Tag Archives: military service

And Then there Were None: The Doolittle Raid 77 Years Later

Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. 80 US Army Air Corps flyers manning 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers conducted a mission from the deck of the USS Hornet CV-8 which though it caused little damage changed the course of World War Two in the Pacific.

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Orders in hand, Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, U.S.N., skipper of the U.S.S. Hornet (CU-8) chats with Maj. Gen. James Doolittle, U.S. Army. Some of the 80 Army fliers who took part in the historic Japanese raid are pictured with the two fliers.

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Doolittle and his Airmen with Hornet’s C.O. Captain Marc Mitscher 

The genus of the strike came from the desire of President Franklin Roosevelt to bomb Japan as soon as possible during a meeting just prior to Christmas 1941. Various aircraft types were considered and in the end the military chose the B-25 because it had the requisite range and had the best characteristics. Aircraft and their crews from the 17th Bomb Group which had the most experience with the aircraft were modified to meet the mission requirements. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle was selected to lead the mission.

Once the aircraft were ready they and their crews reported to Eglin Field for an intensive three week period of training. Supervised by a Navy pilot the crews practiced simulated carrier take offs, low level flying and bombing, night flying and over water navigation. When the training was complete the aircraft and crews and support personnel flew to McClellan Field for final modifications and then to NAS Alameda California where they were embarked on the Hornet Hornet’s air group had to be stowed on the ships hanger deck since the 16 B-25s had to remain of the flight deck. Each bomber was loaded with 4 specially modified 500 lb. bombs, three high explosive and one incendiary.

Departing Alameda on April 2nd the Hornet and her escorts, Hornet’s Task Force 18 rendezvoused with the Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Task Force 16 built around the USS Enterprise CV-6. task Force 16 provided escort and air cover during the mission. The carriers, escorted by 4 cruisers, 8 destroyers and accompanied by two oilers hoped to get close enough to the Japanese home islands so that the raiders could reach bases in allied China.

Hornet in Heavy Seas while launching the Raiders

The destroyers and slow oilers broke off on the evening of the 17th after refueling the carriers and cruisers. The two carriers and the cruisers then commenced a high speed run to get into range. However early in the morning of April 18th the ships were sighted by a Japanese patrol boat, the #23 Nitto Maru which was quickly sunk by the USS Nashville but not before it got off a radio message alerting the Japanese command. However the Japanese knowing that carrier aircraft had a relatively short range did not expect an attack. However, realizing the danger that the sighting brought, Mitscher elected to launch immediately, even though it meant that bombers would have to ditch their aircraft or attempt to land well short of the friendly Chinese airfields. The launch was 10 hours earlier and about 170 miles farther out from the Chinese bases than planned.

B-25 Launching from Hornet

Flying in groups of two to four aircraft the raiders struck the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. Minimal damage was done and only one aircraft was damaged. However they needed to fly nearly 1500 more miles to get to areas of China unoccupied by Japanese forces. Miraculously most of the aircraft and crews managed to find refuge in China. 69 of the 80 pilots and crew members avoided death or capture. Two flyers drowned, one died when parachuting from his aircraft. Eight men were captured. Of those captured by the Japanese three, Lieutenants William Farrow, Dean Hallmark and Corporal Harold Spatz were tried and executed for “war crimes” on October 15th 1942.

Many of the surviving flyers continued to serve in China while others continued to serve in North Africa and Europe, another 11 died in action following the raid. Doolittle felt that with the loss of all aircraft and no appreciable damage that he would be tried by courts-martial. Instead since the raid had so bolstered American morale he was awarded the Medal of Honor, promoted to Brigadier General and would go on to command the 12th Air Force, the 15th Air Force and finally the 8th Air Force.

The raid shook the Japanese, especially the leadership of the Imperial Navy who had allowed American aircraft to strike the Japanese homeland. The attack helped convince Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto that an attack on Midway was needed in order to destroy the American Carriers and the threat to the home islands.

When asked by a reporter about where the attack was launched from, President Roosevelt quipped “Shangri-La” the fictional location of perpetual youth in the Himalayas’ made famous in the popular book and movie Lost Horizon.

The raid in terms of actual damage and losses to the attacking forces was a failure, but in terms of its impact a major victory of the United States. The attack was psychologically devastating to Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, whose personal aircraft was nearly hit by one of the raiders and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who felt personally humiliated and dishonored by the fact that bombers launched from American carriers.

Likewise the raid gave the people of the United States a huge morale boost at a time when very little was going right. It forced the Japanese Navy to launch the attack on Midway that turned out to be a disaster, decimating the best of the Japanese Naval Air Forces and the loss of four aircraft carriers and enabled the US Navy to take the offensive two months later at Guadalcanal.

Franklin Roosevelt Awards Medal of Honor to Jimmy Doolittle 

In the years after the war the survivors would meet to toast each other and to reminisce about their experiences. Those meetings stopped several years ago and in 2017 LTC Dick Cole was the last of Doolittle’s raiders still alive. He passed away just over a week ago on April 9th in San Antonio. A memorial service will be held for him there on Thursday the 18th Of April. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Now that he and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders have passed away it is up to us to never forget the heroism, sacrifice and service in a mission the likes of which had never before been attempted, and which would in its own way help change the course of the Second World War.

Since most of us have never had to make that choice, and our President dodged the draft under the unusual circumstances often given to the children of the wealthy, we should ask what we would do if we were in Dick Cole’s shoes, or for that matter any of the men involved in the Doolittle Raid.

Since I have been serving as a volunteer since 1981 with multiple combat deployments to my name, and I. All of which I put my life on the line unarmed, and I still serve, so I know what I would do. However, that being said I really do have to wonder about most Americans, including those of my own generation who claim to support the troops without ever serving a day in uniform or even volunteering in the Peace Corps, Americorps, or even with the Red Cross.

The devotion of these men is seldom seen today. Our President routinely mocks those killed, wounded, or taken prisoner in war as “losers” and on the Howard Stern Radio program described avoiding sexually transmitted diseases in the 1980s as his “personal Vietnam.”

But I digress… the Greatest Generation is passing away. They fought fascism, the Nazis, and the Japanese Empire, and then many continued to serve during the Cold War, and in Korea, and some up to Vietnam. It is up to us the living to not disgrace their memory by forgetting them, or even worse, pretending that avoiding STDs is the equivalent of serving in harms way.

I think of the words of the character played by Jose Ferrer in the novel and movie written by Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny:

So until tomorrow, either put up, or shut up, especially if you wear the Red MAGA hat. Being a true American Patriot is not based on political ideology, Party, race, or religion. It is all about upholding the foundational principle of the Declaration: “We believe that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

After all, that is the foundational principal of the United States. It is true for all of us, or none of us, for once those rights are denied to anyone, the precedent can be used against any of us. To fall back on a quote from Captain Jean Luc Picard in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead:

“You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Army Air Corps, US Navy, World War II at Sea

“After You Hurt the Knee it isn’t as Fun…” Padre Steve Deals With More Knee Injuries

I Don’t Know if I will be Able to Climb Little Round Top Again

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I went to bed a bit down because of the unexpected death of my friend Mitch. But, I was also thinking about ways I could try to get back into shape as I awaited a consult from the Sports Medicine Doctor to the orthopedic surgeon who did the arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. Physical therapy on Tuesday had gone well and because I have been doing so well I stopped using a cane or crutch to stabilize me as I walked. I thought I was making progress.

To a certain extent I was, my left knee and leg were getting stronger, despite the fact that my right knee has not responded to the non-surgical Platelet Rich Plasma and Gel injection treatments given over the past two and a half months. But I had also not taken as seriously as I should the continued pain and weakness in the right knee, and the fact that it has been buckling on me of late. My sports medicine doctor told me that it looked like something other than osteoarthritis was the cause of my right knee problems, my kneecap feels loose and the doctor thinks something may be going on underneath the patella.

I knew I had physical therapy today and was looking forward to more improvements. Then the unexpected happened. My right knee buckled and gave out as I was walking down the steps from my front porch to the car. I fell in a heap at the bottom of the steps, my left knee landed hardest on the concrete walkway while my right knee hit the bricks in our planter, but that was a glancing blow. My left ankle feels like it has a mild sprain, the right foot has a lot of pain on the top of the foot below the ankle. I have no idea what is going on with it. My left knee hurts worse than before or after my surgery.

I wondered if I should wake up Judy and have her take me to the ER or maybe try to get an appointment with my PCM, or just contact the surgeon, and go to physical therapy. I sent an email to the surgeon, contacted the head of the officer retirement section at the Naval Personnel Center, and then went to physical therapy. My physical therapist put me through the paces and it was agonizing. She, a civilian, also warned me in a stern voice: “Sir, if I ever hear of you walking around without using a cane or crutch, I will kick your ass…” I believe her.

By the time I got back to the office from physical therapy I had heard back from the man at NPC who recommended that I modify or cancel my current voluntary retirement orders. I also heard back from my surgeon’s nurse. All agreed that I should request that the retirement orders be cancelled and a new request submitted for my mandatory date of my 60th birthday in late March.

That was something I had began to expect when I got word from the Sports Medicine doctor that there was something else wrong with my right knee other than osteoarthritis, which I suspected back last August when I fell down my stairs. I always knew I had arthritis in my knees but it was mild and never interfered with any of my physical activities. The only times the knees hurt before that fall was in cold damp weather. After that it has been difficult. Despite the fact that I didn’t have a torn meniscus in my right knee it constantly hurt worse than the left knee, I held out hope that the non-surgical procedures would make the difference.

So I emailed my Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, and Regional Chaplain to explain what I am going to have to do. All were sympathetic and tomorrow I will submit my request through my Commanding Officer, and on to NPC where it will need to be approved. The head of the officer retirement branch doesn’t think it will be a problem. If It gets approved I can probably get the treatments/ surgeries that help me recover.

This is a disappointment. I really was looking toward to going on terminal leave, having my retirement ceremony and re-entering the civilian world in September. I don’t like being as crippled as I am. Last year at this time I was walking, power-walking, or running 5 to 15 miles a day, five days a week. I am so discouraged by this, I cannot do anything like that now. Likewise, for me it embarrassing to have to admit that I am physically broken.

I agree with the great New York Jets Quarterback, Joe Namath said:

“After I hurt the knee, football wasn’t nearly as much fun. I was limited. But you make do with what you have. I adjusted some. I was lucky to play as long as I did, with the different kinds of injuries I got. I played with two severed hamstring muscles in my leg late in my career. I could barely run, other than to drop back to pass.”

I fully agree with him. Until last year I have had very few physical injuries that I couldn’t overcome. Perhaps they will be able to fix me before I retire, and I am not one to give up hope or belief that I can get better. I won’t stop trying, because I want to be able to hike 15 to 20 miles in a day, up and down broken terrain and climb Little Round Top at Gettysburg without using the roads.

I’ll keep you informed, so pray for me a sinner,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

A Quick Post Surgery Update

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was up very early this morning to go to get my knee surgery. As I mentioned it was arthroscopic and the surgeon repaired the torn meniscus as well as trimmed a fair amount of shredded cartilage. Judy talked with the surgeon while I was in recovery and because of this and since it is so arthritic it looks like I will probably need to have knee replacement surgery. Likewise, since I don’t seem to be responding well to the platelet rich plasma treatment I expect that the right knee will also have to be replaced.

I am going to try to have this done while still on active duty which could delay my retirement until everything is completed. I would prefer this rather than starting new in the VA system. That will obviously be part of my retirement physical which I need to schedule fairly soon.

The Navy surgeon, and anesthesiologist, and the civilian nursing staff at Sentara Obici hospital in Suffolk were great. I have nothing it praise for them. Judy has bee been a great help, it seems that we are doing things in a tag-team manner now, she was the patient, I am now, she will be again in April and I image that I will be next. Who knows, by the end of the year we may have four new knees between us. The three pups have been great, each doing their part to nurse me back to health.

Anyway, I was out of it most of the day as a result of being under general anesthesia rather than Colonel, Captain anesthesia. I am going to take it easy tonight.

It appears that my nearly 38 years of military service have been a bit harder on my body than I had thought. To paraphrase Mickey Mantle: If I knew I would have been in the military this long I would have taken better care of myself.

Pearls Before Swine Comic Strip for September 17, 2013

So anyway, I am going to do some reading, and I will catch up on what is going on the the world tomorrow. I refuse to get spun up about anything that I cannot control tonight.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings

Please Don’t Thank Me for Serving for It is All I Have Ever Thought of Doing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the Memorial Day Weekend I had a fascinating experience. It came about because I got fed up with what I hear a lot in so-called conservative circles that liberals, progressives, and Democrats are not patriotic or supportive of the military. The vast majority of these people have never served in the military but love to use their supposed support of endless wars as patriotism while giving lip service to those who serve as they display their ignorance of the Constitution and the military.

The fact of the matter is that the military is not monolithic, it is at the same time one of the most conservative yet progressive institutions in the United States. It and the people who serve in it are not perfect and we do have our share of scoundrels and scalawags in our ranks.

The institution itself has many faults and defects and there is much to be criticized in the way the services are managed and employed. We stand for ideals that we often fall far short of attaining. While we are integrated and making great strides that shame much of the civilian world there is still racial prejudice and discrimination. There is also a deeply ingrained culture of misogyny that shows itself all too often, and despite many changes and advances a sizable amount of homophobia. Despite all,of that I can say that much has changed for the positive since I joined in 1981.

We all join for a variety of reasons, an ideal, a challenge, a chance to prove ourselves; or a profession that has a measure of respect and offers us educational and health care benefits for us and our families that are hard to match in the civilian world. But those benefits often come with a lot of sacrifices that cannot be matched in the civilian world.

I’m old in terms of the military. I grew up in a Navy family and my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer served in Vietnam. I had friends in grade school who lost their dads in that war.

I’ve served continuously first in the Army and then in the Navy since 1981. I do not recall a day since I was a child that I did not want to be in the military and serve this country. My parents tried to discourage me from joining and encouraged me to at least try college for a year. I’m glad that the did because my first semester I met my wife Judy who over all of these years has stayed with me through almost two full military careers; one of 17 1/2 years in the Army and another of almost 20 years in the Navy, and by the way I didn’t tell her I was joining the Navy until I started the process. Marriage wise this was not a smart thing to do but I wasn’t the first or last soldier or sailor to do such a thing, the great Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, who I find a lot in common with did the same to his wife when he volunteered to serve as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine in 1862.

But I digress and boy did I chase that rabbit, so anyway, this started in response to some words by a real nut case who probably the most vocal supporter of President Trump in terms of marketing and propaganda. The man, Bill Mitchell ( @mitchellvii ) is a businessman from North Carolina who has made a mini-empire for himself on Twitter and now has a radio program. He has a long history of making incendiary comments about liberals, progressives, Democrats, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who criticizes the President. His father was an Army Officer but he has never spent a day in uniform.

That is his right under the First Amendment but it doesn’t mean that he should be allowed to get away it his slander of other Americans without being called on it. something that so offended me as an American and as a career military officer and combat vet that I responded to him.

He tweeted:

Is anyone else amused when we see the Left attempting to stand up for the honor of our fallen troops?

The Left HATES our troops and stand FOR everything they died to PREVENT.

I was offended because in my service in the military that began when I was a Republican in 1981 and since I returned home from Iraq in 2008 and switched my political affiliation, I have never viewed those who I have served alongside by their political or religious affiliations. They all wear, or wore the same uniform that I do and are my brothers and sisters.

Unlike Mr. Mitchell, I do not see military service in terms of the partisan political divide. While we may have political, religious, or other differences we are all still Americans who have volunteered to serve this nation, for the past 17 years in time of war. For the most part we bury those distinctions to serve alongside each other. That has become harder over the past decade or so but even so when you go into harm’s way and get shot at by the enemy those things do not matter so much.

My reply was simple and to the point. I said:

I am a liberal, a combat vet and have served for 37 years and am still on active duty. You have no honor or decency.

I was surprised at the response of people. This man has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, but I got no attacks on my self, my views, or my character as so often happens on social media. Instead I stared getting thanked for my service by a wide variety of people. I was somewhat embarrassed by the first thank you so I responded by saying:

Appreciate it but no thanks needed, it is my honor and duty…

The responses to that Tweet were also humbling and very gracious, truthfully I really don’t know how to respond. This is who and what I am. I have volunteered to go into conflict more times thanI have been allowed and the times I did get to go I got to do things that are unusual for a Chaplain, I have put myself in harms way and on at least one occasion had to be pulled out of danger by my shipmates on an embargoed freighter coming out of Iraq under the U.N. sanctions that followed the First Gulf War. On those operations I not only was unarmed but since there were not enough body armor plates for all the members of the boarding teams I went without. In Iraq I was always the one unarmed member of any advisor team that I was with.

I came home from Iraq incredibly goofed up with chronic, severe PTSD and mild TBI. I have spent a decade trying to fight those demons and I am now doing pretty well. But I came home and there are men and women who are far braver than I ever dared to be, men and women who gave all and didn’t come home. There are others who not only bear the unseen wounds of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury, but who have also suffered terrible physical wounds. There are also others who could not defeat the emotional and physical costs of war who either died or took their own lives after returning from war, or after leaving the service. I know too many who suffer or have lost their lives to consider someone as flawed as I am to admire, I just do what I am called to do, they have given all. They are the real heroes to me and I try to use my voice to speak for them.

Likewise, all the men and women that I served with, especially in combat operations are my brothers and sisters. We are to use William Shakespeare’s words, my band of brothers. As Shakespeare wrote in his play Henry V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

I am an idealist when it comes to military service and serving my county. I have tried to do my best to follow the words of Joshua Chamberlain, a flawed but great man. He said:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

So I while I do appreciate the kind words of everyone I am just following what I believe has been a calling for all of these years. I cannot imagine doing anything different except to teach and write when I finally retire from the Navy in the next two to three years. I could retire today, and it would be easier on me, but I still feel the call to serve. I just pray that the man that Mr. Mitchell has turned into his god does not take us in to any disastrous wars or destroy our Constitution and system of government during that time.

I do not believe in the old adage “my country right or wrong,” I know that as much good as has been done by the United States that our leaders, and people have done many wrongs, on our own continent and abroad. Today I am terrified by things that I see the President and administration doing, actions that threaten the Constitution, civil rights, and peace. So in my closing years of military service I keep the words of the German General Ludwig Beck, who did in the attempt to kill Hitler and end Nazi rule close to my heart:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I hope that this all makes sense, so until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, iraq,afghanistan, mental health, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq

Mementos and Memories: The Symbols of the Tapestry of Life

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“Abruptly the poker of memory stirs the ashes of recollection and uncovers a forgotten ember, still smoldering down there, still hot, still glowing, still red as red.” William Manchester

One thing about military life is that when you serve a long time you collect mementos of your service. Some are earned, some are things you got just for showing up and some are items given to you by those that served with you. I have collected many in my 32 years and four decades of service. In those years I have come to cherish the the most the mementos that were given to me by the people that I served alongside, especially the ones with personal messages inscribed on them.

I have been moving things out of my office in preparation for my move back to Virginia for about a week now. Most of the things that I took back to my apartment before today were books, papers and articles of clothing and a few small mementos.

Today though I was different. Today I took down the mementos, my pictures, going away gifts, plaques and a few other articles. Among them were items inscribed by former Navy shipmates, Marines and Soldiers who I have served alongside dating back to 1985.

With the passage of years and assignments what I display in my office has changed. In my younger days my office was cluttered with citations for various awards, certificates, qualifications and academic degrees. In a sense it was the quintessential “I love me” wall.

When I came to Camp LeJeune three years ago that changed. I packaged up every award except for the citation to the Defense Meritorious Service Medal signed by General Raymond Odierno that I earned in Iraq. It has a great deal of meaning to me because of how much impact Iraq and my service there made on me. It changed my life and made me a different man with a new understanding of life. But unlike a dozen other personal awards I do not have it framed, it is still in the simple blue award folder that it was presented to me in Iraq.

I do not have any of my commissioning certificates, or ordination papers displayed. Of my academic degrees only my Masters Degree in Military History is displayed, like the DMSM it too is in the folder that it was presented. Of my military education I only display my certificate from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College the Army Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course and the Army Junior Officer Maintenance Course. Both of the latter is certificates are battered and in a very ramshackle frames.

Most of what I display now are things that were given to me by the people that I served something to do with baseball, Cold War era East German or Soviet militaria or pictures of family and my dogs. I have a couple of pictures and religious symbols, I have a copy of the picture “Madonna of Stalingrad” painted by a German Army doctor who was also a pastor, a small San Damiano crucifix and a bronze St Rupert Cross from Salzburg Austria.

Each item represents part of my life, career and things that I hold dear or which provide special memories, even if some come from times that were not always pleasant. But even the painful memories are part of the tapestry of my life. Haruki Murakami wrote:

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past are no longer in orbit around our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about everyday, too many new things we have to learn. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.” 

However in general what I now display has a lot less to do with me than the people, places and experiences that are important to me. They are my touchstones. Thus what I experienced today was different than other times that I took down my “mementos.”

As I took each one down various emotions flowed through me, happiness, joy, sadness and even in some cases pain. I read the various well wishes inscribed by various people on the mattes of various pictures, from junior enlisted personnel, Chiefs and non-commissioned officers, officers former commanders to people like General Peter Pace and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright as well as German officers that I have served alongside.  It is amazing the feelings

It is hard to put a finger on but it is almost like there is a metaphysical connection when I read, look at or touch some of those items. It is like I have gone back in time. In a sense maybe I have. That is the symbolic power of mementos. They are more than trinkets, more than awards or accomplishments they symbolize the ongoing power of relationships past, present and future. They are links to a past existing in the present and pointing to the future.

None of them are worth much money and to most other people they would mean nothing. But to me they are worth a great deal. They are reminders of my past and in a sense part of the tapestry that is me and hopefully on someone’s wall, on a card or a note what little I contributed will be remembered by others. As William Faulkner said:

“What matters is at the end of life, when you’re about to pass into oblivion, that you’ve at least scratched ‘Kilroy was here,’ on the last wall of the universe.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Dinner with my Friend, Major General Sabah in Ramadi

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since I returned from Iraq I have grown weary of Christians that have all the answers and are more interested in promoting their agenda than actually listening or caring for those wounded in spirit from various forms of trauma including war. Since I returned from Iraq and going through what amounted to a crisis in faith, belief and experience of what I felt to be abandonment by God and many Christians.  I have elected to travel down a path that has been of great benefit but has been filled with difficulty and pain as I both walked through the psychological, spiritual and physical effects of my time in Iraq and, the moral injuries that I incurred and the practical ways that these crisis’ have had on my life and relationships.

On Monday at work we had some of our pastoral care residents presented their research projects which they had worked on during their residency year.  All were well done but one struck me because of its subject and home much I could relate to it.  The subject was “Writing our Way Home” and dealt with how the use of poetry and narrative could help some combat veterans make sense of their world and deal with the trauma that they have experienced.  After Iraq I began to write, initially because it was therapeutic and helped me to begin to start sorting out what was going on with me. It also helped me, especially when I went public on this site about my experience to get outside of my normally severely introverted self. As I began to write regularly it became a part of my life as I struggled to deal with PTSD as well as  spiritual and emotional crises following my tour in Iraq, alienation on my return as well as various family crisis’s.

The understanding that resonated with me was that our stories, the good and the bad, what we believe to be true and what really is true about ourselves and our experiences is all part of who we are. This is something that I experienced in my own pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the 1990s when my supervisor challenged be to stop living in the past and begin to imagine a future that was not a prisoner of my past disappointments and failures.  That was a watershed experience for me and as I began to sort through all of the crap that I was dealing with in CPE and family of origins issues I began to realize that I did not need to live my life in a constant repetition of the past.  Now that realization did not always find a place in my life but in a gradual process I began to escape that past and begin to live in the moment with an eye to the future.

Of course Iraq changed that to some degree, in fact to a large degree. What I experienced there and upon my return to the States shook many of my beliefs about the world, faith and life. The images of American Marines wounded by IED attacks, wounded children and destruction of vast areas of cities, towns and villages coupled with having HUMMVs and Helicopters that I traveled on shot at and having rockets fly over my head changed me, especially when I saw how the war was being covered by both the liberal and conservative media which bore little resemblance to my first hand observations. Even worse was the feeling of being isolated and abandoned when I returned home.  I experienced a crisis in faith that left me a practical agnostic even as I desperately prayed for God to show up.  In fact it was psychotherapist that was the first person to even address my spiritual life after I returned.

When Elmer Maggard asked me: “How are you and the big guy?” I could only say “I don’t know I don’t even know if he exists.”  For a priest and chaplain that was a harrowing admission.  I had entered a world of darkness that I did not believe was possible. I would struggle for another year and a half until during Advent of 2009 things began to change and I began to sense the presence of a loving God again.  My faith began to return but I have to say it is not the same as before I went to Iraq.  I still struggle though most of the time I cannot say that I am a practical agnostic as I do have faith and faith which can be considered orthodox but perhaps more negotiable.

You may ask what I mean by this so I will briefly explain.  First I admit that I do not have the answers that I used to think that I had. Likewise I am a lot more apt to say “I don’t know” or “I struggle with that too” when people tell me of their experiences when struggling with faith or even the existence of God.  I refuse to pass judgment on someone’s faith journey or even if they question God’s existence because I have been there and it is not a comfortable place to live.  I am far more willing to walk with someone thorough that valley of doubt or unbelief because I lived in that valley for over a year. As far as who I frame my world, I am far less likely to pin something as “God’s will” or “an attack of the Devil” than I am to recognize that as human beings that we live in a fallen state and that sometimes things just happen. To quote a popular say “Shit Happens.”  In the middle of this I think the real miracle is that God can give us the grace to go through the most difficult times even when we have no faith at all.  I don’t think that is at all heretical because the experience of Jesus on Good Friday and the scriptural accounts as well as the testimony of 2000 years of Christians tells me that this is true. The miracle in my mind is not being “delivered” from crisis or unbelief but through the grace of God making it though the crisis and return to faith, even if that faith takes a different form.

For me the act of writing both about my experience as well as through fiction or history has been therapeutic and forced me out of my comfort zone.  When I began this site and began to tell my story my friend Elmer the Shrink he asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to open up and become vulnerable as I shared the truth as I believed it to be.  I said that I needed to as I thought people needed to know the reality of what many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were going through.  He told me that what I was doing was risky but let me make the call. 600 posts later, not all of course dealing with what I and other veterans have gone through I can say that it was the right decision.

Our presenter on Monday gave us a few minutes to write something and for me this came quite easily as I was struck by a section of her presentation about how contradictory our life experiences can be. I began to write about those contradictions and will share a bit of that here.

I am a man of faith, a Christian and Priest. I believe but I also doubt and question, in fact there are some times that I feel somewhat agnostic even after the events of last December when faith began to return.  I am much more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to people especially those who struggle with life, faith and even the existence of God. I figure that God is big enough to handle doubt and unbelief while still loving and caring for the person experiencing doubt or unbelief or whose beliefs that may not fit the definition of Christian orthodoxy.

I am a passionate person who is an introvert in an extroverted world both in ministry and the military. I am an intuitive “out of the box” thinker and sometimes rebel.  Yet in spite of this I willingly volunteer to serve the church and the military.  It is interesting because both institutions prize loyalty to the institution, obedience and staying within the lines of prescribed beliefs and traditions.  I believe yet question, I find cause to not agree with what all of my political party or the other political party espouse to the chagrin of the faithful in both parties.

I have learned that there is a healthy tension in this type of life. I do not for the most part follow those that insist that to be a Christian that I must do this and that even though I fully subscribe to the Creeds, the first 7 Ecumenical Councils an Anglican understanding of the Christian faith. Nor do I think that to be to be a “American patriot” that I should vote a certain way, belong to a particular party or follow the agenda of any political party as if it others believe the agenda to be brought down from the mountain by Moses himself.  I have had people on occasion to criticize me for this.  However I cannot allow any political ideology to hold my faith captive, nor can I cast aside the essence of the Christian faith even when I doubt.

One of the things that I find concerning is how it seems to me that many supposedly “conservative” Christians have almost made what I think is a deal with the devil in terms of their political involvement. I think that they are sacrificing a long term witness to short term expedient political alliances with people, particularly “conservative” political talk show host and pundit Glenn Beck that have an antithetical and antagonistic views of historic Christianity.   My concern is more about the faith and witness of the Church than an alliance with someone that appeals to our more base nationalistic ideas than the faith itself.

I have discovered that for the most part I can comfortably live in this tension, in fact I do not think that I was to fall completely to one side or the other be it in faith, social responsibility or politics that my life would be as full as it is, or as some might be thinking now as “full of it as I am.” Whatever… The fact is that I think that as a Christian and as an American that it is okay to live life in balance and with a health appreciation of creative tension.

I have begun to emerge from the darkness of my post Iraq experience and I know that I am still wounded. I know that I still struggle but I now am beginning to see this as a gift.  My faith is not the same as it was, I am not satisfied with simplistic answers or the party lines of people that only care about their agenda especially when they decide that their agenda is God’s will, even if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that sounds kind of snarky to some but I really want to be an authentic Christian not some caricature that is more a picture of the American perversion of the faith than anything found in Scripture or the 2000 year history of the Church.

I believe but I struggle. I will listen to other points of view, including those of people that are not Christian. In fact I found that my Iraqi Muslim friends were much easier to dialogue with and have deep and respectful theological discussions with than many American Evangelicals.  For me that was a watershed moment.

But anyway, this post was not meant to be a treatise on anything but is for me more of a reflection of a dialogue that has been going on in me since my return.  The thing is I know other Chaplains that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan who have experienced the same feelings that I have been working through but do not have a safe place in their churches to heal, and are afforded little time to do self care.  I am concerned for our caregivers that care of veterans like me.  I wonder how many can be real in their faith community without having people run away from them as if they were radioactive, a feeling that many veterans and other trauma victims experience when they attempt to tell their story.

I just hope that I will be able to be there for others who are wounded and suffering as a result of what they experienced in war.

That is all for tonight.  Blessings and peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

Padre Steve a Marxist? Oh Please Give the Padre a Break

“You took a few well known history facts added some negroid glitz and glam, and arrogantly rest on your piss bucket of drivel as if you know something. You meinen Herr are a cretinous asshole of predictable disposition. I smell the ratty fumes of a Marxist lurking beneath your pebbled vskin.” Briar Cavendish

I had this interesting comment a couple of nights ago from an obviously devoted fan.  I have never met this fan but obviously he is sure that he knows me pretty well. I was surprised by the comments since they occurred in reference to a piece on World War Two and not anything to do with anything controversial that I have written.  What is strange is this devoted fan, let me call him Briar Cavendish who would have an e-mail address something like “briarcavendish@yahoo.com” decided to post the following as a comment on my article “Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War” located at https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/can-anybody-spare-a-dime-a-short-primer-on-early-axis-success-and-how-the-allies-won-the-second-world-war/#comment-1050

My admirer Briar, wow that rhymed! Maybe I should be a poet.  Anyway I digress; my admirer Briar penned this poisoned post in response to that rather innocuous article. Of course I must add, and I will add for the record that this rather innocuous article is in fact is so innocuous that any person with more than half a working brain would wonder what in it could be so onerous that my admirer Briar found it so objectionable.  Please help me here I beg you my readers. You must help me here because with the amount of venom spewed by Briar I have to wonder….I have to ask myself the questions “Why this? Why me? Why now?”  What have I done in this innocuous little article that would engender such a hateful response?  Why this article and not the one criticizing Glenn Beck? Why me, certainly there are bigger fish to fry, real Marxists and why now of all times?  Could it be that it is my admirer Briar himself who is a closet Marxist and lives his life in shadows afraid that he might be exposed like the Cretin, the Vulgar Latin type that he is not?  Perhaps he must do this because he is afraid that the NSA and its Carnivore program will uncover his dirty little secret. But I speculate.

Obviously my admirer Briar really doesn’t know me as well as he thinks that he does, however from the tone of his little love note I would dare say that he is obviously a person that hangs on the words of very popular talk show hosts like Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, G. Gordon Liddy and Josef Goebbels to name but a few.

I find it interesting that he first insults my work using racist language and then calls me arrogant and my work a “piss bucket of drivel.”  Actually I found this rather amusing except for the horribly blatant racial slur directed at African Americans which I thought was pretty hateful as I would expect most patriotic Americans would.  But since I attend a historically African American church I sort of take such comments rather personally as the folks at St James are my dear friends. Since obviously my admirer Briar is a racist and I’m not referring to someone who worships at the Church of NASCAR, Indy, Formula One or even the Kentucky Derby, but rather Klan kind of racist. Thus I must presume that my admirer Briar is a racist who doesn’t like black people and probably doesn’t like Mexicans, Asians, Jews or Moslems either but again this is purely speculation and I wouldn’t want to impugn my admirer Briar’s character.

As far as being called arrogant well, I cannot entirely claim innocence.  My friends I hate to admit that in some parts of my life the charge of being arrogant is true as my dear wife the Abbess can attest.  She can also attest to the fact that on occasion I can be an asshole a charge that that again it would be wrong of me to deny.  However I would patently object to being called “cretinous” as the term is used by my admirer Briar in a pejorative sense implying that I am some sort of deformed and retarded person.  However my admirer Briar then if you look at the actual definition of the word is comes from the Vulgar Latin term for Christians. The definition is here:

cre·tin (krtn) n. 1. A person afflicted with cretinism. n2. Slang An idiot. [French crétin, from French dialectal, deformed and mentally retarded person found in certain Alpine valleys, from Vulgar Latin *christinus, Christian, human being, poor fellow, from Latin Chrstinus, Christian; see Christian.] cretin·oid (-oid) adj. cretin·ous (-s) adj.

So obviously in the Vulgar Latin I would have to plead guilty to being “cretinous” since at last I recall I am a Christian and have papers to prove it, even wear a Cross on my uniform.  Likewise, as most people that know me can attest I certainly cannot be called “predictable” unless it is in my love of the one true religion of Baseball so my admirer Briar is just a tad off in knowing my habits.

I do like being addressed as “my Lord” as my paternal family hailed from Scottish nobility, although the correct use of the German should have been “Mein Herr” as that is the nominative masculine case instead of the masculine accusative case which would have been correct if he had said “Ich hasse Meinen Herr Padre Steve” or in English “I hate my Lord Padre Steve.”  So my admirer Briar is not good with German grammar but then how many people are outside Germany.

As far as being a Marxist such would be difficult as a Christian since I like believe in God which I believe that Marx, not Groucho, Harpo or Zippo but Karl called the “opiate of the masses.”  But even so such a characterization of this cuddly but miscreant Priest would be inaccurate as I am certainly not a Marxist sympathizer but rather a pretty middle of the road moderate American who has served his country for over 28 years and served in combat.  As far as “ratty fumes” I do confess to occasionally have some flatulence but usually do to the healthy salads that I consume which by the way chalked full of vegetables including plenty of banana and jalapeño peppers.  What can I say? I have turned over a dietary leaf.

Now as far as my skin goes most people would be proud to have my luxuriant skin which certainly cannot be called “pebbled” because the medical and biological description doesn’t wash.  My skin is pristine for my age, something that men and women would lust after and probably pay money to have. In fact it is so nice that in order to show more of it I shave my head which is a perfect shape to display my luxuriant skin which graces the top of my head like dome of the Jefferson Memorial.

I have no idea what my admirer Briar’s major malfunction is. Perhaps he is just a racist bigot who assumes that anyone who chooses to use their brain is a Marxist.  Why do it on this article I haven’t a clue.  Perhaps he is just a hate filled person mad because his party didn’t win an election.  Maybe he is a coward who has never served his country and to cover up his shame has to accuse someone who has served his country; someone who has been decorated for his service in Iraq who went unarmed into very dangerous situations because it was the right thing to do as being a Marxist.

I think this is reflective on the character of this man.   It appears that he is too much of a coward to do anything but do a drive by on my blog to attempt to do some character assassination and limp away like john Wilkes Booth.  Maybe my admirer Briar is a frustrated wannabe military historian or perhaps a hack who also happens to be a hack with no more than a high school education but presumes that because he has seen a few movies and read a few books that he is an expert in military history and theory.  Whatever he is I am sure that he does not have my academic credentials including being a graduate of the Marine Command and Staff College and having multiple graduate degrees in theology and military history. If he did he would not stoop to this kind of ad hominem attack.

You see I think that my admirer Briar is a poster child for the sick condition of political and intellectual debate in this country. I mean what the hell is going on? This isn’t the country that I grew up in.  In fact I believe that that my admirer Briar is symbolic of the vitriolic hatred that has consumed both sides of the political aisle.  Let’s face it voices like Briar’s fill the airwaves and the internet as pathological ideologues sacrifice civility, decorum and truth on the altar of gross political expediency defaming, maligning and using the basest language, actions and symbols to paint their opponents as Marxists, Fascists, Socialists or even Nazis. We don’t live in the United States of America anymore we have been transported through some sort of tear in the space time continuum back to the days of Weimar Germany. My Lord what’s next? Street battles between extremists consumed by such hatred that they would destroy the country in order to save it? God help us all.

In the interest of fairness I ask you my readers to write my admirer Briar at briarcavendish@yahoo.com and tell him what you think of him.  Please know this is the e-mail that he left with his approved comment on this site so please let him know what you think.  If you of course disagree with me the manner to do so is in the comments section.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, Political Commentary