service advisor teams in the province. The previous posts as well as others dealing with Iraq are filed in the “Tour in Iraq” link on the home page. The direct link to these articles is here: http://padresteve.wordpress.com/category/tour-in-iraq/

Nelson and I continued to prepare in the days leading up to our first mission to the Border Port of Entry at Waleed on the Syrian border with a planned follow on to the teams of the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division at Al Qaim about a hundred miles to the north .  Waleed is about 350 miles west of TQ and 70 miles from the nearest FOB with any substantial American presence. We were in constant communication with the team that we to visit via VOIP and SVOIP telephone and secure and non-secure e-mail. The commander of the Border teams, which included Border and Port of Entry adviser teams was Lieutenant Colonel Bien.  Our mission in getting out to the furthest point west was to meet up with an incoming and an outgoing Port of Entry team and see what we could do to get out to other posts along the border.

C-130 unloading its passengers

Nothing in Iraq is easy.  The get out to Waleed we had to make a two day trip from TQ, through Al Asad out to Waleed.  Our flight out was a day flight on an Air Force C-130 to Al Asad.  Our contacts in the G3-Air at 2nd MLG were good in helping me figure out the Air Force flight request which was different than the normal Marine Air Support Request.  For this mission I had to submit 2 Air Force and 3 Marine Air Support requests.    Simply submitting a request does not guarantee a flight. Flights are based on precedence dictated by the overall mission.  Religious support was pretty high on the list but there was no telling that your flight would go until you had your approval message and even then things could change.  The actual missions were not known until about midnight the night prior to the flight. So if you were a frequent flyer it meant no sleep the night before a mission as you waited to see if you were approved.  This was my first time actually having to do this for real so I sat at my secure laptop in my office in the back of the TQ plywood Cathedral waiting for the flight list to be posted on the MLG G3 Air Secure Website.  Finally about 0100 the list popped and our first flight was on in.  It was a mid day flight which meant that we needed to be at the passenger terminal about 0930.  This entailed getting our ride from the Chapel to the terminal by 0900.

I told Nelson who was checking his e-mail on a computer in the RP office that it was a go and then headed off to my can to prepare.  Since most of my gear for the 10 day trip was already packed I tried to actually get ready to sleep.  I quickly found that simply being tired because I was up late was not enough to help me go to sleep.  I was really tired but the adrenaline was coursing through my body making it impossible to sleep.  I prayed the office of Compline and then played computer Ma-Jong until at least 0300 before I could finally pass out.  I was up early to shower and get breakfast before lugging my gear over to the chapel.  The weather as usual was about 100 degrees by the time I got back from the chow hall; I gathered my gear and went to the chapel.  I took my back pack, my laptop and a flight bag. I would learn on this mission that I would need to pack lighter the next time around, but live and learn.

The first leg of our trip was on an Air Force C-130 from TQ to Al Asad which we shared with a large number of previously unknown friends from every branch of service in the US military as well as various civilians and contractors.  All of us had our personal protective equipment as well as our bags. The bags that we did not want to lug were placed on pallets and transported with a large fork lift to the aircraft.  When you make one of these trips you are accounted for a good number of times before ever getting on the aircraft.  This first mission was still in the heat of the Iraqi summer and thus the temperature inside and outside of the aircraft was stifling.  We staged off the tarmac in the sun for a final role call and then in two lines who guided out to our aircraft which had just landed.  As we were trudging out to the aircraft two lines of assorted passengers primarily Soldiers and Marines passed us mid way to the aircraft.  As we neared the aircraft the propeller blast blew the hot air into our faces and I thanked God for the high speed ballistic sunglasses that I had been issued by EOD.  Entering into the aircraft we had to step up onto the cargo ramp and then took our seat in the narrow canvas mesh jump seats that lined both the side of the aircraft and the center.  The rear of the aircraft including the cargo ramp was used for several pallets of cargo including the bags that we elected not to carry.  Sitting in the aircraft and waiting for the pallets to be loaded I thought back to my early career as an Army Officer where I became an air-load planner and embarked my soldiers on six C-130s during Winter REFORGER 1985.  Back then instead of the 130 degree heat of Iraq we faced the coldest winter in 40 years in Europe in which the Rhine froze over.  Although the use of computers has become routine in load plans the principles are the same as they were 25 years ago and everything on the aircraft needs to be properly balanced to ensure the stability and safety of the aircraft and that weight limits are not exceeded.  As the sweat poured off of me I took off my helmet and downed part of the one liter bottle of water that I carried onto the aircraft and threw some on my face, though warm it was refreshing and I reattached my helmet as the aircrew came through the cabin giving a final safety brief.

Interior shot of a C-130

As the last of the cargo pallets were loaded about the aircraft the cargo ramp was raised, the entire time that the aircraft was on the ground was under 15 minutes, it is amazing what the Marine and Air Force ground crews and cargo handlers can accomplish.  With the ramp raised the aircraft’s air conditioning began to take effect and though not the coolest air conditioning it was better than what we had up to that point. The aircraft began to roll and move down the taxiway and when it reached the end of the taxiway it made a fast turn and began its take off.  Since there was a real and present danger of possible missile or gun attacks on low flying aircraft the C-130 made a steep lift off and banked right over Lake Habbinyah and continued its ascent until it reached its cruise altitude.  The C-130, like any cargo aircraft is extremely loud and because of this hearing protection is worn by passengers and crew and conversation is nearly impossible.

The flight from TQ to Al Asad is only about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the route taken so most of the passengers took the opportunity to grab a bit of sleep or read.  Nelson and I sat together on the starboard side of the aircraft not far from the palletized cargo.  Nelson who can sleep almost anywhere on a moment’s notice was out quickly; and although I was tired I could do little more than close my eyes and try to clear my mind.  When we neared Al Asad the aircraft banking nearly perpendicular to the ground made a steep and fast approach.  As we landed I could see other aircraft on the ground including F-18’s, various transports and rotor wing aircraft.  The C-130 taxied to a spot on the tarmac where the ramp was dropped and we were instructed to exit the aircraft and led to the rear of the aircraft about 50 yards and then led between it and another aircraft to a group of tiny Japanese made Nissan and Mitsubishi buses in which we were loaded until every seat was full including the in aisle jump seats.  Packed into the bus like sardines and smelling almost as bad we sucked in the stench, which was somewhat like a European elevator in the 1980s.

Padre Steve Chillin’ at Al Asad Terminal

After a short ride to the terminal we picked up our gear which had been delivered on the pallets by forklifts.  Another muster was taken and after all personnel were accounted for those of us waiting on follow on flights checked in at the terminal and got our temporary billeting in large tents about a hundred yards from the terminal where we each found a bunk grounded our gear and settled in for a bit to clean up before trying to go get some chow.

Next: Air Travel In Al Anbar the California Line.

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Palm or Passion Sunday…the Paradox of the Triumphant Entry and the Cross

The Triumphant Entry

“Although we praise our common Lord for all kinds of reasons, we praise and glorify him above all for the cross. Paul passes over everything else that Christ did for our advantage and consolation and dwells incessantly on the cross. The proof of God’s love for us, he says, is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Then in the following sentence he gives us the highest ground for hope: If, when we were alienated from God, we were reconciled to him by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life!” John Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

God speaking to Luther: “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. … Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from His father… not knowing whither he went. … Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man… but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Cost of Discipleship

Palm or Passion Sunday always is a day that invokes mixed emotions in me. It is the last Sunday of the Lenten Season and in modern times has become a juxtaposition of two events, the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where he according to all four Gospels was greeted by crowds of people who lined the street with palms as Jesus riding on a donkey processed from Bethany and Bethphage where he had been staying with Lazarus into Jerusalem and the narrative of the Passion.  As such it is a roller coaster ride in our experience of walking with Jesus in the most difficult times.

This particular occasion is the Sunday where the disciples of Jesus are confronted with the reality that our earthy expectations of him do not meet the reality of his condensation to walk among us fully Divine yet fully Human but one too well acquainted with suffering, rejection and shame.  He shatters our expectations that he will bless any particular political or social ideology that we allow to take pre-eminence over him, even those that invoke his name. Thus our liturgy brings us to this strange day where in a sense we are confronted with celebrating the entrance of the King and in the next breath cursing him and betraying him to those who torture and crucify him.

In the Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgy the observance is divided between the Liturgy of the Palms which takes place outside the Church Nave either outside the church building or in the Narthex in cold or inclement weather.  After an opening collect and reading of the Gospel passage from one of the synoptic Gospels, which one depends on which of the three year liturgical readings that the church is in. Following the reading of the Gospel the congregation led by choir, acolytes and clergy process into the church reciting the words of Psalm 118: 18-29 or singing a hymn such as “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  Once the congregation is in the church the Liturgy of the Word continues and when the Passion Gospel is read and specific roles may be assigned to members of the congregation, while the congregation remains seated through the first part of the Passion the congregation stands at the verse where “Golgotha” is mentioned and remains standing.

The liturgy takes the congregation on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster.  As the congregation begins outside the following is read:

When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Luke 19:29-40

It is hard when you read this passage and be caught in the reenactment of this procession not to feel the excitement that must have accompanied that procession.  It has the feeling of a victory parade but this road ends in a manner that those present, those seeking an earthly king and Messiah who would drive our the Roman oppressor and restore the kingdom to Israel would not expect with some of them perhaps playing a role in the drama that would take place later in the week.  I particularly like the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Blessèd One.
Refrain

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
Refrain

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.
Refrain

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Refrain

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

During the Liturgy of the Word one of the following is read, either Isaiah 45:21-25 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the second being the Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Psalm is Psalm 22 where the Psalmist foretells Jesus’ anguished cry from the Cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”And then we have the New Testament reading Philippians 2: 5-11, the hymn to Christ is read:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Peter Denies Christ

This year the Passion Narrative is that of Luke (22:39-71) 23:1-49 (50-56).  The three parts that stand out in this narrative for me are Peter’s denial of Jesus:

“Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter’s denial is in large part because he has had his illusions about Jesus shattered and the fact that he had not understood the message up to that point.  As Bonhoeffer says “Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ.”

Likewise Jesus interaction with the condemned thieves that were crucified with him:

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Crucifixion

The final passage from this narrative that strikes me is the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross:

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

The darkness of this is event is perplexing to those who want to find God in some place where he is untouched by human suffering to them the Cross is folly for what kind of God would submit himself to such ignominy but as Martin Luther wrote “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore, he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly. For they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross, evil and the evil of a deed, good. God can only be found in suffering and the cross.” It is in the contradiction of this week that we come to know God, not a God who seeks not the righteous or the powerful, those who seek the power of an earthy kingdom backed by an ideology of power which tramples the weak, but rather those who will simply walk in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ who rules by serving the least, the lost and the lonely.

The liturgy of this day takes us to the heart of the Gospel as we led by the writers through the triumph of the entrance into Jerusalem, to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the abandonment of him by the disciples and the denial of Peter.  As the writers lead us through his trial, conviction, scourging and trek to Golgotha we see the gamut of human emotions and reactions to Jesus and we know that we can be there as well in any of the characters simply because we are human and capable of compassion or betrayal.  As Jesus is on the Cross it is not the religious or upstanding that remain with him.  He is left with his mother, the other Mary and John the beloved.  He is shown compassion by a thief and recognized as the Son of God by the Roman Centurion, a gentile serving an empire oppressing the people of Israel and whose governor had pronounced the sentence of death upon him.  In this liturgy we have been taken from the heights of exhilaration in the triumphant entry to the depths of despair felt by his disciples that Friday afternoon. It is in this time that we realize how right Dietrich Bonhoeffer is when he writes “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

St Longinus, Centurion at the Cross and Martyr

It is the Centurion for which I have the greatest affinity in this story. He is a soldier and in the words of so many soldiers who have obey orders carried out the sentence upon Christ by crucifying him and then as the life ebbs out of Christ’s crucified body exclaims “surely this was a good man” or in other accounts “surely this was the Son of God.” That is the cry of a man who knows that he has executed an unjust sentence, the reaction of a true penitent, the reaction of a man who comes to realize even before many of Jesus’ closest followers understood.  According to tradition the Centurion was named Longinus who left the service of the Imperial Legion, was baptized by the Apostles and was martyred under the orders of Pontius Pilate by soldiers of the unit that he had once commanded.

It is important for the Church not to lose this identification.  The Church is not to become enmeshed and co-opted by those who attempt to use the Gospel to promote ideologies foreign to it as is the temptation in times of crisis.  As Jürgen Moltmann notes:

“In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian… The Christian life of theologians, churches and human beings is faced more than ever today with a double crisis: the crisis of relevance and the crisis of identity. These two crises are complementary. The more theology and the church attempt to become relevant to the problems of the present day, the more deeply they are drawn into the crisis of their own Christian identity….

Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one belongs oneself.” The Crucified God [pgs. 7, 19]

Nor is our task is not to attempt to invent “crosses” for ourselves in acts of pseudo-martyrdom but simply to be faithful in loving Jesus and our neighbor as Bonhoeffer noted “Must the Christian go around looking for a cross to bear, seeking to suffer? Opportunities for bearing crosses will occur along life’s way and all that is required is the willingness to act when the time comes. The needs of the neighbor, especially those of the weak and downtrodden, the victimized and the persecuted, the ill and the lonely, will become abundantly evident.” The mark of the Christian is not to blindly give his life for a cause or be consumed by the false “messiah’s” promoted by politicians, pundits and even preachers captivated by the lust for power and glory.

As we walk through the mystery of Holy Week together let us renew our faith in the Crucified One and not be conformed to those things that seek to turn us from the way of discipleship and the way of the Cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Muses on Turning the Big Five O

“When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”  Casey Stengel


Fifty years ago today after putting my mother through an entirely brutal day long labor event little Padre Steve entered the world a mould was broken and a journey started.  I have to admit that fifty years is a long time, crap it’s half a century and I am now older than the average life span of men in Cameroon and 18 other countries which means that it probably sucks to be them….if I lived in one of those countries I could say what Casey Stengel said “most of the people my age are dead. You could look it up….” At the same time I’ve still got 25 1/2 years to reach the average life span in the United States.  If this was a baseball game I’d be finishing the bottom of the 6th inning.  The United States ranks 38th in the world on the average life expectancy of a man behind such countries as Cuba of which almost all have universal health care or socialized medicine.  I mean what’s up with that? If I was French, Canadian, German, English or one of these other countries I would have a longer life expectancy?  Hmmm…I do read speak and write German and my friend Gottfried keeps asking us to move there when I retire from the Navy.

One good thing is that I neither look nor act my age. When I was in Iraq my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron and I were having lunch at the chow hall in Fallujah as we travelled out west at the beginning of our deployment with five other RPs as well as a number of Marines and Corpsmen. He decided to ask them how old they thought that I was.  At the time I was a mere 47.  The young folks at the table guessed anywhere from 32 to 42.  I thought that was rather cool.  I used to enjoy getting “carded” at the grocery store when buying beer but now since many places say that they card anyone who appears to be under 40 the thrill of that is gone.

Jeff and Me

Even so it is cool to have people think that I am younger than I am, I remember once when one of my nephews asked my younger brother if he was older than me.  Jeff did not see the humor in this but I admit he does act more mature than me….he grew up and I didn’t, but when he was a kid dad said that he was 8 going on 40. He was appalled when the Abbess and I went out on toilet paper raids.  I guess someone has to be the adult….better him than me, he has kids, and I don’t. It’s like Satchel Paige said “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” And since I don’t mind, it don’t matter.

True Love…Me with Judy at Cal State Northridge in 1980 or 1981

Besides looking good for my age my health has returned and I am feeling much better, physically, emotionally and spiritually than I did at 48 or 49 when I was dealing with PTSD, chronic pain and a spiritual crisis.  I had a check up and the doctor was blown away by my lab numbers and vitals.  He said I was in better health than most people that he sees the vast majority of who are a lot younger than me.  The same was true when I was serving at Navy EOD.  I guess that “50” is the new “30” after all, at least for me.  I took one of those “Real Age” tests a while back and it put me in my early 30s.  While I cannot and will not predict the future if all goes well I should be around many years and be pretty healthy doing it.  Heck my paternal grandmother was riding Greyhound buses across country and traveling well into her 80s.  I guess that I have pretty good genetic stock.  Of course since there is a whole lot that I have no control I am very careful not to prognosticate about how long I might live,  as Casey Stengel said “I don’t make predictions, especially about the future” after all the future ain’t what it used to be.”

47th Birthday in Jordan

Now in 50 years I have seen and done a lot and spent my birthday in some unusual places and sometimes in places where it went unrecognized.  Not that this is an issue for me as I normally shy away from such attention because I didn’t do anything to earn it.   Now I do appreciate people thinking of me and wishing me well. Yesterday our enlisted staff in the Pastoral Care office brought me in a cake and a card signed by all the staff.  It was really touching, the black icing on the cake was appropriate. I love working with this young men and women, they are great.  I have celebrated this auspicious occasion here in the states but also in places like Jordan, Germany and South Korea. South Korea was cool because some of the South Korean Chaplains took me out for dinner at a pizza parlor. I have also celebrated it at sea off the coast of the Horn of Africa.

With NJROTC friends aboard USS Gray shortly after 18th Birthday at Pearl Harbor

I think that life should be enjoyed to the fullest. I personally do not know how some people who have a choice chose not to enjoy life and I’m like talking about people with more talent, ability, money and looks than I will ever have, but they are miserable and they quite literally hate life, not only theirs but despise almost everything about the world that they live in.  Others allow themselves to be consumed by causes and events that they have no control of whatsoever.  Quite often these folks are the same folks who hate life in general but not always.

Me with Jeff and Minnesota Twins player Rich Reese

Now as anyone who knows me well can attest I am not one who has any illusions about how difficult life can be, how things can get all messed up and that life can be painful and sometimes tragic.  I understand this because I have gone through some pretty sucky times.  Thus I know for a fact that “there comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them.”

41st Birthday in Korea with South Korean Marine Chaplains and their Families

I think that in order to live life to the fullest that people need to take what is serious seriously and ease up on most other stuff.  I know that I have only a certain amount of emotional energy and I finally figured out that I don’t need to expend it on things that I can’t control.  I am finally learning that in order to be at peace you cannot constantly be at war or looking for one. Are some things worth fighting for? Certainly, but not every battle is mine to fight.

I think a lot of what has helped me is that I am pretty happy with the person that I am and instead of looking to change things about me I just want to do what I do better within my limitations and neither be deluded into believing my own press or that of others about me or to be discouraged by failure or blame.  Satchel Paige said it well “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”

So 50 years, it has been a long time but I feel good about my past and the future.  I am fortunate to have many friends including some that actually like me.  I have been blessed in a lot of ways, sometimes I understand what Lou Gehrig meant when he said I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” I am both lucky and blessed. I have a wonderful wife, family, friends, education and experiences that I could not have imagined having when I turned 18.  I have been able to travel about the world see and appreciate people from a multitude of countries, cultures and religions.  I have had the privilege of serving my country in peace and war, and to be a Priest. Despite all the problems we are having I live in a wonderful country and I have what I need. I am blessed beyond belief.

The past couple of days I have received the well wishes of more friends than I can count. Last night I was able to see a Norfolk Admirals hockey game and will be going out with Judy tonight and then to top off the day FEDEX dropped off my season tickets for the Norfolk Tides.  Thus I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.

Peace my friends especially to my classmates from Edison High School 1978 who like me are all turning 50 soon or already have.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Lenten Joy

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”  Karl Barth

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Lord deliver us from gloomy saints” Teresa of Avila


Today is the last Friday in Lent and one to reflect on something often forgotten as we get lost in the “necessity” to give up things or do more in our spiritual life.  As one who never enjoyed the Lenten season because I got lost in the legalism of it.  I would become more focused on setting up things to do or to abstain from that were unreasonable and bound to fail no matter how hard I worked to make them work.  Often these were practices that I gleaned from medieval spirituality which focused on the penitential and ascetic aspects of the Christian life which in retrospect only made me more miserable during Lent.  Since I already know that I am a screw up and not very good at many spiritual practices the added “disciplines” were a continual reminder of how screwed up I really am.  This got worse after Iraq dealing with PTSD and all kinds of other issues to the point that last year I did an “un-Lent Lent” avoiding those things but not being very successful in doing better spiritually.

This Lent has been about recovering Joy.  Yes Lent is a penitential season and yes I do examine my conscious and seek to ensure that I go to confession or penitential service.  In fact the acuity of my awareness has gotten better making this less painful than it used to be.  Knowing that I have been able, even when knocked on my ass by a nasty Kidney stone for almost a month have been able to gain something from my Lenten journey, something very spiritual which drew me closer to God and others without a lot of additional religious activity.  For the first time in my life I can say that I have enjoyed Lent.

Part of recovering joy in life is regaining the ability to laugh again and not just with cynical and sarcastic wit.  Instead I have been able to laugh about life, the good and the bad.  As Karl Barth said “laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.”

Laughter and joy have again become central in my life and I wonder how I lived during the darkest parts of the last two years when I despaired of life itself and wondered if God even existed.  Even with all the turmoil in the country and world, which I do take seriously if you are a regular reader, I have been able to live life, do theology, provide pastoral care and write and study history while living in the moment appreciating the grace and forgiveness of God and looking to the future with hope.  I know for some this may sound a bit daft, but I know that things are not great but I also know that somehow God and humanity continue to move forward in relationship to each other.

When I survey some to the pastors, teachers, and “theologians” in print and on the internet I wonder if they have forgotten the essence of life with God.  As the first question in the Westminster Catechism asks “what is the chief end of man?” The proper answer to this question is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Even the disciples of John “I don’t know how to have fun” Calvin got this one right.

Karl Barth hits the nail on the head in dealing with joyless theologians and pastors.  When I was in seminary and since I have ordained I am amazed at the number of joyless people in ministry.  I know that some people get treated like crap by their churches but to remain in ministry while hating it and loathing people strikes me as just sort of self destructive.   Likewise the “theologian” who loathes the work that he has been called to do and the people that he is called to serve.  Barth notes:

“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk—taedium [loathing]—in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1, p. 656.

To have joy in life and rediscover it in a season where even some of the most devout Christians what become immersed in tasks that are meant to bring them closer to God in fact serve to drive them away or become legalistic and unhappy seemingly incapable of knowing joy.  In “giving things up” they also give away the joy and peace of the Lord and the fellowship of his people. Joy should actually serve to remind us of, call us to and awaken us to desire.  C.S. Lewis talked a lot about joy and even wrote a book about it.  He noted in a letter that “All joy…emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

Lent should not be a season where we take the fact that there are no “alleluias” and that many of the symbols of faith in our churches are covered as being a season of sorrow.  If we allow it to become that we miss the point entirely.  The joy that should we experience in life with God and the people that he loves, even in the most mundane and supposedly “unspiritual” undertakings of life is something to be savored.  Joy is part and parcel part of the Christian hope, and merely the hope of the Christian but the hope of humanity in the midst of a world dominated by politicians, pundits, preachers and a media machine that do nothing to inspire but rather play on people’s fears and seek to drive wedges between people who depend upon one another. The Christian faith is about a future grounded in hope and lived in fullness bathed in joy because of what God has done in Christ, instead of dwelling on death it is fixated on life.   As Jürgen Moltmann said “the origin of hope is birth, not death. The birth of a new life is an occasion for hope. The rebirth of lived life is an occasion for even greater hope. And when the dead are raised, they enter into the fulfilled hope of life. The setting for learning hope in life, therefore, is the possibility of starting anew and a new beginning, the true freedom.”


I have entered into a period where I am again experiencing joy in the simplicity and complexity of life lived with people that I have come to love and with whom I hope to share a great future.  With real joy a part of my life I can look to a great future as I turn 50.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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And it’s One, Two Three Wives You’re out….Memories Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital ER

Parkland ER (Life Magazine Photo)

This is another one of those unusual incidents that I faced during my Pastoral Care Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital.  I was in a mood over the weekend and wrote one that was really creepy called The “Eyes” have it; they’ve got Sammy Davis Eyes….an Experience from My Clinical Pastoral Education Residency about a day where I dealt with two unusual eye cases. That one read almost like something from “Tales from the Crypt” or “Tales from the Dark Side.”  This is less creepy and sort of ironic in a weird sort of way.

The day was one of those typical Parkland days during my residency where the abnormal was the norm and norm was not doing so well….or at least Norm (my name for this particular patient- the name has been changed because his real name was probably even more boring) wasn’t doing well.  But first let me lay a little background.

Some people live life with secrets.  Yes my friends SECRETS.  These are dirty nasty secrets that they don’t even share with people inside their “circle of trust.”  In fact I had a brother in law who was much into something called bigamy which if you ask me wasn’t very biga-him or bright of him.  We figure that he had a number of “families” and since he can’t be found in the Social Security Death index assume that he was operating under a number of names and socials….but I digress God rest his soul.

It seems that sudden and uncontrolled events sometimes bring secrets to light, in fact I think that somewhere Jesus said something about this… something like whatever is done in the dark will be seen in the light…you something like that. Sometimes these traumatic events reveal secrets that are for the individual a fate worse than a fate worse than death…which in the case of Norm was true in both ways.  Its almost like when “Death” shows up in an episode of Family Guy and I can in sense see this happening with Norm, Death deciding to visit him at work.

Norm as I call him had an accident at work….he worked in an oil refinery and since we all know from Al Gore that oil companies are all bad it was probably their fault.  However….Norm had a very bad day, in fact it could be labeled the suckiest last day of his life where indeed Death paid him a visit.  We don’t know really what happened but toward the end of the work day Norm the unfortunate either fell into a vat of hot tar at the refinery and subsequently went into cardiac arrest, or he went into cardiac arrest and fell into the vat of hot tar.  So the Dallas Fire Department EMS showed up quickly and with the assistance of the refinery rescue team extracted him from the muck, got an airway began CPR and rushed the tar covered Norm to Parkland where as usual when odd things occurred I was on call.  As they brought him in the paramedics had the pneumatic CPR machine known as “Thumper” going and were “bagging” him.  Needless to say Norm did not look too well.  He was brought into the Cardiac Resuscitation room one, a fully equipped state of the art room designed to give the treatment team on the Medicine side of the ER the best chance to save someone’s life, they were a medicine version of our Trauma rooms on the surgery side of the ER.  However the team realized very quickly that Norm had bought the farm and the code was called.

I began to work with the nursing staff to try to find out if Norm had any family but stopped when a woman identified as his wife showed up.  She was escorted into one of our three ER consult rooms by one of our Police officers.  There a young resident did his best impression of Star Trek’s Doctor McCoy “Mrs. Norm…he’s dead.” I think he expressed his condolences as well, he answered her questions the best that he could while the nursing staff and I supported and calmed her.  When he was done and death and funeral home paperwork was done we escorted Mrs. Norm to see her now departed husband and after a tearful visit to him we took her back to the consult room, gave her a chance to compose herself and ask more questions.  When she was done she departed saying that a friend was waiting for her.  With that done the nursing staff began to prepare his body for the morgue where he would briefly remain until the Dallas Country Medical Examiner staff picked him up.  I busied myself with taking care of the staff and checking the charts and paperwork since Chaplains were also the guardians of the Morgue since the Pastoral Care Department also handled Decedent care.

About 45 minutes after the wife had left the officer who had escorted her to the consult room came to me.  He said “Chaplain his wife is here.”  I looked quizzically at him and said “No she left.” With a bit of a smile the officer, a really good guy looked at me and said “No Chaplain not her, another one.”  I was floored. Another wife? This certainly couldn’t be happening.  I thought this happened only in remote parts of Utah where renegade fundamentalist splinter groups from the Mormon Church flaunted the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by practicing Polygamy and we were in the heart of Dallas with big hair, big cars, big churches and the Cowboys, but not this. After gathering myself I went to the physicians and nurses to tell them the good news.  As they stared at me blankly I got the doctor who had talked with “Number One” to come and spend some time with “Number Two.” We repeated the procedure with wife number two, notification was given, pastoral care and prayer provided, a visit was paid to Norm but with the twist that the doctor asked if she knew about any other family.  Which she did not and since “Number One” had presented the appropriate identification first we let “Number Two” know that she would probably have to deal with the hitherto unknown “Number One.”  Surprisingly though the news had taken her by surprise she was sort of okay with this and left for wherever.

I went back to the doctor’s station where I was working on paperwork and talking with the incredulous staff about what had just transpired when one of the unit clerk’s came over to us.  She said that Norm’s wife was on the phone.  The doctor and I looked at each other and I asked “which one?” The clerk then said “the one in Mexico.”  Yet a third wife….the doctor and I let her know that Norm had passed away and that she needed to contact the Medical Examiner’s office for more information.  The doctor asked if Norm has any other “family” and “Number Three” said just her and her children.  Norm really got around.  The doctor and I decided not to break the fact that she was “third” to her and let the Medical Examiner’s office sort out the sordid details of this twisted evening.

So it was one, two, three wives and Norm was out at the old ball game.  I have no idea what happened later but can only imagine what it would have been to be a cockroach in the cupboard listening to the meeting of these three women who all shared the love, or maybe the lust of Norm.

Peace and stay safe and keep those relationships in order for any of us could be the next contestant on “Death pays a Visit.”

Peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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The Last Week of Lent: Mediation on Life, Love and Public Witness

Lent is drawing to a close and Sunday begins Holy week where the Church remembers the last week in the early life of Jesus the Christ.  While I will write about the various aspects of Holy week to include Passion or Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter but tonight a short meditation on the final week of this Lenten season.

I have discussed how this Lent has been different than previous observances of Lent.  In the past I was constantly trying to observe certain spiritual disciplines to include fasting, abstinence and prayer in a formal and legalistic manner.  Last year as I was “melting down” in my spiritual, psychological and physical life facing an existential crisis where after my tour in Iraq, experience of forsakenness, disillusionment concerning the Church, political institutions and the media and doubt about the existence of God I attempted to change the way that I observed Lent.  For the most part that attempt was an abysmal failure, however out of it came an association with the Pastor and people of Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth which has been a place where at least part of me began to experience community and healing again.

This Lenten season has been one filled with an experience of God’s grace and love as well as a connection to others that I have missed for a long time.  It has been a time of continued healing, self discovery in the light of God’s grace and change in the way that I do life.  Admittedly this has been a gradual process that began back during Advent but has become more a part of my life.  The rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus and a life in community with others has been a key factor in this experience.  I certainly have not figured everything out, far be it, I am re-learning my faith and it has been a time of refreshment.  Part of this is the experience of Christ in Scripture and sacred Tradition, but also in reason.  As such it has been a time where I have been able to enunciate how my Christian faith addresses the trying times that we are living in often through the witness of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth.

One thing that Bonhoeffer said has a particular resonance in my life because it aptly describes how I feel.  In prison Bonhoeffer wrote: “I often ask myself why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood’. While I’m often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people – because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it’s particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable) – to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison

In fact I find it easier on many occasions to have free flowing, intellectual, spiritual discussions with people who have a faith far different than mine than I do with many people in my own denomination. I am making no judgment on them as I have been the one going through a fundamental change in the way that I do life, theology and relationships.

As this has occurred I have rediscovered just how much God loves and cares for real people, as Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

As I interact more with those “outside” the church I often find deep faith and integrity which sometimes I find to be more “real” than some of the Christians that I know. I am not saying that somehow the non-Christian is superior to the Christian but that God has also made them in his image and as such they are not the enemies of God. As Paul the Apostle wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2nd Cor. 5:17-21 NRSV and “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10 NRSV

Likewise I also have found it harder to deal with people who spout religious jargon and throw out Bible verses without any sense of context, history and or concern for their hearers.  It seems to me that many parts of American Christianity have substituted cultural and political issues for the preaching of the Gospel of life.  I recently saw some posts by religious leaders on social networking sites, websites and media outlets that accused pro-life Democrats of “betraying their faith” by voting for the Health Care Bill.  Now I am not thrilled with the bill and have major concerns about it.  However, if I decide to accuse someone of “betraying their faith” I had better be sure that I am on solid ground and stick to what is in the Creed over a particular interpretation of any moral or social issue on which even Christians disagree. Saying this will win me no friends in certain parts of the Church but I wonder the utility of alienating people and in our condemnation of them ensure that they will turn off anything that we say about Jesus who despite what they (and we) do still loves humanity with an undying and passionate love that is demonstrated by his death on the Cross as Paul wrote “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 NRSV

In all of the turmoil that has embroiled the country I still find myself at peace because of what has happened to me over the past couple of years. Going to war and seeing the tragedy of a people engulfed in civil war has given me an appreciation of seeking peaceful dialogue with those that I have disagreement rather than attacking them at the center of their being.  I believe the Gospel lived authentically and not wrapped in the incestuous embrace of venomous and often hate filled political ideologies which seems to be increasingly the case in United States is far more powerful than that of a political movement of any kind.  The church surrenders its authority and legitimacy by allowing itself to be a party organ of any political party or ideology.  Unfortunately simply because political parties and movements pay lip service to certain “Christian” values many Christians and churches lose themselves and endorse power for power sake hoping that the party will implement their beliefs.  Unfortunately history proves that more often than not when their party returns to power it will again sell them short with no return for their support.  The unintended consequence is that people who need the Gospel identify it with the political ideology of the party that the church supported.  This was not the witness of the early church, the Apostles and those that followed them.

The mimicking of ideologues by Christians gives credence and support to violent people who under the cover of God have no problem with praying for the death of their opponents and in some cases taking the responsibility of that in their own hands.  Should bloodshed arise out of this latest partisan political struggle the religious leaders who urged violence and prayed for death will have blood on their hands.  Having been threatened with violence on this website by a supposedly “Christian” person I take a deeply personal interest in just how violent some Christians have become and with actions and violent threats against members of the House of Representatives I wonder what will happen when someone assassinates one of these men or women or a religious leader who dares to oppose them.

The alternative to this is to cry “NO!” to the calls for violence and judgment no matter from what side of the political or ideological spectrum that they emerge.  The alternative is to in thought word and deed demonstrate the truth of the Gospel in love even to those that we have strong disagreement on very important issues.

Anyway I must close for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Tom Hanks on the Pacific War and the Impact of Race in the Pacific War

Anti US Japanese Propaganda

This is my third installment of my series background for the new HBO series “The Pacific.” The producer of this series is actor and producer Tom Hanks. Hanks has also acted in “Saving Private Ryan” and produced “Band of Brothers” both of which have been critically acclaimed. Hanks recently ran afoul of his most loyal audience for these productions when he made a very inaccurate comment about the role of racism in the American-Japanese war in the Pacific which he repeated.  Hanks is a great film maker and his work on “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” helped show a new generation the courage and sacrifice of the generation that fought World War Two.

Hanks comments had a bit of truth in them, as racism did play a role in the propaganda of both sides during the war and the manner in which some leaders and soldiers fought it.  However Hanks demonstrated a true lack of objective historical balance as he skewed this into an overall condemnation of the way that the United States prosecuted the War against Japan. Hanks ignored Japanese conduct and responsibility in the conduct of the war and drew a straw man analogy to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes there was racism at work in the Pacific war; it did influence the conduct of the war and the actions of individual leaders and soldiers, but both the American and Japanese were both part of it, this was not a one way street as Hanks seems to indicate.

But what did Hanks say?  Hanks first comment came in an interview with Time magazine:

“Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods,” he told the magazine. “They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

Hanks then followed this on MSNBC’s “Moring Joe” with Joe Scarborough where he said:

“‘The Pacific’ is coming out now, where it represents a war that was of racism and terror. And where it seemed as though the only way to complete one of these battles on one of these small specks of rock in the middle of nowhere was to – I’m sorry – kill them all. And, um, does that sound familiar to what we might be going through today? So it’s– is there anything new under the sun? It seems as if history keeps repeating itself.”

To be fair there was a significant amount of racism but involved but it was rampant on both sides and Japan’s racism not only included American and British but most of the rest of Asia and in many places they waged a war of extermination against the Chinese and others who resisted them.  Much of the American attitude was based upon the widespread publicity of Japan’s brutal campaign against the Chinese, a people that many Americans harbored an affinity for at that time.  Likewise the attack on Pearl Harbor influenced the way that Americans thought of Japan. The Japanese frequently appealed to anti-colonial feelings of territories that the conquered ignoring their own subjugation of local populations.

Since the subject of race has been broached I have re-posted a review of John Dower’s book “War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” The book shows how much racism played a role in the conduct of the war on both sides. However it was not in the manner in which Hanks portrayed it in his interviews as it was a two way street. The war in the Pacific was one of the most brutal “no-quarter” conflicts ever fought and much of this was directly related to the Japanese concept of honor which considered personal surrender cowardly and a loss of face, or believing that showing mercy or treating defeated enemies who surrendered with honor was undeserved.

The comparison of this war by Hanks to the current wars in undeserved. With few exceptions the American military has conducted itself with tremendous restraint often risking its own to ensure that non-combatants are not killed even during firefights and battles.  There are some in the United States who advocate the type of war that we had with the Japanese against Moslems extremist or otherwise and they are among the loudest critics of the military’s prosecution of these wars. Depending on what happens racism has the potential to reemerge as a major factor in this conflict, but at the present Hanks remark can only be called ill-informed and prejudiced in its own right. By doing this Hanks sullies his reputation among the surviving veterans of the “Great Generation” who had to battle a tenacious and proud foe on the “little specks of sand and rock” in the Pacific.

Anti-Japanese propaganda sometimes encouraged “wiping out” every “murdering Jap”

This is a review of John Dower’s “War without Mercy” which I published on this site last year.  It is a book that raises troubling questions about the Pacific war but one that is not one sided.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Even Dr Seuss was used to paint the picture of Japanese Americans as traitors

The study of war cannot simply be confined to the study of battles, weapons and leaders. While all of these are important one must as Clausewitz understood examine the human element of policy, ideology and the motivations of nations as they wage war. Clausewitz understood that war could not be reduced to formulas and templates but involved what he called the “remarkable trinity” which he described in on war as (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy. Clausewitz connects this with the people being connected to the primordial forces of war, the military with the non-rational elements of friction, chance and probability and the government.

Anti-British Japanese Propaganda leaflet

The Clausewitzian understanding of war is rooted in the Enlightenment and classic German Liberalism, born out of his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, which forever changed the face of warfare.  From the defeat of Prussia and its liberation from Napoleonic rule under Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Clausewitz developed the understanding that war was more than simply tactics and weapons.  Thus when we examine war today we deprive ourselves of properly understanding the dynamic of war if we fail to appreciate the human factor which is frequently not rational.  Such is especially the case when one fights an enemy who wages war on religious, racial or ideological grounds as is the case in the current war against Al Qaida and other extremist Moslem groups. Such groups would like to turn this war into such a conflict as do certain figures in the American political milieu who repeatedly label all of Islam as the enemy.  In such a climate it is imperative to look at history to show us the results of such primal passions.


The Japanese made a conscious but unsuccessful attempt to incite African Americans to rise against white America

It is in such conflict as we are engaged in today it is good to look at previous wars from the human experiential component and not simply military operations.  If one wants to look at how inflamed passion driven by racial prejudice and hatred took war to a level of barbarity and totality that defy our comprehension we only need to look back to the Pacific war between Japan and the United States.  In another post I dealt with the how racial ideology influenced Nazi Germany’s conduct of the war against Poland and the Soviet Union.  http://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/the-ideological-war-how-hitlers-racial-theories-influenced-german-operations-in-poland-and-russia/

To do this I will look at John Dower’s “War Without Mercy.” In this book Dower examines World War Two in the Pacific from the cultural and ideological viewpoints of the opposing sides.  He looks at the war as a race war, which he says “remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two.”[i] Dower examines race hated and its influence on both the Japanese and the Allies, particularly in the way that each side viewed one another and conducted the war.  He examines the nature of racial prejudice and hate in each society, including its religious, psychological, ideological, scientific and mythological components.  He also examines the use of media and propaganda, and how racial attitudes not only influenced national and individual attitudes, but also the military and intelligence operations of both sides.  This book is not about military campaigns, thus it is much more like “In the Name of War” by Jill Lepore[ii] than any history of the Pacific war.

Dower uses sources such as songs, movies, cartoons and various writings of the times to demonstrate the totality of the war.  Dower admits many of these are difficult to handle and “not respectable sources in some academic sources.”[iii] Despite this he puts together a work that is sometimes chilling, especially when one looks at the current war that our country is engaged in. He also endeavors to explain how after a war where “extraordinarily fierce and Manichean”[iv] race hate predominated, it could “have dissipated so easily”[v] after the war was over.

Dower divides his work into three major sections.  The first which examines how the aspect of race effected the fighting of the war, the second, the war through Western eyes and the third the war through Japanese eyes.  The first section begins with how racial attitudes in Western and Japanese societies helped fuel the war and compares similar attitudes and concepts in Western and Japanese thought, including how “prejudice and racial stereotypes frequently distorted both Japanese and Allied evaluations of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities.”[vi] He looks at the language of the conflict; at how war words and race words came together “in a manner which did not reflect the savagery of the war, but truly contributed to it….”[vii] the result being “an obsession with extermination on both sides.”[viii] He comes back to this theme throughout the book comparing the two sides and occasionally contrasting these attitudes with corresponding attitudes of the Allies to their German and Italian foes in Europe.[ix]

In the first chapter Dower examines the role played by the propaganda used by both sides.  In particular he explains how the “Know Your Enemy: Japan” movies commissioned by the War Department and directed by Frank Capra, and the Japanese works “Read this and the War is Won” and “The Way of the Subject” helped shape the view of each side. Propaganda developed the idea of the war in terms of good versus evil and the mortal threat posed to their respective cultures by the enemy.

From this he looks at the visceral emotions that the war engendered and how those emotions spilled over into the conduct of the war especially in regard to its ferocity and the war crimes that were spawned by the unbridled hatred of both sides.  He notes the targeted terror bombings of civilians by both sides and how those actions were portrayed as “barbaric” by the other side when they were the victim.[x] He notes the viciousness of the war and how for the Americans the war brought forth “emotions forgotten since our most savage Indian wars.”[xi] He contrasts this with European war in particular how the Japanese and their actions were portrayed in Western media, and how similar actions by the Germans, such as the Holocaust, were ignored by Western media until the war was over.[xii] He traces some of this to the understanding of the psychological effects of the defeats and humiliations of the Allies at the hands of the Japanese, and the corresponding brutality toward Allied prisoners by the Japanese as compared to that of the Germans.[xiii] He uses this section to also examine the prevailing attitudes of the Japanese toward the Allies as being weak and “psychologically incapable of recovery” from blows such as the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Allied view of the Japanese as “treacherous.”[xiv]

Dower’s second major section describes the attitudes and actions of the Americans and British toward their Japanese enemy.  He looks at the view that the Japanese were less than human and often portrayed as apes or other primates such as monkeys.  To do this he examines cartoons and illustrations in popular magazines and military publications, and includes those cartoons in the book.   The sheer vulgarity of these cartoons is easily contrasted with those promoted and published by Nazis such as Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer, something often overlooked or ignored in other histories.[xv] The early Western views of Japan as sub-human continued throughout the war, while at the same time, especially after the rapid series of Allied defeats and Japanese victories they were viewed as almost “super-human.”  Paradoxically some allied leaders turned the Japanese from “the one time “little man” into a Goliath.”[xvi] They were now “tough, disciplined and well equipped.”[xvii] Ambassador Joseph Grew, reported on his return from Japan, that the Japanese were; “”sturdy,” “Spartan,” “clever and dangerous,” and that “his will to conquer was “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to the values that make up our civilization….””[xviii] The juxtaposition of such conflicting attitudes is curious, although understandable, especially in light of other Western wars against Asians or Arabs.[xix]

Dower then examines how some Americans and British explained the Japanese “National Character,” their approach to war, and actions during the war from Freudian psychiatry as well as Anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences.   Beginning with the widespread Allied understanding that the Japanese were “dressed-up primitives-or “savages” in modern garb…”[xx] he notes that these interpretations of the Japanese national character stemmed from “child-rearing practices and early childhood experiences,”[xxi] including toilet training and Freudian interpretations that saw an arrested psychic development at the “infantile (anal or genital) stage of development.”[xxii] Dower deduces that it was not hard to see how “Japanese overseas aggression became explicable in terms of penis envy or a castration complex….”[xxiii] The views were widespread and emphasized  that the “Japanese were collectively unstable.”[xxiv] Dower notes that the “very notion of “national character”-was the application to whole nations and cultures of an analytical language that had been developed through personal case studies…”[xxv] which he is rightly critical in suggesting that this premise “was itself questionable.”[xxvi] In addition to this was the understanding of Margaret Mead and others of the Japanese as “adolescents” and “bullies,”[xxvii] and notes that from “the diagnosis of the Japanese as problem children and juvenile delinquents, it was but a small step to see them as emotionally maladjusted adolescents and, finally as a deranged race in general.”[xxviii] Dower cites numerous other “experts” of the time and their interpretations of the Japanese national character, but the overwhelming message is that the application of these theories, regardless of their validity had a major impact on the Allied war against Japan.

He follows this chapter with one with much importance in explaining the similarities in how Americans and Westerners in general viewed the Japanese in relationship to other races that they had dealt with including Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and American Indians.  Common themes include the views of each as primitives, children and madmen and the view of the Japanese as part of the “Yellow Peril.”  Of particular note is his analysis of the work of Homer Lea’s 1909 book The Valor of Ignorance and the vision of Japanese supermen which enjoyed a revival after Pearl Harbor.[xxix] Dower examines depictions of Asians in general in the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series of films and other racial aspects hearkening back to the “specter of Genghis Khan and the prospect that the white races “may be liquidated.”[xxx] He notes how Japanese propagandists attempted to use Allied prejudice to influence the Chinese and other Asians against the Allies[xxxi] and American blacks against whites,[xxxii] while attempting to maintain their own racial superiority which is the subject of the next section.

The chapters dealing with the Japanese view of themselves and their opponents tie together neatly.  These deal with the Japanese view of themselves as the leading race in Asia and the world.  Dower talks about symbols and the understanding of racial purity that motivated the Japanese from the 1800s to the rejection of Japan’s request for a declaration of “racial equity” at the League of Nations.[xxxiii] He notes the “propagation of an elaborate mythohistory in Japan and the time spent “wrestling with the question of what it really meant to be “Japanese” and how the “Yamato race” was unique among races….”[xxxiv] He notes the relationship of Shinto with whiteness and purity and connotations of how the Japanese indulged in “Caucasianization” of themselves vis-à-vis other Asians during World War Two,”[xxxv] and their emphasis on a Japanese racial worldview.[xxxvi] He also tackles the way in which the Japanese wrestled with evolution and its relationship to other racial theories contrasting books such as A History of Changing Theories about the Japanese Race and Evolution of Life with Cardinal Principles of the National Polity published by the Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education in1937.  These declared that the Japanese were “intrinsically different from the so-called citizens of Occidental countries.”[xxxvii] He also deals with the Kyoto school and the Taiwa concept.[xxxviii] In Chapter Nine Dower looks at how the Japanese viewed themselves and outsiders, in particular the characterization of Westerners as nanbanjin or  barbarians and how this eventually train of thought carried through the war led to the “Anglo-American foe emerged full blown as the demonic other.”[xxxix] Dowers final chapter deals with how quickly the race hatred dissipated and genuine goodwill that developed between the Japanese and Americans after the war.[xl]

This book holds a unique place in the literature of the Pacific war.  It is not a comfortable book, it is challenging. No other deals with these matters in any systemic way.  If there is a weakness in Dower is that he does not, like Lepore in “In the Name of War” deal with the attitudes of soldiers and those who actually fought the war.  His examples are good and go a long way in explaining the savagery with which the war was conducted, but could have been enhanced with reflections and accounts of those who fought the war and survived as well as the writings of those who did not, and the way those attitudes were reflected in different services, times and theaters during the war, including adjustments that commanders made during the war.[xli] His description of how Japanese “reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest …in contemplating anything short of Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat.”[xlii]

The lessons of the book are also contemporary in light of the cultural and religious differences between the West and its Moslem opponents in the current war. Possibly even more so than the war between the United States and Japan which was fought by nation states that still were signatories to international conventions, not nation states against terrorists unbound by any Western code or law or indigenous forces engaged in revolutionary war against the west such as the Taliban.[xliii] The temptation is for both sides to demonize one’s opponent while exalting one’s own way of life through official propaganda and popular media, with a result of increased viciousness and inhumanity in pursuit of ultimate victory.   In today’s world with the exponential rise in the radicalization of whole people groups and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is possibility that the war could develop into one that is a racial as well as religious and ideological war that would make the War in the Pacific look like a schoolyard brawl.

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996

Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998

Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000.

Notes


[i] Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986. p.4

[ii] Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998.  Lepore’s book deals with King Phillip’s War and how that war shaped the future of American war and how it shaped the views of Indians and the English Colonists and their later American descendants both in the language used to describe it, the histories written of it and the viciousness of the war.

[iii] Ibid. p.x

[iv] Ibid. p.ix

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Ibid. p.11

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.   Also see Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995 Alexander notes an incident that shows a practical application of the Japanese views and the ruthlessness inflicted on their enemies, in this case prisoners in response to an American bombing raid. In 1942 the commander of the Japanese Garrison of Makin Island ordered 22 prisoners beheaded after one cheered following a bombing raid. (p.32)

[ix] An interesting point which Dower does not mention but is interesting for this study is how the Germans referred to the British and Americans as “Die gegener” (opponents) and the Soviets as “Die Feinde” (the enemy), the implication being that one die gegener was a common foe, much like an opposing team in a sport, and the other a mortal enemy, the implication of Feinde being evil, or demonic.

[x] In particular he makes note of the Japanese actions during the “Rape of Nanking,” and the 1945 sack of Manila, as well as the fire bombing of Japanese cities by the US Army Air Corps in 1945.

[xi] Ibid. Dower. p.33

[xii] Ibid. p.35

[xiii] Ibid.  This is important in the fact that the Allies tended not to make much of German brutality to the Jews, Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

[xiv] Ibid. p.36.

[xv] Dower does not make this implicit comparison, but having seen both and studied the Nazi propaganda directed toward the Jews, Russians and other Slavic peoples considered to be Untermenschen (sub-humans) by the Nazis the similarities are striking.

[xvi] Ibid. pp.112-113.

[xvii] Ibid. p.113

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] In the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers who previously showed no respect to any Arab fighter described their Hezbollah opponents as “soldiers and warriors.”  Similar attitudes were voiced by American soldiers in Vietnam when they fought NVA regulars.

[xx] Ibid. p.123

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.124

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid. p.129

[xxviii] Ibid. p.143

[xxix] Ibid. P.157.  Lea is interesting because he predicts a decline in the stature of the British Empire and softness of both the Americans and British as peoples.  Also see John Costello in The Pacific War 1941-1945 Quill Books, New York, NY 1982 pp.31-32 notes Lea’s concerns and how they drove the American Pacific strategy until the outbreak of World War Two.

[xxx] Ibid. p.161

[xxxi] Ibid. p.169

[xxxii] Ibid. pp.174-180.  This is an interesting section.  One of the most interesting topics being the reaction of the NAACP’s Walter White’s book A Rising Wind published which “suggested a sense of kinship with other colored-and also oppressed-peoples of the world….he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma….” (p.177-178)

[xxxiii] Ibid. p.204

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.205

[xxxv] Ibid. p.209  This is interesting when one compares the Japanese emphasis on “Pan-Asianism” and the inherent contradiction between the two.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.211  Dower notes that the article Establishing a Japanese Racial Worldview in the monthly Bungei Shunju “clarified the Japanese character, whose basic traits were brightness, strength and uprightness.  These qualities made the Japanese “the most superior race in the world.”

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.221

[xxxviii] Ibid. p.227 This was the theory of Zen Buddhism’s Suzuki Daisetsu (D.T. Suzuki) in his teaching of the struggle for the Great Harmony “Taiwa” which attempted to identify “an intuitive sense of harmony and oneness that he declared to be characteristic of Oriental thought.”

[xxxix] Ibid. p.247.  Descriptions of the Allies as Barbarians, Gangsters and Demons permeated Japanese propaganda.

[xl] Ibid. Dower makes a number of observations relating to how the Japanese were able to use their own self concept to adapt to their defeat.  He also notes that the Japanese were able to transfer their self concept to a peaceful orientation.

[xli] See Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996 p.35.  Leckie quotes General Ushijima “You cannot regard the enemy as on par with you,” he told his men. “You must realize that material power usually overcomes spiritual power in the present war. The enemy is clearly our superior in machines. Do not depend on your spirits overcoming this enemy. Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision-then think about displaying your spiritual power.”  Leckie comments: “Ushijima’s order was perhaps the most honest issued by a Japanese commander during the war. It was Bushido revised, turned upside down and inside out-but the revision had been made too late.”

[xlii] Ibid. Dower. p.37

[xliii] See Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000. p.95.  Tregaskis notes when commenting on Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal “We stared at them and they stared back at us. There was no doubt what we or they would have liked to do at that moment-if we had not remembered our code of civilization or if they had not been unarmed.”

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Background on the Pacific Part Two: Guadalcanal the Marines take the Offensive

This is the second “backgrounder” that I am posting to help my readers not acquainted with the War in the Pacific who desire to whet their whistle so to speak get an introduction to this war. While the series appears to be very well done it cannot provide the broad overview and references needed if a person really wants to know more. I believe that those who appreciate the story of the Marines portrayed in the series can help pass this on to others by learning more themselves about the subject.  I hope that this will encourage you  my readers never to forget the Marines depicted in “The Pacific.”


Decision

Guadalcanal came to American attention in early 1942 as a result of the Japanese South Pacific advance, which “threatened the Allied line of communications with Australia.”[1] Admiral King believed that “the Japanese must not be permitted to consolidate the formidable prizes” that they were then in the course of gathering.”[2] General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz both wanted to “exploit the Midway victory by a speedy change-over from the defensive to the counter offensive.”[3] MacArthur wanted to strike Rabaul directly using Navy carriers. The Navy, not wanting to give up control of its carriers proposed a strategy of working up through the Solomon Islands, under Navy control.[4] The debate was at times acrimonious.  Eventually King and General Marshall worked out a compromise that divided the campaign between the Navy and MacArthur,[5] the Navy in charge of taking Guadalcanal and Tulagi.[6] OPERATION WATCHTOWER was approved in a Joint Chief’s of Staff directive on July 2nd 1942.[7]

Partners Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Major General Alexander Vandegrift

The Japanese had not initially placed a high priority on the Solomons, “as they did not expect a counteroffensive in the Pacific for months.”[8] However, after Coral Sea and Midway, they authorized operation “SN” to “strengthen the outer perimeter of Japan’s advance by constructing airfields at key strategic points….”[9] The Japanese sent a contingent of troops, which arrived on June 8th[10] to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, in addition to the seaplane base on Tulagi, as part of a strategy to take the offensive in the South Pacific with an attack on Port Moresby in mid-August.[11]

Coastwatchers

Japanese commanders were impatient for the airstrip to be completed, yet work began at a leisurely pace, with the Japanese unaware that every move was being “watched and reported to Allied headquarters in Australia,” by coast-watchers.[12] As the Japanese on Guadalcanal dithered the Americans rushed their preparations for the invasion[13] nicknamed “SHOESTRING” by American officers.

The Landings and Initial Actions through the Ilu (Tenaru) River

Marines coming ashore at Guadalcanal

Preparations, though rushed enabled the 1st Marine Division under General Vandegrift to embark on transports for Guadalcanal, despite not being combat loaded and having been assured that they “need not expect a combat mission before 1943.”[14] The invasion force under the overall command of Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner set sail on July 25th and cloaked by heavy rain and clouds[15] remained undetected by the Japanese until they arrived in the waters off Guadalcanal, achieving complete surprise.[16] The invasion force landed on both Tulagi and Guadalcanal.  On Tulagi, 1st Raider Battalion under Colonel Edson and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines quickly drove off the 350 Japanese defenders of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force,[17] and in three days eliminated the Japanese garrison which resisted to the death, with only 23 prisoners.[18] On nearby Gavutu-Tanambogo 1st Parachute Battalion subdued the Japanese personnel operating the seaplane base, though not without difficulty, the naval bombardment was ineffective[19] and the Parachutists suffered heavy casualties[20] and forcing the commitment of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 2nd Marines.[21] Across the sound the main force of 1st Marine Division went ashore near Lunga Point with 5 infantry battalions.  The Marines rapidly ran into difficulty, not due to the Japanese garrison, which melted into the jungle,[22] but to a lack of maps, the thick jungle and kuni grass, their own “deplorable physical condition” from being shut up in the holds of the transports for two weeks and overburdened with full packs and extra ammunition.[23]

Japanese “Betty” Bombers attacking US Transports

While the Marines advanced inland, supplies built up on the landing beaches due to the limited number of cargo handlers.  Additionally, the Japanese launched a number of heavy air raids which caused minimal damage to the destroyer Mugford on the 7th but were more successful on the 8th damaging a transport badly enough that it had to be abandoned.

Marine M3 Stuart Light Tank and Crew at Guadalcanal

The Marines on Guadalcanal, comprised of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments consolidated a bridgehead around the captured airfield on the 8th, but the next day found that their situation had changed dramatically.  The Japanese Navy had attacked and mauled the covering force, sinking four cruisers and damaging one at the Battle of Savo Island.[24] The destruction of the covering force and Admiral Fletcher’s withdraw of the carriers forced the transports to depart on the 9th, still bearing much equipment, supplies and nearly 1800 men of the 2nd Marines.[25] Vandegrift was left with only 5 infantry and 3 artillery battalions, and the 3rd Defense battalion on the island as well as some tanks, engineers and Navy “Seabees.”[26] When the Navy left Vandegrift went over to the defensive and organized a line from the Ilu river on the east to Lunga point and the airfield to a point about 1000 yards past Kukum.[27] Defenses were prepared to defend against potential Japanese amphibious attacks.  1st Marines held the eastern perimeter and 5th Marines (-) the west. One battalion with tanks and half-tracks was reserve.  The line was thin and not continuous, thus Vandegrift could only watch and wait for the Japanese strike and move “part of his mobile reserve to meet it when it came.”[28] On the 12th a prisoner reported that Japanese near Matanikau were willing to surrender and LtCol Goettge the G-2 led a 25 man patrol to investigate.  The patrol was ambushed and decimated with only three survivors.[29] The Japanese landed the advance party of the 5th Special Naval Landing Force in broad daylight on the 16th, and Vandegrift decided to bring 2/5, and the Raider and Parachute battalions from Tulagi as soon as he had ships to do it.[30] On the 20th the airfield was opened and a squadron each of Marine Fighters and Dive Bombers landed on Guadalcanal.[31]

Makeshift Obstacles: With no barbed wire the Marines used the ingenuity

General Hyakutake of the 17th Army was allotted 6,000 men of the Special Naval Landing Force, and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki detachments to re-take Guadalcanal.   17th Army also had the Sendai 2nd and the 38th Divisions, tank and artillery units, but they were scattered from Manchuria, to Borneo and Guam.[32] Hyakutake was ordered to use only the Ichiki detachment, a move which some at Imperial GHQ vigorously opposed.[33] Kawaguchi, recognized Guadalcanal’s importance and told a reporter that “the island would be a focal point in the struggle for the Pacific.”[34] On the 18th Colonel Ichiki landed with half of his unit, 915 men, 25 miles east of the Marines.  Overconfident, he disobeyed orders to wait for the rest of his troops, left 125 men behind to guard his bridgehead and set off to attack.[35]

Colonel Ichiki whose elite 5th Special Naval Landing Force was annihilated at the Tenaru River

Ichiki’s force attacked shortly after 0100 on the 21st.  He thought that he had achieved surprise[36], but, opposing him was 2nd Battalion 1st Marines under LtCol. Al Pollock.  Warned by patrols that encountered the oncoming Japanese, and by Sergeant Major Vouza,[37] the Marines were on alert, well dug in, though lacking barbed wire, of which a single strand was emplaced across their front.  The Japanese ran into the barbed wire and were mowed down as they attempted to cross the sandspit against G/2/1 and a weapons platoon. About 0300 artillery joined the action, catching the Japanese bunched together near the sandspit inflicting heavy casualties.[38] Around 0500 Ichiki made another attempt, sending a company through the surf, which was engulfed in machine gun and artillery fire.[39] At daylight the Marines counter attacked. Colonel Cates ordered Lt.Col. Cresswell’s 1st Battalion 1st Marines, to envelop the Japanese along the beach.  Pollock’s Marines ranged mortars and small arms fire on Japanese survivors to their front, picking them off “like a record day at Quantico”

Dead Japanese of the Ichiki Detachment at the Tenaru

[40] Marine aircraft made their first appearance, strafing the Japanese survivors.  A light tank platoon crossed the Ilu and began to mop up the Japanese with 1/1 at 1530.  At 1630 Ichiki burned his regimental colors and committed suicide.  The Battle of the Ilu was over, the Japanese suffering at least 777 dead,[41] 15, 13 of whom were wounded were captured, only a Lt. Sakakibara and one soldier escaped to join those at the landing site.[42] The Marines suffered 35 dead and 74 wounded.[43] Ichiki made critical mistakes; he failed to reconnoiter, made a frontal attack against a dug in enemy and repeated it, with disastrous results.[44] Hyakutake informed Tokyo: “The attack of the Ichiki detachment was not entirely successful.”[45] The Americans were shocked at the Japanese fight to the death, and Griffith would note: “from this morning until the last days on Okinawa, the fought a ‘no quarter’ war. They asked none for themselves. They gave none to the Japanese.”[46]

Bloody Ridge

Artists depiction of Sgt Mitchell Paige assaulting attacking Japanese units at Bloody Ridge

A round of minor engagements was fought in late August and early September as each side sent reinforcements.  Kawaguchi’s brigade landed between August 29th and September 4th, but many troops were lost due to air attacks on the destroyers, transports and barges.  Kawaguchi received the remainder of Ichiki’s force, bringing his force to 6200 men. He refused Hyakutake’s offer of an additional infantry battalion, believing intelligence that only 2000 Marines remained on Guadalcanal.[47] In fact Vandegrift had already moved the Raiders, Parachutists from Tulagi to Guadalcanal.  Most of Kawaguchi’s force was east of the Marines; elements of 4th Regiment under Colonel Oka were on the Matanikau.[48] Vandegrift used the Raiders to attack Kawaguchi’s rear areas, capturing Tasimboko and killing 27 Japanese, destroying many of his troop’s supplies and foodstuffs.[49] Kawaguchi was infuriated by the attack and 17th Army prepared to send troops from the Sendai 2nd Division to the island.

Vandegrift and Key Marine Leaders

The Raiders and Parachutists took positions on a ridge south of Henderson field on their return from the raid against Kawaguchi’s rear.  Vandegrift placed his “Amtrackers” to the west of the ridge with 1st Pioneer Battalion.[50] Colonel deValle’s artillery was emplaced to give close support and observers attached to Edson’s battalion.  The artillery was registered on pre-plotted points.[51] Edson’s force had little time to prepared defenses and due to the ridge and jungle prevented him from having “anything like a continuous line.”[52] First Marines held the line from Edson’s left to the sea along the Ilu.  Unlike Ichiki, Kawaguchi avoided an attack on the strong 1st Marines position, and headed across the jungle to attack the airfield from the south with the 124th Infantry Regiment.  Due to the difficult approach his battalions had a hard time reaching their start positions, two of the three reached the assembly areas two and three hours after the start time.  When they did attack they lost their way, became scattered and intermingled; and Kawaguchi his battalion commanders lost all control.[53] The attack on the 12th was frustrating to Kawaguchi who later wrote “In all my life I have never felt so helpless.”[54] The attack was so ineffective that Edson thought the Japanese were “testing” him.[55]

Marine Artillery on Guadalcanal

Kawaguchi regrouped as did Edson, who pulled back his line 200 yards to a stronger point on the ridge, reorganizing the line and command and control.[56] This improved fields of fire for his automatic weapons.[57] 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, the only reserve was moved south of the airfield so it could relieve Edson on the 14th.[58] As darkness fell, the Japanese attacked. I/124 attacked the ridge and the area to the west.  Marines withdrew up the ridge under heavy pressure supported by artillery, which dropped fires almost on top of the Raider positions.[59] During the withdraw the Parachutists became confused and continued to withdraw, and only stopped when Edson’s operations officer, Major Bailey stepped in and halted it.

Artists depiction of the Battle of Bloody Ridge

Artillery pounded I/124 and halted its attack even as companies of the reserve, 2nd battalion 4th Regiment attacked forcing the Raiders back to a knoll, the last defensive position before Henderson Field.[60] Edson exhorted the Marines who threw the Japanese back, and parachutists under Captain Torgerson counterattacked. Two more attacks were repulsed with assistance from 2/5 which had moved up in support.[61] The third Japanese battalion did not get into action[62] and Colonel Oka in the west made a weak attack that was handily defeated. The Japanese lost over 1200 men in their attack on the ridge.[63] The demoralized Japanese retreated west to join Oka’s men, taking a week and costing even more casualties.[64] Short on food, Oka pushed the survivors west and so he could defend the river line.[65]On the 18th Vandegrift was reinforced with 4700 men of the 7th Marines along with trucks, heavy equipment and supplies.[66] Edson was promoted to command 5th Marines.[67]

Matanikau Battles and the Fight for Henderson Field

Marine F4F Wildcat on Henderson Field

The Japanese now decided to send the Sendai and 38th divisions and heavy artillery to the island. Hyakutake went to the island to direct the campaign. The decision resulted in the suspension of 17th Army’s offensive against Port Moresby.[68] Admiral Yamamoto committed the fleet to cover the operations[69] setting up a major air, land and sea confrontation with the Americans.  However before these forces could reach the island Vandegrift launched a series of attacks against Oka’s force on the Matanikau using the Raiders, and elements of 5th and 7th Marines.[70] The first attacks took place 24-27 September.  The Matanikau position was important to future Japanese operations as their artillerymen stressed that they could not effectively shell the airfield unless guns were emplaced across the river.[71] The Raiders attacked at the log bridge[72] supported by C/1/7 and were repulsed by Oka’s 12th Company with heavy casualties.[73] Puller’s attack by 2/5 and parts of 1/7 at the mouth of the river was rebuffed by 9th Company.  An amphibious assault by three companies of 1/7 was ordered by Edson who mistakenly believed that his Marines had crossed the river.[74] The force isolated by Oka’s II/124 and 12th Company, its commander killed and the Marines had to be rescued by Navy units.[75]

Navy Corpsmen preparing to evacuate a wounded Marines (above) and the 1st Marine Divsion Field  Hospital

A second attack by the Marines on the Japanese, now reinforced by 4th Infantry Regiment on 6-9 October dealt them a crushing blow.  An attack by 2/5 and 3/5 along the coast met heavy Japanese resistance and General Nasu decided to push across the river. While this was taking place, 7th Marines and the Whaling Group[76] outflanked the Japanese on the river and pushed to the coast.  The Marines mauled the 4th Infantry, a Japanese report noting at least 690 casualties.[77] The action had decisive impacts on the next phase of Japanese operations.

General Hyakutake Commander of the Japanese 17th Army defending Guadalcanal

7th Marines and the 164th Regiment of the Americal Division arrived allowing Vandegrift to mount a full perimeter defense while Admiral Halsey replaced Ghormley as COMSOPAC.[78] Arriving on 10 October with the Sendai Division and 17th Army Artillery, Hyakutake, was notified that “American artillery had ‘massacred” the Fourth Infantry Regiment”[79] and found Ichiki and Kawaguchi’s units in an emaciated condition, the total effectives of the 6 battalions numbering less than a full strength battalion.[80] He radioed Rabaul “SITUATION ON GUADALCANAL IS MUCH MORE SERIOUS THAN ESTIMATED, and asked for more reinforcements and supplies at once.”[81] The Navy turned back a Japanese bombardment group on the 12th, but battleships and cruisers blasted Henderson Field on the 13th, 14th and 15th, destroying many aircraft.[82]

The 14″ guns of the Japanese Battleship Kongo and her sister Haruna pounded Henderson Field

Hyakutake received reinforcements including tanks and an infantry-artillery group and prepared to attack.  General Sumiyoshi[83] was to make a diversionary attack along the coast with Army artillery and 5 infantry battalions.  The Sendai Division under General Maruyama[84] with 9 infantry battalions moved inland along a route “the Maruyama road,”[85] to make the main effort to attack the airfield from the south.  Sumiyoshi divided his artillery to support the bombardment of Henderson Field and support his infantry attacks, but was short ammunition.[86] The Marines had fortified the eastern side of the Matanikau and Sumiyoshi probed the Marines with infantry and tanks and artillery fire on the 20th and 21st, giving the Marines their first taste of concentrated artillery.[87] Sumiyoshi’s demonstration on the coast was effective, and Maruyama’s division remained undetected throughout its advance avoiding Marine and native patrols.[88]

Japanese dead after the failed attack on Henderson Field

The attack began on the 23rd with Sumiyoshi attacking on the Matanikau; but he did not get the word that the attack for that night had been postponed until the 24th since Kawaguchi’s units had not gotten to assembly areas on the right of Sendai division.[89] His tanks advanced at 1800 and all but one were destroyed by deValle’s artillery as soon as they moved across the sandspit. The supporting infantry withdrew, and most never went forward as they were hit hard in assembly areas by Marine artillery losing over 600 men.[90] The action succeeded in the Marines shifting 2/7 and 3/7 north leaving Puller’s 1/7 alone on “Bloody Ridge.”[91] Fortunately for the Marines these Japanese forces were detected by Scout-Sniper’s[92] and Puller dug in his battalion deeper and set out a platoon in an outpost 1500 meters south of his position.[93]

Chesty Puller

On the 24th Maruyama’s Sendai troops attacked the ridge.  He divided his force into two wings each of three infantry battalions commanded by General Nasu on the left and Colonel Shoji[94] on the right, three battalions served as a reserve. He advanced at 1900 but a storm turned the jungle into a vast mud bog exhausting the Japanese.  Shoji’s wing advanced tangential to the Marine line and only one battalion made contact with Puller’s battalion.[95] Nasu’s troops hit Puller’s who realized that he was facing a major attack; he fed platoons from 3rd Battalion 164th Infantry, a National Guard unit into his lines and requested reinforcements.[96] The Marines and Guardsmen beat back all but one attack, that of LtCol. Furimiya of III/29 who got into the Marine perimeter and held out 48 hours, colors flying, leading Hyakutake to believe that they had captured the airfield.[97] The Japanese were driven off 9th Company of the 29th Regiment was wiped out primarily by the efforts of Sgt. John Basilone’s machine gun section.[98]

Wrecked Aircraft on Henderson Field

The next day was known as “Dugout Sunday”[99] and that night the Japanese renewed the attack.   This was better coordinated, but the Marines, reinforced by 3/164 and 3/2, and backed by artillery, devastated the Sendai division.  Nasu and the commander of 16th Infantry were killed with at least 2000 of their soldiers.[100] Colonel Oka attacked 2/7 and was driven off with heavy casualties. Marine Sgt. Mitchell Paige won the Medal of Honor for single handedly manning his platoon’s machine guns after his troops became casualties, going gun to gun.[101] The attacks were crushed leaving more than 3000 dead or dying Japanese on the battlefield.[102]

On the Offensive

Marines pause during advance

As the Japanese struggled out of jungle to the coast the Marines began preparations to attack as each side brought in reinforcements, the Americans receiving the 8th Marine Regiment and 2nd Raider Battalion of 2nd Marine Division, as well as the 2nd Marines who had been on Tulagi and more of the Americal Division.[103] On November 1st and  5th Marines attacked across the Matanikau and by the 4th had eliminated a Japanese pocket on Point Cruz.[104] To the east 1/7 and 2/7 along with 2/164 and 3/164 attacked Col. Shoji’s force and fresh troops sent to relieve him near Koli Point. The battle lasted until the 9th when Shoji broke through the American cordon with 3000 men pursued by 2nd Raider Battalion. Shoji eventually made it back to 17th Army with 700-800 soldiers, most unfit for combat after battling the Raiders and the jungle.[105] The Japanese attempted to reinforce the island during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from 13-15 November.  Out of 11,000 troops of 38th Division on 11 transports only 2000 got ashore after 7 of the 11 were sunk enroute by Henderson Field aircraft and the surviving ships beached.[106]

The Americans received the rest of 2nd Marine and Americal Divisions and parts of 25th Division and Vandegrift decided to attack, his command now being a de-facto Corps.[107] Though they still numbered 30,000 the Japanese were incapable of offensive operations but still full of fight.[108]On 18 November the 8th Marines and the Army and elements of the 164th and 182nd regiments attacked on the Matanikau. They met heavy resistance from Col. Sakai’s 16th Infantry and in a 6 day battle and lost 134 dead with minimal gains.[109] The new arrivals allowed 1st Marine Division to be withdrawn[110] as it was no longer combat effective.[111] On 9 December Vandegrift[112] turned over command to General Alexander Patch of the Americal Division.

Advancing across a improvised pontoon bridge

Patch used early December to conduct aggressive patrolling[113] and decided to clear the Japanese from Mt Austen, which they had nicknamed “Gifu” and in a 22 day battle the 132nd Infantry eliminated the 38th Infantry Group.[114] With the 25th, Americal and 2nd Marine Division Patch now headed XIV Army Corps.[115] Although the Americans were unaware the Japanese had decided to withdraw from Guadalcanal on 31 December, after a heated debate.[116]

Major General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, 2nd Lt Mitchell Paige and Sgt John Basilone all awardees of the Medal of Honor

The final offensive began on 10 January.  Patch hoped to clear out the Japanese by April.[117] The 2nd Marine Division attacked along the coast while General Lawton Collins led his 25th Division in a flanking movement heavily supported by artillery and air. 6th Marine Regiment relieved 2nd Marines flanking the Japanese enveloped the majority of the 4th and 16th Regiments.[118] The Japanese began withdrawing on the 17th moving west shielded by the Yano battalion.[119] Collins troops finally reduced and eliminated the Japanese on the Gifu by the 23rd.[120] “The annihilation of Japanese detachments from regimental size down” characterized operations over the final phase of the command.[121] A characteristic of American operations now included the use of heavy massed artillery including time on target or “TOT” missions.[122] On the 22nd the Japanese began to extricate their troops via the Tokyo Express at Cape Esperance.[123] On 1 February Patch landed 2/132 at Verahue on the southwest tip of the island and the 25th and Americal Divisions continued their push to the west against the rearguards of 17th Army.  On the 8th of February the last survivors were withdrawn[124] in a move described by the Chief of Staff 17th Army as a “minor miracle.”[125] The Japanese were shocked that the Americans “press them hard” and turn the withdraw “into a bloody rout.”[126] Still expecting a fight Patch’s troops found nothing on Cape Esperance but abandoned boats and supplies.[127]

Japanese Prisoners

The Guadalcanal campaign had ended with the loss of nearly 30,000 Japanese. Japan lost the psychological advantage it had possessed from the beginning of the war.[128] It was an action that was an offensive won with defensive actions. The Americans seized a strategic point that the Japanese could not afford to lose and then fought a defensive battle of attrition to grind the Japanese down.  The American Marines and Soldiers showed themselves to be the equals of the Japanese in one of the most demanding campaigns of the war. Kawaguchi would comment to a reporter in Manila; “We lost the battle. And Japan lost the war.”[129]

Appendix: Leaders On Guadalcanal

Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift: (1887-1973) Commander of 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal.  He served in the Corps 40 years and retired in 1949 as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  After Guadalcanal he commanded 1st Marine Amphibious Corps at Empress Augusta Bay.  He was a key player in the congressional debates regarding the Marine Corps in 1946 when President Truman supported by the Army pushed to eliminate the Marine Corps as a ground combat force.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at Guadalcanal.  USS Vandegrift FFG-48 was named after him.  That ship made the first visit of a US warship to Vietnam since the Vietnam War in 2003.

Major General Alexander Patch: (1889-1945) Commander of XIV Army Corps at Guadalcanal.  He assumed command of forces on island from Vandegrift on 9 December 1942.  General Marshall ordered him to Europe in 1943 to take command of 7th Army from General Patton.  He commanded 7th Army in the south France and the Rhone campaign of 1944, leading that army across the Rhine in 1945.  He was to take command of 4th Army in the United States but died of Pneumonia.  He was considered a very good commander in both the Pacific and Europe.  Patch Barracks in Stuttgart Germany is named after him.

Major General Lawton Collins: (1896-1987) “Lightning Joe” Collins commanded 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightening) at Guadalcanal.  He commanded VII Corps and distinguished himself in France and was instrumental in Operation COBRA and the breakout from Normandy.  He was considered by many to be one of the outstanding Corps commanders in the Second World War. During Korea he was Army Chief of Staff and later served with NATO and as a special representative to Vietnam.

Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller: (1898-1971) “Chesty Puller commanded 1st Battalion 7th Marines at Guadalcanal and was instrumental in the fight for Henderson Field against the Sendai Division.   His early career was marked by much time in Haiti and Nicaragua where he was awarded his first and second Navy Crosses. He served with the “China Marines” (the 4th Marines) He was wounded on Guadalcanal and later served as Executive Officer 1st Marine Regiment and commanded that Regiment at Peleliu.  In Korea he again commanded 1st Marines at the epic Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Assistant Division Commander for that Division.  He was promoted to Major General and Lieutenant General prior to his retirement in 1955.  He is considered one of the most iconic and beloved Marines who have ever lived earning 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other awards for valor in combat include the Bronze and Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart.  The USS Puller (FFG-23) a Perry Class Frigate was named after him.  His uniforms and many of his medals and citations were displayed at the former Marine Corps Barracks, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown until 2006 when they were transferred to the custody of the Marine Corps Museum following the death of his wife Virginia who insisted that they be displayed in Yorktown.

General Harukichi Hyakutake: (1888-1947) Commanded 17th Army on New Guinea and Guadalcanal.  He was an infantry officer who studied crypto analysis and served with the Kwantung Army in Manchuria before the war and following Guadalcanal he remained in command of Japanese Troops in the Solomons.  He returned to Japan at the end of the war and died in 1947.

Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi: (1892-1961) Commanded 35th Infantry Brigade on Guadalcanal and was senior officer until the arrival of General Hyakutake and the Sendai Division.  Led the unsuccessful battle at “Bloody Ridge” and was relieved of his command just prior to the October attack on Henderson Field.  Was one of the few Japanese officers who expressed an early understanding of the importance of Guadalcanal to the overall war effort.  Following his evacuation from Guadalcanal and return to Japan he was transferred to the reserve. Convicted of war crimes in 1946 for actions committed in the Philippines in 1941-42  he was released in 1953 and died in 1961.

Notes


[1] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY p.185

[2] Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.164

[3] Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970. 356

[4] Ibid. Spector. p.185

[5] Ibid. Spector comments that “MacArthur declared that the navy’s obstinacy was part of a long time plot to bring about ‘the complete absorption of the national defense function to the Navy, the Army being regulated to merely base, training, garrisoning, and supply purposes.’” (p.185)

[6] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970. p.346

[7] Ibid. Morison. p.165

[8] Ibid. p.350

[9] Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990. p.30

[10] Ibid. p.31

[11] Ibid. Morison. p.166

[12] Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000. p.19

[13] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981. p.320.

[14] Ibid. Spector. p.186

[15] Ibid. Frank. p.60

[16] Ibid. Spector. p.191

[17] Ibid. Frank. p.72

[18] Ibid. Costello. p.323

[19] Ibid. Griffith. p.49

[20] Ibid. Frank. p.72. 1st Raider Battalion took 22% casualties and 1st Parachute Battalion 50-60%.

[21] Ibid. Frank. p.74.  Frank notes that of the 536 Japanese defenders that only about 50, a platoon from the 3rd Kure Naval Landing force were trained for ground combat.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. Griffith. p.45

[24] Savo Island was the worst defeat suffered by the US Navy.  In a short engagement the heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes and the RAN Canberra were sunk and the Chicago badly damaged, leaving the covering force but one heavy cruiser and some AA Cruisers and Destroyers to cover the transports. Over 1000 sailors lost their lives.

[25] Ibid. Frank. p.125

[26] Costello notes the presence of the Seabees, but neither Franks nor Griffith mentions them by name.  The discrepancy appears to be the date of their arrival on the island. Morrison notes that 387 men of the 6th Seabee Battalion landed on September 1st with 2 bulldozers and other equipment and that they then took over the improvement of Henderson Field. Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Struggle for Guadalcanal: August 1942-February 1943, Volume V of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Copyright 1949, Samuel Elliott Morison, Castel, Books New York, NY 2001, published in arrangement with Little Brown and Company. p.76

[27] Ibid. Griffith.  p.68

[28] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949. p.50

[29] Ibid. Frank. p130, Griffith. p.70. McMillan pp.52-56.  This incident is still shrouded in mystery as no Japanese records survive to record the outcome of the incident. According to McMillan, when Goettge went out he believed he was also on a humanitarian mission and took the assistant division surgeon and a language officer.  The Goettge Field House at Camp LeJeune NC is named in his honor.

[30] Ibid. Griffith. p.74

[31] Ibid. McMillan. pp.56-57

[32] Ibid.. p.59

[33] Ibid. Griffith. pp.79-80 some believed the commitment of small numbers inadequate to the task would repeat the defeats suffered at the hands of the Russians and in China.  Ichiki himself was given poor intelligence stating that there were only about 2000 Americans on the Island and that they suffered from low morale and were trying to flee Guadalcanal to Tulagi. (p.81)

[34] Ibid. Toland. p.364

[35] Ibid. p.365

[36] Ibid. p.366

[37] Ibid. McMillan. p.61. Vouza, a native constable had actually been captured and interrogated by the Japanese, who bayoneted him and left him for dead.

[38] Ibid. pp.61-62

[39] Ibid. Griffith. p.84

[40] Ibid. p.86

[41] Ibid. Frank. p.156. Richard Tregaskis in Guadalcanal Diary reports that he heard there were 871 Japanese dead in the battle area.   Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden.  p.130

[42] Ibid. Toland. p.367  Griffith reports that a Captain Tamioka survived. (p.87)

[43] Various accounts give slightly different figures for the Marine casualties. This number is taken from McMillan.

[44] Ibid. Griffith. pp.87-88.  Griffith comments: “there was something more fundamental involved here than action taken on the basis of poor information, a reckless and stupid colonel, dedicated soldiers, and a disparity in weapons. This was ‘face.’ Once committed to the sword, Ichiki must conquer or die. This was the code of the Samurai, ‘The Way of the Warrior’: Bushido. (p.88)

[45] Ibid. McMillan. p.64

[46] Ibid. Griffith. p.88

[47] Ibid. Frank. p.218. Toland reports that he received intelligence that 5000 Marines were on the island but he believed that he could be victorious. (p.378)

[48] Ibid. Toland. p.376. Oka’s force was particularly hard hit by the air attacks during transit, losing 650 out of 1000 men, and his survivors had little food and ammunition and were not in good condition to attack.

[49] Ibid. Frank. pp.221-222. They also brought back documents, Kawaguchi’s dress uniforms and beer.

[50] Vandegrift rusted in the understanding that every Marine is a rifleman.

[51] Ibid. Griffith. p.115

[52] Ibid. Frank. p.229

[53] Ibid. p.231

[54] Ibid. p.232

[55] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[56] Ibid. Frank. p.235 He still lacked the manpower to form a continuous line.

[57] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[58] Ibid. Frank. p.235

[59] Ibid. Griffith. p.119

[60] Ibid. Frank. p.239

[61] Ibid. p.240

[62] This was III/124 under Colonel Wanatabe, suffering from old war wounds he failed to get his unit into the fight and Kawaguchi told him to commit Hari-Kari. (Griffith .121)

[63] Ibid. Griffith. p.121. The Marines lost 263 men of which 49 were killed and 10 missing. The Parachute battalion which began the campaign with 397 men had only 86 ambulatory after “Bloody Ridge” and were withdrawn. (Frank. p.241)

[64] Ibid. Costello. p.346  Frank also notes that another of Kawaguchi’s battalions, the Kuma battalion and his artillery fared even worse while trying to move to the west, becoming lost in the jungle for three weeks, losing all their weapons and becoming severely malnourished. (Frank. p.246)

[65] Ibid. Griffith. p.125

[66] Ibid. Toland. p.385 The Japanese began to call the island Starvation Island.

[67] Edson and Bailey both were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions on the ridge. (McMillan p.81)

[68] Ibid. Griffith. pp.126-127

[69] Ibid. Spector. p.199 and Costello. p.348

[70] Ibid. Frank. p.269.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid. Griffith. p.135. Griffith refers to this as the “Jap bridge.” I use Frank’s the name given by Frank.

[73] Ibid. Frank. p.272

[74] Ibid. Toland.p.390

[75] Ibid. Frank p.273-274.  Frank analyzes: “In a retrospective assessment, the Marines found that the operation had an improvised purposeless flavor. It had been initiated without meaningful intelligence on the enemy situation or the terrain, and the attack was characterized by the commitment of battalions along unreconnoitered axes, beyond mutual support range, and without coordination of movements or of air and artillery support.” (p.274)Griffith comments: “Here Edson, as always supremely confident, had dispersed his force haphazardly to assault an enemy well armed, well concealed, and at each pointing superior strength. Second Matanikau hammered home to Vandegrift that a commander who allows himself or a subordinate, to drift aimlessly into any action will pay the price. (Griffith p.137)

[76] Ibid. Griffith. p.283. The Whaling Group consisted of 3rd Bn 6th Marines and the Scout Sniper detachment.

[77] Ibid. 289.  The Division history of 1st Marine Division reported over 900 Japanese killed. (McMillan p.96)

[78] Ibid. McMillan. p.99

[79] Ibid. Griffith. p.148

[80] Ibid. p.338

[81] Ibid. Toland. p.392

[82] Ibid. Griffith. p.157. By the 15th the Marines only had 27 aircraft left, but by the evening a Navy fighter squadron had reinforced them.

[83] Artillery commander 17th Army.

[84] Ibid. Toland. p.393. Maruyama noted before the division departed from Japan that Guadalcanal was the “Decisive battle between Japan and the United States, a battle in which the fate of the Japanese Empire will be decided.”

[85] Ibid.p.340 Toland notes how this “road” had been hacked out of the jungle in the proceeding month. (Toland. p.393)

[86] Ibid. p.342.  The 15 150mm guns targeted the airfield and the remaining 17, 75mm and 100mm guns and howitzers targeted the infantry.

[87] Ibid. Griffith. p.165-166

[88] Ibid. Frank. p.348

[89] Ibid. Griffith. pp.166-167. Sumiyoshi was not at fault as he had fallen into a coma brought on by Malaria.  Kawaguchi was relieved by Hyatutake for this failure.

[90] Ibid. p.167

[91] Ibid. McMillan. p.105

[92] Ibid. Toland. p.401. Frank notes that even this discovery did not alert the Marine command to the Japanese presence south of the ridge and he credit’s Puller’s lack of complacency.

[93] Ibid. Frank. p.352

[94] Ibid. Frank. Shoji had relieved Kawaguchi.

[95] Ibid. Frank. pp.352-353

[96] Ibid.. p.355-356

[97] Ibid. p.356.  Furimiya would eventually commit suicide when he had lost the rest of his troops.  His diary, found by the Americans made a note that “we must not overlook firepower.” (p.366)  Griffith notes the officer as Ishimiya and notes that only 9 men were with him. (p.169)

[98] Ibid. p.356. Basilone won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[99] The day was marked by a fierce air-sea battle between American aircraft and a Japanese naval task force sent to shell Henderson Field and supporting fighters.  A number of Japanese ships were damaged and the light cruiser Yura sunk. See Morison. History of Naval Operations in WWII vol V. pp.197-198

[100] Ibid. Frank. pp.364-365

[101] Ibid. pp.363-364.  I met Paige in 2000 at Camp LeJeune.  This icon of the Corps remained an outspoken Marine until the day that he died.

[102] Ibid. Toland. p.404

[103] Ibid. Liddle-Hart. p.361

[104] Ibid. Griffith. p.184

[105] Ibid. Frank. pp.421-424.

[106] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations. p.182. Frank backs this number and Liddle-Hart gives 4000.

[107] Ibid. McMillan. p.135

[108] Ibid. Griffith. p.212-213

[109] Ibid. Frank. pp.495-497.

[110] The 1st Marine Division lost 621 KIA, 1,517 WIA and 5601 Malaria cases. Its Marines earned 5 Congressional Medals of Honor, 113 Navy Crosses and 4 Distinguished Service Medals. (McMillan pp.138-139)

[111] Ibid. Griffith. p.216

[112] Vandegrift would become Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1944.

[113] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948.  p.69

[114] Ibid. Frank. pp.528-534.

[115] Ibid. Johnston. p.72

[116] Ibid. Toland. pp. 421-426.  Generals Sato and Tanaka engaged in a fist-fight ended by Tojo and the Emperor himself probed the High Command about the defeat and personal approved the Japanese withdraw.

[117] Ibid. Spector. p.213

[118] Ibid. Frank. p.557

[119] Ibid. p.560

[120] Ibid. p.566

[121] Ibid. p.567

[122] Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific,  Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996. p.192

[123] Ibid. p.570

[124] Ibid. p.595 Depending on the source the Japanese withdrew anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 troops from the island.

[125] Ibid. Griffith. p.244

[126] Ibid.

[127] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations, p.371.

[128] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.215

[129] Ibid. Toland. p.431

Bibliography

Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific,  Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981

Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990

Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948

Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949

Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970

Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden

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