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The Road to Trump Began Here: Jackie Robinson and the 1964 GOP Convention

Jackie Robinson Speaking with the Press

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon the interruption, but I started a new article last night but was too tired to complete. I guess I will mull it over more and get around to posting it when I am ready. So instead of that I am going to repost an article from a few years back. 

Sometimes people wonder how the Republican Party devolved to the point that it became a proto-Fascist Party completely unrelated to the Party of Lincoln. Now it is true that after Ulysses Grant’s Presidency the GOP became less civil rights and more a party of the Robber Barons. Of course Teddy Roosevelt repudiated the Robber Barons, and was quite progressive except in terms of race and civil rights, and Dwight Eisenhower who took action to enforce Supreme Court Rulings after Brown v. Board of Education, and was as progressive in many ways as were Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Richard Nixon took advantage of the Southern Strategy to continue the transformation of the GOP into the party of Trump, which continued, under slightly less obvious means under Ronald Reagan, and both George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. But even more pivotal was the speakership of Newt Gingrich, and the  the Tea Party.

But think that the 1964 GOP National Convention was more important because it was a watershed moment in American politics, a moment that started the Republican Party down the path that has culminated today. The convention was a direct response to the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Summer of 1964.

But most of all it is how the GOP rank and file treated baseball icon and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson’s trip to the 1964 Republican National Convention. Though the events happened some fifty-six years ago, they are not ancient history, and the spirit and ideology that characterized them is all to present today, especially in the modern Republican Party. 

So have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jackie Robinson was an American hero and icon. He was an amazing athlete who served as an Army Officer in the Second World War, but whose military career was cut short by a bus driver who ordered him to the back of the bus, for which he was tried by what amounted to a drumhead Court Martial, but was acquitted. So he missed seeing action in the war. Robinson remembered his defense attorney’s closing argument.

My lawyer summed up the case beautifully by telling the board that this was not a case involving any violation of the Articles of War, or even of military tradition, but simply a situation in which a few individuals sought to vent their bigotry on a Negro they considered ‘uppity’ because he had the audacity to exercise rights that belonged to him as an American and a soldier.

Twenty years later, Robinson, a Republican because of the then racist attitudes of the Democrats was a supporter of the progressive Republican Governor or New York, Nelson Rockefeller. When he arrived as Rockefeller’s guest he was confronted with the most vile behavior by GOP delegates as could be imagined.

“A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.” Jackie Robinson on his observations of the 1964 Republican National Convention

Jackie Robinson was a Republican. So was I for 32 years and for much of that time I considered myself a “conservative” whatever that means, though I thought it meant freedom, limited government and opportunity for all regardless of race, color, religion or any other trait or belief. I also believed and still do in a strong defense, but I can no longer consider myself a man that blesses American intervention in other people’s wars unless there is a clear and present danger to the United States, not simply our so called “interests” which may not be those of the nation at all but of multi-national corporations which were originally American businesses but not only need our military, diplomatic and intelligence resources to increase their profits.

My parents were Kennedy type Democrats, but in the 1970s, torn by the extremism of the 1972 Democratic Convention in Chicago and feeling the hatred of people for those in the military, including a Sunday School teacher who told me that my dad, then serving in Vietnam was “baby killer” I at the age of 12 decided that I would be a Republican. I was a Republican until I returned from Iraq in 2008, fully aware of the lies that took us into that war and seeing the cost both to American servicemen and the people of Iraq.

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I have been doing a lot of reading lately on a period of history that as a historian I had pretty much skipped over. That is the period of the Civil Rights movement of the early to mid-1960s. I guess I skipped over it because I was more interested in the glory of war and patriotism wrapped in historic myth than in the experiences of fellow citizens who had been killed, abused, tormented and persecuted by people like me simply because of the color of their skin. I had not yet begun to appreciate the concept of justice at home being interconnected to our deepest held principles and how we embody them in our foreign policy.

For many years I echoed the point made by some conservatives that it was the GOP that helped make the Voter’s Rights Act of 1964 and Civil Rights Act of 1965 passed into law. That is true. Most Republicans voted for them, with a notable exception, Barry Goldwater. However, what is also true is that the Republicans that voted for the 1964 act were considered “liberals” and treated shamefully at the 1964 convention, whose delegates voted down a part of the platform that would have supported that act. Of the Democrats that voted against those bills almost all came from the Deep South, a region which within a decade become a Republican stronghold and a key part of the Southern Strategy of every GOP Presidential Candidate since Richard Nixon. A Republican aide at the 1964 convention told a reporter that “the nigger issue was sure to put Goldwater in the White House.” (See Freedom Summer by Bruce Watson p.163)

However as a life long baseball fan there is one thing that I know, that if there had been no Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson we might not have gotten Rosa Parks or the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

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Robinson was appointed as a special delegate to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who was running against Goldwater and attended the convention. He had given up his job as a spokesman for and Vice President of the Chock Full O’Nuts Coffee Company to assist Rockefeller’s campaign in 1964.

Robinson knew what it was like to be the “point man” in the integration of baseball and in his career was threatened with physical violence and death on many occasions. Some teammates circulated petitions that they would not play for a team that had a “black” on it. Robinson, encouraged by Rickey persevered and became an icon in baseball, the Civil Rights movement and the history of the United States. However, not even 10 years after his retirement from baseball and 2 years after he was elected to the Hall of Fame he once again discovered just how deep racism still ran in this country. As he attended the convention FBI agents and other Federal authorities attempted to find the bodies of three young Voting Rights staff who were part of the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in Mississippi. Eventually, later in the summer the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner would be discovered buried in the base of a dam near Philadelphia Mississippi. Their killers were local law enforcement officers and members of the Ku Klux Klan.

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Maybe I lived in my own fantasy world. My experience growing up was on the West Coast living in a military family in small towns and big cities. I am proud to be part of the first class that attended high school in my home town when the courts ordered desegregation in our schools. That experience at Edison High School of Stockton California from 1975-78 changed me, as did having a black roommate in college.

However, that being said it took me a long time to realize that things really haven’t changed that much from 1964 in many parts of the country, especially since I have lived most of my adult live in the historic States that comprised the Confederacy. I can say from practical observation and knowledge that racism and other forms of more acceptable prejudice live on in this country. There is not a day that goes by that I do not run into the vestiges of the hate that lived during the Freedom Summer of 1964. It is more subtle in some cases, but other times is so blatant that is sickening. I never expected that I would ever be called a “nigger lover” or “wigger” until I had people made those comments on this website in response to articles that had nothing to do with race relations or civil rights, nor did I expect physical threats from people who call themselves “Christian.” Those were learning experiences that I have never forgotten.

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Robinson wrote of his experience at the 1964 Convention:

“I wasn’t altogether caught of guard by the victory of the reactionary forces in the Republican party, but I was appalled by the tactics they used to stifle their liberal opposition. I was a special delegate to the convention through an arrangement made by the Rockefeller office. That convention was one of the most unforgettable and frightening experiences of my life. The hatred I saw was unique to me because it was hatred directed against a white man. It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people.

A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP. As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.

The same high-handed methods had been there.

The same belief in the superiority of one religious or racial group over another was here. Liberals who fought so hard and so vainly were afraid not only of what would happen to the GOP but of what would happen to America. The Goldwaterites were afraid – afraid not to hew strictly to the line they had been spoon-fed, afraid to listen to logic and reason if it was not in their script.

I will never forget the fantastic scene of Governor Rockefeller’s ordeal as he endured what must have been three minutes of hysterical abuse and booing which interrupted his fighting statement which the convention managers had managed to delay until the wee hours of the morning. Since the telecast was coming from the West Coast, that meant that many people in other sections of the country, because of the time differential, would be in their beds. I don’t think he has ever stood taller than that night when he refused to be silenced until he had had his say.

It was a terrible hour for the relatively few black delegates who were present. Distinguished in their communities, identified with the cause of Republicanism, an extremely unpopular cause among blacks, they had been served notice that the party they had fought for considered them just another bunch of “niggers”. They had no real standing in the convention, no clout. They were unimportant and ignored. One bigot from one of the Deep South states actually threw acid on a black delegate’s suit jacket and burned it. Another one, from the Alabama delegation where I was standing at the time of the Rockefeller speech, turned on me menacingly while I was shouting “C’mon Rocky” as the governor stood his ground. He started up in his seat as if to come after me. His wife grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose,” I shouted.

I was ready for him. I wanted him badly, but luckily for him he obeyed his wife…” From Jackie Robinson “I Never Had it Made” Chapter XV On Being Black Among the Republicans

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Belva Davis, then a young journalist wrote of her experiences at that convention:

While the Goldwater organization tried to keep its delegates in check on the floor, snarling Goldwater fans in the galleries around us were off the leash. The mood turned unmistakably menacing…

Suddenly Louis and I heard a voice yell, “Hey, look at those two up there!” The accuser pointed us out, and several spectators swarmed beneath us. “Hey niggers!” they yelled. “What the hell are you niggers doing in here?’”

I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck as I looked into faces turned scarlet and sweaty by heat and hostility. Louis, in suit and tie and perpetually dignified, turned to me and said with all the nonchalance he could muster, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.” Methodically we began wrapping up our equipment into suitcases.

As we began our descent down the ramps of the Cow Palace, a self-appointed posse dangled over the railings, taunting. “Niggers!” “Get out of here, boy!” “You too, nigger bitch!” “Go on, get out!” “I’m gonna kill your ass!”

I stared straight ahead, putting one foot in front of the other like a soldier who would not be deterred from a mission. The throng began tossing garbage at us: wadded up convention programs, mustard-soaked hot dogs, half-eaten Snickers bars. My goal was to appear deceptively serene, mastering the mask of dispassion I had perfected since childhood to steel myself against any insults the outside world hurled my way.

Then a glass soda bottle whizzed within inches of my skull. I heard it whack against the concrete and shatter. I didn’t look back, but I glanced sideways at Louis and felt my lower lip began to quiver. He was determined we would give our tormentors no satisfaction.

“If you start to cry,” he muttered, “I’ll break your leg.” ( Belva Davis “Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman’s Life in Journalism)

The sad thing is that in many states the new GOP has taken a page out of the past and has been either passing legislation or attempting to pass legislation that makes it harder for Blacks and other minorities to vote. Groups have shown up armed at heavily black polling sites in recent elections and efforts have been made to ensure that minorities cannot vote. They have also challenged the 1964 Voter’s Rights Act in Court and have a friend in Justice Antonine Scalia who called it a “racial entitlement” and violation of State sovereignty.

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The tactics are quite similar to those used in the Deep South prior to 1964 which made it virtually impossible for a Black man or woman to cast a vote, and if they tried even to register to vote did so at the peril of their lives or families. The opponents of integration, voter’s rights and equal rights used some of the same lines used today against those that support these rights. “Communists sympathizers, Socialists, Atheists, Anti-Christian, Anti-American, Anti-Constitution,” you name it the same labels are being applied to those that simply want to be at the table. The sad thing that many of the most vicious users of such untruths are my fellow Christians.

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These are hard things to look at and it is far easier to believe myth than it is to actually seek truth. A few years back I cannot every in a million years having written this article. However the threats to minorities be they racial, religious or even gender have become part an parcel of the new GOP, the GOP that I could not remain a part of when I returned from Iraq.

I guess that I am becoming a Civil Rights advocate, or then, maybe it’s that I’m actually becoming more of a Christian. Branch Rickey said “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.” Oh well, I amy not be able to do something about racism and other prejudice everywhere but I can do it here and wherever I work or preach.

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Oh well whatever, it really doesn’t matter so long as I can live with myself. Besides, I’ll get labeled anyway so what does it matter? I would rather be in the same camp as someone like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey than Antonine Scalia or those that seek to keep people down simply because they are different anyway.

Martin Niemoller once said:

First they came for the , communist
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friends, it is all too important that we not forget this, even as Donald Trump and many of his supporters who include most of the White Supremacists, Klansmen, and Neo-Nazis in this country offer the same threats against blacks, other minorities, and political moderates and liberals. Make no mistake, what is happening now is nothing more than a resurgence of the hatred and violence that was unleashed against those who fought for civil rights fifty-six years ago.

I have no doubt that Jackie Robinson is rejoicing in heaven with the selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Running mate, and I know how he would respond to a draft dodging, war criminal pardoning, racist President like Donald Trump.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under authoritarian government, Baseball, civil rights, ethics, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, Political Commentary, racism, us army, world war two in europe

Since When is Obeying Your Oath of Office is Treasonous?


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wonder what the hell is going on in our country when the President, leading GOP Senators, Congressmen, and their political and media allies think that it is just fine to cast into doubt the integrity, loyalty, and patriotism of a combat veteran who was wounded in combat by our enemies.

That is happening today to Army LTC Alexander Vindman, an infantry officer wounded in Iraq and specialist on the Ukraine testified before a House Commission examining the impeachment of President Trump. He has been accused of treason by leading GOP politicians and the propaganda hosts of the Fox News Channel. For what I might ask? Simply because their actions against a combat wounded veteran willing to tell the truth are deplorable, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

It seems to me that for the current GOP there is no end to the abyss of morality, duty, honor, and country. To imply, suggest, or accuse an active duty, and combat wounded officer of treason for testifying to the truth of something that he witnessed is despicable. But it didn’t begin with Trump, it began in the swift boating of Democratic nominee, Silver and Bronze Star awardee, and Purple Heart veteran John Kerry by people affiliated with the Bush Campaign in 2004. It only got worse in 2015-2017 with President Trump’s attacks on John McCain, and since then other veterans.

Spurred on by the President the propagandists of the Fox News Network and other Right Wing Conspiracy theory television and internet broadcasts continue to attack any critic of President Trump as a traitor, even if they are testifying under oath and are combat wounded veterans. Their behavior is despicable and devoid of true patriotism. They are no better than Goebbels and the other Nazi propagandists who slandered and sent to their retirements and deaths more honorable officers and officials than themselves.

Their Soviet and Japanese counterparts were no better, and it appears that neither is Trump’s GOP.  I spent 32 years in the Republican Party. I saw what Fox News and the Right Wing radio and internet radicals made that party. Even men like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan who launched the party on it’s rightward course would no longer be welcome in it.

I am disgusted by their behavior towards LTC Vindman and other officers and officials who dare speak the truth. I will speak the truth until the day I die. I have taken the oath of office as an enlisted man, as an ROTC cadet, as an active duty Army officer three times, as an Army National Guard Officer twice, as an Army Reserve Officer once, and as a Naval Officer three times.

I am disgusted by men and women who never served a day in uniform or found a way to avoid service. When those men and women who never served or made sure that they used any excuse whatsoever to avoid service accuse those who put themselves in harm’s way I have nothing but contempt for them, from the President, to Senators, Congressmen, and their media and clerical hacks and allies.

Honor means more to me than the bullshit members of my former party have been spouting since their attacks on Senator Kerry in 2004, and combat veteran, historian, Senator, and Presidential Candidate George McGovern in 1972. As a 12 year old in 1972 I bought the propaganda of Nixon’s GOP. In 2004, I followed others into the abyss supporting George W. Bush and brushing aside John Kerry, simply because after his service he told the truth. The fact is that Kerry was a badass in Vietnam, courageous to to point of being wounded four times.

Now many of the same people are attacking the honor and credibility of active duty officers and former officials of the State Department, FBI, and CIA for telling the truth as they observed it happening in real time. Sadly, they are being incited and led on by the President himself. I fully expect that given the word that the President’s most loyal followers will do what they have stated and begin to kill the President’s opponents.

Truth tellers live in dangerous times. If you haven’t figured that out you better get used to it, especially if you are a truth teller and honor your oath of office.  Sadly, the Trump 45 cult doesn’t believe in truth, and doesn’t tolerate critics. They only need a word from the President to begin their Night of the Long Knives.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, History, leadership, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Dystopian Darkness Of Trump’s World: The Lights are Going Out…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We are in Munich and after a nice day out with Judy decided to catch up on the news. So I go to bed tonight with a sense of foreboding for our country and the world and I cannot shake it. I feel darkness enveloping the United States as the President creates the dystopian world that he enunciated in his inaugural address. As I observe events on I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s description of Sir Edward Gray on the eve of the First World War, “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

Jews and other minorities are being targeted and killed by Right Wing domestic terrorists, the President himself says that the free ree press is the enemy of the people, bombs are being sent to political opponents that he has targeted in his Twitter storms, and even a U.S. Army soldier was arrested and charged with violent political threats aimed at Democratic Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke, and suggesting the truck bombing of a major news network headquarters, and discussing plans for IEDs that could be used against military or civilian targets. All this, coupled with the President’s admission that he had been trying to force the President of the Ukraine to provide information that could damage the campaign of Democratic Candidate Joe Biden by threatening to withhold military aid to that county which was already approved by Congress unless they complied. I to believe that the latter rises to the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors, but I digress. There was much else to shake my head about in the news after several days of just skimming the wave tops.

I cannot shake the deep sense of foreboding I have regarding the country and the world as President Trump’s continues to attack the character of all that oppose him or simply want to ferret out the truth plethora of allegations concerning what appears to be treasonous activities by his closest advisers and his apparent attempts quashed with the acquiescence of a large number of Republican members of Congress.  There is something very wrong going on and it almost feels that I can see the disaster unfolding before it happens.

Hannah Arendt wrote: “When evil is allowed to compete with good, evil has an emotional populist appeal that wins out unless good men and women stand as a vanguard against abuse.

She was right. We are seeing a populist appeal that is embracing evil around the world and it is happening before our very eyes.

I am not the only one to notice, leading conservative writers, foreign policy experts, and constitutional scholars have pointed out the same things that I have been saying for over two years. I do try to be positive and to believe that things will work out for the best, but the more I observe the more my confidence in our leaders and for that purpose many of our people to do the right thing is diminished.

That being said I do not give in to the feelings of foreboding or intend give up without a fight. I want my country to live up to its ideals and I am concerned about the real world, our alliances, our environment, and especially the real threat to freedom posed by the unrestrained words and actions of our 45th President. He has proven that he has no regard for the Constitution, our laws, or simple human decency. With every tweet and remark he demonstrates that he believes that he is above the law. He demonstrates every trait of a sociopath incapable of empathy and capable of the greatest evil.

With every new day I become more convinced than ever that Mr. Trump will find a way to seize power absolute power and that he will get away with it. This may come in a Reichstag Fire moment where he, during a “national emergency” uses the powers given to the executive through standing Executive Orders, or legislated in the Patriot Act. Conversely he might do it with the help of his current GOP majority in the Senate, especially if Democrats in the House cannot find the backbone to unite and stand together, even if it means that they doom themselves to irrelevance as a co-equal branch of government.

But even if that doesn’t happen, the poisonous and corrosive aspect of the President’s repeated lies, distortions, falsifications, and attacks on the Constitution, our laws, institutions, the free press, and individuals will doom us.

The President not only uses his spokespeople and twitter account to stoke fear and hatred, but he uses the pundits of Fox News to do so. As such Fox has become nothing more than Trump’s personal propaganda ministry indoctrinating millions of gullible and desperate people to do his bidding. Arendt wrote about such behavior and its effect on people:

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

I believe in a particular universal ideal enunciated in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that All men are created equal. Likewise I believe the words of the Constitution matter and that it is all of our obligation to labor to build “a more perfect union.” As such that I must continually stand for what is right, what is true, and what is enduring for that is the oath that I swore and have re-affirmed for over 37 years of military service.

I am more worried than ever about our democracy and I agree with Timothy Snyder who wrote:

“Democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experience that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”  

We Americans do not like to think that what has happened to so many other countries can happen here; and in fact I never used to believe that it could. I believed that our system of checks and balances and the nature of our institutions could weather any threat. Today I question if they will hold. I agree with Russian exile and Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov who wrote:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

Because of that I believe that we must stand for principle and work for a new birth of freedom even as it seems that freedom itself is in danger due to the actions of the American President. We must stand or we will lose everything that generations of Americans as well as others have fought so hard to preserve, but it is difficult. As Max Boot wrote back in March of last year:

“Trump is sucking a substantial portion of America into his Orwellian universe. The rest of us have to struggle simply to remember that war isn’t peace, freedom isn’t slavery, ignorance isn’t strength.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Morning After 9-11-2001: 18 Years Later, a Retrospective Meditation

Friends Of Padre Steve’s World,

I am thinking about the morning after the attacks of 9-11-2001 and how much my perspective has changed since those attacks. On Wednesday 9-12-2001 I was sleeping in my office on a cot and sleeping bag at Camp LeJeune, NC. In fact every Marine and Sailor assigned at Camp LeJeune was doing the same thing unless they were on leave out of the area and couldn’t get back.

The base was closed to visitors, internal road blocks on the base were set up, roving patrols and outposts covered any conceivable entrance to the base, by land or water. Combat air patrols out of MCAS Cherry Point flew overhead while Navy Guided Missile Cruisers and Destroyers patrolled off the coast. The base was locked down for four days. We had little information of what was happening, except what we could get on television. Our own intelligence didn’t have much more, but we all knew that we were going to war.

Within the month we knew that it would be in Afghanistan. Army Special Forces, Rangers, Units of the 82nd Airborne as well as Navy SEALS, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and CIA operators working with the Afghan warlords of the Northern Alliance quickly drove the Taliban from power and Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operatives into hiding at Tora Bora.

But the roots of this tragedy were decades in the making. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Afghanistan was one of the most progressive nations in the Islamic World. It was a haven and destination for the hippies in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in a Cold War maneuver, the Soviets helped the Afghan Communist Party gain power in a coup against the monarchy.  The reaction of the Taliban and other religious conservatives ignited a civil war in which the Soviets sent in hundreds of thousands of combat troops to prop up the Communist government, while the United States supported the Taliban, whose leaders were supported and personally met with President Ronald Reagan, and equated to our Founding Father’s.

But the 9-11 attacks had nothing to do with Afghanistan, other than the fact that the Taliban had granted Bin Laden and Al Qaeda sanctuary there under Islamic tradition. Bin Laden and his minions attacked the United States because we had stationed troops and aircraft in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam for a decade after deploying them in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Religious Saudis, especially the militant fundamentalists like Bin Laden didn’t see our personnel as defenders of Saudi Arabia, but infidels who were crusaders and invaders that had no business there. Sometimes in terms of religion, history means more than contemporary politics or international relations.

Likewise, the gross  error of the Bush Administration to lump traditional enemies, the Iraqis and Iranians who’s disputes go back a millennium as partners in an Axis Of Evil sounded good on American television but were diametrically opposed to the Sunni- Shia Islamic divide, in fact Iraq had nothing to do with the attack and the Iranians were willing to work with us against Al Qaeda, which they considered a mortal Sunni enemy. But then again, to most Americans there is little difference between an Iraqi, Saudi, Iranian, Yemeni, Jordanian, Syrian, or Lebanese, even if they are not of the Islamic faith. The fact is that most Americans regardless of the political ideology are completely ignorant about history and religious history matters not. It is what it is and in the words Kurt Vonnegut “So it goes.” 

Our wars or retribution in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syrian, Somalia, and other countries have cost more than double the amount of lives lost on 9-11-2001. That does not includes the tens of thousands wounded Americans. This does not count the thousands dead and wounded of NATO and coalition partners, including the Afghans and Iraqis who supported us, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the wars that we have pursued for the past 18 years.

I was astounded that President Trump had initially agreed to meeting with the Taliban in order, for all practical reasons, surrender to them last weekend, the weekend before the anniversary of the attacks of 9-11-2001. The deal would have ensured a withdrawal of American troops, no sanctions on Al Qaeda, and no protections for the Afghan people who supported us over the last 18 years. I am tired of this war, but to abandon people who supported us just to gain peace wreaks of how we abandoned the South Vietnamese.

Back then we were not afraid to take in the South Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, but under Trump we would leave the people we fought for and who fought with us to death. The Trump administration does not care about them because they are dark skinned and Muslim. It would be a stab in the heart of our national ideals, and for that I am glad that those talk fell through, not that I support the loss of another life, of any nationality or religion in this war. I have lost too many friends, beginning with Army LTC Karen Wagner who died at the Pentagon on 9-11, to others who died in combat in Iraq, and Afghanistan to accept such an action that is only designed to get the President the Nobel Peace Prize. I couldn’t give a damn about the President’s narcissism and need for approval, and his need to get a Nobel Peace Prize because Barack Obama already has one.

As for me, I did a lot of thinking about what happened 18 years ago, the people, the victims, and those that continue to suffer because of those attacks and the subsequent wars which have followed.

On Wednesday September 12th I woke up to a new world, and over the process of years my life was changed. We had a 9-11 Memorial on my base today. It was touching because it was about the events and the people. My new young chaplain did well in his part, the baton has been passed to a new generation. I just hope for their sake that war will not be the norm in the future. I hope that our leaders and other world leaders will seek peace rather than war. Otherwise we are doomed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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D-Day at 75 Years: “We Have to do Our Best to Uphold in Our own Lives the Values that They we’re Prepared to Die For”

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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 strived to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 38 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice.

Seventy-five 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 from 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 Afghanistan 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, including pardoning convicted war criminals, 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.” 

Symbols of Reconciliation at the German Cemetery in Normandy

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. The youngest of the living are now in their early to mid 90s, some are over 100. 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.

Their generation built the pillars of peace and economic security that President Trump often mocks, criticizes, or condemns. D-Day was just part of their story. The burden is now on we the living to carry the torch of freedom that they once held. My military career of 38 years will come to an end early next year, but my nephew Darren will be completing Marine Corps Basic Training in a few weeks. He wants to become an infantryman and maybe serve with Marine Security Forces or Special Operations. I am proud of him.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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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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Filed under History, iraq, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, us army, War on Terrorism, world war two in europe

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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