Category Archives: mental health

It is a Long Way to Tipperary: thoughts on Return from War and Betrayal

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am a bit tired and going to post something that basically is a rerun with a few edits. Twelve years ago stepped off a plane with the man who had been my body guard and assistant for the past seven months in Iraq. War had changed me more than I had every imagined that it would. Even though I was physically home I wasn’t home, the war remained with me, and in some ways it still does.

I have written about my struggles with what I sometimes describe as the “Demons of PTSD”.  I retired from the Navy at Midnight on December 31st, an occasion that I toasted in first with a glass of champagne with Judy followed by a couple of drams of 18 year old Glenfiddich Single Malt.

But the transition to retirement has been difficult. First was the ordeal of getting the Navy to get my DD-214 that statement of service that ensures that all service is credited, awards documented, and combat service documented for retirement, medical, and Veterans Affairs benefits. I was able to get the basics taken care of but so much was still missing, basically because the Navy probably has the worst system of documenting awards and service than any military branch. The I was told by the same people that our TRICARE medical insurance would remain in place until our identification cards were redone and our profiles updated in another system called DEERS. It was either a lie or something said in complete ignorance. Because of COVID-19 and the limited number of appointments available for new ID Cards we couldn’t get ours until 21 January. Since we were told we were covered during the interregnum we had no idea that our TRICARE  benefits had expired on 1 January until we found out Wednesday. I spent Thursday getting it fixed and the found out that evening the contractor for the Veterans Administration had screwed me on my VA Disability claim quite obviously not even reviewing the massive amount of evidence in my medical records. That sent me into a short tailspin where I actually thought about suicide. Once again I felt completely betrayed by representatives of our country.

Thankfully, I had a lot of friends, former shipmates and comrades come to my assistance. One a retired Navy Doctor who now works for the VA, another a retired Medical Corps Admiral who has friends at the highest levels who help military personnel when they run into problems with the VA, and another who is the personal friend of a high ranking Senator on the Veteran Affairs Committee. I received personal messages and phone calls from many friends and Monday we set about righting the wrong. I have been assured that this is an easy appeal, but the initial shock and sense of betrayal completely wore me out. Though I wanted to gather everything for my appeal today I was so emotional worn down that I couldn’t do anything. I am in a better place today, but I admit my anger at contractors who didn’t bother to really look at thousands of pages of documentation in order to minimize my experience with PTSD and so much else.

I still deal and suffer from PTSD, even if the VA contractor minimized it and did so with other conditions. Their audiologist even admitted that he never looked at my records before examining me. The psychologist didn’t say it but obvious had not examined my records.

However, the fact that I am a historian has allowed me to find connections to other men who have suffered from their experience of war, came home changed, and struggled for their existence in the world that they came home to.

The words of men who I never met, have helped me to frame my experience even in the darkest times often in ways that my faith did not. One of the things that I struggled with the most and still do is sleep. When I was conducting my research on the Battle of Gettysburg I got to know through biographies and their own writings a good number of the men who fought that battle who are now remembered as heroes. One of these was Major General Gouveneur Warren who has shattered by his experiences during the war. He wrote to his wife after the war: “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”  Those terrible nightmares and terrors continue. My panic attacks continue, my inability to understand speech remains, the pain in my hip, knees and ankles is such that I still need to use a cane to walk or drag myself up the stairs. But I digress…

About every year around this time I feel a sense of melancholy as I reflect on war and my return from Iraq. I didn’t get a chance to re-read it today, but a while back I read a number of George Santayana’s Soliloquies in England, in particular one entitled Tipperary, which he wrote in the time shortly after the First World War. The title is a reference to the song It’s a Long, Long Way, to Tipperary which was written by Henry James “Harry” Williams and co-credited to his partner Jack Judge as a music hall song in 1912. It became very popular before the war, but became a world wide hit when George Curnock, a correspondent for the Daily Mail saw the Irish Connaught Rangers  Regiment singing it as they marched through the Belgian port of Boulogne on August 13th 1914 on their way to face the German Army. Curnock made his report several days later, and soon many units in the British Army adopted it. It became a worldwide hit when Irish Tenor John McCormack recorded it in November 1914.

Interestingly enough the song, like the German song Lili Marlene is that it is a call back to home, not a call to battle.

I think that the first time that I heard the song was when I saw It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, where Snoopy as the World War One Flying Ace alternates between happiness and tears as Schroeder plays the song on his piano. In a number of later comic strips, Charles Schulz, had Snoopy refer to it a number of times, in one strip, exhausted by his march, a tired Snoopy lays down and notes: “They’re right, it is a long way to Tipperary.” I do understand that.

But, back to Santayana’s soliloquy, he comments on the wounded officers that he sees singing the song in a coffee house and he wonders if they understand how different the world is now. I love the song, the chorus is below.

It’s a long way to Tipperary
it’s a long was to go
It’s a long way to Tipperary
to the sweetest gal I know
farewell to Piccadilly
so long Leister Square
It’s a long way to Tipperary
but my heart lies there

Santayana wrote:

“It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.

I wonder what they think Tipperary means for this is a mystical song. Probably they are willing to leave it vague, as they do their notions of honour or happiness or heaven. Their soldiering is over; they remember, with a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to make this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would come ; they are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe themselves ; they forget their wounds ; they see a green vista before them, a jolly, busy, sporting, loving life in the old familiar places. Everything will go on, they fancy, as if nothing had happened…

So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

In the same work Santayana mused on the nature of humanity and war, making one of his most famous observation “only the dead have seen the end of war.”

In the United States we live in a world where war is an abstraction and the vast majority of people have no clue about it or its cost. When I hear former President Trump  make wild threats of war for four years before attempting to overthrow our own government and democracy on 6 January I feel betrayed by fellow Americans and veterans, but also the Veterans Administration and an overwhelmed and incompetent Naval Personnel Command. 

When I returned to the United States in 2008 it was incredibly hard to readjust to life in a country that knew not war. As a historian I was reminded of the words of Guy Sajer in his book The Forgotten Soldier. Sajer was a French Alsacian of German descent who spent nearly four years fighting as an ordinary infantry soldier on the Eastern Front. When he returned home he struggled and he wrote:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

A similar reflection was made by Erich Maria Remarque in All Quite on the Western Front:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

I have to admit that for the better part of the past thirteen years, when I get out of my safe spaces I often feel the same way. I don’t like crowded places, confined areas and other places that I don’t feel safe in. When I am out I always am on alert, and while I don’t have quite the hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance that I once lived with, I am much more aware of my surroundings and always plan an escape route from any public venue that I happen to find myself. Likewise, I still deal with terribly physical nightmares and night terrors, more than one a month.

As I read and re-read Santayana words I came back to his observation of the officers that he saw in the coffee house and I could see myself in them:

“I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, now long despised and out of favour, the old tune of Tipperary. In a coffee-house frequented at that hour some wounded officers from the hospital at Somerville were singing it, standing near the bar; they were breaking all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having champagne in the morning. And good reason they had for it. They were reprieved, they should never have to go back to the front, their friends such as were left could all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumbling, good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to sing when they first joined, came again into their minds.

It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But they had trudged on and had come round full circle; they were in Tipperary at last.” 

I too am now in my own Tipperary on this side of the Atlantic. In a sense I have been reprieved, although I observe things every day that take me back to Iraq. The news from that unfortunate country continues to discourage me. Likewise, the indifference of our former President that talked much about the loving “his” military, but in his and his supporters actions often demeaned military personnel and gutted the medical and mental health systems of the military and the Veterans Administration. But that is an article for another time. Thinking about what has transpired in the last few days and weeks that indifference and betrayal seems so real.  When I see and hear them I remember the words of T. E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia:

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” 

But as Santayana noted So long as the world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the world has to go.” 

It is that for me as I now go tilting after the Quixotesque Windmills that are such a real part of my life.

Until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Time to Stand against the Coming Coup of the Trump Cult

Munich Police Defeat Hitler’s Bier Hall Putsch at Odeonsplatz

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As the evidence continues to mount that President Trump and his nefarious Cult which encompasses most of the GOP minority in the House of Representatives and many Senators, as well as thousands of violent heavily armed Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Fascists, and conspiracy theorists are plotting a Coup to keep Trump in power it is time for every American who stands for our Constitution and Republic to resist them.

Even a few weeks ago most people brushed off the words of Trump and the words and violent actions of his Cult members including the Proud Boys, the Bugaloo Boys, QAnon followers, Christian theocrats, so called self proclaimed Militia outfits, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, Anti-Semites and other authoritarians with a grain of salt.

But our Founders were always concerned about such movements. Historian Timothy Snyder noted in an interview with Sean Illing: “We think that because we’re America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances.”

That is not the way of President Trump and his violent Cult. On  March 14th of 2020 Trump proclaimed:

“I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad,”

However, since Trump’s  indisputable loss in the election by over 7 million popular votes and a wide majority in the Electoral College he has become ever more desperate. His legal team filed over 60 lawsuits to challenge election results all of which were shot down in flames with prejudice because there was no evidence of voter fraud. While those lawsuits were going on and recounts were being conducted Trump supporters threatened election officials, and even Republican judges in the contested states. Even after the recounts, in the case of Georgia three of the, still showed that Joe Biden won, the results were certified, and the electors voted, the threats kept coming.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt wrote something that is completely descriptive of Trump and his followers: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” 

Each day they got more menacing. Now the President has issued a call to his followers to gather and disrupt the ceremonial count of the electors in Congress on Wednesday. At least 12 Senators and over 100 GOP Congressmen and women have said that they would object to the count, which at best will delay the final certification by a few hours. However, there is nothing in the Constitution that allows Congress to overturn elections held in the various states. That is a fact. It is part of our Federalist structure of government which gives states certain powers not ascribed to the Federal Government. Congress cannot overturn certified election results in any state.

The German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed on the express order of Adolf Hitler wrote:

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual  stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

The fact that so many GOP Senators and Representatives are willing to follow Trump into the abyss of his Götterdämmerung shows that they stand against the Constitution and are willing to violate their oaths all in the service of a criminal President. The President’s criminality was on full display last weekend as he was exposed as he attempted to browbeat, bludgeon, and threaten the Georgia Secretary of State and his Chief Counsel to change the votes cast in the election. That is a felony and the men he was threatening were Republicans who voted for him and wanted him to win, but have the integrity and honor to remain faithful to their oaths and obey the law. The same is true in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In all those states elected officials upholding the law and their oaths were and are continuing to be threatened with violence.

Arendt also wrote about the Germans of the Nazi era words that are frightening when one takes a look at the hold that Trump and his propagandists on Fox News, Newsmax Television, OAN, talk radio, and on thousands of fake news conspiracy theory websites and podcasts proclaim:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”


Over the past five years the President has made multiple threats to unleash his followers on opponents. Trump’s statements to that effect are so numerous that I have lost count of them. They began during his campaign and haven’t stopped, in fact they have only gotten worse and on June 1st 2020 he led a violent attack on peaceful protesters by officers of a number of Federal police agencies in Lafayette Park and the historical Saint John’s Church for a photo opportunity outside the Church. It was one of the most lawless acts ever committed by an American President against the American people.

Now we stand at the precipice of violence and insurrection incited by a lame duck President. If Vice President Pence whose life has been threatened by these people had a single working testicle or a couple of solid vertebrae in his back he would move to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from power, but Pence is not a man of courage or honor. Since Pence claims to be a Christian that is even more damning. Not only does he defy his duties under the Constitution, but his obligations to the truth as a Christian. Unfortunately, the Christian faith he represents is theocratic, authoritarian and undemocratic. In fact his version of Christianity is little different than the German Christian movement that wholeheartedly threw itself into supporting Hitler. Jesus Christ is not their God, just a slogan to make them feel good, their God is Trump which is the very definition of idolatry.

Yesterday, the ten living former Secretaries of Defense including former Vice President Dick Cheney all published and signed a letter about the existential threat of Trump to the Republic. That demonstrates the seriousness of what they see on the horizon.

Supporters of President Donald Trump rally outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A coup to overthrow the Constitution of the United States, overturn a free and fair election that Donald Trump lost, and to overthrow the Republic is gaining momentum. It is no different than 1860 when eleven Southern States seceded from the Union and brought about the most deadly war in American history. Senator Stephan A. Douglas who lost the election to Abraham Lincoln when the Democratic Party split into a pro-slavery Southern faction worked as hard as he could to prevent secession after his loss. He could not stop secession and went  back to Illinois where he proclaimed:

“There are only two sides to the question. Every man must be for the United States or against it. There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots – or traitors”

Armed pro-trump militia members demonstrate in Louisville Kentucky on the day of the famous Kentucky Derby, which is held in the city.

Today the Party of traitors are not Jefferson Davis’s Southern Democrats, but the Dixiecrats and theocrats who took over the Republican Party and sold their souls to Donald Trump. Trump didn’t start this, he merely took advantage of a party that grew more unhinged by the decade beginning in the 1960s. Today the Republican Party is not the party of principled conservatism, it is a radical authoritarian party with dreams of dictatorship and most of Trump’s followers imbibe of the falsehoods proclaimed by him, his administration, supporters in Congress and media propagandists proclaim. William Shirer was one of the few American news correspondents in Hitler’s Germany following the Nazi takeover to the German declaration of war against the United States wrote of his experiences with the German Press, propagandists, and people:

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

After January 20th the blood orgy of the Trump Cult will continue as they work to destroy the remaining conservatives in the GOP and probably destroy the Party in the process. It will be like the Night of the Long Knives, but they won’t have help from the military.

Make no mistake. There can be no more sitting on the fence hoping that things will blow over and return to normal as much as all of us, including me would like them to be. The next few days and the days leading to January 20th will be critical to the survival of the country our Framers painstakingly crafted together. What they created wasn’t perfect, the Union had flaws, especially in regards to slavery and our treatment of the peoples of our First Nations, but it was an experiment meant to see the continued increase of liberty for all.

If Trump and his Cult succeed in their plans the country we know is dead. In 1933 old line German Conservatives led by former Chancellor Franz Von Papen had President Hindenburg appoint Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. In less than five months all of their political parties were dissolved and Hitler’s Nazis took sole power. A year later, Hitler turned on his former allies in the Night of the Long Knives, killing hundreds of his most loyal supporters, as well a German conservative leaders and some senior military officers.

I am now convinced that between January 6th and 20th we will see a wave of political violence and unrest we have never known in this country. I dearly want to be wrong, but when I look at Trump’s actions and statements, the violence already being committed by his followers, and the proliferation of threats by them against all opponents or those they suspect of not being loyal enough to Trump, I know worse is to come.

Yale Historian Dr. Timothy Snyder wrote:

“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

That warning is now becoming a reality unless real patriots be the liberal or conservative are willing to stand up and be counted. That especially matters for police and military leaders. General Ludwig Beck the Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1938 resigned in protest over Hitler’s decision to invade Czechoslovakia. In retirement he became part of the resistance against Hitler and on the night of July 20th 1944 when the attempt to kill Hitler and take over Germany failed he was faced with immediate execution or the chance to kill himself. He attempted to kill himself but was just badly wounded and was finished off by an executioner. However before the attempt was made he sounded a warning to military and police personnel about duty to their country against a dictator. He wrote:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.”

I pray that over the next 15 days that true patriotism and loyalty to the Constitution prevails. If it doesn’t our country is doomed.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Racists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust Deniers, Christian Theocrats, and Trump Cultists Beware: Come Here at Your Own Risk, Don’t Dare Try Me


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I draw my line in the sand and I will not stand down against people who threaten to use violence or intimidation against me, and what I believe to be true. I don’t flee, I fight, especially when it comes to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Amendments, which I have for nearly four decades pledged my life, honor, and integrity to defend, and follow to promise of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address to create a more perfect Union.

Over the past month I have been experiencing a significant number of ad hominem attacks by White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, Right Wing Race baiters, and Christian theocrats. Sadly, I am so well acquainted with their intentions and lines of attack that dealing with them is now like shooting fish in a barrel because they are so ignorant of history, science, philosophy, reason, and even their own self proclaimed Christian Faith. Willful ignorance is painful to see in action, especially when it is used as a weapon, because it always ends up in the death and defeat of its proponents. The attacks are like suicide charges which always end up in the deaths of the attackers, so long as the defenders don’t stand down or panic.

I had my first attack back in 2010 not long after I started the blog. I learned early on to be suspicious of such comments and subscribed to a site that helps me identify and track down these people. The first guy used a couple of Nazi related screen names and he made very specific threats against me even describing my home. He had a number of websites and had many racist and Neo-Nazi posts, as well as instructions on how to build IEDs. I tracked him down to Eastern Tennessee and made an identification which since his treat was coming from across state lines I reported him to the FBI. Now at the time I was still in the beginnings of the worst part of my PTSD/TBI ordeal, and my reaction to threats like this is not flight, it is fight. A couple of weeks later the man’s web presence disappeared.

After that I would get the occasional troll, but depending on what they said I either immediately blocked them or tore their arguments apart and then blocked them after I figured out who they were. This has been my normal practice.

In 2014 I even had a Troll attacking my faith with a fake yahoo email address from the 754th Electronic Systems Group located at Gunter Annex, Maxwell Base, Alabama. I tracked the IP address to a specific building and the unit. I reported it to the Maxwell AFB Criminal Investigative Department who checked into it and told me that the IP address was that of the 754th, but that the command said that it would be impossible to determine who did it. I knew that was a lie because the “754th Electronic Systems Group provides and supports secure combat information systems and networks for the United States Air Force (USAF), the Department of Defense and other Federal Government Agencies.”  This is according to what they say of their organization. According to their mission statement the mission is:

“The 754 Electronic Systems Group provides technical and customer service support as well as acquisition and program management oversight of more than 160 Combat Support Information Technology systems. The 754 ELSG also manages the Air Force standard desktop environment, and serves as the Air Force lead for software program management under the auspices of the DoD Enterprise Software Initiative. Additional activities include managing the Air Force single enterprise-wide license contract with Microsoft Corporation, executing the Chief Information Officer’s Information Technology Commodity Council Strategic Sourcing program and administering the Network Centric Solutions contract valued at more than $9 billion. The 754 ELSG also manages more than 50 Air Force contracts and Basic Purchasing Agreements with a total value of $15 billion.“

The fact is that this organization has been reported hacking US and Allied agencies and private citizens. It was obvious to me that one of their civilian employees or contractors did this because it happened at 0837 hours on November 18th 2014. I should have reported to Congress, what the man did was nothing related to national security it was simply harassment by a supposed Fundamentalist Christian working for the Air Force, and protected by an organization that runs the IT oversight and service of the entire Air Force, but he was an outlier. I could never find out who he was, and he never commented again unless he was using another alias. One can understand why I don’t trust and even fear many Fundamentalist Christians who use their access to government power without accountability. That is why I oppose every one of them trying to make the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment to Trump the Establishment Clause in order to turn the United States into a Fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. Sadly, I believe that there are many more going up to the Vice President with the same goal. Mine is a cautionary tale. If you don’t believe me just google the organizations that IP addresses owned by the 754th and it’s command Headquarters, the former 554th Electronics Systems Wing, which was de active duty and renamed the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems of American and Allied organizations have hacked. The  Air Force Program Executive Office Enterprise has its hands in almost everything to do with IT and other Air Force electronic systems, intelligence, and warfare systems.

Of course that was a one time occurrence. When I wrote an article about the death of David Wilkerson, a beloved Evangelical and Pentecostal missionary and pastor who wrote the book The Cross and the Switchblade, as a suicide I was flailed by some of his cult like followers for weeks. I had the accident report, the photos, and the autopsy reports as well as his last blog which read like a suicide note, and inside information from church members of  Wilkeron’s Times Square Church, and the fact I was trained by the Army to investigate motor vehicle accidents , and had practical experience doing so, in horrible crashes. I tried to reason with them, sympathize with their loss only to be called to most horrible things imaginable. I finally blocked comments on the post. I received the compliments of Wilkerson’s son who not only agreed Ed with me but gave me more inside information at how Wilkerson had been betrayed and deposed by his closest ministry associates at Times Square Church and the terminal illnesses he and his wife had been diagnosed. Wilkerson had been betrayed, he and his wife were both dying, and his real friends had already died of old age. But his cultists didn’t have the compassion or sense to believe a man who had done so much good, and who had even written s small book against suicide could take his life. I had one of his admirers contact me yesterday. She shared her story and she was graceful and displayed real Christian virtues. We had a wonderful chat, and she responded gracefully to my respectful and genuinely heartfelt response. We don’t have to agree on everything to pray for, care for, and respect each other. She showed the heart of Jesus, and I respect her and care about her though we have never met. You see, Christian relationships really come  down to simple humility, respect and care.

but going back to what I began with, over the past few months I have been assaulted verbally by White Supremacists, racists, Neo-Nazis, Christian theocrats, and Trump Cultists. Almost all of them have attacked me on my articles about the BLM and  Holocaust, Nazi War Crimes, and the actions of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. It is interesting because when you break down their comments they expose themselves as such, and worse. Their comments are devoid of facts and full of innuendo, falsehoods, and ad hominem conspiracy theory based attracts.

One, at least until today was a subscriber to my blog, and his comment was so laden with untruths and libelous claims against so called liberals that I schooled him and invited him to leave, letting him know that auch comments would not be allowed and that he would be blocked if he ever did so again. Then there were several Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites who made allegations found in the leading Holocaust Denier Organization, the Institute for Historical Review. I have followed their lying bullshit for four decades, and I know when it is being repeated. For them it is all about conspiracy theories, moral equivalence, and blaming Jews for all that is wrong in the world to minimizing the Holocaust. At one time I used to simply trash their comments and block them. Now I take their arguments, which are really not arguments but propaganda points with no factual basis, backed up by salacious and libelous comments about me, when they don’t even know me. So instead of ignoring them I rip their guts out with facts and real data. Historic, scientific, and medical. Then I tell them to either support their arguments with facts or never come back. It seems that the lack of facts prevents them from further harassing me.

but I have to mention this. Many of these racist and Jew baiting trolls uses their business email addresses in their comments. Some are the owners of their business, mostly agents, but then some work for respected corporations. Every time that happens I expose them to their employers, or those corporations whose banner they operate under. I do have to admit that I take a perverse pleasure in exposing what they are to their employers or sponsors. I actually enjoy their stupidity not even to create a fake user name and email address to expose them to ruin, especially since every single one of them has beat their chest about their so called Christian Values when attacking me. Since I am humble enough not to claim that I teach the Almighty theology lessons, it will be interesting to see, if there is a literal heaven or hell, which even the early Fathers of the Christian Church disagreed about, as do many Jewish theologians, as to where we fall when all is said one done. As for me heaven will be much more expansive and full of the grace of God to all his children and creation than those that attack me suggest. If they have a problem with me, then they can go to a different bar than I go to in heaven. If not then we can fight it out in purgatory until God let’s us in.

But the key lesson I have learned is to be truthful. To treat people as I want to be treated, and whenever possible treat them with respect and decency so long as they are not condemning people to hell because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political stance. or supposed sins, when according to the Christian Scriptures, the blood of Jesus covers all sin, or imperfection, and that God and the entire Creation look forward to its redemption at the hands of the people of God.

So I will call it a late night or early morning and wish you all the best, except the Neo-Nazi Scumbag racists and Holocaust deniers. I hope YAWEH Himself gets his hands on your pathetic necks.

As for what happens to me in the afterlife it is irrelevant so long as I am faithful to love God and my neighbors, and remain honest, speak the truth and have a modicum of personal integrity, trusting that Jesus the Christ will have my back.

So until tomorrow or Monday,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Raymond Reddington and Me

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past couple of years. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

Two years ago I put in my papers for voluntary retirement from the Navy. The previous 28 months in my old billet as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek – Fort Story had convinced me that the pain of trying to care for and fight for unappreciative people, including people who tried to destroy my life and career was not worth the fight. But just days after I put it in and the retirement request was approved I suffered a fall down my stairs while dealing with bilateral knee, ankle, and right hip injuries while making home repairs. My request was to retire on 1 September 2019, but by April 2019 with failed surgeries, injection treatments, and physical therapy, I realized that more needed to be done and requested that my retirement date be shifted to my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called the retirement branch at Naval Personnel Command, I was told that there had been a mistake and that my actual statuary date was 1 August 2020.

Since everyone was planning on my September retirement, and my relief was already in place, the new situation was unbearable to the command, and something had to be done. So they transferred me to an unoccupied billet in which they could hide me while sending me on temporary duty orders to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which turned out to be my earthly salvation. When the Coronavirus 19 pandemic hit, the Navy asked a few officers in certain specialties to volunteer to remain on service past their retirement date, until December 31st 2002. I had come to love the people I served and had my faith and call as a Priest renewed.There was no pressure, all I had to do was make myself known, get out among our people and be transparent, caring for and respecting everyone, not just Christians. In the past couple of years I’ve experienced and learned more about forgiveness and forgiving wrongs committed against me, and recognizing actions committed by me that hurt others.

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices committed against others, especially those done by powerful people who use their position to deliberately cause harm or death to people. This you will see a steady stream of articles addressing things like slavery, racism, the Holocaust, unjust wars, government actions that do deliberately harm to the most vulnerable members of society.

While do really love the concept of forgiveness, as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive, even to the point of sacrificing his life to forgive the sins of the world.  Nor do I really understand how the great saints of every faith managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA,  that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may remember them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. As Reddington said to Donald Ressler:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of sins is so important to me and so difficult. It certainly wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for today. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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When Heroes Return from War: Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain and the Complicated Lives of those Changed by War

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                     Fannie and Joshua Chamberlain (Dale Gallon) 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been catching up one work around the house, working on my book so hopefully I can have it ready to send to my agent no later than this time a week from now. So tonight I am reposting a portion out of one of my incomplete Gettysburg series dealing with an American Hero and icon with feet of clay, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  He became one of my heroes when I first read about his stand with the 20th Maine at Little Round Top back in Junior High school. At that time I only knew the basics of his biography, which did not include the struggles he had after the war dealing with combat trauma, a marriage on the rocks, his disappointment at not being retained in the post-war downsizing of the Army, and his attempts to serve in other ways, which did nothing for his health or marriage.

The impact of war on those who go to war and the loved ones that they return to is often incredibly difficult, I know from experience. I am lucky, first I survived war, then I at least until now have survived its aftermath, finally, I have a wife who survived it with me and in spite of all the trauma our marriage not only survived but has become better. I hope that you appreciate this account of the post-war life of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Joshua Chamberlain’s accolades were at Little Round Top certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent, who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day. Of course their were his subordinates that get little attention. But today is about what happened to Chamberlain and his wife Fannie after he came home.

After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither he or Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend.  The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.”  [1]

When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter” [2] and who had returned home, but it was not to be.

Army life had given Joshua Chamberlain a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his fellow professors when he left his professorship at Bowdoin College to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine. His colleague told him that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” [3]

Upon his discharge, Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience. [4] In his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:

“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” [5]

In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:

“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” [6]

Chamberlain then set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. However, the marriage continued to suffer and Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.” [7]  Eventually Chamberlain returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. [8]

He then became a champion of national reconciliation who was admired by friend and former foe alike. However, he was filled with bitterness towards some in the Union who he believed did not care for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than many Northerners, willing to forgive the South, admire it’s heroes and despise their own, and the cause for which they fought:

“Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism – those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” [9]

His experience of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction era North, was felt by many Union Veterans as the twin myths of The Noble South and The Lost Cause swept the whole country. Thus his bitterness, not toward the enemy soldiers he faced, but the citizens that he suffered so much to defend and the causes that they fought. Today his bitterness towards his countrymen, political and business leaders, academics and others, through their foul treatment of Union soldiers and fawning admiration of Heroes the Confederacy and the South, would be called Moral Injury. 

Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory and be with his former comrades was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.” [10] The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.

These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war, suffered from immensely. His wounds which nearly killed him on the front lines at Petersburg never fully healed, and he was forced to endure the humiliation of wearing what would be considered an early form of a permanent catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.” [11] Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [12] Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.” [13] His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” [14]

By 1868 the issues between he and Fannie were so deep that she threatened him with divorce, and went about accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as her issues which included:

“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” [15]

The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” [16]

His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” [17]This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.” [18] The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.” [19] Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt Fannie over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.” [20] The anguished widower wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.” [21] He was alone.

Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.

Sadly, the story of the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war and struggles to readjust to civilian life. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of soldiers as well as their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.

The Battle for Little Round Top which is so legendary in our collective history and myth was in the end something more than a decisive engagement in a decisive battle. It was something greater and larger than that, it is the terribly heart wrenching story of ordinary, yet heroic men like Gouverneur Warren, Strong Vincent, Chamberlain and Paddy O’Rorke and their families who on that day were changed forever.

Chamberlain, ever the romantic, spoke about that day when dedicating the Maine Monument in 1888; about the men who fought that day and what they accomplished:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [22]

The one thing none of us who return changed by war and military service seem to really master, is how to fully be present in the lives of those we love when we return.

                                                             Notes 

[1] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.282

[2] Ibid. Smith Fanny and Joshua p.182

[3] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180

[4] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260

[5] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua pp.178-179

[6] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.181

[7] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.

[8] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.245

[9] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180 It is interesting to note that Chamberlain’s commentary is directed at Northerners who were even just a few years after the war were glorifying Confederate leader’s exploits. Chamberlain instead directs the attention of his audience, and those covering the speech to the atrocities committed at the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864 and to the hellish conditions at the Andersonville and Belle Isle prisoner of war camps run by the Confederacy.

[10] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.203

[11] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.289

[12] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.259

[13] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.288

[14] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.285

[15] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.268

[16] Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

[17] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.227

[18] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.297

[19] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.290

[20] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.290

[21] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond PPP.342-343

[22] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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The Racial Terror Mass Murder at Emmanuel AME Church at Five Years

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“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Dylann Storm Roof

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I continue to work on the revisions to my book I am reposting an unedited article from exactly five years ago. As the title says, this is about the race based terror attack on Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Since there are all to many killings of individual Blacks going on today, by private citizens and police alike, I thought I should post it before some other White Nationalist terrorist attacks yet another Black Church, as a man who owned a UPS store a half mile from my house threatened to do to a Black Baptist Church in my town. I had actually used that store on occasion for shipping large articles across country, and recall meeting the man. He seemed ordinary. He was businesslike but not much personality showed through. Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil in reference to Adolf Eichmann, the one man among many who was truly the driving engine in carrying out Hitler’s order implementing the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, which just a few years before had been called the Jewish Question. 

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote:

“Die Judenfrage,’ it used to be called, even by Jews. ‘The Jewish Question.’ I find I quite like this interrogative formulation, since the question—as Gertrude Stein once famously if terminally put it—may be more absorbing than the answer. Of course one is flirting with calamity in phrasing things this way, as I learned in school when the Irish question was discussed by some masters as the Irish ‘problem.’ Again, the word ‘solution’ can be as neutral as the words ‘question’ or ‘problem,’ but once one has defined a people or a nation as such, the search for a resolution can become a yearning for the conclusive. Endlösung: the final solution.”

That is precisely the issue. Words like “question”, “problem”, and “solution” seem so neutral and innocuous, that is why they are so effective in turning human beings into killers, and allows others to stand aside and do nothing. There are men like Eichmann today who decide that people of another race, color and sometimes religion are less than human. Instead what to do with them is phased as a question, and as we all know questions demand answers. For the Nazis, the Jews became a problem, and to add emphasis to the less than humanness of the Jews the Nazis often referred to them as vermin or a pestilence. Therefore to such people, the Jews, and likewise for the British at numerous points in their history, the Irish were also a problem. Problems always call out for a solution. It is surprising easy how otherwise ordinary people who go home to their families, go to work, and sometimes church seem to enjoy finding solutions.

Today, to White Supremacists, White Nationalists, and Neo-Nazis in American, the less than human include those who include Blacks, Mexicans, Arabs, Asians, other non-White immigrants, LGBTQ people, and others, including the age old target, the Jews as “problems” that demand solutions.
All too often the solutions that they advocate are not that different than the Nazis. Strip them of their constitutional rights, then their citizenship, if possible deport them, and if all else fails, kill them, and don’t feel bad about it.

But for the lone wolves, they often skip the first steps a government might take, and go straight for the kill.  When I read the description of Dylann Roof by one of his high school friends that I included in the original article. What astounded me on reading it again was that his friend didn’t notice anything wrong with his words, until Roof had committed mass murder. How many times do we let such words pass. Who can forget the words of the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

That happened five years ago this very evening. So to the article.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Last night a young man who the Charleston Police have identified as Dylann Storm Roof, walked into the historic Emanuel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina. He sat next to the pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a State Senator for an hour before taking out a gun and opening fire as the meeting broke up. According to survivors he stated that he was at the church to kill black people and he did so, killing nine of the 13 people present including Reverend Pinckney. During the attack a survivor noted that he reloaded his gun five times.

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Reverend Clementa Pinckney

Like many people I am shocked by this but I am not surprised. For decades the mainstream Right Wing media have been chumming the water with enough hatred directed against African Americans, other racial minorities, Moslems and Gays. Such people have been blamed by the Right, and not just the nutty fringe for every evil in our society for so long that it was only a matter of time before an act of terror like the one in this church was committed. Some of those people are already on the air today explaining this away not as an act of racially motivate terrorism, but as another attack on Christians.

However, that was not the case. Yes, these men and women killed by Dylann Roof were Christians, but he killed them because they were black. That is the cold hard fact that no one can get around in this case. He murdered these men and women simply because they were black and they represented a threat to the “White America” that he and other White Supremacists and defend.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the South. Nine people died in a hate crime shooting on June 17, 2015.

Had Roof simply wanted to kill Christians to really make a point he could have gone to any church. There are plenty of the in Charleston, my God it is known as The Holy City because of the vast number of churches. But instead he went to a church which has a long history of standing up for the civil, social and political rights of blacks dating back to 1816. It was the hub of anti-slavery activism and where Denmark Vesey and others plotted a slave revolt which was ruthlessly crushed by South Carolina’s militia. South Carolina’s government burned the church, scattered the congregation and banned blacks from meeting in organized congregations until after South Carolina was liberated by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union Army.

We don’t know much about Roof, and I’m sure that we will. However, one thing that I noted was that in one picture Roof was wearing a jacket which had the flag of the old Apartheid South African State and the flag of the also the flag apartheid Rhodesia sewn over the right breast pocket. His car had a decorative Confederate States of America license plate in front. A friend from high school said of Roof:

“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.” But now, “the things he said were kind of not joking,”

When Roof was captured he appeared to be headed for the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina of Eastern Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia are the home of numerous KKK, Neo Nazi and other White Supremacist groups.

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So today even on Fox news, that bastion of balance hosts are scrambling to call this anything but racially motivated terrorism called it a crime against Christians which fits into their ideological content more than the truth that this was racially motivate terrorism. However this was the same kind of terrorism as the notorious KKK sponsored Birmingham Church bombing of September 1963, or the burnings and bombings of black churches in the South before and after that.

Mark my word by this evening some of the more prominent Right Wing radio and internet pundits are going to be blaming this on everything but racism and terrorism. Imagine though if the shooter was a Moslem what they would say. They would have been all over the air labeling all Moslems as jihadist’s intent on killing Christians and demanding action against all Moslems based through guilt by association. That my friends is a fact and it is not in dispute.

In the coming days we are going to find out more about this and it will not be pleasant reading. We are going to find a young man whose heart has been poisoned by hate propagated by both mainstream Right Wing media as well as extremist White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups.

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We want to think that we have progressed, but sadly despite a veneer of progress, there still remains a lot of racism and other hatred that lurk beneath the veneer of the post-racial society. Michael Savage who has one of the most popular right wing radio programs in the country described inner-city children as “ghetto slime,” Ann Coulter said in 2013 “Perhaps, someday, blacks will win the right to be treated like volitional human beings. But not yet.” Rush Limbaugh, well his racist trolling and insults are too many too mention, and sadly there are some who call themselves Christian commentators who say even worse than these people, and not just about blacks.

Let us call this crime what it is. Racially motivated terrorism.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Sleep is a Unicorn: The Worst Thing is to Try to Sleep and Not To

Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip for August 07, 2017

Pearls Before Swine (c) Stephan Pastis

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” I have lived

Ever since I got back from Iraq in February 2008 the night has been a time of time of terror. Insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, and dreams that were so bad that I often found myself attacking imaginary images, and more than once threw myself out of bed in the middle of them, on more than one occasion had to go to the emergency room to treat physical injuries from these festivities of anxiety and terror. A lot of time I would avoid going to bed until I was falling asleep.  Back then I could agree with Dr. Seuss who wrote: “Sleep is like the unicorn – it is rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any.” 

Being career officer and having spent time in the badlands of Iraq I have related to military veterans from previous wars who suffered from insomnia and nightmares. Guy Sajer wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier, “Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.” United States Army General Gouverneur Warren, a hero of many Civil War battles including Gettysburg wrote to his wife after the war “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

However, things did get a bit better once I was treated for sleep apnea and one of my sleep doctors began treating me for REM sleep disorder and nightmare syndrome. Medications were adjusted, but even so  good sleep was still at a premium but the nightmares and night terrors continued.

Judy who suffers from Childhood PTSD due to being beaten by an older sibling on a regular basis and also suffers. Nightmares and anxiety at night decided to try a weighted blanket, which are advertised to calm nighttime anxiety, and all the body to release serotonin to allow better and calmer sleep. She could not get over how it improved her sleep and let me try hers. I could not believe the difference, so she ordered a second one for me. I have now had about 5 nights of good sleep. My dreams are becoming less nightmarish, and I feel rested rather than exhausted when I get up in the morning. As W.C. Fields said: “Sleep! The most beautiful experience in life. Except drink.” 

Pearls Before Swine (c) Stephan Pastis 

I honestly don’t know who they work, but I don’t need to understand in order to know that for me, and Judy that sleep is getting better, and like Pig in Pearls Before Swine I now find bed to be a place of comparative safety.

So thanks to Judy who insisted that I, the consummate skeptic, try her weighted blanket, I am now sleeping better than I have for well over a decade. This doesn’t mean that I will not have nights where  my PTSD demons return, but I think they will become fewer, and hopefully less intense. As James Spader playing Raymond Reddington on the Blacklist told an agent going through a traumatic event:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I find that oddly comforting, and hopefully using this weighted blanket those nightmares and that pain will go away, until it is no longer at the first or even the second thing that comes to mind when I go to sleep and wake up. I am glad that Judy pushed me into trying it, I am also glad that I am finally beginning to really take her advice seriously.

So if you suffer similar sleep issues to us, you might want to think about trying one of these out.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Cost of Service: Doctors, Nurses, First Responders, and other Medical Personnel During the novel Coronavirus 19 Pandemic


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve served in ERs and ICUs during pandemics, but none as bad as this one. Likewise, I have seen far too many people die, I lost count somewhere after 700, but can still remember many of the dead, their families, and those who tried to save them like it happened yesterday. Many of the cases I dealt with were violent deaths, others from people who were in the words of ICU doctors and nurses, medical disaster areas because they had so many things wrong with them that you could treat one disease or organ, but have more organ failures. In the Medical ICU this is called multiple system organ failure. I have been with people who died with loving families and friends with them, others who died alone, and still others, especially dying AIDS patients die and being condemned to hell by family members who then used the opportunity to separate the patient from his lover and best friends.

I have also seen those who survived their illnesses or injuries, but never fully recovered after long periods on ventilators to keep them breathing and huge concoctions of drugs and procedures to give them a chance to survive.

As a part of the treatment team I was often the go between from the physicians to the patients family members, providing ministry, even as I shuttled information between them with the goal of trying to help the patient survive. Sometimes all treatments were futile and I would help prepare the patients or the families for the end. Even as I write this the memories, images, and even sounds of these encounters of life between life and death.

Even without the scourge of a pandemic, ERs and ICUs in inner city medical and trauma centers, tend to resemble combat zones. Surges of critical patients flooding ERs followed by brief lulls, that are then followed by more surges. In between surges housekeeping crews clean the blood, fluids, gauze, wrappings from needles, intubation kits, chest tubes, masks and gloves, as doctors transcribe their notes, nurses and techs restock the rooms, and others either prep and transport the patient to the operating room, appropriate ICU, or ward. If the patient didn’t survive, following time for the family or friends to say goodbyes, the staff preserves the body, leaving in it the intubation tube, chest tube, catheters, and any other invasive treatments, place it in a body bag, and transport to the morgue. If the person was known to be infected by HIV or H1N1, or the SARS, MERS, or Ebola outbreaks when I was working in a hospital, more protective measures are taken.

 

Unlike television where miraculously people are pulled from the jaws of death, it doesn’t always happen, especially if the patient is being coded when they arrive in the ER aboard an ambulance, or their heart and breathing stops requiring the ER team to begin the Code, which unlike on television is a rather violent attempt to save the patient’s life. Cardiac compressions begin, the patient is incubated, lines of saline IV fluids are placed and set to maximum flow to keep the blood pressure up, if need cardiac stimulants such as atrophiere are administered, sometimes directly into the heart.  If the injury is due to trauma, or perhaps an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, the patient’s chest may need to be cracked. If this happens happens in the ER it is a truly ghastly sight, as the instrument used to separate the ribs looks like the bones of some dinosaur, and unless the trauma surgeons, surgery resident, or ER physician manages to repair the damage and get the heart started the patient dies. Only about one in a hundred survive the procedure under those conditions.

In the  ICUs of various types, Medical, Cardiac, Trauma/Surgery, Cardio-Thoracic, Neurosurgery, Burn, Pediatric, and Neo-Natal there can be chaos as well, but in normal times it is more controlled than in the ER, but despite the best efforts not everyone who gets to the ICU gets out. No matter how caring the staff, the ICU is a clinical and cold setting. In every room or bay there are ventilators, monitors, specialized beds, pneumatic heated blankets sometimes known as Bear Huggers”, crash carts. Available in a fully equipped ICU are dialysis machines, portable X-Rays, and even CAT Scans, under the direction of the ICU attending physician, physician specialists of various types, residents, and physicians. Most of the nurses are Critical Care RNs or have have attained the status of Nurse Practitioners. The techs that work in the ICUs are the best. Likewise there are Clinical Social Workers, Discharge Planners, Unit Clerks, and often Chaplains, like me.

 

In my last full time fully equipped ICU I took the time to learn about what our physicians, techs, and nurses did. I asked questions about how to read cardiac monitors, understand the importance of blood oxygen levels, know when a patient was going into an abnormal heart rhythm, or who was dropping their blood pressure, or de-sating. I still have a copy of the ICU book. One of our ICU attending physicians asked why I didn’t go to medical school, and I had to admit that because of my wretched high school advanced mathematics experience was that it would probably take me at least three years to catch up on the math, algebra, and calculus needed just to get into medical school, and that after the poverty of seminary that Judy would never consent to it. He understood.

All that being said I treasure my time with those physicians, nurses, techs, and EMT and Paramedic first responders, many of whom are now in the front lines fighting COVID-19. When I read about what is happening in ERs and ICUs in major urban areas, when I see the horrors of what these men and women are experiencing my heart goes out to them. They are being confronted in real life with what one could only imagine in the most terrifying Science Fiction, or Horror story. Take a combat zone and add a pandemic which not only infects and kills those brought to hospital, but those risking their lives to treat them. As of two weeks ago some 9,000 health care workers have been infected and about 30 have died as a result of COVID-19. That doesn’t count those who have committed suicide because of the impossible conditions they work under and the impossible choices that they have to make, of who lives and who dies, and which of their staff has to go back into the battle even if they are unready. The cases of PTSD, Moral Injury, and other psychological conditions that will afflict these heroes will rise to exponential level. Others will commit suicide, and even more will abandon the medial profession because the spiritual and psychological toll is simply too high. These are not weak people, but people whose humanity is being assaulted by their inability to save those committed to their care, and fear that they will make a mistake that will get them, their patients, friends, or families killed because they didn’t have the correct PPE or got infected during an intubation, or during CPR.

Sadly, while for the moment the first wave seems to have crested. But without adequate testing, tracking of cases, and eventually effective treatments, and a vaccine, COVID-19 will keep coming back. Each time it does it will harvest those foolish enough to tempt fate, or God, whatever works for them, and put others in harms way. Personally, I don’t want to see those I know fighting for the lives of others die because of the arrogance and stupidity of others who think that getting a haircut, their nails done, going to a fitness center, or going to a dine in restaurant or movie trumps the right to life of others. Anyone who thinks that their right to do what they want for enjoyment which endangers the lives of others is nothing more than a sociopath, incapable of empathy. Sadly, evil, is the lack of empathy.

As for me, I know all too well the consequences to others when people decide that their need for fun and to do what they want to do when they want to do it trumps the right to life of others, including those who are putting their lives on the line every day to fight a pand

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ER's and Trauma, ethics, healthcare, mental health, News and current events, suicide

Waiting for First Light at Slaughterhouse Five: PTSD and a Coda to te end of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am checking out of my current command to finish my career attached to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth Virginia. I am struggling. Not feeling appreciated and feeling like a cast off. This isn’t new, shortly after I was promoted to Commander, the newly appointed Deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me like a potted plant while making her rounds of the Generals and Major Commands. As Kurt Vonnegut noted in Slaughterhouse Five “and so it goes.”  My Problems in the Navy Chaplain Corps began when I went public with my struggles with PTSD. Somehow it seems that Chaplains can care for the wounded and those traumatized by war but if we admit that we are wounded we are expendable.

I read General Romeo Dallaire’s latest book, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Struggle with PTSD a couple of years ago. General Dallaire had been the commander of the UN Peacekeepers in Rwanda, men and women who were prevented from stopping genocide, and people who have been forever haunted by what they witnessed.

General Dallaire recounts a story of horror that never ended for him, and he details how difficult and traumatic coming home that neither appreciate nor understood what he had been through, including people in the military. I found so much in his story that was analogous to my own and in light of that I am going to begin writing my PTSD memoir.

It will be hard because I will have to write about things that are deeply traumatic and upsetting, especially how I was received and continue to be received by most of my fellow chaplains. Because I came and publicly discussed my issues with PTSD, the shattering of my faith in so many things, my wilderness experience of being an agnostic for two years, and the change in my faith since then, I experienced the rejection of my former church and many of my peers.

To many of my peers and Chaplain Corps superiors I am simply a broken Chaplain; and broken chaplains or for that matter broken ministers have no place and very few people who they can talk with. I remember my old Commodore at EOD Group Two, the late Captain Tom Sitsch ask me bluntly “Where does a chaplain go for help?”My answer to him was “not to other chaplains.” Sadly, he too was going through his own personal PTSD hell and with his life falling apart he committed suicide in January 2014.

General Dallaire recounts a similar experience, as like Chaplains, Generals and other senior leaders have no place to go, they like us are not supposed to break. General Dallaire wrote: “I received little support from my colleagues and peers; I received only a few messages from my sixty or so fellow generals – a couple of phone calls, and an e-mail from one old friend. The others appeared to be in two camps: those who were too busy to get in touch, and those who didn’t know what to say.” But I would also add, that there are those that do not want to know and others who actually turn their backs on men and women whose injury lies inside their brain, as well as some chaplains and ministers who seem to take a certain perverse joy in inflicting pain.

I still struggle with nightmares, night terrors, insomnia, and hyper-vigilance. After more than a decade I cannot imagine life without them. Like General Dallaire, I still wait for first light.

So pray for me if you do that, if not send some positive thoughts my direction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq, mental health, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Tour in Iraq, US Navy