Tag Archives: japan

All the Drowned Sailors: The Sacrifice Of the Yamato, at Okinawa and the Myth Of Trump’s #MAGA

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have read my site since the beginning know that I have written much in terms of Naval History. One of the things that I am drawn to are the great ships that were sacrificed with the crews in futile attempts of salvage victory from defeat, or which were sacrificed in order to save others. Regardless of the circumstance I have a soft spot in my heart for sailors of any nation who pay with their lives when their ships are sunk. This is the story of the IJN Yamato who along with her sister ship, the Musashi were the largest battleships ever constructed.

As dawn broke on April 7th 1945 the great Super-Battleship Yamato, the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy and nine escorts steamed toward Okinawa on a suicide mission. It was literally the end of empire and the end of a navy. What had begun on December 7th 1941 was now winding down as the Imperial Navy launched its last offensive operation against the United States Navy.

The Imperial Navy was already at the end of its tether. Following the disasters at the Battle of the Philippine Sea which decimated the carrier air arm of the Imperial Navy; the subsequent losses in the defense of Formosa which used up the majority of any remaining carrier aircraft and crews; and the Battle of Leyte Gulf which decimated the surface forces of the navy what remained was a pitiful remnant of a once dominant fleet.

The great battleship Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest warships ever built until the advent of the USS Enterprise CVN-65. Displacing over 72,000 tons 863 feet long and 127 feet in beam these ships mounted the heaviest artillery battery ever placed on a warship. Their nine 18.1” guns mounted in three triple turrets each weighing over 2500 tons weighed as much or more than the largest destroyers of the time. They could fire their massive shells 26 miles and even had the capability of firing a special anti-aircraft shell known as the Sanshiki or beehive round.the largest anti-aircraft shell ever developed.

Musashi was sunk during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea at Leyte Gulf on October 24th 1944 after being hit by 19 aerial torpedoes and 17 bombs. Yamato engaged the American Escort Carriers and destroyers of Taffy-3 at the Battle off Samar the following day but was prevented by the audacity of the inferior American destroyers and timidity of the Japanese commander Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita from achieving any notable success.

The remains of the Imperial Navy were hampered by a lack of fuel, air power and training time. When the United States attacked Iwo Jima in February 1945, barely 700 miles from the home islands of Japan not a single Japanese surface ship sortied to challenge the American Navy.

However when the American attacked Okinawa on April 1st 1945 the Imperial Navy launched Operation Ten-Go. In spite of overwhelming American superiority in both naval air and surface forces the tiny task force was to fight its way to Okinawa, beach their ships and once the ships were destroyed the crews were to join Japanese Army forces on the island.

The doomed sortie was in part due to the insistence of the Imperial Army which derided the Imperial Navy for its failures at Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf and pressure from Emperor Hirohito who asked “But what about the Navy? What are they doing to assist in defending Okinawa? Have we no more ships?” In response the Naval High command devised what amounted to a suicide mission for Yamato and her escorts. The plan was opposed by many in the Navy and leaders of the task force who saw it as a futile mission. Only the insistence of Admiral Kusaka who told the reticent commanders that the Emperor expected the Navy to make its best effort to defend Okinawa persuaded the Captains of the doomed force to accept the mission. Honor now matter more than lives.

At about 1600 on April 6th the ships of the task force weighed anchor and departed their anchorage at Tokuyama hoping to take advantage of approaching darkness to mask their departure. They were detected and shadowed by American submarines which provided real time information on the course and speed of the Japanese ships to the American leadership.

The next morning the task force was spotted by patrol planes and its position relayed to the American fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, the victor of Midway. Spruance ordered the six fast battleships, accompanied by two battlecruisers, seven cruisers and 21 destroyers engaged in shore bombardment to intercept the Japanese force. However, Admiral Marc Mitscher of Task Force 58, the fast carriers launched a massive air strike of over 400 aircraft against the Japanese.

At 1232 the first wave of American aircraft began their attacks on the doomed Japanese force. As the succeeding waves of American aircraft attacked Yamato was hit by 15 bombs and at least 8 torpedoes, almost all of which struck her port side created an imminent risk of capsizing. The damage control teams’ counter flooded the starboard engine and boiler rooms which kept the ship from turning turtle, but which also further reduced her speed.

By 1405 the great ship was dead in the water with a heavy list, just minutes before her commander had ordered the crew to abandon ship. At 1420 Yamato capsized and began to sink and at 1423 she blew apart in a massive explosion that was reportedly heard and seen 120 miles away and created a mushroom cloud that reached 20,000 feet.

Captain Tameichi Hara of the light cruiser Yahagi which had already sank described the demise of the great ship in his book Japanese Destroyer Captain:

“We looked and saw Yamato, still moving. What a beautiful sight. Suddenly smoke belched from her waterline. We both groaned as white smoke billowed out until it covered the great battleship, giving her the appearance of a snow-capped Mount Fuji. Next came black smoke mingled with the white, forming to a huge cloud which climbed to 2000 meters. As it drifted away we looked to the surface of the sea again and there was nothing. Yamato had vanished. Tremendous detonations at 1423 of that seventh day of April signaled the end of this “unsinkable” symbol of the Imperial Navy.”

Only 280 men of the estimated 3000 crew members aboard Yamato were rescued by the surviving escorts. Of her escorts, the Yahagi and four destroyers were also sunk. The Americans lost a total of ten aircraft and 12 men. Never again would the surface forces of the Imperial Navy threaten U.S. forces or take any meaningful part in the war.

https://youtu.be/4ZcfU0cGAP0

The sacrifice of Yamato and her escorts was a futile was of lives and though many in Japan revere their sacrifice as noble it served no purpose. The loss of Yamato, named after the ancient Yamato province in a sense was symbolic of the demise of the Japanese Empire.

I cannot help but think of gallantry of the doomed crews of these ships, sacrificed for the “honor” of leaders that did not really value their sacrifice. Likewise, I regret the fact that Naval engineers, and maritime archeologists never got to examine this great ship while still afloat, or even to see how she would have faired as a target ship in the Bikini Atoll Nuclear tests.

I regret that so many sailors died in what was a senseless, and useless from an operation operation of any tactical, operational, or strategic point of view. Likewise I regret that a relatively intact Yamato was never fully examined by non-Japanese maritime engineers and ship designers to examine and learn lessons from. If Yamato had survived the war, been thoroughly examined and the. Been expended as a target ship at Bikini, which in light of the examples of the USS Nevada, USS New York, the DKM Prinz Eugen, and other ships might have assisted Naval engineers even today.

I am a career military man, and sailor. I am a humanist who abhors the indiscriminate and nonsensical sacrifice of lives for so called National Honor or pride. I am also a military and naval historical historian who believes that the preservation and study of such instruments of war save lives.

It is a commentary that is timeless. The useless sacrifice of over 2,800 human beings and the ultimate battleship ever built into, to do nothing more than commiserate over the lives that had not been so sacrificed, and the lessons that might prevent the loss of life in future conflicts.

I wonder if another Naval power, perhaps not the Japanese, but maybe the Americans, Russians, English, Indian, or Chinese aircraft carrier will be the latest to succumb to the myth of the great and allegedly indestructible capital ship.

It is a question worth asking as the United States Navy struggles to regain pure-eminence in the Pacific against the Chinese, in the Arctic against Chinese and the Russians, and against less than peer competitors in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. When Yamato was sunk the Japanese were no longer under the illusion that they were the greatest sea power ever; if a United States Navy Aircraft were to be sunk in the North Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, the Persian Gulf, or the Mediterranean it would be more than a military defeat, it would be a national catastrophe. Trust me, I have played the war games at the Joint Forces Staff College. I cannot go into detail about the war game scenarios, but the were favorable to the United States and its allies.

If any of our Nimitz class carriers were sunk along with the majority of their escorts it would be a crisis like we have not experienced since Pearl Harbor. Thus, Yamato, and her escorts serve as a lesson for all who believe in the myth of American Naval and Military superiority. In January of 1019, this year the Chinese boasted that they could not just sink one, but two Nimitz Class carriers in the South China Sea https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8098177/chinese-admiral-south-china-sea-sink-us-aircraft-carriers/

That possibility has to be acknowledged, and even if one were sunk or seriously damaged it would be a disaster for United States Strategic interests; not Just in the South China Sea, but also Northeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, or the North Atlantic. The United States has not experienced such Naval disasters since 1941 and 1942 at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Navy, trust me; I have serve for almost 38 years in the Army and the Navy and I am a historian. If we to experience such losses it would be a strategic disaster that would collapse the confidence of an American public in the myth of American military superiority. There is no amount of #MAGA that can change that. The economy would collapse and the dream world that Americans have lived I would be destroyed. We would have to start again from scratch, like the Japanese in 1945 or the Chinese in 1274 and 1281, or more recently the defeat of the Russian Fleet, operation far from home at Tsushima in 1905 by Admiral Togo and his Japanese Fleet.

This my friends is history, and this is reality when a nation is led by a man with the stupidity of Czar Nicholas, the hubris of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the racist, non-historical, and not strategically grounded ideology of Adolf Hitler, and their present day manifestations in President Donald Trump.

Until tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, US Navy, White nationalism, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Long and Winding Road of 31 Years of Commissioned Service

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Today marks another milestone in my life and career, at least in terms of longevity. Thirty-one years ago today I was with my soon to be wife Judy, as well as my dad and brother at UCLA where I was being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Six days later I married Judy who has over the past 31 years seen me go my down the long and winding road of my military career. Truthfully the long and winding road has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia a “long strange trip” and usually not the Yellow Brink Road.

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Let’s see…service as a Medical Service Corps Officer, platoon, leader, company executive officer, maintenance officer, NBC officer, and company commander, and brigade adjutant. Texas Army National Guard, Armor officer, Chaplain Candidate (Staff Specialist Branch) and Chaplain serving with Combat Engineers, and Chaplain in the Virginia National Guard with the Light Infantry. Army Reserve Chaplain, drilling and mobilized to support Bosnia mission, Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania.

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The Army, Cold War Germany, the Fulda Gap and the Berlin Wall, supporting the Bosnia mission, exercises, and active duty for training, even doing an exchange program with the German Bundeswehr.

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Then the path took a different direction. After 17 1/2 years in the Army Judy was looking forward to the day that I would retire from the reserves and she would have me back. Instead, I took off my rank as an Army Reserve Major and became a Navy Chaplain. Two tours with the Marine Corps, Second Marine Division and Marine Security Forces, Sea Duty on the USS Hue City, a tour with EOD, interspersed with an individual augmentee in Iraq followed by 5 years working in Medical Naval Centers or hospitals and finally serving as Chaplain and doing teaching in military ethics and military history at the Joint Forces Staff College.

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Lots of field exercises and underway periods at sea, travel around the world to support deployed Marines, a Marine Deployment to Okinawa, mainland Japan and Korea including the DMZ. Then along came the 9-11-2001 attacks and war. A deployment to the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Oman and the Northern Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch aboard the Hue City, served as a member of a boarding team making 75 missions to detained Iraqi Oil Smugglers and helping keep peace on those miserable ships. Traveling to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Guantanamo Bay Cuba with the Marine Security Forces, standing at Gitmo’s Northeast Gate, and completing the “Commie Trifeca” of Cold War German, Korea and Cuba.

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Then there was EOD, serving with some of the most amazing men and women I have ever met, a tour in Iraq with my trusty assistant, bodyguard and friend Nelson Lebron. Of course as any reader of this site knows the time in Iraq changed me forever, the aftereffects of that tour remain with me every day, the battle with PTSD, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression and the shattering effect of seeing that my government leaders had lied about the reasons for war and by their actions devastated a country and helped throw a region into chaos. I saw the suffering of Americans as well as Iraqis in Al Anbar Province, death, badly injured Marines, soldiers and Iraqis, poorly treated third world nationals working for Halliburton and other contractors. After coming home dealing with all of my shit while trying to care for others in back to back tours at two different Naval Medical centers or hospitals. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the fact that that unfortunate country and its people are going to suffer more haunts me. I miss Iraq, I would go back not because I love war, but because I care about the Iraqi people.

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Now I minister, celebrate Eucharist in my little chapel, care for people and teach. The highlight of my life is leading our institution’s Gettysburg Staff Ride and being able to research, read, ponder, analyze and write about that campaign, the Civil War and relate it to what we teach at our institution.

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Throughout my career there have been two constants, my long suffering wife Judy who has spent close to ten of the last 17 or 18 years without me and those who I served alongside, many of who I am still in contact with through Facebook. I am amazed at the quality of men and women who have served alongside of me since 1981. The funny thing is that even though I probably still have another five to six years until I finally retire to civilian life, that I am watching men and women who entered the military 10-13 years after me retiring from the military.

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Thankfully I still love what I do and serve in a great place. To those who have served alongside me all these years in any capacity I thank you. You don’t get to where I am in life without a good deal of help, sage advice from men and women not afraid to speak the truth and without a bit of good luck and fortune and maybe a bit of the grace and mercy of God.

Yes it has been a long strange trip down a long and winding road, but it has been more than I could ever imagine.

Have a great night and thanks for reading,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, ministry

The Thin Gray Line: The USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet, the Carriers that Held the Japanese at Bay in 1942

yorktown-drydock1USS Yorktown CV-5

Seldom in the annals of war is recorded that three ships changed the course of a war and altered history.  Winston Churchill once said about Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” however I would place the epic war waged by the three carriers of the Yorktown class against the Combined Fleet and First Carrier Strike Group, the Kido Butai of the Imperial Japanese Navy between December 1941 and November 1942 alongside the epic fight of the Royal Air Force against Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

The Carriers of the Yorktown Class hold a spot in United States Naval History nearly unequaled by any other class of ships, especially a class that numbered only three ships.  Designed and built in the mid 1930s they were the final class of pre-war carriers commissioned by the navy.  The ships were built incorporating the lessons learned with Langley, Lexington, Saratoga and Ranger and had features that would become standard in the design of US Aircraft Carriers. As such they were the template for future classes of ships beginning with the Essex Class until the advent of the super carriers of the Forrestal Class.

hornet-as-completed1USS Hornet CV-8

The ships heritage was evident in their names. Yorktown, the lead ship of the class named after the victory of Washington and Rochambeau over Cornwallis at Yorktown, Enterprise named after the sloop of war commanded by Stephen Decatur in the war against the Barbary Pirates, and Hornet after another famous Brig of War commanded by James Lawrence which defeated the British ship Peacock in the War of 1812.

They displaced 19.800 tons with a 25,000 full load displacement. Capable of 32.5 knots they were the Navy’s first truly successful class of carriers built from the keel up.  The ships could embark over aircraft and could steam long distances without refueling.  Protection was good for their era and the ships proved to be extraordinarily tough when tested in actual combat. In speed and air group capacity the only carriers of their era to equal them were the Japanese Hiryu and Soryu and the larger Shokaku and Zuikaku. British carriers of the period were about the same size but were slower and carried a smaller and far less capable air group though their protection which included armored flight decks was superior to both the American and Japanese ships.

enterprise-pre-war-with-ac-on-deck1USS Enterprise CV-6

Next week we will remember the epic battle of Midway, where these three gallant ships inflicted a devastating defeat on the Japanese First Carrier Strike Group. I believe that it is appropriate to go into that week remembering those ships and the brave sailors and aviators who made their triumph at Midway possible. the The links below are to articles about these three gallant ships.

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part One

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Two the Hornet

They Held the Line: The USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Enterprise CV-6 and USS Hornet CV-8, Part Two the Hornet

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

To Iraq and Back: A Last Night Together and a Kiss Goodbye

295_27076787058_8676_nJudy and I on the German Sail Training Ship Gorch Fock at the Norfolk Harbor Fest a couple of weeks before deployment

This is another of my “To Iraq and Back” articles about my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with RP1 Nelson Lebron. 

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLBKOcUbHR0

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience. In time of war it is even more difficult. Judy and I have done this too many times in peace and war.

As I went through all of my preparations to go to Iraq in some was it was a replay of past pre-deployment situations. However, this time I was not merely deploying on a peacetime assignment or supporting a peace making operation, or even deploying on a ship and being part of a boarding team after the 9-11-2001 attacks. In that last instance  Judy did not know that I was part of the boarding team until about halfway through the deployment.

But this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar. That lent at certain dark pallor to the occasion.

Our last night together was rather somber to put it mildly. Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night. Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place, it has become over the years our version of Cheers a place where everyone knows our name.

That last Friday before the deployment to Iraq it was not a festive occasion, it was almost a wake. Judy and I were both quite subdued. In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I am a man who is somewhat Vulcan in my use of logic. I figured that even though things were bad in Iraq that my chances of returning were quite high, even of something happened to me. I tried to be calm and reassuring and no matter what I tried it didn’t work, human emotions are quite intense at times.

I also reasoned that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense. I kind of believe that if I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra’s logic when he said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and several half liter glasses of Gordon Biersch Märzen amber lager we went back home. Judy watched quietly while I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear.

I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole. The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me. They are one of a kind items. I have seen similar, but what Judy made were far better than any others that I have seen. I still use that stole even when I am not deployed. It is simple but quite exquisite, adorned with an embroidered Maltese Cross in tan on the desert side and black on the woodland side it is unique and I treasure it.

The last items I packed were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies, music CDs and my hygiene items. It is funny to think that now all of this would be stored on my iPad which if I ever make such a deployment again will significantly simplify my life.

I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning. That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low, the look one of despair.

On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions. I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do. However I was very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy and that it was a dangerous deployment.

My last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia where we were living died. One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years. They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.

Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom they did not understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw. As a result, I was absent and there was much tension, misunderstanding and hurt feelings between them. In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get her to go to the doctor only to be ignored. The morning Ma Maw died Judy called me in Germany. She was frantic that I call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor. I made the call and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor. That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.

In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda. Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down. The interesting thing is that after Frieda died she visited me in Okinawa and Judy about the same time in dreams. Frieda was always a weird animal and even in death has continued to find ways to remind us of her presence.

My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from my deployment with 3/8. That deployment, coming on the heels of the 9-11-2001 attacks was also very difficult on her. In the space of 6 years we had been apart almost 4 1/2 years. Much of the time following that last deployment was spent on the road as I travelled to visit Marine Security Force and Navy EOD Mobile Units in the Middle East, Europe, the Far East and the Continental United States. In a four year period I averaged 1-3 weeks a month away from home.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together. That night neither of us slept very well. When we got up I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from Judy’s Church choir we drove to the base.

Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something about our relationship that I took really wrong. I sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”

That sarcastic comment really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with it. The words were harsh and devastating. I should have known better and should have kept my moth shut. After all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments. I was supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, but instead my comment was very cruel.

To be sure the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had each in our own way imagined the deployment, me as a great adventure and her as a threat to our mutual existence. I wondered just what I would face when I got to Iraq and those were unanswerable questions. Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me and that she would be alone, not just for the time of the deployment but for the rest of her life.

That is one of the tensions in a military marriage that many people who have not lived it fail to understand. It is not just the wartime deployments it is the cumulative effects of multiple short and long term separations on the health of a relationship.

We got to the base pretty quick, maybe 15-20 minutes but the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long. As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes. I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.

I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson. He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.” Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.

With my gear unloaded I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other, each of us wondering if it was possibly the last time. We parted our embrace, and she the turned and walked back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  It was a moment that I will not forget as long as I live. As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, marriage and relationships, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

“You May Fire When Ready Gridley” The Battle of Manila Bay 1 May 1898: Victory and Unexpected Consequences

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In 1898 Spain was a weak and declining power with overseas territories which were seething with resentment to Spanish rule and ripe for the pickings of any power that wanted to challenge Spain. The United States was beginning its ascendency to becoming a world power and the Spanish colony of Cuba, which had many American economic interests and the possession of which could allow the United States to dominate the Caribbean was considered by many American political and economic leaders to be ripe for the picking. It was just a short distance from the United States, had a restive population whose cause was being promoted and exploited by the Yellow journalists of the Hearst media empire.

In response to the alleged dangers faced by American citizens in Havana, President McKinley sent the USS Maine to Cuba to safeguard American interests and citizens. The deployment was part of a larger world wide deployment of US Navy forces in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. On February 15th the Maine blew up and sank. The American press declared it to be an act of terrorism perpetrated by Spanish agents in Havana. A US Navy investigation concluded that such was the case, while Spanish investigators concluded Maine’s loss was due to a magazine explosion. The truth of the matter was that the Maine blew up and the cause is inconclusive with experts, including a commission led by Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1974 determining that the cause could have been an internal ammunition magazine explosion, while others do not rule out the possibility of a Spanish mine.

Regardless of the actual cause tensions rapidly escalated and on April 23rd Spain declared war on the United States. On the 25th Congress declared war on Spain. In the Pacific the US Navy Asiatic Squadron under the command of Commodore George Dewey set sail from Honk Kong to Manila, where a poorly equipped squadron of mostly obsolete ships under the command of Admiral Patricio Montojo awaited them.

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The US Navy forces were modern and well equipped compared to the Spanish. Composed of 4 relatively modern protected cruisers and 2 gunboats led by the Protected Cruiser USS Olympia. Dewey’s force was well trained and its ships superior to anything in the Spanish squadron. The Spanish ships, undermanned and some of which had much of their armament shipped ashore to supplement shore batteries were composed of 4 unprotected cruisers, two small protected cruisers and two gunboats. A number of smaller and even less capable ships were in the area but took no part in the action.

Dewey’s squadron sailed into Manila Bay on the evening of the 30th of April, surprising Montojo who believed that the approaches to the bay were too treacherous to navigate at night for mariners unfamiliar with them. Arriving in Manila Bay in the early morning hours and ineffectively opposed by shore batteries at El Fraile and Cavite and at 0541 Dewey ordered the Captain of the Olympia to open fire using the famous line “You may fire when ready Gridley.”

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Within two and a half hours the Spanish force was destroyed. Dewey lost one man dead and 9 men wounded though some Spanish sources report that Dewey might have lost 13 killed and 30 wounded. The Spanish force lost all of its engaged forces with 77 men killed and 271 wounded. Dewey’s force would destroy the Spanish shore batteries and land Marines taking possession of the Cavite Naval Yard on May 7th.

The action was the first major naval action conducted by the United States overseas in the steam age and helped secure the United States a place in the early 20th Century colonization of Asia by European powers and Japan. As a result of Dewey’s victory other Spanish possessions in the Pacific like Guam would be occupied by the United States. It would also through the American occupation of the Philippines necessitate a campaign against the recently liberated Filipino population who had looked to the United States as liberators, and eventually to the Philippines becoming a major campaign in the Pacific war between Japan and the United States.

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The wreck of the Spanish Flagship the Cruiser Regina Cristina 

Destroying the Montojo’s Spanish squadron was easy compared to the American counter-insurgency campaign against the Filipinos and the later conflict with the Japanese in the Second World War. However, Dewey’s defeat of Montojo’s squadron would help establish the United States as a world power and help ensure that the United States Navy would become one of the world’s preeminent Naval forces within a decade of the battle. Spain never fully recovered from the battle or the war and declined in influence. eventually succumbing to a violent civil war in the 1930s.

As a so common the initial battle or battles of a war can seem easy compared to the later tasks of occupying and ruling a conquered territory or the unexpected consequences that follow. As such it should serve as a warning for those that see easy conquests and do not calculate what might happen after the initial battle is won.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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North Korea on the Brink: “We’re in Deep Doo-Doo”

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US and South Korean officials believe that North Korea is on the brink of firing multiple Musudun intermediate range ballistic missiles. The Musudun is an untested weapon that is believed to have a 3500 kilometer range which would put US bases in Japan, Okinawa and Guam in range. US and South Korean intelligence services also note that a number of other mobile missile launchers been moved about the country.

This comes on the heels of a number of unprecedented escalations by Kim Jong Un and North Korean military leaders. In the past few days the North has closed the last remaining joint project with the South, the Kaesong joint industrial zone sending tremors through the South Korean business and banking industries. They also warned foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it could not guarantee their safety and warned foreigners to leave South Korea. Those warnings followed nuclear tests, the firing of a long range missile and threats of a nuclear attack on the United States.

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Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of US Pacific Command said today that he “couldn’t recall a time of greater tension in the region since the end of the Korean War.” The US and South Koreans now believe that unlike past missile tests that the North could launch without warning. In preparation for any contingency US, South Korean and Japanese Aegis Guided Missile Destroyers have been deployed,the US has deployed THADD ballistic missile defense systems to Guam and the Japanese have deployed Patriot anti-missile defense batteries in Tokyo.

Both the Chinese Communists and Russians have sent warnings to the North about their displeasure with its provocations and escalation.

To add an additional measure of seriousness to a potentially grave situation former US Vice President Dick Cheney told a group of Republican lawmakers that “we are in deep Doo-Doo.” Since Cheney is very knowledgable about Doo-Doo and its consequences we have to take this serious situation even more seriously.

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But seriously, despite Dick Cheney’s levity we are facing a potentially volatile situation which through a miscalculation by any side could lead to a general war. Since we know little about the inner workings of the post-Kim Jong Il led North Korea, and even less about the current leader Kim Jong Un it is hard to predict what will happen. In the past the former leader Kim Jong Il would push to the brink of war but then pull back after getting some kind of concession. However Kim Jong Un has not seemed to know any limits in pushing the envelope, thus placing the world in very uncharted and dangerous waters.

A launch of one of the longer range missiles could trigger a war if it tracks toward Japan, Okinawa or Guam. Any missile intercept of a North Korean missile by the US, Japan or South Korea could be a trigger for the North to push even more and maybe even attack South Korean territory.

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As Barbara Tuchman said “war is the unfolding of miscalculations.” I do hope that Kim Jong Un will back down and not push the region into a war that could kill, wound and displace millions of people, damage the world economy and plunge the region and maybe the world into the abyss of war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Going to the Brink: Kim Jong Un Pushes the Envelope

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The young and seemingly not very smart ruler for life of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sometimes know as North or “Yankee” Korea has been pushing the envelope of sanity lately. In fact he is causing many people in the International community to long for the “good old days” when Kim Jong Il “Big Daddy” was the “Beloved Leader” of the Happiest Country on Earth.

One has to admit that when Big Daddy Kim (his Hip-Hop name) was the Supreme Leader of North Korea that he was extremely good at going to the brink but pulling back. However his Swiss educated son doesn’t seem to have his father’s knack for pushing to the brink and pulling back.

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Big Daddy Kim was a master at this, threaten something, create a provocation of some kind, even kill some South Koreans if need be but then pull back from the brink. He was a sane nutcase. Now his son seems to lack the finesse of Big Daddy. The young boy named Kim seems to have a need to outdo daddy in the lack of sanity department.

His actions are really becoming annoying and not just to the United States, South Korea and Japan. But now even the Chinese Communists and Russians seem to be tiring of Lil’ Kim. In fact they did not object to the US deployment of B-2 stealth bombers, F-22 fighters, Aegis Guided Missile Destroyers equipped with ballistic missile defense systems and submarines to the region. Nor have they challenged the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system on Guam. Normally they would be telling the US to back off. Instead they are not blocking United Nations sanctions. Likewise the Chinese who normally see any kind of US military concentration around the Korean Peninsula as threatening to them are publicly stating that the US moves are not seen as hostile or threatening.

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In the past few weeks it has seemed that Lil’ Kim has been making at least one major provocation a week.

These have included with an ICBM missile test and in the past week alone Lil’ Kim or his minions have declared the Armistice between the Koreas over, announced a state of war, announced that the DPRK military has the authorization to attack the United States with a diverse nuclear attack, threatened, South Korea with devastation.

If these were isolated incidents I think that people would pretty much blow the threats off. But this is not the old Big Daddy Kim that we are dealing with. In addition to the missile tests and nuclear weapons tests the North Koreans closed a joint economic zone on the border to the South. They also announced that the plutonium reactor and Yongbyon would be re-started. The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University believes may have already begun. Personally I think the boy is playing poker with a pinochle deck and unlike Big Daddy Kim may accidentally on purpose take the region to war despite the high level negotiations Lil’ Jim had with former NBA star Dennis Rodman which evidently ended in failure.

A war now would be bad. I mean really, really bad. I mean where would all the Hyundai, Kia and Samsung owners get replacement parts, new cars or electronic devices if Kim accidentally on purpose gets all of us into a war?

Of course that is the ugly Capitalist and cynic in me saying that but even if that were not the case any war on the Korean Peninsula or attack on US installations in the Pacific would kill lots of people and do huge damage.

Now no one really thinks that North Korea can strike the Continental United States with any missile that they currently own but when it comes to them who the hell knows?

I hate to say it but I think that Lil’ Kim Number One is very capable of accidentally on purpose plunging the region into war.

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Now the military of the Republic of Korea or South Korea as most of it know it is formidable even without the troops of the US Army based near the DMZ and the air and naval power of US and Japan in the region. (See my articles on the North Korean and South Korean orders of battle to get an idea of how things stack up.)

I have served in Korea and been on the DMZ spending time being serenaded by North Korean propaganda broadcasts each night while sleeping in a tent. I even would do my PT by running to the DMZ and through the paths in the minefields between South Korean machine gun pits, dug in tanks and fortifications. A North Korean attack across the DMZ would cause a huge loss of life before they were stopped and their country destroyed. I have seen the fortified zones that fill South Korea between the DMZ and Seoul. They too are formidable and the South Korean military is superior to the North in many ways. But if war comes the North will certainly employ thousands of special operations soldiers as well as spies, saboteurs and South Korean collaborators to spread chaos in the South. Likewise they may be able to hit US Forces stationed in Okinawa, Japan proper and Guam.

My guess is that if Kim the Younger keeps pushing that he will overstep and accidentally on purpose take the region into war. Some analysts think it could happen soon.

Perhaps the younger Kim is taking the wrong lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe he thinks that the US struggles against insurgents show we are vulnerable. If he thinks that he is buying the wrong war. A conventional war where firepower, mobility and technology are applied with devastating effect is the kind of war that the American military excels at fighting.

My hope is that Lil’ Kim and the leaders of the North Korean military will come to their collective senses before anything bad happens. However with each passing escalation by the North and counter move by the US and the South that hope is replaced by a sense of foreboding.

I wonder if the words of Barbara Tuchman that war is the unfolding of miscalculations” may be unfolding before our eyes.

Pray for Peace,

Padre Steve+

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