Today has been a day of rest and recovery from the past 10 days, especially the past 3 days when Judy had to be hospitalized. She is recovering nicely and may actually visit her friends at her church choir practice tonight even if she does not sing. I’m now finishing this post a Harbor Park, the Tides are up 1-0 and going to bat in the bottom of the 2nd.
Also please see Judy’s blog at http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/ for a good patient eye view of Epiglottitis.
Old Glory, the POW-MIA and Honor and Remember Flags
Monday is Memorial Day and I will be both on duty at the medical center as well as participating in a Memorial Day ceremony at the historic Naval Cemetery located on our grounds. Memorial Day means a lot to me, probably more each year. This is personal, more personal than at any time in my life. I guess it comes with experience and maturity as well as a lot of reflection.
I’ve been in the military for almost 28 years now. I enlisted in the National Guard while in college and entered Army ROTC back in 1981. Since then it has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” My dad served twenty years in the Navy. He retired in 1974 as a Chief Petty Officer and did time surrounded in the South Vietnamese city of An Loc when it was surrounded by the North Vietnamese for 80 days in 1972. He didn’t talk about it much when he came back; in fact he came back different from the war. He probably suffered from PTSD. All the markers were there but we had no idea about it back then, after all he was in the Navy not the Army.
My second view of war came from the Veterans of Vietnam that I served with in the National Guard and the Army. Some of these men served as teachers and mentors. LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness at the Edison High School Naval Junior ROTC program were the first who helped me along. They have both passed away in the past year and a half. I will never forget them. A post dedicated to them is on this blog. Colonel Edgar Morrison was my first battalion commander. He was the most highly decorated member of the California National Guard at that time and had served multiple tours in Vietnam. He encouraged me as a young specialist and officer cadet and showed a tremendous amount of care for his soldiers. Staff Sergeant’s Buff Rambo and Mickey Yarro taught me the ropes as a forward observer and shared many of their Vietnam experiences. Buff had been a Marine dog handler on the DMZ and Mickey a Forward Observer. Sergeant First Class Harry Zilkin was my training NCO at the UCLA Army ROTC program. He was a Special Forces Medic with 7th Group in Vietnam. He still had part of a VC bayonet embedded in his foot. He received my first salute as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant as well as a Silver Dollar. I understand that after the Army he became a fire fighter. He had a massive heart attack on the scene of a fire and died a few years later from it. Sergeant Major John Butler was our senior enlisted at UCLA. He served with the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam. Sergeant First Class Harry Ball was my drill sergeant at the ROTC pre-commissioning camp at Fort Lewis Washington in 1982. He was also Special Forces and a Ranger and served multiple tours in Vietnam. He was quite influential in my life, tearing me apart and then building me back up. He was my version of Drill Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Like Zack Mayo played by Richard Gere in the movie I can only say: Drill Sergeant “I will never forget you.”
As I progressed through my Army career I encountered others of this generation who also impacted my life. First among them was First Sergeant Jim Koenig who had been a Ranger in the Mekong Delta. I was the First Sergeant that I would measure all others by. Once during a ARTEP we were aggressed and all of a sudden he was back in the Delta. This man cared so much for his young soldiers in the 557th Medical Company. He did so much for them and I’m sure that those who served with him can attest to this as well as me. Jim had a brick on his desk so that when he got pissed he could chew on it. He was great. He played guitar for the troops and had a song called Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda You Communist Slut. It was a classic. He retired after he was selected to be a Command Sergeant Major because he valued his wife and family more than the promotion. It hurt him to do this, but he put them first. Colonel Donald Johnson was the commander of the 68th Medical Group when I got to Germany in January 1984. Colonel “J” as well all called him was one of the best leaders I have seen in 28 years in the military. He knew everything about everything and his knowledge forced us all to learn and be better officers and NCOs. On an inspection visit you could always find him dressed in coveralls and underneath a truck verifying the maintenance done on it. He served a number of Vietnam tours. He died a few years back of Multiple Myeloma and is buried at Arlington. Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley who had served as a company commander in Vietnam on more than one occasion saved my young ass at the Army Chaplain School. He remains a friend and is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon he was one of the most “Christian” men that I have ever met. I know some Christians who might have a hard time with that, but Rich demonstrated every trait of a Christian who loved God and his neighbor.
When I was the Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap PA I was blessed to have some great veterans in my Chapel Parish. Major General Frank Smoker flew 25 missions as a B-17 pilot over Germany during the height of the air war in Europe. He brought his wonderful wife Kate back from England with him. Henry Boyd who I buried was one of the 101st Airborne soldiers epitomized in Band of Brothers. He had a piece of shrapnel lodged next to his heart from the Battle of the Bulge until the day he died. Scotty Jenkes was a Air Force pilot in Vietnam flying close air support. Colonel Ray Hawthorne served several tours both in artillery units and as an advisor in 1972. CWO4 Charlie Kosko flew helicopters in Vietnam. All these men made a deep impact on me and several contributed to my career in very tangible ways.
Marines at Hue City Tet 1968
My life more recently has been impacted by others. My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes, Tony “Limey Cartilage ” Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time in Iraq. They and all the Vietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and John who man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park all mean a lot to me. My friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis mean more than almost any people in the world. We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines. Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends.
Finally there are my friends and brothers that I have served with at sea on USS HUE CITY during Operation Enduring Freedom and the advisers on the ground in Al Anbar mean more than anything to me. Perhaps the most important is my RP, RP2 Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and accompanied me all over the battlefield. Nelson who has done Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Balkans is a hero. The men and women of Navy EOD who I served with from 2006-2008 have paid dearly in combating IEDs and other explosive devices used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan are heros too. There is no routine mission for EOD technicians.
I give thanks for all them men that I mention in this post, especially my dad. God bless all of you guys. Please honor the Veterans that you know this weekend. Honor also those who gave their lives in the defense of liberty in all of the wars of our nation. They have earned it.
Post Script: The game went to extra innings and the Tides lost 5-4. They left the tying run at 3rd base in the bottom of the 12th. That ended a 8 game winning streak. On a positive side I was able to get a ball autographed by former Dodger’s pircher ill Singer and Pirate’s Pitcher Bob Kison. Singer pitched in the Dodger’s rotation with Drysdale, Koufax and other greats. He threw a no-hitter in 1970 against the pirates and now is a scout for the Nationals, Kison won game one of the 1971 World Series in six innings of releif against the Orioles who he now scouts for the Orioles.