Monthly Archives: May 2013

DNA Tests and Family Mysteries

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“We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more lovable than the mutt.” Pvt John Winger (Bill Murray) Stripes 1981

A few weeks back I spit into a test tube and sent it in to see what it revealed about my DNA. I thought that it was pretty clear cut as people on both sides of the family have done a lot of research into the subject even publishing books. Pretty much I am a Mutt.

Now the DNA test revealed some things that I was pretty sure about. According to it about 70% of my DNA make-up comes from the British Isles. I have parts of the family from England, Scotland, Ireland and the Outlaw Josie Wales. That much was pretty sure. We have records of these relationships, some extending back to about 1060 in Scotland on my dad’s side of the family.

My mom had said for years that part of her grandmother’s family was Scandinavian though she did not know exactly where they came from. The DNA test said that about 20% of my DNA was Scandinavian. Now the trick is to find out where they originated and how they got to be part of me.

Finally I was thrown for a loop by the last 10% of the DNA. I expected something out of Western or Central Europe, French or German based on some family histories and speculation, as well as the outside possibility that one of my slave owning ancestors, and yes I had them could have brought some African DNA into the mix. I was prepared for any of those possibilities and none of them bothered me in the least. I thought that they might be fun to research.

However the final 10% of the DNA was Eastern European, which could be the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Hungary, Slovakia or any of the Balkan States. That is a mystery because none of the records or accounts that I have seen indicate any Eastern European ancestry. However it is there and it is a mystery.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. Could there be an anglicized misspelling of a name that we thought was English but is Eastern European, I do think there is a possibility of that. Likewise there is the possibility that a connection exists that we do not know about.

Of the next few days and weeks, we will be doing some digging into the family tree to figure out the gory details of this discovery.

What is interesting is that no matter how things work out or what we discover, the fact is that most Americans whose families have been in this land ever since we wiped out most of the Native Americans to take it are a blend, sometimes of races and ethnicities that we never could imagine. I for one think that is a strength and something that we should be happy about. Not the part about wiping out the Native Americans, that is pretty awful and shameful, but rather that most of us are a blend of God knows how many races, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Having seen the results of inbreeding, cultures that have stopped evolving and religions that would kill in the name of God I think it is pretty cool that somehow in spite of ourselves sometimes that we are E pluribus unam- Out of many, one. 

Have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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In Memory of Father Andrew Greeley: A Man Who Helped Me Believe Again

Andrew Greeley

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”Andrew Greeley 

By the halfway point in my tour in Iraq I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis that I could not comprehend. Nor would I understand the depths that the crisis would reach. However by November 2007 prayer was difficult if not impossible.  As I tried to comprehend the distress that I was in I continued in a downward cycle, only being out with my advisors and our Iraqis helped, but when I returned to base between missions and eventually when I returned home in 2008 I felt alone and began to wonder about the existence of God.

Since I have always been a voracious reader, primarily of history, theology, military history and theory and more difficult subjects subjects such as ethics and philosophy I tried to use that to get through my crisis. My favorite authors included such men as Carl Von Clausewitz and Von Molkte the Elder, Sun Tzu, T.E. Lawrence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, Jurgen Moltmann, David Galula, Roger Trinquier, Bernard Fall, Alistair Horne and a host of other authors that most normal Americans would never consider reading or do not know even exist. Fiction of any type was low on my list. About the only works of fiction that I had read were those of Tom Clancy and his Jack Ryan novels, W.E.B. Griffin and his Brotherhood of War series and the baseball fiction of W. P. Kinsella such as Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy.

I had a good number of books with me on the deployment. Some which I had packed for the trip and others which I had sent to me. However by November 2007 it was hard to read anything, much less pray. In between missions to Ramadi and the Syrian border I walked in the paperback lending library. I really didn’t know what I was looking for but I looked through every shelf in the small building. The non-fiction and biography sections were not worth the trouble, anything in them that I was interested in I had already read. So I began to look at fiction. I decided to look for authors that I knew, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth who had written a lot of World War II mystery and spy novels including Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed, Forsyth’s The Odessa File as well as Anton Myrer’s classic Once and Eagle.

The books were arranged alphabetically by author. Between Forsyth and Higgins there was the letter “G” and a number of books by one Andrew Greeley. I knew Greeley, at least I thought that I did. He was to be distrusted because he was a rather “liberal” Catholic Priest, sociologist and columnist for the Chicago Times. So I had been taught. However, I picked up a couple of the books, Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries, The Bishop Goes to the University and The Beggar Girl of St Germain. 

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In spite of my inherent prejudice from so many years in conservative churches I decided to take both of them. That night as I prepared for my next mission I started reading The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain. There was a section where Bishop Blackie was talking about a French Priest, very similar to many American televangelists. Quoting the priest, the charismatic Father Jean Claude, Blackie noted:

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re present but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.”

The words reflected what I was going through. I believed, but I didn’t. Of course that would not only continue as my tour in Iraq progressed but got worse after I returned from Iraq. However, I discovered, much to my surprise that I was not alone. That there were a number of other very good, caring Chaplains, Priests and ministers going through similar doubts, fears and pain.

The irrepressible Bishop Blackie continued:

“Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

The words were an epiphany to me. Belief and unbelief co-existing and strangely congruent with the testimony of scripture, the anguished words of a man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit confessing to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

I was hooked. I began to read every book by Father Greeley that I could find. Any of the lending libraries that I visited I scoured to shelves to find Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. When I returned to the Unite States I continued to read them. They were the only spiritual reading that I could manage. My Bible. Prayer Book, and other theological books were too difficult. In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie I found a kindred spirit and in his books, full of flawed characters, an often corrupt ecclesiastical structure I began to re-discover God. Now I admit that the books were an interim step. It did take an encounter in our Emergency Room at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Virginia when I was the duty Chaplain in December 2009 administering the “last rites” to a dying man that faith much to my surprise returned.

It wasn’t the same faith, or shall I say the same form of faith that returned. It wasn’t a faith of absolute orthodoxy, but rather a faith that still questioned, God and the Church, especially the very culturally American Church that I could find little solace in or honesty, a church consumed with the need to be in political power which derided those not like it. Eventually as I continued to write on this site I began to voice how faith had returned but how it was different. One of those posts in September 2010 got me asked to leave my old denomination. It seemed that I had become in the words of my former Bishop for the Armed Forces “too liberal.”

At first that hurt. It was traumatic, not only was I dealing with PTSD, a crisis in faith and the loss of my father just a couple of months before, but then being cast aside. I knew that it would eventually happen but it was a shock. Thankfully tow things happened. First I was helped to find a denomination in the Old Catholic tradition that was really where I needed to be. Second, those people that were friends in my old denomination remained my friends, including many current leaders in that denomination as well as chaplains. The funny thing was that the man who threw me out was himself removed from his episcopal office for an act of duplicity against his church and his brother bishops that involved every member of the military diocese. That happened barely three months after I was asked to leave. Some friends have speculated that the real reason for my dismissal was that he did not trust me to keep his secret. That I do not know, just that it was speculated by others that knew him and me for many years.

As it was it was a good thing in the long run and through all of it the writings of Father Andrew Greeley, fiction and non-fiction, theological and sociological helped me through the crisis.

Father Greeley died today at the age of 85. For the past five and a half years he had been struggling to recover from a traumatic brain injury incurred when entering a taxi-cab in Chicago in November 2008. The injury curtailed his writing and speaking but he lives on through those writings and in spirit through the many people that he inspired. However, before that happened he was a spokesman for the truth who did not hesitate to critique the church and care for God’s people.

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I am one of those people, like Blackie Ryan a “miscreant Priest” who has learned to believe yet question but most of all realize that the people that I meet in person or those that meet me on this forum are God’s people. That being said I realize that as imperfect and flawed as I am that I might be the only Priest, minister or Chaplain that they ever meet. A quote from Greeley’s last novel, The Archbishop in Andalusia sums up my understanding of ministry, both in the sacraments of the church and the sacrament that we call life.

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I have had ministers like the fictional Bishop Blackie in my life as well as those that did not embody that ethic that he represented. I had someone tell me recently that I was able to relate to anyone of any rank or position. In the military that is a big thing. Too often the higher we go in rank the more detached from lower ranking people we become. Thankfully, I think in large part to my dad, who was a Navy Chief Petty Officer, and my wife Judy, whose dad was a truck driver and who never lets me get too big for my britches have a lot to do with that. I think another part is how we have gone through many difficult times in our life and know what it is like to be on the bottom rung or society and the at times quite unfortunately, the church.

Father Greeley inspired me in many ways since I returned from Iraq and I am forever grateful. In another book “White Smoke” Greeley has a fictional papal contender named Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia make a speech which I find particularly inspiring. While it speaks of the Roman Catholic Church I think that it speaks to most churches and reflects how people see us, the Christian Church, no matter what denominational tradition we claim. Likewise it speaks of what we can become:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

I have missed Andrew Greeley’s new writings ever since he was injured. However, when I read how many lives that he touched, especially those who struggle with faith or have been hurt by the church I know that the Spirit of God will still use him and that as of today that freed from the bonds of his earthly infirmities that he will keep us in his prayers. That being said, I will always be grateful to Andrew Greeley. When I was despairing of life itself, his writings, particularly the fictional ministry and work of Bishop Blackie Ryan helped me rediscover an authentic faith.

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Greeley and the wonderful characters that he created will continue to help me and I’m sure from the comments I have seen many others. I also know that through them that he and his witness of Jesus will live on.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books and literature, faith, News and current events, Religion

The Last Battle of the Bismarck

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Battleship Bismarck

The torpedo from the Swordfish from the HMS Ark Royal that struck the mighty Bismarck in her stern and jammed her rudders doomed that ship and her crew. It was an astounding turn of events. The Bismarck had sunk the legendary British Battle Cruiser HMS Hood in minutes and had she persisted could have sunk the new Battleship HMS Prince of Wales. Instead, Vice Admiral Gunther Lutjens in command of the Bismarck and her consort the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen decided to break off contact and make for safety in the French port of Brest.

images-39 Sinking of the Hood

Bismarck slipped her pursuers and allowed Prinz Eugen to escape. It seemed that nothing that the British could do would stop her from gaining the safety of the French port and with it the knowledge that she had sunk the most powerful ship in the Royal Navy and gotten away. Then out of nowhere Bismarck was spotted by a Royal Air Force Coastal Command PBY Catalina seaplane piloted by an American Naval Officer. Then a relatively small and slow torpedo dropped from an obsolescent Swordfish torpedo bomber, a “stringbag” hit the Bismarck in perhaps the only place that could have changed the developing narrative of a great German naval victory.

As darkness fell on May 26th, Bismarck, unable to steer towards Brest due to her damage and the following seas steered toward the oncoming British armada at a reduced speed. Her crew, now exhausted from countless hours on watch and at their battle stations knew that they were doomed.

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Swordfish returning from attacking Bismarck

Despite this they still labored trying in vain for a way to repair their ship. As Bismarck’s engineers and damage control personnel sought at way to repair the damage on that dark night Royal Navy destroyers under the command of Captain Phillip Vian harassed her, closing to fire torpedoes and keep the exhausted crew of the mighty German ship engaged at their battle stations throughout the long night.

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Bismarck under Fire from King George V and Rodney

As light broke on the morning of the 27th the remaining heavy units from the Home Fleet, the Battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney along with the Heavy Cruisers HMS  Norfolk which had been part of the pursuit since the first day and HMS Dorsetshire which had broke from its convoy escort duties on the 26th closed in for the kill.

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Bismarck from Dorsetshire

At 0847 the British Battleships opened fire on Bismarck, which replied with accurate salvos straddled Rodney. However British shells hammered the Bismarck, 16” shells from Rodney destroying the command center of Bismarck and her main fire control stations. Within 30 minutes the mighty guns which had sunk the Hood were silent and the British ships pounded Bismarck from point blank range with 16”, 14”, 8” and 6” shells as well as torpedoes.

painting28 The end of the Bismarck

The British ships scored at least 400 hits but though they had silenced Bismarck the ship was still afloat, burning and certainly doomed but undaunted. Finally, with their adversary obviously doomed and their own fuel supplies dangerously low Admiral Tovey ordered the battleships to break off the action even as the cruisers continued to fire their guns and torpedoes.

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Bismarck Survivors being hauled aboard Dorsetshire

Even so the Bismarck’s senior surviving officer, her First Officer Fregattenkapitan (Commander) Hans Oels ordered her Chief Engineer Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant Commander) Gerhard Junack to prepare the ship for scuttling and ordered the crew to abandon ship. The watertight doors were opened and scuttling charges fired. At 1039 the Bismarck slipped beneath the waves.

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HMS Dorsetshire 1941

Hundreds of survivors bobbed about in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. 110 were rescued by British ships, mostly by Dorchester. Then lookouts spotted the periscope of a U-Boat and the British ships broke off their rescue operations leaving hundreds more survivors to die of exposure or their wounds in the Atlantic. A few more were rescued later by German ships or U-boats but about 2200 German sailors went down with their ship or died awaiting rescue that never came. 2 officers and 113 men survived the sinking of the Bismarck.

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Artist’s image of the Wreck of the Bismarck

Subsequent investigations would show that all the British shells and torpedoes could not have sunk the Bismarck and that it was indeed the scuttling charges that sent her to the bottom of the Atlantic. Even so, she was doomed and the damage would have sent her to the bottom within 12 to 24 hours had Oels not order Junack to scuttle the ship. Within a year the Ark Royal, Prince of Wales, and Dorsetshire would also lie at the bottom of the seas. Prince of Wales sunk by Japanese land based bombers off Malaya in 1941, Dorsetshire by Japanese Carrier aircraft in April 1942 and Ark Royal by the U-Boat U-81 in November 1941. Of the destroyers that harassed Bismarck the night before her sinking only one, the Polish Destroyer ORP Piorun would survive the war.

The tragedy of mission of the Bismarck is that nearly 3700 sailors died aboard the two mightiest ships in the world, the Hood and the Bismarck died in battles that though now legendary did not alter the course of the war. Hood’s loss though tragic did not alter the strategic equation as more new battleships of the King George V class entered service and German capital ships, harassed and damaged by RAF bomber sorties and attacks by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm confined to ports in France, Germany or Norway slipped into irrelevance as the war progressed and the German U-Boat force took the lead in the Battle of the Atlantic.

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The Mighty Hood

As one who has served at sea on a cruiser at war which came within minutes of a surface engagement with Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats in the Northern Arabian Gulf in 2002 I have wondered what would happen in the event of an engagement that seriously damaged or sank our ship. Thus I have a profound sense of empathy for the sailors that perished aboard both the Hood and the Bismarck in the fateful days of May 22-27 1941.

In hopes that no more brave sailors will have to die this way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, world war two in europe

The “Buddy” Poppy: Symbol of Memorial Day

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In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1915.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

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Besides the American Flag the Buddy Poppy is perhaps the most ubiquitous symbol of Memorial Day.  This poppy as we know it came about when Mrs Moina Michael read McRea’s poem and inspired wrote this verse:

We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.

She then had the inspiration to begin wearing Red Poppies on Memorial Day and sold the poppies to friends and others with the money going to those in need. A French woman visiting the United States, a Madame Guerin discovered the new custom and took it back to France where she began to make artificial red poppies to sell with the proceeds going to the widows and orphans of the First World War. The custom spread to other countries and in 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League sold the poppies but disbanded in 1921. Madame Guerin approached the newly formed Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, the VFW in 1922 for assistance and in 1922 the VFW became the first American organization to sell poppies. Two years later the Buddy Poppy program began. The artificial poppies were made by disabled veterans who were paid for their work in order to provide them some form of income and distributed by other veterans across the country.  Today the VFW continues to distribute the Buddy Poppies which are still produced by disabled Veterans at the nation’s Veteran’s Administration Hospitals.

I remember the first Buddy Poppy that I every received. It was just before Memorial Day 1970, before it became a 3 day weekend falling on the last Monday of May. We were living with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia as my dad sought suitable housing for us in Long Beach California while he was in the Navy.

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Our initial move from the small town of Oak Harbor Washington, where my dad had been stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to Long Beach had not gone well. The first place we lived was in a dangerous neighborhood and with my dad traveling frequently to Naval Shipyards around the country to help commission new ships the stress on the family, especially my mother in dealing with that and two young boys was too much. Dad sent us back to Huntington where my Grandparents and numerous other relatives still lived for the duration of the school year as he sought better housing.

Memorial Day then was filled with visits to cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of departed relatives as well as flags on the graves of relatives who had served in the military. We made a number of stops that day at the Bowen and Dundas cemeteries as well as others where relatives were interred. Afterward we had a home cooked meal prepared by my maternal grandmother Christine and then made a trip on a city bus to my paternal grandmother Verdie.

Holidays, were much like that for us during that time that we lived in Huntington, until my dad came back and brought us back to Long Beach in June. Just before my dad arrived to take us back to Long Beach my mom, her cousin Valerie and I were shopping downtown, which at the time before I-64 took traffic around the town and led to a new mall and shopping complex being built just out of town, was a bustling place of commerce and activity. Major retailers all had their stores downtown, while the best movie theaters and restaurants were there as well.

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We were coming out of the old SS Kresge store on Fourth Avenue and an elderly man wearing a VFW cap approached us and handed me a poppy. He had to be in his 70s so I presume that he was a Veteran of the First World War. He chatted briefly with my mom and Valerie and I am sure my mom gave him a bit of money for the poppy. I kept it for many years and it was eventually lost in one of our moves. But I will not forget it and any time I see a Veteran distributing them I make sure that I get one.

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Babe Ruth and President Warren G Harding with the first official Buddy Poppy of 1923 

For me the Buddy Poppy is a symbol of thanks for the sacrifices made by so many, those who did not come home from wars being killed or missing in action, as well as the wounded and the families of the dead and those that came home forever changed by their time in war. This year marks the 90th anniversary of it being the official flower of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s wars.

The poppy has even more significance for me now having served in Iraq. Seeing war’s devastation and knowing so many who have either been killed or wounded in the wars that we have engaged since September 11th 2001 has impacted me in ways that I could not have imagined before the war. Likewise having come back changed by my experience and having to deal with the affliction of severe PTSD I sense a camaraderie with those men who came home changed from war and in many cases returned to a country that did not understand them.

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I will be observing the “Go Silent” moment at 12:01 today with the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association to honor those who have given the last full measure.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Melancholy Memorial Day Thoughts

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“It’s funny isn’t it. He’s dead, I’m crippled, you’re lost. Suppose it’s always like that. I mean war.” Flying Officer David Campbell played by Richard Burton in “The Longest Day” 

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I came back a different man from Iraq. It seems that for me with every passing year Memorial Day becomes more of a melancholy observance. It is a weekend and observance that I feel deeply having lost friends in war and served in Iraq as well as Operation Enduring Freedom. It is also a day in which I feel more and more disconnected from the vast majority of my fellow Americans. I don’t know, but just from my observation it seems that for most Americans the weekend serves as not much more than the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer holiday and vacation season.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that for most Americans, the vast majority who have themselves never served a day in uniform and who have no more than a passing relationship with anyone who is either serving in our current wars or has served in any war that war is at best a spectator sport. It is an attitude that has been nurtured by our politicians of all parties, political pundits and preachers for decades. As a result there is a grave disconnect between the society at large and the men and women who serve in the military and in our wars.

To be fair I don’t think it is a matter of ordinary people not caring, not that at all, just that no one has really called the nation to war, as such we have been at war but only a small amount of the population is called on to serve. The real fact of the matter is that the wars that we have fought since World War II have not been national affairs. If they were we would not be continually fighting wars that most people neither understand and which in many if not most cases we would be better off staying out of completely.  That being said I am appreciative of those who do things to care for and honor our veterans, honor our fallen and do practical things for the survivors. There are some really wonderful people, many who have never served who do what they can for those who fight and die in or come back forever changed from these misbegotten and unpopular wars.

What I do find offensive are the war mongers and profiteers who have never served. I feel this way about those who did all that they could to avoid serving in the military and those who did the very minimum to satisfy outward appearances of service while avoiding anything difficult, especially deployment to combat zones. Of the latter I can think of five to six currently serving and very outspoken conservative members of the House of Representatives and the Senate that fit the description. I shan’t mention the members of the previous Presidential administration who through their willing lies caused the deaths of nearly 4500 American military personnel in Iraq. I speak about men who in their writings, their appearances on news networks and their think tanks and corporations that do nothing but profit off of war. Some are current or former politicians, others supposedly “academics” and others men who smell a profit in war.

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I find such people to be loathsome and wonder how on Memorial Day weekend they can show their faces. But then they are rather shameless. Sometimes their actions make me wonder if the sacrifices made by those who serve are in vain. However, I strive to resist that and pray that our sacrifices will not be in vain. While they profit from war others pay the bill and it has always been this way. Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, a two time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor wrote after World War One in his book War is a Racket:

“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Maybe I feel this way because I grew up in a military family where my dad was frequently deployed and served in Vietnam, a place where some of my friends fathers died, and because I have been in the military 32 years between the Army and the Navy. Maybe it is partly because I am a military historian, theologian, priest and chaplain who has seen the horrors of war and the wounds that remain for life in the bodies, minds and spirits of those that fight in them.  I cannot speak of how my heart feels when I see young men and women, wounded in war, their lives forever changed bravely struggling to go on even as the war mongers, war profiteers and chicken-hawks profit off of their suffering.

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So for me this is a rather melancholy time. A time where I struggle. I honor the fallen, my brothers and sisters who have given the last full measure of devotion in serving this country, those that I know personally or have served with and those who did so before I was every born.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, News and current events, shipmates and veterans

The Caine Mutiny: A Lesson in Leadership

padresteve:

I’ve been watching a number of older movies over this Memorial Day Weekend. Last night I watched A Bridge too Far and The Bridge at Remagen. Tonight I just watched The Caine Mutiny and I am trying to decide on the second feature. However, the Caine Mutiny is one of my favorite movies on leadership and the novel by Herman Wouk is amazing. This is an article from about 3 years ago that I wrote about this great film. Peace, Padre Steve+

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

“Now you’re learning, Willie. You don’t support your captain because you like him; you support because he’s got the job or you’re no good!” Jose Ferrer as Lieutenant Barney Greenwald

I write this after seeing a number of officers do some really dumb things in my 28 year career in the manner in which they supported their commanders or chain of command in trying times.  While none of these incidents could be described as mutiny they were certainly acts which undermined the chain of command, endangered the mission and had they occurred in a combat zone or in emergent conditions could have gotten soldiers or sailors killed.  The Caine Mutiny is a classic on leadership either in book or movie form.  I prefer the book but I am captivated by the performances of Humphrey Bogart and Jose Ferrer. In this essay I go through the movie and book and illustrate…

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Remembering Why We Keep Memorial Day

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“even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred…”

Nearly 20 years after the Civil War, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. then serving as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court spoke on Memorial Day 1884 in Keene New Hampshire at a gathering of veterans. He recalled an incident not long before where he had heard a young man ask “why people still kept up Memorial Day. The question was one that he pondered before his speech and that he attempted to find an answer, not to his fellow veterans who certainly understood their shared memories of war “but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories.”

I think that having an answer for the question is as timely now as when Holmes first pondered it. Though his war was twenty years past and had torn the nation apart, there were still many men on both sides who had served in that terrible time and but even so many people were not only forgetting the war and the sacrifices made by so many but intent on becoming rich. Something that he would directly state in a Memorial Day address to the graduating class of Harvard University in 1895:

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Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr in the Civil War

“The society for which many philanthropists, labor reformers, and men of fashion unite in longing is one in which they may be comfortable and may shine without much trouble or any danger. The unfortunately growing hatred of the poor for the rich seems to me to rest on the belief that money is the main thing (a belief in which the poor have been encouraged by the rich), more than on any other grievance. Most of my hearers would rather that their daughters or their sisters should marry a son of one of the great rich families than a regular army officer, were he as beautiful, brave, and gifted as Sir William Napier. I have heard the question asked whether our war was worth fighting, after all. There are many, poor and rich, who think that love of country is an old wife’s tale, to be replaced by interest in a labor union, or, under the name of cosmopolitanism, by a rootless self-seeking search for a place where the most enjoyment may be had at the least cost.”

However his message to his fellow veterans, mostly men from his own former regiment, the 20th Massachusetts was quite personal and something that they could find meaning in. Holmes understood war, he had seen much action and had been wounded at Ball’s Bluff, Antietam and Chancellorsville. He talked of the shared experience of war, something that those who have fought in our nation’s wars, as well as combat veteran soldiers in other countries can understand far more than people that have only known peace, even while their countrymen are at war.

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Holmes remembrances of the war and the comrades that he and those present had served with, those living and those dead is powerful. Many of us who have served in the wars that began on September 11th 2001 have lost friends in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and many more who are wounded or maimed in body, mind and spirit. Many survivors of wounds today would have died in previous wars.

Likewise his descriptions of the memories of war, triggered by “accidents” are real to those that have experienced war and combat.

“Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, The skirmishers are at it, and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom–Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten.”

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We all have our memories of our wars, those of us who remain, be we veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, Somalia, Desert Storm, Lebanon, Vietnam, Korea or World War II. It is hard to believe that so few remain from World War II and Korea, and that even the Vietnam veterans are aging rapidly, most now in their 60s or 70s. In as much as the wars of the past decade have been fought by a tiny minority of American citizens fewer and fewer will understand the bond that we share through our memories of the living and the dead. We have been set apart by our experiences, even though the wars that we have fought differ in many ways.

As such we should whenever possible take the time to meet and remember. That might be as groups of friends, unit associations or perhaps local chapters of Veterans organizations. We do this to remember but also to remind ourselves that we cannot live in the past alone, for the present likewise calls us to action, even after our service is complete.

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Holmes put it well: “When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers.”

We remember the past, we remember our fallen and we remember the families who have lost loved ones in these wars as well as those whose lives have been changed and maybe even torn apart by the changes that war has wrought in their loved ones who returned different from war. In our service we have been set apart and as such as Holmes so well states we have the duty to “bear the report to those who will come after us.” His words carry forth to us today, we few we happy few as Shakespeare so eloquently wrote.

“nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.” 

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I will remember my time in Iraq and those that I served alongside. I will also remember friends who served in other units who did not return as well as those Marines, Sailors and Soldiers that I see every day in our Naval Hospital suffering from the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds of war.

This weekend I will remember and on Monday, that sacred day that we set aside to remember the fallen I take some time at noon to join in that time of remembrance and pray that maybe someday war will be no more.

That is why I think that we should remember Memorial Day even if others forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans, vietnam

The Memorial Day Order

padresteve:

Another older but pertinent article about Memorial Day. Never forget our Nation’s fallen… Peace, Padre Steve+

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

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” From the Gettysburg Address 

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and…

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The First Memorial Day

padresteve:

Since Memorial Day is almost here I am reposting a number of older articles about it. Peace, Padre Steve+

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

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865.  Charleston South Carolina, a hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863 which ended with the city’s surrender on 18 February 1865. By this time much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps erected by the Confederacy, one in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney. Another camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was…

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Stringbags Versus Leviathan: Royal Navy Fairy Swordfish Attack the Mighty Bismarck

Alan Fearnley; (c) Alan Fearnley; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This is the second article in a series that I am writing on Operation Rheinubung and the sinking of the German Battleship Bismarck. The first article in the series was written about two years ago and focused on the Bismarck sinking the HMS Hood. This article looks at the attempts by the Fleet Air Arm Squadrons of Fairy Swordfish Torpedo Bombers flying from the HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal to slow down the Bismarck and allow heavy fleet units to catch the the mighty German battleship. 

h69721Bismarck photographed from Prinz Eugen at the beginning of Rheinubung

On May 24th 1941 the German Battleship Bismarck had sunk the celebrated Battlecruiser HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait and had seriously damaged the new Battleship HMS Prince of Wales. The news of the disaster stunned the Royal Navy and every warship available began to concentrate on the Bismarck which was being shadowed by the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk. To the east the ships from the Home Fleet under Admiral John Tovey was moving at the fastest possible speed to intercept the Bismarck while to the far southeast “Force H” comprised of the carrier HMS Ark Royal, Battle Cruiser HMS Renown and light cruiser HMS Sheffield were ordered to leave their convoy escort duties and proceed to the Northwest to join the hunt.

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HMS Ark Royal with Swordfish in 1939

With the Bismarck loose the North Atlantic Convoys on which Britain depended for her survival were vulnerable. The previous year the commander of the Bismarck task force Admiral Günther Lütjens with the Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had wreaked havoc on the convoys. All of Britain was on edge and when the Mighty Hood, the largest and most powerful ship in the Royal Navy destroyed with the loss of all but three crew members every effort was directed to find and sink the Bismarck.

gallbismlastdays01 Bismarck photographed from a Swordfish from 825 Squadron

Accompanying the Home Fleet was the brand new Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious with 825 Naval Air Squadron embarked under the command of LCDR Eugene Esmond. The squadron, like many in the Fleet Air Arm was equipped with Fairy Swordfish Torpedo Bombers. The squadron had seen action aboard other carriers in the North Atlantic, the Norway Campaign and in the Mediterranean before being assigned to the Victorious. On the night of 24 May 1941, in foul North Atlantic weather the Victorious launched nine Swordfish from a range of 120 miles in a desperate attempt to slow the Bismarck down. Esmond’s squadron scored one hit amidships on the Bismarck which did no serious damage.

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825 Squadron Swordfish on HMS Victorious

About 6 hours after the attack Bismarck shook her pursuers and disappeared into the mists of the North Atlantic as her consort, the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen escaped to the northwest. Not knowing the location or course of the Bismarck the Royal Navy frantically searched for the German Leviathan. Most of the ships nearest to Bismarck’s last reported position were low on fuel and others seemed too far away to be of any importance in the search.

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Bismarck, bow on view

However the British were able to intercept and decode some German communications indicating that Lütjens had orders to steam to Brest, in German occupied France for repairs. Although the British had an understanding that the Bismarck could be headed toward Brest it could not be sure and as each hour passed the chances of finding and bringing the might German ship to battle diminished. For nearly 36 hours the British searched in vain for the Bismarck, then at 1030 on the 26th of May a Royal Air Force Coastal Command PBY Catalina piloted by US Navy Ensign Leonard Smith found the Bismarck. Once Smith transmitted Bismarck’s location every available ship converged on her location even though chances bringing her to battle diminished by the hour. The only heavy forces close enough to successfully engage Bismarck, the battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney were too far away unless Bismarck changed course or could be slowed down. Force H to the south did not have the combat power to survive a surface engagement with the Bismarck should they encounter the Bismarck without other heavy fleet units.

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820 Squadron Swordfish returning to Ark Royal after the attack on Bismarck

The situation was desperate, if Bismarck could not be slowed down she would be in range of heavy Luftwaffe Air support as well as support from U-Boats and destroyers based in France. Unless something akin to a miracle occurred Bismarck would join the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in Brest and form a surface squadron strong enough to devastate British shipping in the Atlantic.

The aircraft from Ark Royal were the last hope of slowing down Bismarck before she could effect her escape and emerge from the Atlantic after having dealt the Royal Navy a devastating blow. The strike aircraft available on Ark Royal were not what many people would consider capable of completing such a mission. Ark Royal’s 820 Squadron, like Victorious’ 824 Squadron was equipped with Fairy Swordfish Mk 1 Torpedo Bombers. These were biplanes with a crew compartment open to the weather. Introduced to the Navy in 1936 the aircraft was an antique compared with most other aircraft of its day. The Mark XII 18” torpedo carried by the aircraft was smaller or slower and equipped with a less powerful warhead than comparable torpedoes used by other navies. Despite their limitations the venerable Swordfish had performed admirably during the early part of the war sinking or damaging three Italian battleships at Taranto in November 1941 and providing inspiration to the Japanese for their attack on Pearl Harbor.

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Bismarck steering erratically after the torpedo hit to her stern

With that in mind Vice Admiral James Sommerville in command of Force H sent HMS Sheffield ahead to shadow Bismarck as his carrier, HMS Ark Royal closed to launch her Swordfish against Bismarck. A first strike, unaware Sheffield had advanced to a location near Bismarck mistakenly attacked the British Cruiser. Thankfully, the new design magnetic detonators failed to detonate causing the torpedoes to miss Sheffield. The aircraft returned to Ark Royal where rearmed with torpedoes equipped with contact fuzes and refueled 15 Swordfish took off for a final attack on Bismarck before night fell and Bismarck would steam into the protection of German air and naval units.

As darkness began to fall 15 Swordfish from 820 Squadron descended through the clouds attacking from all points of the compass. Bismarck twisted and turned and fired at the attacking aircraft with every weapon available, even firing her main battery into the ocean ahead of the Swordfish. Bismarck successfully avoided all but two torpedoes, one which struck her amidships causing minimal damage. However a second torpedo, launched by a Swordfish piloted by Lieutenant John Moffat hit Bismarck in her stern jamming her port rudder enabling Tovey with King George V, Rodney, the Heavy Cruiser Norfolk and Dorchester as well as a number of destroyers to catch up with and eventually sink the Bismarck.

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The attacks of the antiquated Swordfish on the Bismarck achieved results that no one in  the Royal Navy expected. When reports indicated that Bismarck had reversed course following the torpedo attack Tovey could not believe them. It was only when Sheffield confirmed the reports from the Swordfish that Tovey realized that Bismarck must have been damaged and unable to maneuver. Now with the chance he would take the opportunity presented to sink the Bismarck and avenge the Hood.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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