Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Battle of Camarón 1863: The Heroic Stand of the Foreign Legion

Lieutenant Clement Maudet Leads Surviving Legionnaires in a Final Charge at Camarón 

“We may die, but never will surrender.” Lieutenant Jean Villian

Almost every Army or nation has a story of a heroic group of soldiers that fight valiantly and often die against enemies of far greater strength.  The United States has the Texan defenders of the Alamo and in World War II the Marine defenders of Wake Island. The British the Battle of Rourke’s Drift in the Zulu War. In 1989 the 9th Company of the Red Army’s 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment conducted a heroic defense against Afghan Mujahideen at Hill 3234 during Operation Magistral.

However, seldom are “the few” honored by friend and foe alike.  Among these are the 65 men of the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion Légion Étrangère (Foreign Legion). These few would battle nearly 2000 Mexican Soldiers at a small Hacienda called Camarón on April 30th 1863 while proving an advance guard escort to a supply convoy which was to relieve French forces besieging Puebla.

Captain Jean Danjou 

The 3rd Company severely undermanned due to dysentery and 50 Legionnaires and all of the company officers were incapacitated.  The battalion Quartermaster, Captain Danjou took command and was joined by two other officers, Lieutenant Clement Maudet and Lieutenant Jean Villian joined the remaining 62 Legionnaires.  Beginning their March at 0100 and had marched 15 miles stopping for breakfast at 0700. While brewing their coffee with the convoy several hours behind scouts saw a force of several hundred Mexican cavalry approaching.  The fought a battle with the cavalry for several hours before getting into the Hacienda around the middle of the morning. The Mexican forces under the command of Colonel Francisco Milan were joined by additional forces bringing their total to 800 cavalry and 1200 infantry.  Milan realizing that the Legionnaires situation was hopeless offered Danjou the chance to surrender. With his force reduced to under 50 men following the skirmishes Danjou refused replying “We have munitions. We will not surrender.”

The Legionnaires defense held against several assaults but with casualties mounting, ammunition dwindling and without food or water in the scorching heat Danjou rallied his men. He had lost his left hand in Algeria 10 years before and had a wooden hand fashioned.  He went to each Legionnaire offering words of support, a sip of wine and had each man swear on his wooden hand that they would not surrender.  While doing so he was shot and killed about noon.

Lieutenant Villian, the battalion’s much disliked Paymaster who volunteered for the mission took command and the Legionnaires fought on suffering immensely under the fierce and accurate fire of the Mexican troops. Somehow as happens in battle, the formerly hated officer inspired the Legionnaires to continue the fight until he was shot dead about 1600 hours. Lieutenant Maudet then took command of the few remaining Legionnaires.  Around 1700 Colonel Milan approached the now burning Hacienda to offer the surviving Legionnaires a chance to surrender.  He looked inside the charnel house and saw Maudet rallying about a dozen Legionnaires amid piles of dead and wounded. Maudet refused the offer and Milan went back to his troops and ordered another assault.

With only himself and 5 remaining Legionnaires Maudet surveyed the situation. The Mexican troops were massing for another attack and his troops were down to one round of ammunition each. He and his men loaded their weapons and he ordered a charge into the massed Mexican infantry.  They engaged the Mexicans in hand to hand combat, Maudet and one Legionnaire were killed and four captured. The senior surviving NCO Corporal Maine requested that the survivors be treated for their wounds and be allowed to maintain their weapons and escort the remains of Captain Danjou to France. Acceding to the bloodied Corporal’s request Colonel Milan, a valiant and honorable officer was overwhelmed with emotion and said “What can I refuse to such men? No, these are not men, they are devils.”  Something similar to what the German Army called the U.S. Marines at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918.

The sacrifice of the Legionnaires enabled the relief convoy to reach the French at Puebla. Emperor Napoleon III ordered the name Camarón embroidered on the Legion’s flag and the battle became legendary in the history of warfare. The Legion came into its own after Camarón.  Danjou’s wooden hand and forearm were recovered from the battlefield and returned to France 2 years following the battle.

Today Camarón is still marked by the Legion wherever its troops are stationed much as the United States Marine Corps marks their founding.  The wooden hand of Captain Danjou is removed from its case in the museum and paraded with the assembled troops. The officers serve their troops coffee symbolizing the coffee the defenders never drank and the commander of Legion at the headquarters as well as units deployed read the account of the battle. The week before the fall of their besieged redoubt at Dien Bien Phu was overrun the Legionnaires of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion remembered the sacrifice of their predecessors at Camarón with their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lemeunier read the story over the radio to the embattled garrison.

The Mexican Army too marks the courage of the Legionnaires with a parade, speeches made and French dignitaries including the French Ambassador and Legion veterans honored.  It is a fitting tribute to the men that fought that day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Chernobyl, a Divided Europe and Looking to a Greener Future

Chernobyl Burning 

I was in Germany this week to testify at a military court-martial but besides the obvious stress of travel and watching a friend go through hell up close and personal, it was also a time for remembering other things.

In the course of our lives that there are events that help define history. At the time when they occur most of us are oblivious to their full impact.  On April 26th 1986 I was a young Army officer in Germany.  On that day the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the city of Pripyat in the Ukraine which was then part of the Soviet Union experienced a catastrophic accident during a systems test.  The disaster is considered the worst in nuclear power disaster in history, only one of two to be rated as a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.  31 deaths were directly caused by the mishap almost all of who were workers and emergency responders, another 50 emergency responders died of radiation exposure. Thousands of other incidents of death from cancers have been linked to the disaster.

Of course that was before there was the 24 hour cable news cycle so what little information we had was from newspapers and television. In Germany at that time we were pretty much dependent on the Stars and Stripes newspaper and news coverage from ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN provided by the one channel aired by the Armed Forces Network back then.  As such we knew that it was a bad situation but even with other coverage provided through German news sources, at least for us that red German our information was limited.  A lot was because of the fact that the incident occurred in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Not much news got in or out of the USSR except that which was cleared by the Politburo itself.  Even Soviet citizens in the local area received little information, in fact no evacuation or alert was issued by Soviet authorities until April 28th.  We were advised to minimize outside exposure and keep our pets inside and out of grassy or wooded areas.

The Abandoned and Highly Radioactive City of Pripyat (Photo by Jason Minshull)

The disaster resulted in the evacuation of a 31 kilometer circumference around the reactor. This boundary still exists and the city of Pripyat remains an empty reminded of that day, abandoned and remaining much as it was that tragic day, a city frozen in time.  Ukrainian officials and scientists believe that the area will be uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years.  Effects are being felt in Belarus, Ukraine and many European countries to this day.

Back in 1986 Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. Then Germany was two countries, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. I made a number of trips to the inter-German border as part of my duties to know the terrain that we would fight on should war break out and in November 1986 Judy and I would make the trip via the Helmstedt Corridor through East Germany to Berlin.  I was reminded about the division of Europe, particularly Germany by two mementos displayed near the front gate of Kelley Barracks. One was a piece of the Berlin Wall, the other a sign warning people of their proximity to the inter-German border.

Since then Germany has been reunified and is a prosperous country without which the economy of much of Europe would collapse. It is also a leader in eliminating the need for nuclear power and is in the process of shutting down its nuclear plants. It is a leader in reliable public transportation and alternative energy. In fact some of those alternative energy projects including solar and wind are helping the German economy with high tech jobs and I have to admit that air quality is amazing. The country is becoming less dependent on fossil fuels and cleaner to boot.

There are many that continue to insist that we in the United States should double down on our use of fossil fuels and nuclear energy despite the real environmental dangers of both and the economic stranglehold of OPEC on the United States.  When I look at Germany I wonder why we don’t take our great technical ability, our tremendous capacity for innovation and our now underused industrial power to make the change secure our freedom from the tyranny of OPEC and protect the environment.  There has to be big money to be made, money that could make us much more prosperous and a world leader in something other than arms sales.

But now days in the minds of some you are a socialist if you believe in reducing dependance of fossil fuels, nuclear energy and want clean air and water. The truth is that throughout our industrial period we have done some terrible damage to our environment mostly preventable.  We have made a  lot of progress but we could do better.   Here’s to a greener and more prosperous future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Shades of Gray

“ASSUMED? Brother, I’ve seen all kinds of dishonesty in my day, but this little display takes the cake. Y’all come in here with your hearts bleedin’ all over the floor about slum kids and injustice; you listen to some fairy tales; suddenly you start gettin’ through to some of these old ladies… well, you’re not getting through to me, I’ve had enough! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU GUYS? You all know he’s guilty. He’s got to burn! You’re letting him slip through our fingers.” Juror Number (Lee J Cobb) Three Twelve Angry Men

I have had a very busy and stressful few days and I am finishing this article before boarding a flight home to the United States from Europe.  In that time I have come to appreciate our system of justice especially that found in our civil and criminal courts.  I have also come to believe over the course of years that no matter what court system, civilian, federal, state local or military that sometimes there are situations where injustice occurs within the system because people are people. No matter how hard we try to make the system perfect and just there are times when it doesn’t fully work.  Innocent people are jailed and guilty people go free. It happens at every type of court of justice simply because imperfect people with all of their attendant life experience, prejudices and emotions must determine the guilt or innocence of people beyond a reasonable doubt.

Those prejudices can be seen all the time. Some people because of race, gender, status in life or sexual preference do not receive the same measure of justice as others. Certain ethnic groups can receive different measures of justice based on where the trial is held while others may not even be prosecuted for crimes that elsewhere would land people in jail.  Prosecutors and media can demonize the accused before and during a trial process so badly that even if the accused is acquitted he or she may still bear the guilt the rest of their life in the eyes of his or her fellow citizens.

Sometimes our justice system works well and sometimes, at least in some of our views it doesn’t.  At the same time it is usually far better than the systems of most of the rest of the world.  For the most part our judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys and juries selected from our peers do a good job and try hard to find a good and just verdict.  At the same time our system is not perfect. As I mentioned sometimes the guilt go free while innocent people are convicted. Other times certain prejudices override the nature of a crime while even more common now are the mandatory sentencing guidelines that condemn people convicted of certain crimes, even when those crimes have little impact even on the alleged victims to consequences that last far beyond the actual sentence imposed. Of course those guidelines, regardless of the type of crime committed usually were legislated because someone got away with something and legislators decided that they would shackle courts with guidelines which took away from judges and juries any leeway to do differently.

This week I saw some very good men and women in our military justice system wrestle with the guilt of an officer and a friend.  I think that the judge and members of the jury took their job seriously and worked hard to do the best that they could with what was a very convoluted and complicated case, one that I think never should have gone to trial.  I think that with what they had as evidence they did their best and acted with integrity. I cannot question the integrity or honor of the military judge or the jury, but I do wonder about the case itself and the motivations of the young prosecutor who I think was out not to serve justice but to build a resume. However, my friend was found guilty but the prosecutor did not get nearly what he asked, and that was a good thing, and hopefully as he gets older, becomes more experienced in life and law he will be more judicious in how he handles such cases.  I do think that my friend stands a good chance of prevailing in the appellate process do the elements involved in the case and how the government put it together, but in the interregnum my friend will have a difficult time.  Thankfully he will not be alone. As a Christian, friend and Priest I cannot abandon someone simply because they have been found guilty of a crime.

Back when I was a young Army Officer I was a company commander and served as a personnel officer.  In both capacities I was involved in the military justice system. As a commander I actually had to make decisions about the guilt or innocence of soldiers or refer their cases to commanders or courts higher than my level of authority. As a personnel officer I was often involved in the administrative and investigative process.  In those days as a young officer I saw things in a very black and white manner, no shades of gray. The prosecutor in those days was was always my friend and defense attorneys were simply impediments to convictions.

I have grown up and in life have discovered that things are not nearly as clear cut as I would have like to have believed when I was young.  In fact now I am a big fan of defense attorneys because in many cases good defense attorneys are a last bastion against a society and criminal justice system that is ever more ready to presume guilt even before a case is adjudicated.  Sometimes even after an acquittal the public will never be persuaded that someone is innocent.

There are shades of gray that sometimes are not addressed in the system and sometimes do to well meaning legislation keep judges and juries from making decisions in those gray areas because elected officials have decided that there can be no gray areas.  I think that such laws sometimes do more harm than good to our justice system. But then what do I know?

Sometimes I hate being a historian. I know that in other countries where people are frustrated and use the law as a tool for vengeance, retribution and settling scores with people, parties and groups that they blame for their own woes, real or imagined.  So I do worry about the future of justice in our country when I see laws passed that bind judges, juries which seek not only to ensure that a person convicted of a crime repay his or her debt to society, but suffer for it the rest of they lives even after the actual punishment is served.

But then what do I know?

Peace

Padre Steve+

Padre Steve+

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Law School Here I Come: Padre Steve Plans his Post Navy Chaplain Life

“We have geniuses in this country. True pioneers of innovation. Steve Jobs, Steven Wozniak, Steve Ballmer…if we could just round up some of our best Steves!” Alan Shore (James Spader) Boston Legal

Padre Steve has decided that his post-Navy Chaplain life will be as an attorney. Yes he is going to be rounded up as one of our best “Steves.” Now I know that according to Shakespeare King Henry VI was reported to have said “first kill all the lawyers” Obviously he was talking about the bad ones or the ones that gave him bad advice.

I had the honor today of being a character witness for a military officer accused serious crimes on what appear to me based on the testimony that I heard seem at best spurious     case and evidence.  I have a tremendous respect for the legal tradition in our country. I think that it is one of the very few things that keep us from becoming a tyranny.  I respect the courts, our legal tradition and those that honestly seek to best represent their clients within the confines of the law and legal ethics regardless of their ideology or even dare I say… (oh say it Padre we dare you) well….okay….I guess…their faith and tradition.

The trial is not over as the jury has not reached a verdict but if I was the prosecutor I would not have taken the case to trial and if I did I would have done a lot better than the government prosecutor and I certainly would have done a kick ass job on defense.  I do hope that my friend’s attorney git his point across and that he will be acquitted but one can never be sure, thus when I see things like this I realize that my talents could be used in the courtroom as well as behind the pulpit and altar.

Back when I was in high school I had to take a debate class. One of the debates I had to do was to put the death penalty on trial. At the time I was a death penalty advocate and believed that is was a mistake for the Supreme Court, or simple The Gladys Knightless Supremes to strike down the death penalty statutes.  In the class I had to take on something that I strongly believed in. However I was able to destroy the arguments of my classmate who was defending the death penalty and I realized that even though I thought that the Gladys Knightless Supremes had made a mistake I also realized that I had reservations about the death penalty. I found in that class that I could take the facts of a case and use them with historical, legal and theological arguments argue for almost anything.

Thus when I was a company commander and staff officer in the Army I was pretty much a “hanging judge” kind of guy I could always see the other side. It didn’t mean that I had to agree with it, but I could see it and if I worked hard enough could even see the legal precedent that backed up the other side.

Now the fact is that I have very strong beliefs, thus the whole “Passionate Moderate”  thing does have a foundation. I am not wishy wash but can use any facts and precedent at hand to argue for almost anything. I guess that I would have been either high on King Henry IV’s  “enemies to be killed” or must “keep close to my side list.”  Regardless as I entered the hallowed halls of the courtroom, gave my testimony and then listened to he rest of the arguments bereft of a full day plus worth of sleep I knew that I could do better than either the prosecution or the defense with the evidence or lack thereof at hand. It is no wonder that some of my seminary classmates asked why I was in seminary and not law school.

But I am a Priest and historian, but not an attorney, or at least yet. I wish that I had been one of the opposing attorney’s today. I could have kicked ass because I am that much better than the two attorneys that I saw at work today. I would have had the jury hanging on every word I said.  The problem that I have seen is that many younger attorneys have no understanding of precedent, history or tradition thus no-matter what their ideology they always look bad when someone goes back to precedent, history and tradition and they either lose or make their cases more difficult.

But why can’t I be both? Al Sharpton is a minister, attorney and TV show host or at least two of the three, he did show up on Boston Legal so that should count for something, but I digress…. I don’t have the Rev’s hair but I do have an attitude and passion for the underdog and others have done similar things in life like the great Saint Thomas More who lost his head in dealing with the many wives of Henry VIII.  He didn’t get a TV show or appear on Boston  Legal, but still is considered a Saint, but again I digress, it must be the lack of sleep and my completely screwed up body clock since I am on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

Heck, I could be a Priest, Attorney, Historian and maybe even MSNBC host if I do tis right. So I think that it is high time that I take my GI Bill while I am still on active duty and start a law program so I can pass the Virginia or North Carolina Bar so I can practice law on the weekdays when I am not celebrating the Eucharist and preaching the Gospel. I think I want to do is civil rights and religious liberty law as well as to defend military personnel that I think are wrongfully accused.  I think I could kick ass in any courtroom.  The Priest version of William Shatner’s Denny Crane, or perhaps James Spader’s Alan Shore….

Now it is time to get the education to make sure that I can do this and either make sure that cases like this never see a courtroom or get cut to pieces when they show up.

Pray for me a sinner because if you don’t nobody else will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Flying the Friendly Skies and Crossing the Pond

1970 American Airlines Advertisement

Back when I was a kid I remember going on my first plane flights without adult supervision. I would fly from Stockton California to Long Beach to see my friend Chris who had been my next door neighbor when my dad was stationed in Long Beach. Back then I flew on Pacific Southwest Airlines whose aircraft featured a smile on the nose.  PSA is now part of US Air but my memories of flying as a kid are much more enjoyable than flying now.  I don’t do air travel and crowded airports well after Iraq so I do what I can to make the travel as easy as possible but certain things can get to me, especially on the American side of the pond.

When I was a kid air travel was considered to be somewhat of an adventure. In fact until the major railroads ended their passenger service in the early 1970s and left us with Amtrak my family almost always travelled by train. Even the commercials made air travel seem almost magical. Advertising lines like “Fly the friendly skies” “The big bird with the golden tail” and “First Class leg space even in Coach” went another. Even coach passengers were treated with a modicum of respect and while meals and leg room may not have been what it was in First Class you didn’t feel like you were traveling steerage either, which is what I equate flying in “Coach” to be.  Likewise because we didn’t perceive a terrorist threat we didn’t have to deal with the now common TSA agents and security screenings that take one back to the good old days of when a Gestapo Agent politely asked “your papers please.” But I digress…

Steerage of course was what steamship lines used to call 3rd Class where immigrants and other less than desirable passengers sailed to ensure that they did not trouble the elites traveling in First Class. As I said I equate Coach with Steerage without the ability to throw a party with dancing, singing and beer for everyone.  Little has changed and while all air travelers occupy a high tech metal cylinder propelled by tremendous jet engines those little curtains that separate the First Class from Business or Coach are as  impenetrable as were the locked doors on the Titanic.

Today so far has been yet another adventure in air travel.  It began with a delay due to weather on the inbound flight which resulted in such a tight turn around that it affected my follow on flight. Since that flight involved an different airline I spent an hour at the check in desk as the lady helping me worked her hardest to get me rebooked and out of the other airline’s system. So I had a well deserved beer while waiting for that flight prayed that the aircraft would leave on time.

It left the gate on time but alas the Air Controllers at Newark had other plans. As we taxied out to take off we pulled over off of the runway. The Captain announced that Newark had told us to sit on the Tarmac in Norfolk for 40 minutes. We arrived at Newark less than an hour before takeoff. Thankfully there was a shuttle bus between terminals and I hitched a ride to make it on time even finding a few minutes to do a “defueling operation” in the men’s room and a refuel my bladder with an overpriced soda before boarding the aircraft.

No my flight has been interesting. I flew to Newark on United Express. I flew to Frankfurt on a United flight that used to be a Continental aircraft that still had its Continental crew. The aircraft, a very nice Boeing 777 was thankfully not full and I got a full row to myself back in steerage.  The service on the Continental/United flight was good.  Unfortunately unlike the American Airlines flights that I took to Houston and back last week this aircraft did not have any wireless free internet, so I had no ability to communicate in the air. So after we were airborne I pulled out my Kindle and did my Evening Prayer liturgy before reading a book about the Battleship Bismarck.

I landed at Frankfurt just before 630 AM local time and of course passed through the Customs and Border Police. Now unlike the TSA agents, the German Border Police or Grenzschutz command respect. There is something about Germany where you do exactly what the police tell you to do. I remember back when I was stationed in Germany in the 198-s and it was quite common to see Grenzschutz officers walking the airport with automatic rifles and machine guns. That of course was in the era of the Rad Brigades and the Bader-Meinhoff terrorist group as well as the beginnings of PLO and Libyan sponsored terrorists.  I remember once when Judy and I saw a person that we believed was a Bader-Meinhoff terrorist in Wiesbaden and went to report it to the Polizei. That was an interesting experience as we were interrogated about the report for over an hour in German. Now days the Polizei are just as efficient but compared to our airport security seem so much more efficient and less obtrusive.

Since I read, speak and write German and have studied copious amounts of German history I go through those security points like a pro, like Newman going through the line at the Soup Nazi kitchen.

While in Frankfurt I have a couple of hours to relax, if that is possible at an airport. Unlike major American and British Airports which have almost the feel of going to a mall, albeit a mall that you have to get a full body scan, fondled and possibly strip searched to enter many European airports are all about air travel with very small areas devoted to shopping or being able to drink beer with breakfast. I actually like it when I have to travel through London’s Heathrow airport because I know a couple of pubs where I can have fried eggs and bacon rashers with a sliced tomato and a couple of pints of beer between flights. Heathrow is amazing, it is like an upscale mall packed with people from the world over and it has a couple of decent bookstores which I always found something interesting to read, usually books about military history not easily available in the United States.  But while I can read German fairly well it is not what I do for fun or relaxation so what I find in the a German airport is not as entertaining as in the UK.

Upon arriving at Frankfurt I did get a salad and beer and the airport has changed some over the years, a few more places to eat and shop but nothing like Heathrow.  I guess the weirdest thing is looking across the runway to where Rheim Main Air Base used to be. Back in January 1984 when I first arrived in Germany it was massive. You looked across the runway from the German side and there was line upon line of C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transports. Even in 1996 when I came to support the Bosnia mission Rhein Main was still busy though being reduced due to the end of the Cold War. As late as 5-7 years ago you could see the old USAF hangers and buildings. Now the area is being redeveloped and it is hard to tell the airbase was ever there.

Long Gone…Rhein Main Airbase in its Heyday…

So I post this from Frankfurt International Airport while waiting for my final flight of this very long day. It will be on a Lufthansa flight and a relatively short commuter type flight. When I get to Stuttgart I will be picked up from the airport by staff from the Judge Advocate’s office and believe that I will be offering my testimony today. That may change with the delay in my flight and so I will see. I am scheduled to fly back Saturday from Stuttgart back through Newark and Norfolk and should be home in time for dinner with Judy at Gordon Biersch.

So until my next post…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Tell the Whole Truth…

“Do you (swear) (affirm) that the evidence you shall give in the case now in hearing shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (,so help you God)? United States Manual for Courts-Martial II-82 (f)

I will be a character witness at a Courts-Martial this week. I will be traveling extensively out of country. The accused is an officer that I have served with. I cannot image that he has done what he is alleged to have done. I was asked and called to be a witness for the defense and this is a strange situation for me because prior to this I have in almost every case been somehow involved in the prosecution of crimes than as a character witness for the accused.

When I was a young Army Officer I served as a Company Commander and Adjutant for commands at the Battalion, Group and Brigade level. My best friends were the prosecutors and for the most part I held defense attorneys, military and civilian alike to be impediments to justice. That was 26 years ago and I have grown up.

My growth began when I was still a Company Commander and the Criminal Investigation division (CID) of our local Provost Martial office came to see me. I was even then known as a tough but fair commander. I took over a company that at the time had the highest drug positive rate in Europe. The previous company commander had let many legal issues languish including many at best were spurious.  When I took command I dealt with those that I felt could meet the muster of a General Court Martial and dismissed the rest.  I remembered well the words of my instructor in military justice that “if you don’t think you can make the charges stick in a General Court-Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

Thus anytime that I had to deal with potential criminal offenses against the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) I was careful to look at all the evidence before even filing charges.  That was my policy as a company commander and my advice to my commanding officers as an Adjutant.

When the CID investigators came to my office on that cold December day in 1986 they told me of their beliefs that there was cigarette smuggling ring being ran by certain soldiers of my unit and that to “investigate” that they wanted to place an agent undercover posing as a soldier in my unit.  I asked them if they had any evidence that led them to believe that there was even “probable cause” for their allegation and they said that there was none but that they wanted to “see what evidence that they could uncover.” I guess that they figured that a young First Lieutenant and company commander that had successfully prosecuted over 30 non-judicial punishment cases, put a good number of soldiers out of the Army and sent several soldiers to courts-martial would be eager to help them out.  However I felt that something was not quite right in this. The CID agents left my office and never came back.  I guess that they found someone else to do their bidding.  Regardless if they had any evidence I would have asked them for it and prosecuted the accused with gusto. However I have no tolerance for those that would try to use me for a fishing expedition and in turn destroy the moral of a unit that was recovering from a terrible time.

I asked them again what evidence they had for me to even think of letting them into my unit pretending to be soldiers.  I was not stupid. I knew that my Soldier-Medics would smell a rat three blocks away and that if I allowed these “investigators” into my unit without an absolutely concrete case that I would destroy the moral of my unit which had just recovered from the previous relief of command of my predecessor. They could produce nothing other than their “suspicions” and I told them to leave my unit and not come back unless they had real evidence.  I never heard from them again.

That was my revelation that sometimes law enforcement officials can be overzealous in their pursuit of justice.  I don’t believe in letting people get away with crimes. Likewise I won’t go to bat for someone that I believe is guilty of a crime, especially if I am under oath. All I know is that if I was the commander in this case that I would have had a hard time even to charge the officer much less take the case to courts-martial. Perhaps the prosecution has more evidence than I know about, but even so as I was told so long ago, “if you don’t think that it will hold up in a General Court Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

This week I will testify about the character of a military officer who I believe to be above reproach. Based on my knowledge of the case cannot believe that he is guilty or even why charges have been made in this case.  In a couple of days I will be asked to testify under oath and I will do so with the utmost of integrity. Thus I can testify truthfully about the character and integrity of a comrade in arms. I do pray that this officer will be acquitted of all charges and that my testimony will help him.

Back before December 1986 I might have given a pass to the prosecutors and told the officer to find someone else to testify on his behalf. However after that and after a lot more of life where I have seen prosecutors run amok I will not stand by and silently let a comrade be convicted of something of that I do not believe him capable of doing. I am testifying regarding the character of a man and to that end I will testify what I know to be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This is a heavy burden but I must tell the truth regarding what I know. Please pray for me and those concerned, especially the accused as well as anyone that is an alleged victim in this case.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Perfect! Phillip Humber Joins Legends as He Pitches Perfect Game against Mariners

Phillip Humber doffs his Cap after his Perfect Game (Photo Steven Bissig US Presswire via USA Today)

Phillip Humber is not who you would have expected to be just the 21st pitcher in MLB history.  However, Humber who had the Tommy John Elbow surgery in 2005 and bounced between a number of teams became one of a select group of pitchers including such notables as Jim “Catfish” Hunter, David Cone, Sandy Koufax, Roy Halliday, Randy Johnson and Cy Young. Of course there are others including Dallas Braden who hails from my home town of Stockton California.

The perfect game is the most rare of baseball events. In over 390,000 games only 21 pitchers have pitched the perfect game which is about a perfect game every 18571 games or so, give or take a few since I am rounding the numbers here. As a comparison for hitters 286 players have hit for the cycle in a game.

It is rare enough that only one has been pitched in a World Series, that of Don Larsen who threw a perfect game in Game five of the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Today Humber required just 97 pitches to dispose of the yet again hapless Seattle Mariners who cannot hit their way out of a wet paper bag. Humber struck out nine on the way to the win.  The final out was recorded when Brendan Ryan struck out on a checked swing which was ruled a strike but since the ball got away from Catcher A. J. Pierzynski the catcher had to retrieve it and make the throw out to first base to seal the win.

The South Texas born Humber seemed an unlikely candidate to pitch the first perfect game since 2010. He was a top prospect, the overall 3rd pick in the 2004 amateur draft, being picked by the Mets one pick after Detroit took Justin Verlander after playing college ball for Rice University. He had been struck in the face above his right eye with a line drive off the bat of Kosuke Fukodome on August 18th 2011. Before his career even really began he damaged his throwing elbow badly enough to have to have the Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery. He had been waived by teams twice and was pitching in only his 30th big league start. He had not thrown a MLB level shutout or for that matter a complete game.

The Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game (1999) which is based on Michael Shaara’s The Perfect Game which was discovered after he died in 1988 and published in 1991is one of my favorite films and novels and I think captures how special this feat is for any pitcher. For the pitcher cannot allow a single base runner, not just giving up hits, but walks or runners that reach base due to defensive errors even those beyond control of the pitcher. A pitcher must pitch a complete game face 27 batters and get all of them out. It is a hard thing to do at any level and most difficult at the Major League level.

Humber was low key about his feat saying “This is awesome, I’m so thankful.’’ and “I don’t know that I dominated them, obviously the ball was hit at people. I’m thankful for that. It was a well-pitched game. Definitely something I’ll never forget.’’

Congratulations to Phil Humber and the White Sox. I hope for even more success for Humber who I consider a great example of sticking to something you love doing even when things are difficult.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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