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“All Stop” Pausing to Remember the End of An Age

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the midst of a very busy “day off” due to the National Day of Mourning in honor of the late President George H. W. Bush, I stopped everything to watch his funeral. On a ship the command “All Stop” involves taking all engines off line by disengaging the engines from the propeller shafts, where they are neither driving the ship forward or in reverse. For landlubbers it is like one puts a car with a manual transmission in neutral or park. The engines may continue to run, but the ship is not being driven forward or reverse.

For a bit over two hours I did that today. I stopped. I didn’t look at email, didn’t answer telephone calls or texts, and didn’t check Facebook or Twitter, instead I stopped to watch, listen, and reflect during the funeral for President Bush. I had other things that I could have done, but as a historian I knew that it was the end of an age.

State funerals are something special in the United States, unlike our mother country we are a republic, and democracy. While Great Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy, it is still a monarchy. State funerals in the United States serve to remind us of our heritage even in times when many people either pay lip service to it, or actually despise it, longing for some form of autocracy. The funeral of President Bush served as a reminder of that better and more noble heritage, what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the better angels of our nature.

Earlier in the morning I had taken Judy to her first physical therapy appointment in two weeks since she tore a Quadricep muscle while doing at home physical therapy after her first knee replacement surgery. She is making great progress but the pain is still pretty bad and she has a hard time getting comfortable in bed, something that makes sleep difficult. After that we went out to breakfast before coming home.

As a Priest, Chaplain, military officer, and historian I thought that it was important. President Bush had been out of office for around 26 years and only had served one term as President, however, those four years were among the most critical in the history of the modern world. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the reunification of Germany as a Westen oriented member of NATO and the European Union, and the liberation of Kuwait and defeat of Iraq by a disparate coalition of 29 very different nations under the authority of the United Nations all within a period of barely two years time were remarkable, and something that we will probably never see again in our lifetimes.

Whether one agreed or disagreed with individual policies enacted by him or his administration; and I did have my share of disagreements one had to admit the basic decency, humility, and respect for political opponents that enabled him to build relationships and keep friendships.

Today’s funeral dealt with history and what it is to be an American: friendship, family, faith, a dedication to the ideals written in the Declaration of Independence, spoken of by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, which referred to that ideal and pledged to build a more perfect Union, as well as a belief in an ideal of service to something greater than ourselves.

Historian John Meecham, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former Senator Alan Simpson, and his son, former President George W. Bush, speaking as a son and not a President, were a portrait and a biography of a man who loved life, loved his family, loved his country and who had the courage to defy Party hardliners if it benefited the county, and who could take the time to care about children afflicted with the Leukemia that killed his daughter Robin at the tender age of three.

His was the story of a man who defied affluence and privilege to serve his country by volunteering to serve as soon as he could after the nation went to war, and who at the tender age of 18 became the youngest Naval Aviator in our history. Shot down over Chuchi Jima, he mourned the loss of his flight crew and was always aware of the human cost of war. He did not commit the lives of young Americans, allies, or coalition partners without reflecting on the loss of his flight crew. When he committed the nation to war in 1991 he did so only under the mandate of the United Nations and with a coalition that would be unimaginable today. I could never see our current President doing what George H. W. Bush did to keep the world from plunging into an abyss of disorder and irresponsibility.

This isn’t to say that he didn’t make mistakes, couldn’t go for the jugular as a politician, or who didn’t change his positions on various issues out of political expediency; but he always remained a fundamentally decent man who had great empathy for others.

His funeral was attended by more heads of state, former heads of state, or royalty since that of John F. Kennedy. As I watched the hearse which bore his body from the funeral in which the current President and four other Presidents gathered along with so many heads of state or former leaders gathered I was reminded of the words of historian Barbara Tuchman speaking about then funeral of British King Edward VII:

“So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Requiem for an Alliance: D-Day at 74 Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard to believe now as we look at the serene beaches of Normandy that seventy years ago they were places of desperate combat in which hundreds of thousands of Allied and German soldiers, sailors, airmen and marine-commandos battled in a contest that helped free Europe of Nazi tyranny and changed the course of history. What they did helped change the world and brought about a measure of peace and security unparalleled in modern history as the free nations of the Atlantic Alliance charter a course for democracy and freedom. Unfortunately it seems that now the United States led by a President who cares nothing for the alliances so carefully built over the past seven decades has set a course to abandon that work, and our long time allies have come to realize that under this President that the United States is an unreliable partner. They have forgotten the words of Ronald Reagan who said: “From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure.”

The men who fought there were young, most in their twenties, but some in their teens or thirties as well as a smattering of senior leaders or old career soldiers in their 40s and 50s. When I first began to read about and study the battle a good number were still alive, most about the same age as I am now. Today, their ranks thinning they are passing into history. When the 80th anniversary is celebrated, the few that remain will all be about 100 years old, and even now, the youngest of these men are over 90 years old.

On June 6th 1944 the Allies invaded German controlled France on the beaches of Normandy. By that evening the Allied Expeditionary Force had landed six infantry divisions on five invasion beaches and the bulk of three airborne divisions on the approaches to those beaches. Near 175,000 Allied Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marine Commandos were involved in the attack and nearly 10,000 would listed be as killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day, over half on Omaha Beach.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent them forward with this message:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world….

The names of the invasion beaches and the units involved have been immortalized in history, in film and literature. The American 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles,” the “All American” 82nd Airborne Division and British 6thAirborne Division “Red Devils” made the largest night airborne drop and battled Germans, the elements as the struggled to reorganize on the heels of widely scattered drops.  The Americans battled the German 91st Airlanding Division and the crack 6th Parachute Regiment, while the British faced men of the 716th“Static” Infantry Division and battle groups of the nearby 21st Panzer Division.

On Sword Beach men of the 3rd British Division and 27th Armored Brigade teamed with the 1st Special Services Brigade composed of Army and Royal Marine Commandos made the assault, to their right on Juno Beach the Canadians of the 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade and two Royal Marine Commandos (battalions) while to their right on the middle invasion beach, Gold Beach the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armored Brigade went ashore with elements of the British 79th Armored Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando.

To the right of the British landed the American V Corps on Omaha Beach, the 1stInfantry Division, the famous “Big Red One” and the 29th “Blue and Gray” Infantry Division of the Virginia and Maryland National Guard. They would fight the most seasoned Germans on the beaches that day, the hardened combat veterans of the 352nd Infantry Division.  The battle of Omaha was nearly a disaster and a one point General Omar Bradley contemplated withdraw from the beach.  The American troops, including the men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to protect the beach from enfilade fire from German artillery mounted on the point, yet the German guns had not yet been emplaced and the Rangers fought a bitter battle against strong German resistance on that rugged mount.  On the far right the American VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division assaulted Utah Beach; fortunately the Americans landed away from their planned point of assault and faced little resistance. Had they landed in the correct location they might fared as their neighbors on Omaha Beach.

Offshore the venerable battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies and the USS TexasUSS Nevada and USS Arkansas provided fire support to the beaches aided by the Free Naval Forces of France, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway.  The French forces included the cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues.

Names such has St Mere-Eglise and Pegasus Bridge, the Merville Battery, Point du Hoc and Bloody Omaha remain etched in the minds of the dwindling number of surviving veterans as well as historians, military personnel and others that take the time to remember the sacrifices of these men.

The Men came from all parts of the United States and the British Commonwealth. Additionally personnel from France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany were represented in the land, air and naval forces involved.  For the French, humiliated by their defeat in 1940 and divided by the Vichy and Free French divide were determined, despite their small numbers to liberate their homeland.

They were opposed by four German Divisions, a Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger regiment and elements of the 21st Panzer Division.  The Germans with nothing in the way of air support and no significant naval forces were on their own. Hitler had refused Rommel’s request to deploy Panzer divisions near the beaches and was not awakened when word came of the invasion.  German soldiers fought with considerable valor and would do so throughout the Normandy campaign, even if they fought for a regime that was evil at its core.

As the battle continued President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation and asked all Americans to join him in this prayer:

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Today we remember those men who were a part of the Great Crusade to liberate Europe from the Nazi oppressors. On the 40th anniversary of the invasion President Ronald Reagan eulogized those who fought and died for the freedom of the world:

Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate the triumph of democracy.  We reaffirm the unity of democratic people who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace.

From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure. We sought to bring all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to the defense and preservation of our sacred values.  Our alliance, forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities of the post-war world, has succeeded.  In Europe, the threat has been contained, the peace has been kept.

Today, the living here assembled:  officials, veterans, area citizens, pay tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago.  This land is secure.  We are free.  These things are worth fighting and dying for.

President Obama continued in the tradition of President Reagan when he noted on the 70th anniversary of the landings:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

The words of Roosevelt, Reagan, and Obama are powerful reminders of what was accomplished on that fateful day, June 6th 1944. I hope and pray that as we remember that day and those brave men that we will never forget. Sadly, it appears that President Trump, his advisors, and many of his followers have forgotten just how important this is and I’m sure that if he were still alive that Ronald Reagan himself would agree with me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

Remembering the Men of D-Day: In the Era of Trump who Will We Channel?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find the days around Memorial Day and the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landings to be a time when I become quite reflective about what it means to be a career American military officer, combat veteran, and the son of a Navy Chief who was also a combat veteran.

When he spoke on Omaha Beach during the ceremony marking the 70thAnniversary of the D-Day landings President Barak Obama said:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

All of my adult life I have striven to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 37 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice. I still am, against all threats, foreign and domestic. I just hope that I will never have to repeat the words of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg: “I’m a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.”

Seventy-four years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France. In his D-Day message to his troops General Dwight Eisenhower reminded them that their mission was the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” There are still those in the world who subject their people to tyranny and attempt to destabilize and overthrow the governments of liberty loving peoples, likewise Eisenhower knew that security for ourselves meant close alliances with those who have our values and not isolating ourselves from the world.

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers; the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize these veterans, but it was a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

Had the Germans been able to hold out. Had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front. Had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially the elite paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, the German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr, and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground. In doing so they were ground to dust, their casualties massive, but Hitler forbade his commanders to withdraw his troop to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers, but many of them too shared in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Their courage and sacrifices were forever tarnished by the cause that they fought for and the way their country and many of them waged war, on the Eastern Front, and in some case on the Western Front.

For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation. As President Trump continues to go his own way to make the United States a pariah nation we have to be very aware of the costs of it and also remember that the Americans who went ashore on D-Day did so to help defeat a pariah nation that had flaunted every standard of justice in attempting to make Germany Great Again. When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday and it is possible that our day may come sooner than we think. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private RyanThe Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we who serve often strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Masters of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will meet. I hope that he is still alive and maybe he will see this.  I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

The survivors of the D-Day landings and those on the other side of the hill are continuing to pass from the bonds of this earth and into eternity. We owe it to them and to the world to make what they sacrificed themselves to do into reality, battling tyranny and striving for peace and security.

But that being said, what good will that be if we allow freedom to die at home? I wonder if like Claus von Stauffenberg who came to understand that serving Germany was not the same as serving Hitler, if we who serve today will have to make that same choice in regard to President Trump. In light of his actions and his words which indicate that he believes that he is above the law, can that point not be far away? Likewise will we who serve more embody the Americans, British, Canadians, and French at D-Day or the Germans?

Both are good questions to ask as we remember the men of D-Day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Dan Sickles, the Incredible Scoundrel and Patriot: Part One

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am taking a break over the next week or so to catch up on some reading and reflection, and I am re-posting some articles from my Gettysburg text.  These deal with a man that I consider one of the most fascinating , salacious, scandalous, heroic, and incredible figures ever to grace and disgrace American history, Congressman, and Civil War General Daniel E. Sickles.

I hope that you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+


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George Meade had made his dispositions on July 2nd 1863 with care, but there was one notable problem, the commander of III Corps, Major General Dan Sickles did not like the position assigned to his corps on the south end of Cemetery Ridge. But before discussing that it is worth chasing the rabbit so to speak and spend some time on the life of a man referred to by one by one biographer as an American Scoundrel and another as Sickles the Incredible. The interesting thing is that lie most complex characters in history that Dan Sickles was both and, “he might have had more faults than virtues, but everything about him was perfectly genuine.” [1] That is one of the reason that he is so fascinating.

Sickles was certainly a scoundrel and at the same time incredible, charming yet terribly vain and often insincere. “He was quick-witted, willful, brash, and ambitious, with pliable moral principles.” [2] But he was also incredibly brilliant, far sighted, patriotic, and civic minded. He was a political general, “flamboyant, impulsive, and brave, some would wonder about his discipline and military judgement.” [3] His notoriety and unpopularity among the West Point trained professional officers in the Army of the Potomac, as well as his tactical decision to move his corps on the afternoon of July 2nd 1863, and his subsequent political machinations ensured that he would be the only corps commander of that army not commemorated with a monument at Gettysburg.

Dan Sickles was one of the most colorful, controversial, and perhaps the most scandalous officer ever to command a corps in the history of the United States Army. While he lacked professional training he had done a fair amount of study of the military arts in his spare time, and he “made up for his lack of military training by acting on the battlefield with reckless courage, and was much admired for it by his men.” [4]

After having served as a brigade and division commander Sickles was promoted to corps command. “Sickles owed his elevation to corps command to the patronage of his friend Joseph Hooker…. And while man of the West Point officer….regarded Sickles military acumen with the greatest skepticism, many in the volunteer ranks were of a different mind. “Sickles is a great favorite in this corps,” asserted Private John Haley of the 17th Maine. “The men worship him. He is every inch a soldier and looking like a game cock. No one questions his bravery or patriotism.” [5] General Alpheus Williams who commanded a division in the Union Twelfth Corps despised Sickles, and after Chancellorsville Williams wrote “A Sickles’ would beat Napoleon in winning glory not earned,,, He is a hero without a heroic deed! Literally made by scribblers.” [6] Likewise, Sickles, the political general was no favorite of George Gordon Meade.

On July 2nd 1863 Sickles would be responsible for an act that threw George Meade’s defensive plan into chaos, and according to most historians and analysts nearly lost the battle, however, there are some who defend his actions and give him credit for upsetting Lee’s plan of attack. However, the truth lays somewhat in the middle as both observations are correct. Sickles’ decision created a massive controversy in the months following the battle as public hearings in Congress, where Sickles, a former congressman from New York had many friends, as well as enemies, sought a political advantage from a near military disaster.

Sickles was a mercurial, vain and scandal plagued man who “wore notoriety like a cloak” and “whether he was drinking, fighting, wenching or plotting, he was always operating with the throttle wide open.” [7]Sickles was born in New York to George and Susan Marsh Sickles in late 1819, though a number of sources, including Sickles himself cite dates ranging from 1819 through 1825. “There is little reliable information about Sickles’ early days,” [8] and he did not talk much about them, especially after the war, when Gettysburg and the Civil War became his main subjects of conversation. His father, a sixth generation American whose family were early Dutch settlers in Manhattan became wealthy through real estate speculation, “and he passed on to his son a pride in being a congenital Knickerbocker,” charming, witty, and clever, in whom “hardheadedness and impulsiveness were combined.” [9]

The young Sickles was an impetuous child and his father’s wealth ensured that Dan Sickles had “the finest of tutors…. And an unceasing bankroll of funding for lascivious escapades.” [10] To get their son special tutoring to prepare him for college, his parents “arranged for him to live in the scholarly house of the Da Pont family…. It was a household like few others in that hardheaded, mercantile city, at a time when New York had little of the Italian character it would later take on.”[11]The home was a place of learning, culture, and unusual relationships. The head of the house was Lorenzo L. Da Pont, a Professor at Columbia, as well as a practicing attorney. Also living in the home was Da Pont’s father, the ninety-year-old Professor Lorenzo Da Pont, who “had been the librettist for three of Mozart’s operas” [12] and “held the chair of Italian and Columbia University” [13] Additionally, the elder Da Pont’s “adopted daughter Maria and her husband, Antonio Bagioli, a successful composer and music teacher” [14] lived under the same roof.

Maria was only about twenty-years-old when Sickles moved in. By this time she and Bagioli already had a child of their own, a three year old daughter named Teresa, which Sickles would eventually marry. While the elder Da Pont claimed Maria as an adopted daughter, it was “widely believed that she was his “natural child” … from an American liaison conducted when he was near the age of seventy.” [15] This spawned rumors, even at the time of Gettysburg that the young Sickles “and his future mother-in-law had a sexual affair.” [16]

Whether the liaison with Maria Bagioli occurred is a matter of innuendo and conjecture, but it would not be out of character for Sickles, who, to put it mildly, had a wild proclivity for the opposite sex. As a young man he frequented brothels, and as his social and political status increased, he moved from the brothels frequented by the middle class to those which catered to the more socially well to do. One of his affairs was with the a prostitute named Fanny White, a woman who was smart, pretty, and upwardly mobile who ran her own bordello. His affair with Fanny was well publicized, but did not prevent him from being elected to the state legislature in 1847. She and Sickles would continue their relationship for years with her asking nothing more than expensive gifts, and there are inklings that Fanny help to fund Sickles’ early political campaigns. There is also speculation that in 1854 following his marriage, that Fanny spent time with him in London while he was working with James Buchanan and that that he “may have brought Fanny to one of the Queens’s receptions and introducing the prostitute to Her Majesty.” [17] But Fanny eventually moved on to a man older and richer than Sickles. Eventually she retired from her business and married another New York lawyer but died of complications of tuberculosis and possibly syphilis in 1860. Her property at the time of her death was conservatively “estimated at $50,000 to $100,000”[18] a considerable fortune for a woman of her day and age.

While he lived with the Da Pont family, Sickles gained an appreciation for foreign languages, as well as theater and opera. The elder Professor Da Pont was a major part of his academic life and quite possibly in the development of Sickles liberal education and his rather libertine morality. Lorenzo had been a Catholic Priest and theologian in Italy, but like his young American admirer had quite the attraction for women, and was a connoisseur of erotic literature and poetry. His activities resulted in him being expelled from his teaching position in the seminary, after which he became fast friends with a man whose name is synonymous with smooth talking, suave, amorous men, Giacomo Casanova, and in Europe “his affairs with women had been almost as notorious as those of his good friend.” [19] Certainly the elder Lorenzo’s tales “of Casanova, the fabled prince of Priapus, did nothing to quell Dan’s adolescent sexual appetite.” [20]

Noted Civil War and Gettysburg historian Allen Guelzo describes the Sickles in even less flattering terms, “Sickles was from the beginning, a spoiled brat, and he matured from there into a suave, charming, pathological liar, not unlike certain characters in Mozart operas.”[21]

Following the deaths of both the elder and younger Professor Da Pont, Sickles was stricken with grief. At the funeral of the younger Professor Da Pont Sickles “raved and tore up and down the graveyard shrieking,” [22] forcing other mourners to take him away by force. Soon after, Sickles left New York University and began to work in the law office of the very formidable New York lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General, Benjamin F. Butler.

While he was studying for the bar under Butler, he was joined by his father who would also become an attorney. It was under the influence of his father, who was now a wealthy Wall Street investor, and the Democrats of Tammany Hall that the incredibly talented Sickles was groomed for political leadership. Tammany was a rough and tumble world of hardnosed politics, backroom deals, corruption and graft.

He passed the bar in 1843 and soon was making a name for himself in the legal world, and in politics, despite his well-known questionable ethics and morality. His political career began in 1844 when “he wrote a campaign paper for James Polk and became involved in the Tammany Hall political machine.” [23] The ever ambitious Sickles “clambered up the city’s Democratic party ladder, on the way collecting allies and enemies with utter disregard for the consequences, attending the typically unruly Tammany meetings armed with bowie knife and pistol.” [24]

Like many of his fellow New York Democrats he was a proponent of “Manifest Destiny, and the right of the United States to acquire and hold Texas, New Mexico, California, perhaps the isthmus of Central American, and certainly Cuba.” [25] He was also a political ally of many states rights Southern Democrats and “largely opposed anti-slavery legislation.” [26] This was in large part due to the commercial interests of New York, which between banking and commercial shipping interests profited from the South’s slave economy.

He was elected to the New York State legislature in 1847 and his political star continued to rise even as his personal reputation sank among many of his peers. An attorney who knew him described Sickles as “one of the bigger bubbles in the scum of the profession, swollen, and windy, and puffed out with fetid gas.” [27] Sickles rivals any American politician, before or since in his ability to rise even as the slime ran down his body, the term “Teflon”applied to politicians like Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton comes to mind when one studies Sickles’ career. New York lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong wrote, “One might as well try to spoil a rotten egg as to damage Dan’s career.” [28]

But there was no denying that Sickles was a brilliant lawyer, politician, and debater. One observed that Sickles was “a lawyer by intuition – careful in reaching his conclusions, but quick and bold in pushing them.” [29]New York Governor “William Marcy grudgingly said that as a debater Sickles excelled any man of his years, and the astute Henry Raymond declared that as a parliamentary leader he was unsurpassed.” [30] Soon Sickles was a delegate to the 1848 Democratic Convention where he helped nominate Franklin Pierce for his unsuccessful run at the democratic nomination. The convention enabled Sickles to enter the world of national politics making friends with many influential politicians and financiers, including Pierce, the Van Burens, and James Buchanan. On his return to New York he received an appointed as a Major in the New York Militia.

Even as Sickles rose in the tumultuous world of American law and politics, and chased Fanny White he became enamored with the now teenage daughter of Antonio and Maria Bagioli, Miss Teresa Bagioli who though only fifteen was beautiful, wise beyond her years, fluent in French and Italian, devoted to the arts, and entirely besotted by Dan Sickles. Both the parents of Sickles and Teresa opposed the relationship, but both were madly in love, and Teresa was as headstrong as Dan regarding the relationship. Though such a relationship would be considered completely scandalous today, such marriages were not uncommon then, though they were certainly less common in the upper society of New York. Sickles “was enchanted by her” and “courted her with the sensibility of being a friend of her parents and he must have suspected that he loved her with a fated and exclusive love.” [31] When she was just sixteen Teresa quit school and married the thirty-three year-old assemblyman in a civil ceremony officiated by New York Mayor Ambrose Kingsland on September 27th1852. Six months later, the two were married in the Catholic Church by Archbishop John Hughes, in a “gala and largely attended affair.” [32]Just three months after the church wedding their daughter, Laura, was born. Though there can be no doubt that Sickles loved Teresa, and she him, it did not stop him from other extramarital affairs, nor did it take much away from his political machinations at Tammany Hall.

Following the 1852 Democratic convention where he again supported Franklin Pierce, Sickles hard fighting and influence at in the Wigwam of was rewarded with political plum prize of being appointed “corporation counsel of New York City, a post that paid a flattering salary with extra emoluments and also left room for profitable legal work on the side.” [33] His political and social acumen were again demonstrated as he convinced the state legislature, through personal force of will, to enable the New York City Corporation “to go ahead with creating a great central park,”[34] a park that we now know today as Central Park. He also helped push forward a proposal to create New York’s first mass transportation system, that of horse drawn omnibuses.

Later in the year Sickles was appointed as secretary of the American legation to the Court of St. James n London, headed by former Secretary of State James Buchanan. The position paid a pittance of what Sickles was earning in New York, but he realized that the serving overseas in such a position could not but help him on the national political stage. Though Buchanan and Pierce wanted Sickles, the new Secretary of State, the former New York Governor William Marcy refused to sign Sickles’ commission for the post. Eventually, Pierce prevailed and Sickles got the job.

As their baby, Laura, was still very young and sea travel still quite hazardous, Teresa remained at home, and joined her husband in London the following year. However, when she arrived in London, the teenage wife of Dan Sickles charmed Americans and Britons alike. Aided by her multilingual gifts, which “were rare among American diplomats’ wives,” [35] she became a great success and the unmarried Buchanan appointed her as hostess for the legation. She rapidly became a celebrity due to her stunning beauty and charm, and like he had Fanny, Sickles had Teresa introduced to the Queen. Her celebrity status evoked different responses from those that observed her. “One contemporary described Teresa as an Italian beauty, warm, openhearted, and unselfish. Another described her as being “… without shame or brain and [having] a lust for men.” [36] That “lust for men” coupled with the neglect of her husband may well have been the catalyst for the scandal which overwhelmed them in Dan’s congressional career.

It was during his service in London with Buchanan that Sickles became embroiled in one of the most embarrassing diplomatic incidents in American history. The proponents of Manifest Destiny and American expansion had long desired to take Cuba from Spain through diplomacy, or if needed force. Following a failed attempt by American “Filibusters” to seize the island in 1852 which ended in the execution of fifty Americans, including the son of U.S. Attorney General John Crittenden by Spanish authorities, and in 1854 President Franklin Pierce authorized Buchanan to attempt to negotiate the acquisition of Cuba.

Pierce authorized Buchanan to meet with James Mason, the United States Ambassador to France and Pierre Soule, the United States Ambassador to Spain secretly in order to draft “a statement on the future of Cuba and the proposed role of the United States.” [37] Soule dominated the meeting and the statement, which was in large part drafted by Dan Sickles, was highly inflammatory. Despite this the statement was released to the press in defiance of the order to maintain the strictest secrecy and it resulted in a diplomatic disaster for the Pierce Administration.

The document was prepared by Soule and Sickles and endorsed by Buchanan and Mason was known as the Ostend Manifesto, and it “was one of the most truly American, and at the same time most undiplomatic, documents every devised.” [38] The manifesto prepared by Soule and Sickles proclaimed that “Cuba is as necessary to the North American Republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to the great family of states of which the Union is the Providential Nursery.” [39] The authors of the manifesto also threatened Spain should the Spanish fail to accede to American demands. The authors declared that if the United States “decided its sovereignty depended on acquiring Cuba, and if Spain would not pass on sovereignty in the island to the United States by peaceful means, including sale, then, “by every law, human and Divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain.” [40]

The Ostend Manifesto “sent shivers through the chancelleries of Europe, provoked hurried conversations between the heads of the French and British admiralties.” [41] European diplomats and leaders reacted harshly to the statement and Secretary of State William Marcy who had previously supported the ideas in the document immediately distance himself and official American policy from it and the authors. Marcy then “forced Soule’s resignation by repudiating the whole thing, but the damage was done.” For months the Pierce administration was on the defensive, and was condemned “as the advocate of a policy of “shame and dishonor,” the supporter of a “buccaneering document,” a “highwayman’s plea.” American diplomacy, said the London Times, was given to “the habitual pursuit of dishonorable object by clandestine means.”[42] The incident ended official and unofficial attempts by Americans to obtain Cuba by legal or extralegal means until the Spanish American War in 1898.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.151

[2] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.222

[3] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign a Study in Command p.45

[4] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.65

[5] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg a Testing of Courage p.110

[6] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.35

[7] Ibid. Catton The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road pp.150-151

[8] Hessler, James A. Sickles at Gettysburg Savas Beatie New York and El Dorado Hills CA, 2009, 2010 p.1

[9] Keneally, Thomas American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2003 p.7

[10] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[11] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[12] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.2

[13] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.3

[14] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[15] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.4

[16] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.3

[17] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.6

[18] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.215

[19] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible copyright by the author 1958 and 1984 Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.79

[20] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.80

[21] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg The Last Invasion p.243

[22] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.81

[23] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[24] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.198

[25] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.12

[26] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.82

[27] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.222

[28] Ibid. Hessler Sickles at Gettysburg p.4

[29] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[30] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.84

[31] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[32] Wilson Robert and Clair, Carl They Also Served: Wives of Civil War Generals Xlibris Corporation 2006 p.98

[33] Ibid. Swanberg Sickles the Incredible p.88

[34] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.21

[35] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.39

[36] Ibid. Wilson and Clair They Also Served p.98

[37] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.44

[38] Pinchon, Edgcumb Dan Sickles: Hero of Gettysburg and “Yankee King of Spain” Doubleday, Doran and Company Inc. Garden City NY 1945 p.48

[39] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.190

[40] Ibid. Keneally American Scoundrel p.45

[41] Ibid. Pinchon Dan Sickles p.48

[42] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.193

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A D-Day Requiem: The Beginning of the End of the Atlantic Alliance

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is hard to believe now as we look at the serene beaches of Normandy that seventy years ago they were places of desperate combat in which hundreds of thousands of Allied and German soldiers, sailors, airmen and marine-commandos battled in a contest that helped free Europe of Nazi tyranny and changed the course of history. What they did helped change the world and brought about a measure of peace and security unparalleled in modern history as the free nations of the Atlantic Alliance charter a course for democracy and freedom. Unfortunately it seems that now the United States led by a President who cares nothing for the alliances so carefully built over the past seven decades has set a course to abandon that work, and our long time allies have come to realize that under this President that the United States is an unreliable partner. They have forgotten the words of Ronald Reagan who said: “From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure.”

The men who fought there were young, most in their twenties, but some in their teens or thirties as well as a smattering of senior leaders or old career soldiers in their 40s and 50s. When I first began to read about and study the battle a good number were still alive, most about the same age as I am now. Today, their ranks thinning they are passing into history. When the 80th anniversary is celebrated, the few that remain will all be about 100 years old, and even now, the youngest of these men are over 90 years old.

On June 6th 1944 the Allies invaded German controlled France on the beaches of Normandy. By that evening the Allied Expeditionary Force had landed six infantry divisions on five invasion beaches and the bulk of three airborne divisions on the approaches to those beaches. Near 175,000 Allied Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marine Commandos were involved in the attack and nearly 10,000 would listed be as killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day, over half on Omaha Beach.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent them forward with this message:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world….

The names of the invasion beaches and the units involved have been immortalized in history, in film and literature. The American 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles,” the “All American” 82nd Airborne Division and British 6th Airborne Division “Red Devils” made the largest night airborne drop and battled Germans, the elements as the struggled to reorganize on the heels of widely scattered drops.  The Americans battled the German 91st Airlanding Division and the crack 6th Parachute Regiment, while the British faced men of the 716th “Static” Infantry Division and battle groups of the nearby 21st Panzer Division.

On Sword Beach men of the 3rd British Division and 27th Armored Brigade teamed with the 1st Special Services Brigade composed of Army and Royal Marine Commandos made the assault, to their right on Juno Beach the Canadians of the 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armored Brigade and two Royal Marine Commandos (battalions) while to their right on the middle invasion beach, God Beach the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armored Brigade went ashore with elements of the British 79th Armored Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando.

To the right of the British landed the American V Corps on Omaha Beach, the 1st Infantry Division, the famous “Big Red One” and the 29th “Blue and Gray” Infantry Division of the Virginia and Maryland National Guard. They would fight the most seasoned Germans on the beaches that day, the hardened combat veterans of the 352nd Infantry Division.  The battle of Omaha was nearly a disaster and a one point General Omar Bradley contemplated withdraw from the beach.  The American troops, including the men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to protect the beach from enfilade fire from German artillery mounted on the point, yet the German guns had not yet been emplaced and the Rangers fought a bitter battle against strong German resistance on that rugged mount.  On the far right the American VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division assaulted Utah Beach; fortunately the Americans landed away from their planned point of assault and faced little resistance. Had they landed in the correct location they might fared as their neighbors on Omaha Beach.

Offshore the venerable battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies and the USS Texas, USS Nevada and USS Arkansas provided fire support to the beaches aided by the Free Naval Forces of France, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway.  The French forces included the cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues.

Names such has St Mere-Eglise and Pegasus Bridge, the Merville Battery, Point du Hoc and Bloody Omaha remain etched in the minds of the dwindling number of surviving veterans as well as historians, military personnel and others that take the time to remember the sacrifices of these men.

The Men came from all parts of the United States and the British Commonwealth. Additionally personnel from France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany were represented in the land, air and naval forces involved.  For the French, humiliated by their defeat in 1940 and divided by the Vichy and Free French divide were determined, despite their small numbers to liberate their homeland.

They were opposed by four German Divisions, a Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger regiment and elements of the 21st Panzer Division.  The Germans with nothing in the way of air support and no significant naval forces were on their own. Hitler had refused Rommel’s request to deploy Panzer divisions near the beaches and was not awakened when word came of the invasion.  German soldiers fought with considerable valor and would do so throughout the Normandy campaign, even if they fought for a regime that was evil at its core.

As the battle continued President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation and asked all Americans to join him in this prayer:

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Today we remember those men who were a part of the Great Crusade to liberate Europe from the Nazi oppressors. On the 40th anniversary of the invasion President Ronald Reagan eulogized those who fought and died for the freedom of the world:

Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate the triumph of democracy.  We reaffirm the unity of democratic people who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace.

From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure. We sought to bring all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to the defense and preservation of our sacred values.  Our alliance, forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities of the post-war world, has succeeded.  In Europe, the threat has been contained, the peace has been kept.

Today, the living here assembled:  officials, veterans, area citizens, pay tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago.  This land is secure.  We are free.  These things are worth fighting and dying for.

President Obama continued in the tradition of President Reagan when he noted on the 70th anniversary of the landings:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

The words of Roosevelt, Reagan, and Obama are powerful reminders of what was accomplished on that fateful day, June 6th 1944. I hope and pray that as we remember that day and those brave men that we will never forget. Sadly, it appears that President Trump, his advisors, and many of his followers have forgotten just how important this is and I’m sure that if he were still alive that Ronald Reagan himself would agree with me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary, world war two in europe

People Cannot Live in Freedom Unless Free People are Prepared to Die for It: D-Day at 73

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find the days around Memorial Day and the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landings to be a time when I become quite reflective about what it means to be a career American military officer, combat veteran, and the son of a Navy Chief who was also a combat veteran. I am also an uncle to a young man who likely will be enlisting in the Army in the coming weeks.

When he spoke on Omaha Beach during the ceremony marking the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings President Barak Obama said:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

All of my adult life I have striven to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 36 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.

Seventy-three years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France. In his D-Day message to his troops General Dwight Eisenhower reminded them that their mission was the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” There are still those in the world who subject their people to tyranny and attempt to destabilize and overthrow the governments of liberty loving peoples, likewise Eisenhower knew that security for ourselves meant close alliances with those who have our values and not isolating ourselves from the world.

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers; the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

Had the Germans been able to hold out and had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front, had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation. As President Trump continues to go his own way to make the United States a pariah nation we have to be very aware of the costs of it and also remember that the Americans who went ashore on D-Day did so to help defeat a pariah nation that had flaunted every standard of justice in attempting to make Germany Great Again. When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday and it is possible that our day may come sooner than we think. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we who serve often strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Masters of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will. I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

The survivors of the D-Day landings and those on the other side of the hill are continuing to pass from the bonds of this earth and into eternity. We owe it to them and to the world to make what they sacrificed themselves to do into reality, battling tyranny and striving for peace and security.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants: Do Dodging the Hard Alternatives

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

General Omar Bradley once said: “Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.”

As I hear President Trump rattling the saber in Asia and the Middle East, as I look at his incoherent and dangerous policy of “America First,” and his almost total disregard for the importance of diplomacy and soft power I began to think about the possibility of nuclear, chemical, or biological war. While the Sword of Damocles represented by the massive stocks of already existing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, has hung over our heads for decades, the current era seems more dangerous.

We have seen the persistent use of chemical weapons, including Sarin nerve agent in Syria by the regime of Bashir Al Assad, and the growing advancement of nuclear weapons technology, combined with bellicose rhetoric threatening the use of such weapons coming from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

The problem is with both of these situations is that there are no easy or even good answers. The branches and sequels to any military action, the possibilities of a limited military action escalating into a regional or even worldwide conflict are all too real. It is in times like these that one wishes for cool heads and steady leadership, especially among the great powers. But I fear that that might not be the case today. The saber rattling, and the quest for regional dominance by Russia in Eastern Europe, and China in Asia are unnerving their neighbors, and becoming more dangerous with every passing year. But even more important is the dangerous attitude of the Russians in backing the Assad regime and the Chinese not doing much to control North Korea that are very concerning, not to mention the Trump administration’s lack of any coherent foreign policy or military strategy.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963 President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were able to pull back from the brink of nuclear war. During the height of the Cold War President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev were able to begin the process of reducing nuclear weapons and the numbers of intermediate range nuclear missiles.

I don’t know if President Trump, President Putin, or Chinese President Xi Jinping are able to curb their own sense of nationalism, nor the actors using or threatening to use these terrible weapons. There are hard choices to be made, but all too often leaders throughout history have shown a decided inability to make them. As Barbara Tuchman noted:  “One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.” 

It feels as if we are sliding into an abyss, I just hope that one or all of these leaders acts with a measure of prudence and wisdom to keep us from sliding in to it.

The President’s decision to remove Steve Bannon from the NSC was a good start, and hopefully men like General McMasters and Secretary of Defense Mattis prove to be men like George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, and Dwight Eisenhower, men who understand the precious nature of peace and the tragedy of war.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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