Tag Archives: PTSD

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santayana wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow, pray for me a sinner,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, healthcare, History, iraq, leadership, marriage and relationships, mental health, middle east, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, PTSD, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq, US Navy, Veterans and friends, world war one

A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

palmer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, film, History, Military, ministry, movies, Pastoral Care, Political Commentary, PTSD, Religion, spirituality, Tour in Iraq, US Navy, world war one

Finishing Where I Began: Navy, Marines, and with the Joint Force 1999-2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m coming to an end of my photo history of my military and this one will reflect fun, seriousness, and some sadness. After my 17 1/2 years in the Army, Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard of three states I was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps on 9 February 1999. In my 21 plus years in the Navy I have served with the Marines for seven years, including Iraq where I was part of the Iraq Assistance Group of Multinational Force Iraq, attached to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force Forward working with the Marine, Army, and other Joint advisory teams across Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008. I served at sea aboard the USS Hue City supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Southern Watch in 2002 where I was an advisor to a boarding team inspecting and ensuring the health and safety of detained Iraqi oil smugglers, making 75 boardings of such ships where to say the least conditions were not great, crews often resentful not just of us but their ship’s Masters and employers and having to go aboard one ship several times that had active tuberculosis cases among about half of its crew. Once we came minutes from engaging Iranian Revolutionary Guards Naval Corps gunboats which were firing at our Force flagship. They hurried back into Iranian territorial waters before we could launch. That would have made headlines. We also were in between the Indian and Pakistani Fleets as they maneuvered as their nations stood on the brink of nuclear war. Good living and a lot of excitement. The ship and my boarding team were even featured in the first episode of Jerry Bruckheimer’s series Profiles from the Front Lines, featuring stores from the battles fields of Operation Enduring Freedom, and would have been on more had we not been cancelled by the invasion of Iraq. But if there are any television or film directors out there, take a look at this video and know that in a few short weeks I am available. I can can play good guys and bad guys, Military characters, clergymen, Nazi or Stasi bad guys, and I do speak pretty good German without an American accent. Our part starts at the 32 minute mark.

Anyway I served with Second Marine Division in four different battalions making a deployment to Okinawa, Japan, and Korea from early December 2000-July of 2001, Marine Security Force Battalion where my commanders had me always on the move to visit and even make emergency visits to Security Force Marines all over the World.

Returning from Iraq with a severe case of PTSD, mild TBI, and a host of other neurological, psychological, physical, and spiritual maladies I served as a Wounded Healer to people facing life and death in the ICU of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, and later as Head of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital. That is hard to do when you are struggling with faith, belief, and thinking about suicide almost every night. Faith did return but not in a traditional way, but I am better for it because I have much more empathy and being able to feel the emotions of others in ways I had never been able to do before. After Iraq it was much more difficult to compartmentalize my very logical and at times cold manner of analyzing issues.

Faith came back on an overnight on-call duty at Portsmouth around the middle of December. I was called to the ER because a man was dying. He had been a Navy office in the Second World War, became a Navy Doctor after the war doing his internship at Portsmouth. After his retirement from the Navy he served as a physician in Portsmouth, which was his home town providing care for the poor of the city, pre-natal care and delivering the babies of women without medical insurance or benefits, and volunteering his services to the prisoners of the county jail. He was a devout Episcopalian Christian, and when I arrived his wife asked if I was Episcopalian. At the time I belonged to an Anglo-Catholic denomination and told her that. She asked if I could perform the last rights and I said I could. I put on my hospital stole, broke out my Book of Common Prayer and Oil Stock. When I was making his head with the sign of the Cross while giving the final prayer of commendation he breathed his last and it was if something had changed. I felt the presence of God again.

I have not been the same since. Yes I still struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression, severe nightmare and night terror disorders that have me attacking phantom enemies in my sleep, on more that one occasion requiring Emergency room visits for a broken nose, concussions, and a sprained jaw and neck. Judy has an inmate sense of when what she calls “the hand of death” is coming toward her and gently guides it down.

My tour there was made worse by my attempts to heal myself by never leaving the ICUs, working 60-100 hours a week. There were also a number of suicides and unexpected deaths, some of people I knew well on staff that further traumatized me, even as I tried to care for their survivors and friends on staff. I haven’t forgotten a one of them, they are burned into my brain. Then toward the end of the tour my dad died of Alzheimer’s, the morning after I had found I had been selected for promotion to commander. When I returned from his funeral I was given no-choice orders to go on a three year unaccompanied tour to Camp LeJeune to head the Pastoral Care Department, despite his knowledge that I was still very fragile, and need continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care which all had to be restarted when I transferred with new providers, and I never found a spiritual community there where I fit.

A month later my former church denomination kicked be out because I had allegedly become too liberal for suggesting through a lot of theological study and reflection that women should be ordained as Deacons, Priests, and even consecrated as Bishops. I also announced that if we truly believed that the blood of Jesus forgave all sins why didn’t we welcome LGBTQ people into our church the way they were, especially when many of our Bishops engaged in various forms of the Seven Deadly Sins, and they remained bishops, and finally that I had seen Iraqi Muslims, Shia, and Sunni who had a higher reverence for Jesus and the Virgin Mary than many if not most American Christians, despite Mohammed’s adoption of the beliefs of the excommunicated Arian Christian Clergy and Monks he met in the Arabian Desert. They believed that Jesus was a lot like God, but not God, but just below him. That’s what Mohammed adopted as his, and now Islam’s view of Christ.

Well, those were my three strikes and I was out. Thankfully the military bishop of the main Episcopal Church found me a home with a small but reputable Old Catholic Denomination, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. They provided me a home where my beliefs about the Grace of God and efficacy of the Sacraments were welcomed and affirmed. This allowed me to continue to serve in the Navy as a Priest. Even when I retire in a few weeks I will remain with them whether I am in an active ministry or not, because I will always remain a Priest for people who have lost their faith, struggle with faith, have been rejected, traumatized or abused by the Church or its ministers, those afflicted with PTSD and other mental illness, and those who may never darken the door of a church.

Since I returned from LeJeuene I had the blessing of one of the most fulfilling assignments of my entire career, as the Ethics instructor, Chaplain, and leader of the Gettysburg Staff Ride. That opened the door that I always wanted, to be a historian, writer, teacher, and professor. I expect I will be focused more on that than anything when I retire.

I left the Staff College in April 2017 for a hellish assignment as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base Little-Creek Fort Story, which had become known as a toxic assignment and career killer for many who occupied the position. In June of 2018 I substituted for my Protestant pastor and a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander tried to have me tried by Court-Martial. Only one senior Navy Chaplain had my back and despite being much more conservative than me argued for my right to preach according to my Church’s tradition. Despite this I had to undergo an investigation where over half of the congregation present that day were interviewed. No one corroborated my accuser’s account because every part was a lie. Thankfully I had the support of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who provided me legal counsel to defend me. The charges were dropped, but the damage was done.

No one from the Chief of Chaplains Office came to my defense or offered spiritual care or support, just as they had not when I went public with my struggles with PTSD in 2011 and 2014 when asked by my commands to do so.  My story made the Front Page of the Jacksonville Daily News in March 2011. Soon after my story was featured as a video by the Department of Defense Real Warriors program.

Later I was a panelist at a forum presented by the Military Officers Association of America and other advocacy groups about caring for the wounding, including those with PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury.




In April 2014 while at the Staff College the Washington Times covered my story on their front page, which no one in the Chief of Chaplains Office could have missed. Pulitzer Prize winning military columnist David Wood in his 2016 book What Have We Done? The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, used my story in the majority of a chapter. I was told later by an EOD Master Chief Petty Officer that while we could get help for PTSD and other similar injuries we would never get the premier assignments or be promoted. He was right, and while most of the time the Chaplain Corps provides great care for our Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and their families, they kill their own wounded.

My treatment led me to put in voluntary retirement papers for 1 September 2019, but those had to be cancelled because I was undergoing treatment for knee injuries, a failed meniscus surgery and injuries to my right hip and ankles that made it impossible to walk, much less run the 3-8 miles or more I ran 3 or more times a week until then. So my retirement date was moved to what was thought to be my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called for my orders, I was told that there was a mistake and my retirement date was now 1 August 2020. That was fine with me but since my replacement had arrived, the Navy had to find something to do with me so they placed me at Naval Shipyard Norfolk, located in Portsmouth Virginia. There I found a welcoming environment, had the support of my commander, and my faith in God was again renewed as was my faith in the good of people. When the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring the Navy put out a call for soon to retire officers to remain on active duty in a retired retained status until 31 December. I didn’t want to leave the people I had fallen in love with in the lurch so I volunteered and well here I am now. I think I have set more retirement dates than Brett Farve, but this one should be it.

In retrospect I have loved serving in most of the places I have throughout my military career. As a Chaplain with only one exception I had great relationships with my commanders and the Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, the men and women of Allied nations, and members of the State Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other Federal agencies whose personnel I supported. As a Chaplain my problems, especially after coming out with PTSD came from other Chaplains, especially senior Chaplains. To them I was broken and pretty much a spent round. As my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences warned me before I left the active duty Army for seminary, “Steve, if you think the Army Medical Department is political, vicious, and back-stabbing, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.” Sadly, he was right, in both the Army and Navy.

Several of my former commanders in the Navy and Marine Corps have been there for me every step of the way as I struggled, and those I served returned kindness and support to me when I was hurting. A few other Chaplains who had been crushed by the system were also there for me. However, with the exception on one of my closest  Chaplain friends of my previous denomination, who pledge to always be there for me and I them, a Band of Brothers we used to call ourselves, ghosted me, I would call them and they would not call me. That sense of betrayal still stings. Yes, I have forgiven, but the lingering pain of being cast off by people I knew and was close to for a decade or more is still there. These same is true for some of my Chaplain contemporaries who also turned their back on me. But the good thing is, that among the younger chaplains I supervised all have at least made Lieutenant Commander and one Commander. One who I supervised in the Army when I was a Major and he was a First Lieutenant is now a Catholic Priest and a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. My Chaplain Assistant at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania is now a Colonel in  the Army Chaplain Corps. My Religious Program Specialist at 1st Battalion 8th Marines become a Chaplain and because he had so much enlisted time was able to retire as a Lieutenant at 20 years. He is now in civilian ministry. I have always thought that was more important to help others succeed by mentoring, giving sage advice to keep them from blowing up their careers, and to care for them in hard times, as I would anyone who came to me. Their success brings me great joy, as does the success of anyone who has ever come to me for assistance.

Recently I had a friend on Facebook remark that I hurt and suffered because I cared so much. I told them that being a narcissistic sociopath would be much easier, and my Skipper from the HUE CITY, Captain Rick Hoffman remarked, “no we have too many of those already.” I appreciated that. He and another of my commanding officers Medical Corps Admiral David Lane will be giving prerecorded remarks at my retirement. For those who don’t know, Admiral Lane quite literally helped to keep me from committing suicide in 2015 after being maltreated by a Psychiatrist at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, and the person responsible to help people resolve issues like mine refused to help. Admiral Lane contacted Rear Admiral Terry Moulton the commander of the Medical Center who called me and talked with me for over an hour, and then got me the help that I needed, listening to my complaints about how I was treated when I told him that “If I was treated so badly as a senior officer, imagine what was happening to junior Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers going there for care.” Admiral Mouton took action, and some things did change for the better. But since the the Defense Health Agency has taken over all military medical facilities, cut over 17,000 billets from the active duty medical force, reduced civilian and contract providers, forcing the military to push patients to civilian providers in the Tricare network, and that that includes people with PTSD and other psychological issues directly related to military service, including sexual assault. God help us now if we get in a real high intensity war, not the counter-insurgency campaigns we fought since 9-11-2001.

All of that considered I have so many good memories from my service and from serving with great people that I cannot be bitter. I will speak the truth to power, not as an embittered person, but a person who believes that all of our military personnel, veterans, and their families deserve to be treated as people, not numbers, not economic units, but real human beings, the kind that God loves and cares about.

As far as my service, I regret nothing, except for the men and women I couldn’t help, those who died in combat, or of tragic diseases at far too young ages, and those who as a result of their combat trauma and treatment in the military committed suicide. Those include friends and men and women I served  with, including genuine war heroes. Their faces and voices don’t recede from my memory. Sometime I will have to write about them too, they should not be forgotten and maybe I can use my voice to make sure they are not forgotten.

But all that considered here is my Navy story in pictures.

Commissioning and Chaplain School


Second Marine Division 



Deployment with 3D Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and South Korea


USS HUE CITY, deployment and Battle of Hue City Memorial






Marine Security Force Battalion, USA, Bahrain, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, France and Scotland

 





Deployment to Iraq



 


Joint Forces Staff College 






  • JEB Little Creek Fort Story and Norfolk Naval Shipyard 

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Filed under History, iraq, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, ministry, Navy Ships, Photo Montages, shipmates and veterans, suicide, Tour in Iraq, US Marine Corps, US Navy

Chose Reconciliation over Rage: the Opportunity of 2020

President Trump Seeing the Celebrations as he Returns to the White House

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today the 2020 election was called based on irrefutable evidence of voters and the statistics compiled by State Attorneys General and Election Commissioners, of both parties, and rulings of state Supreme Courts either completely composed of or highly majority Republican majorities. Yes the certified results will not be complete until each state certifies them, but the fact is that this election was more highly scrutinized and transparent than any in modern history.

After the Supreme Court’s intervention to stop a recount authorized by the Florida Supreme Court in 2000, and the controversy of Russian (Read Soviet) interference and manipulation in the 2016 election, no state (Red or Blue) or reputable media organization (Conservative or Liberal) wanted to be put in the crosshairs of any electoral controversy because there was no good outcome of being partisan. Truth, law, and how they would be remembered appeared to matter more than ideology or power. Thus Fox News much to the chagrin of Trump and many of his followers (Even their prime time pundits: Hannity, Ingraham, and Carlson) and their viewers called Arizona long before anyone else. Regardless of ideology, truth and facts seemed to matter to the media more than ever this year.

I have many friends who voted for President Trump, but none of them are on the streets and only one has challenged me on social media. They are Republicans who like I used to, take the word of allegedly conservative or Christian preachers, politicians or pundits at face value. But then I don’t tend to attract extremist of any kind as friends, and I understand what years of listening to “conservative Christian or Republican” ideologues does to the soul of someone, because that was me for at least a decade between 1997-2008. But change and redemption are possible. For me it took seeing the effects of an unjust and illegal war against Iraq, and coming home to listen to the abject racism of Rush Limbaugh towards Barack Obama before I collapsed in tears behind the wheel of my car driving between my office and our unit’s headquarters.

I say this because for Trump followers who are not racist anti-semites, but actually retain a sense of decency and hold to the values of their faith or philosophy yet for whatever reason still believed that Democrats were like Communists, or even for than matter Socialists (the most hated enemy of Communists since 1917): I understand. I used to be you. Party loyalty and the teachings of churches and Christian leaders convinced me that I had to follow that path regardless of the cost, until I returned from Iraq in 2008.

I had my doubts long before that, but from 1997 until 2008 with the exception of when I was deployed I tried to listen to Limbaugh, and later Hannity every time they were on the air. I knew better, but they played on my emotions and I fell for them, until I came home from Iraq. When I heard them defending the war and calling people who did not agree with them “unpatriotic” after what I had seen provoked a surge of anger and the realization that all of us who served there had been betrayed, by the very people who helped convince us to go to war, and demonized its opponents, politicians, preachers and pundits alike.

I think that the hardest thing for decent people who follow ideologues to experience is to realize that they were betrayed trust by people, organizations and Parties they trusted the most. I think that is happening with some now, but for the real extremists only motivated by hate of people different than them and a sense of grievance too deep to fathom that defeat will make them more extreme.

As a historian who knows far too much about America and Germany I know how this plays out. Defeated people, especially true believers look for scapegoats and fall back on myths to defend their leader’s failures and mistakes. It happened after our Civil War, after World War One, and even after Vietnam. For Americans the ghosts of the Civil War, Vietnam, and maybe even our misguided adventures in the Middle East over the past three decades loom large. For some they are something to rage against, for others something to defend and find scapegoats.

The same is true of elections. President Trump masterfully used the politics of grievance to bring people he had no respect for to follow him. Since his policies only benefitted the richest of the rich he had to use diversionary tactics to get people how did not benefit from them to follow him. These policies where historically proven to be successful; racism, religious prejudice and hatred and anti-immigrant sentiment. President Trump played on these grievances never expecting to be President. For him it was another opportunity to promote himself, and since proving himself to be an unqualified and incompetent leader in real life crises he had to hold on using the same primal passions that got him elected.

But he lost. I will never forget the picture I saw of him returning to the White House with his mouth agape after golfing at Trump National today. He was stunned, and the real shock of his defeat was in evidence before his very eyes. I imagine that is the look on so many people who bet their lives, reputations and honor to defend. For those dealing with that reality the psychological trauma has to be considered. I am not talking the people who knew better and tried to use Trump to keep power, but those who honestly thought, despite all the evidence that he actually gave a damn about them. They might have been misguided but I do understand how that can have fallen for the con of Don. It is one of the oldest psychological, religious and political games ever played, especially in the democratic era unleashed by our own revolution in 1776.

Do I think that President Trump and those who collaborated with him to gain power and destroy the lives and futures of so many people in the United States and around the world need to be held accountable? Damn right. Does that include people with no power who were manipulated into following and believing all he said because he played to their grievances, not at all. Without talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh I would have probably left the GOP in 1998 or at least 2000. But 9-11-2001 delayed that until the truth hit me between the eyes when I went to Iraq in 2007 and returned home in 2008.

When people who know better follow ideologues and other leaders into the abyss and subsequently realize that they were used and betrayed by those they trusted, there are results. One of the most common is Moral Injury. I think that Moral Injury is even more difficult to deal with than PTSD because the victim goes into the situation believing that those they followed cared for them. The realization that they were used often comes as a hammer blow that shatters all faith and trust and either leads them in an opposite direction or to recommit to the cause that harmed them and become more strident opponents of those who abandoned them. I have seen it and I know to many people to which this has happened to ignore it and seek vengeance on all who voted for President Trump.

However, for Trump, his low class crime family who have lived high on taxpayer money, and his enablers in the GOP hierarchy, in the Senate, House of Representatives, the Courts, and in state and local government I have little such concern. Those who know more are accountable for more, and these leaders helped destroy Constitutional liberties, protections, guardrails, and norms are far more guilty than anyone who simply voted for Trump because they had been led to believe over the course of decades that Democrats were their mortal enemies.

But that is all for now. I need to sleep as today the pain in my jaw returned and after I took my medicines I was too wiped out to notice much other that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election.  I am happy that they won and I hope that we as Americans are able to be reconciled to each other even as Trump and his enablers are held accountable by law for what they have done. I could go into detail about the latter but for now I have to get some sleep.

Until next time.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 2016

 

 

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, iraq, nazi germany, Political Commentary, PTSD, Religion

A Warning Then, Reality Now: Trump’s Radical and Violent Supporters in 2016 and 2020

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wrote this on October 12th 2016. I saw what was coming and it is now here. Back then even many Democrats did not believe that fellow Americans would continue to behave this way, even if Trump somehow won the election. Many thought is was a passing moment, an anomaly that would not be repeated.

I wish I was wrong but it is being repeated day after day during the 2020 campaign. Heavily armed White Supremacists attempt to intimidate voters at polls. Today a caravan of Trump supporters tried to drive a Biden-Harris campaign bus off the road between San Antonio and Austin, threatening the lives of the people on the bus with no law enforcement intervention, while police in North Carolina attacked a column of mostly Black men and women holding a peaceful protest while marching from a church to the polls to cast their ballots, arresting more than a dozen of them after attacking them with peeper spray and truncheons. There are so many of these incidents that they are almost overwhelming, but to see the President use his rallies and twitter to praise them is unheard of in American politics.

I knew better because I had been a Republican for 32 years. I campaigned for Gerald Ford before I could vote. Forty years ago I cast my first vote in a Presidential Election for Ronald Reagan. I finally left the GOP when I heard Republican politicians and the Right Wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh who I had listened to and even defended for years repeating Birther conspiracy theories, and using racist terminology and dog whistles constantly during the 2008 campaign. I had supported John McCain up until that point, but I realized that he and men like him were no longer in control of the Republican base which had been radicalized by men like Limbaugh for decades. The base was now made up by people who supported in increasing numbers openly racist politicians, like the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Master, David Duke, and radical Evangelical Christian extremists who preached a gospel of hate, including someone I knew well from church, anti-abortion leader Randall Terry. Terry once urged his followers:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

On the day I cracked I was driving between my military unit’s facilities on two different bases while listening to Limbaugh. I had to pull to the side of the road and cry. This was about three months after returning from a combat tour in Iraq and dealing with PTSD that had not yet been diagnosed. I cried because I realized how mistaken I had been about the GOP for all of those years. I felt deceived and lied to, and I began to see the race hatred in the words and on the faces of Republicans I had known for years. I saw what was underneath the veneer of respectability shown by Republican leaders and knew that if I did not leave at that moment that I would be responsible for what came after as the scales had been lifted from my eyes.

Tonight with the fate of our republic on the line, I repeat my original warning and unequivocally state that their violent revolution is happening before our eyes. Trump is no longer simply a candidate, but the President. He has destroyed the guardrails that prevented tyrants from seizing power, the kind of man envisioned by those who wrote the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. He is a tyrant and a would be dictator whose supporters are devoted to that end. He is using all the powers of government and the courts to ensure that he remains in power. Alexander Hamilton warned us of a leader like Trump in the Federalist Papers:

“the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty … that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the mask of zeal for rights of the people than under the appearance of zeal for firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying court to the people, commencing as demagogues and ending up tyrants.”

So anyway, most of last night and today I have been battling a severe toothache. I went to the Naval Medical Center only to be told that the on call dentists no longer came in for “routine” issues. I was given pain meds and antibiotics and told to go to dental sick call on Monday morning.

What follows is that post from October 12th 2016. The original post is titled:“Trump and His Supporters Real Threats of Revolution and Violence.”  It is posted in its original form and has not been edited.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents. It pulls and whirls the individual away from his own self, makes him oblivious of his weal and future, frees him of jealousies and self-seeking. He becomes an anonymous particle quivering with a craving to fuse and coalesce with his like into one flaming mass.” 

I have been seeing questions asked about why so many of Donald Trump’s supporters are doubling down on their support of him as he melts down and declares war on his own the Republican Party. I think that too many people simply ascribe this to frustration with the status quo but I think that there is more to it than that. Quite frankly Trump has appealed to the basest instincts of many of his supporters: he appeals to their fear, their racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Gay feelings, their feelings of powerlessness against real and imagined elites, and the fantasy world of conspiracy theories that have been promoted by right wing talkers, preachers, and media outlets for over two decades. He promises to make them important again, to make their twisted version of the Christian faith the law of the land, to bring retribution to their “enemies” to deport those not like them, and to ban others from coming into the country. He appeals to their desire for an authoritarian leader who will solve their problems without the niceties of acting in accordance with the Constitution or law.

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

His message is quite simply, to use these factors to stoke anger, hatred and rage against real and imagined devils. Hoffer noted: “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” For many Trump supporters that “devil” is Hillary Clinton, Trump actually called her that during debate on Sunday night and claimed that she had a “very dark heart.” For some of his other followers it is Barak Obama, and to a growing number of his followers, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders who have denounced Trump or who have failed to endorse him. Hoffer wrote:

“It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.”

In place of any detailed policy, instead of a message of hope to Trump threatens and cajoles and his supporters, of whom he said during the Iowa Caucus campaign “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich discussed one of Hitler’s first speeches after coming to power.

“As so often in his career, Hitler, beginning slowly and quietly so as to secure the rapt attention of his enormous audience, went over the history of the Nazi Party and the alleged crimes of the Weimar Republic since 1919—the inflation, the impoverishment of the peasantry, the rise of unemployment, the ruin of the nation. What would his government do to change this parlous situation? His answer avoided any specific commitments at all. He said grandly that he was not going to make any ‘cheap promises’. Instead, he declared that his programme was to rebuild the German nation without foreign aid, ‘according to eternal laws valid for all time’, on the basis of the people and the soil, not according to ideas of class. Once more, he held up the intoxicating vision of a Germany united in a new society that would overcome the divisions of class and creed that had racked it over the past fourteen years. The workers, he declared, would be freed from the alien ideology of Marxism and led back to the national community of the entire German race. This was a ‘programme of national resurrection in all areas of life.’” 

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One thing you can say about Trump is that he understands his hard core supporters. Time and time again he has said and done things that would have left a normal candidate in a normal campaign sitting out the election at home, but instead his hardcore supporters, the people who now proudly call themselves “the Deplorables” respond to his threats to jail Hillary Clinton, to abandon and overthrow the GOP leadership, and his other invectives with an eagerness not seen in an electorate since Adolf Hitler’s mesmerized supporters screamed “Sieg Heil!” at Nazi Party rallies. The cult like devotion of his base is unlike anything ever seen in American politics. After two of his supporters beat a homeless man with a metal pole and urinated on him following a speech in which Trump called Mexicans “Rapists and drug dealers” Trump responded: “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”  

milogun

When his supporters roughed up opponents at Trump rallies he said: “Knock the crap out of them, would you?” and “In the good ol’ days, they’d have knocked him out of his seat so fast,” and offered to pay their legal fees. He encourages supporters to shout down the media at his events, calls out people who might be different than his supporters as he did when he asked non-Christians to identify themselves at a rally and asked his supporters if they should be allowed to stay in the room. This week he suggested that his followers go to heavily minority and Democratic precincts to “monitor” the vote. In open carry states that could well lead to his armed supporters loitering near polling places intimidating voters just as Hitler’s Brownshirts policed polling places in the elections leading to Hitler’s accession to power and the few votes held until he abolished opposition parties. Below is an image of armed S.A. Brownshirts outside a polling station on March 5th 1933, the final election for the Reichstag.

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This monster is something that will not go away even if Trump loses. Some of his supporters call for violent revolution if Clinton wins, but they wouldn’t be the first. Trump himself used twitter to call for revolution when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney on November 7th 2012. These calls for revolution and the blessing of extrajudicial violence against political enemies and minority groups have to be taken for real, especially with the rise of heavily armed so-called militia groups, as well as neo-Nazi, KKK, and other White Nationalist groups which live in a cloud-cuckoo land of conspiracy laden paranoia, and dualism.

This my friends is not normal or rational behavior for any Presidential candidate or campaign. I don’t think that I’m overly dramatic at this point. We have not seen the worst of this campaign.

Have a good night. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, crime, faith, History, holocaust, Immigration and immigrants, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary, racism, terrorism, White nationalism

A Quick Note in the Midst of Life, Nightmares, Night Terrors, and Editing my Book

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a strange but good day. I was off from work because our military personnel Were given the gift of time off because over the past year we have had no sailors charged or convicted of Driving While Intoxicated or Driving Under the Influence. That being said I went to bed late last night because I was doing my editing. When I went to bed and got to sleep I had a number of vivid and violent nightmares related to war, PTSD and betrayal. I got up so tired that after a couple of errands and appointments with Judy I took a nap, and the violent nightmares continued. Between last night and the time I got up from my afternoon nap I ended up throwing myself out of bed onto the floor four times to not just to defend myself from attackers but be an agent of vengeance against them. Thankfully my rearrangement of furniture prevented serious injury.

The nightmares were vivid. They included people I did and didn’t know, one strangely who never figured in any violence against me, but a retired Chaplain who I once considered a friend who used my knowledge to help his advancement in the Chaplain Corps. However, he and his wife had used my wife to care for their kids for more than a decade and a half when they were too busy, only to toss her away, and me when we were no longer profitable to them and their kids no longer needed the rides to school provided by Judy without charge regardless of the time, effort and gas money expended, or career advice given by me that helped him get promoted.

But he was in the nightmares, in them didn’t seem to do anything than pay me scant attention and walk away in doctors office waiting room just before people tried to kill me.

Somehow his presence in those nightmares alerted me to danger, and thus armed I was able to defend in my nightmare myself using guns and arrows against assailants who I injured but did kille because they proved the truth to me. I let them live because they were not the real threat, and I had maimed them for life. In fact we gained each other’s respect and friendship despite our differences, but my former friend was another matter. He didn’t appear again in those nightmares but he might again. Maybe he is simply a metaphor in my dreams.

I haven’t had anything to do with him years, and I cannot remember the last time I saw him. Even though he lives a few miles from me we don’t run in the same circles, I think that is because he wants to retain the respectability of his large mainline Protestant denomination, and to keep his complicit silence on so much of what he knows to be true of the secret dark heart of the Chaplain Corps. Likewise, people like me are becoming every more in  military Chaplains, remaining  true to our Ordination vows, and ours Oath to the Constitution to provide for all the rights to their religious beliefs without prejudice. Even so I speak the truth, at least as I have seen and experienced it and am not afraid to do so.

I am fascinated by the violent nightmares and in my former friends role in them, for those who betray us are not usually open opponents, but those that we once opened up to because we thought we were on the same side. But when such a person ghosts you, and then shows up prominently in your nightmares you have to think of their motivations. At this time I think it is because he is a spineless weasel under the thumb of his shrew of a wife, but I could be wrong, and since only Judy would know the details their identity remains safely concealed, as it should.

So anyway, until tonight’s sleep, be it pleasant or terrifying I wish you the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, ministry, PTSD

The Troubled Hero of Little Round Top: Gouverneur Warren, PTSD and Moral Injury

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                             Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am posting another section of one my draft Gettysburg books that I am waiting in order to finish since I am trying finish “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” by the end of the week. I’m also doing a lot at work even though I still need to accomplish my pre-retirement administrative tasks in the next week so I can officially retire on August 1st even though I will be remaining on active duty in a “retired retained” status until the end of the year due to the COVID19 emergency. It is a really strange time.

My PTSD has been acting up with all sorts of weird and frightening dreams, but the last two nights our new little Papillon puppy, three pound Maddy Lyn, who is really “Mommy’s girl,”  decided to sleep cradled against my body with my arm cradled around her, and she didn’t leave. I haven’t slept that well in months.

I understand strange transitions in stressful times while dealing with PTSD and Moral Injury, the Moral Injury coming from my return from war,  feeling ostracized by superiors in the Chaplain Corps, being sent to dead end assignments as soon as I had been selected for Commander. One of those happened to help some of my healing but caused problems in my marriage because with the exception of weekend or holiday visits every two or three weeks I was separated from my wife. When I finally came home we had been physically separated for ten of the previous seventeen years.

My next assignment allowed us to begin to get to know each other again, and allowed me to reconnect to my love of the academic world, teaching, and writing. I was happy at the Joint Forces Staff College, but my next assignment was changed without my knowledge, and I had no chance to change it or retire. It seemed like a final act of retribution by the then Chief of Chaplains, who scrupulously managed the careers of those she wanted advanced and those she always talked about “off ramping.” Because I went public with my PTSD, I violated a key unwritten tenet of being a clergyman or military chaplain: “thou shalt not admit to weakness or spiritual crisis.”

I was told by predecessors at it not to take it, but I couldn’t refuse it because I had been played. I would have to do two years at it before I could retire. But in that time I had no support from my command and had a parishioner try to get me tried by Court Martial for a sermon I preached. I have told that story too many times to go through it again.

That being said, I didn’t expect to go this long about me. I got caught  up in my own stuff, in which I find many connections between my experiences which I find a lot of personal connections with Gouverneur Warren and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Thankfully, I was cheered by out three puppies who decided to have a Papillon War, with me playing with them. So until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

                          The Troubled Hero of Little Round Top

Throughout this study we have been looking at how leaders at various levels in conduct of campaigns as well as battles make decisions. Likewise we examine the lives and character of those leaders as it applies to their actions at critical points of a battle. In this chapter we will examine three officers whose lives, character and actions at Gettysburg, specifically at Little Round Top exemplify two of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Desired Leader Attributes, “to anticipate and adapt to surprise and uncertainty” and the principle of Mission Command, to “operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding.” It is from those perspectives that we will look at this part of the battle, but we would be amiss if we did not address the nearly mythical status to which this action has risen.

The actions of three men at the Battle of Little Round Top; Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren, the Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, Colonel Strong Vincent, commanding Third Brigade, First Division, V Corps and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment of Vincent’s brigade are very important to the outcome of the battle, but also for what they teach us about leadership and the profession of arms. This chapter focuses on Warren, in particular with his work with the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade and his actions to secure Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, the next will deal with Chamberlain and Vincent.

The battle at Little Round Top is an iconic part of American History and in particular for the Army, a key element of how leadership has been studied. It has achieved nearly mythical status due to the actions of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain which have been told many times in history, fiction and in film, particularly Michael Shaara’s classic historical novel The Killer Angels and its film adaptation Gettysburg. While these accounts are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual quality of what Chamberlain writes, there is much more to learn.

That near spiritual quality and mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important, for in large part it is why we come to the battlefield, and why we study. Chamberlain said it well many years after Gettysburg at the dedication of the Maine Monuments:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that we cannot totally separate those actions that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it important to acknowledge that we cannot separate their character and the totality of military leaders lives from their actions on a particular battlefield. Unlike Chamberlain Warren does not engender myth, and that is why he is often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not a commander during this action, he was, like most senior officers today, a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[3] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [4] However, on the outbreak of the war returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through and the call of up militia and raising new units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [5]

At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of these men was tragic. However, many of these men performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. At the same time a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist states in the formation and training of these new units, one of whom was Gouverneur Warren. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at one of the regular officers and two of the volunteer whose lives intersected on July 2nd 1863.

Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point, Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [6] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country.

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [7] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [8]

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as Duryee’s Zouaves. Where Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became its Colonel, serving with it during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional brigade and promoted to Brigadier General, serving as a Brigade Commander in at Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg.

At Chancellorsville he was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [9] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [10] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [11] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer Meade rather than being promoted to a division or being assigned as Meade’s Chief of Staff. As this turned out it was a wise choice.

Warren along with Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st. As Meade organized his defenses he not only depended on his advice about the ground, but “consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance.” [12] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [13] Lee appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment.[14] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission moved his Corps forming a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard leaving the southern flank in the air, Meade was aghast. Warren who from his reconnaissance of the previous day and the morning knew the position better than anyone recognized that something was badly awry on SicklesThird Corps front  matters there were not all straight. [15] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied.[16]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [17] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [18] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [19]

Meade concurred with his Engineer and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [20] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [21]Warren would not see Meade again “until the attack had spent its force.” [22]

little round top map

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [23]When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [24]Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [25] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [26] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [27]

warren lrt

Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…”[28] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [29] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [30] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [31] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [32]

Meade’s choice of Warren was demonstrated in how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [33] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [34] There he found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. Since he did not see Weed, but he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [35] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [36] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following. Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates. In the fight the brigade would take fearful casualties and by the end of the battle, Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[37]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [38] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [39]

Warren distinguished as a Corps commander until he ran afoul of the fiery General Phillip Sheridan in 1865. Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. The relief was brutal and ruined his career. Warren was a professional soldier and took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan who in their haste at Five Forks destroyed his career.

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineeringduty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. He wrote his wife while supervising a major bridge construction project over the Mississippi River in 1867: “I wish I did not dream so much. They make me sometimes to dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish never to experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [40]

He sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but he died three months before the results were published. Embittered he directed that he be buried in civilian clothes and without military honors. His funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [41] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [42]

Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive for, and from a leadership perspective demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command“the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates. But his life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry wrote of Warren:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [43]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [44]

Warren

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. I think that this does a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war gives up something of themselves and sometimes even heroes like Gouverneur Warren are destroyed by the actions of institutions that they serve.

                                                        Notes

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

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[5] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[6] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.6

[7] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[8] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[9] Sears, Stephen W. ChancellorsvilleHoughton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[10] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[11] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[12] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[13] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 pp.129-130

[14] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[16] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[17] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[18] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[20] Ibid. Tredeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[21] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[22] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[23] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[24] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[25] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[26] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[27] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[28] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[29] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[30] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[31] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[32] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[33] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[34] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the IncredibleStan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[35] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[37] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[38] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[39] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.249

[41] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[42] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[43] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xI

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

fannychamberlain1

                     Fannie and Joshua Chamberlain (Dale Gallon) 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You never take my advice, I am aware.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                             Notes 

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

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

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

[4] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260

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

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

[7] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Human Cost of War: Gettysburg, America’s Bloodiest Battle

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This week I have been posting about Gettysburg, Independence Day, and a commentary on the toxic nationalism of President Trump’s hijacking of Independence Day at Mount Rushmore where he basically claimed that over half of Americans, those who don’t support him are traitors to the United States. His speech was loaded full of McCarthyism and very Orwellian in its content. 

So tonight I repost a final article from my Gettysburg text. It deals with the human cost of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When teaching I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last nineteen  and a half years.  war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remain in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text.

 

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

 

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me ton die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

John Reynolds 

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

Major General Dan Sickles and his preserved leg

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates that the Army of Northern Virginia suffered more casualties that the U.S. losses in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34] 

James Longstreet 

Of the two Longstreet was certainly most honest. Lee made a false equivalence between the years of Southern attempts to negate the rights of Free States and to expand slavery. The North was patient, even when the Souther states began to secede the were not calls for war but reconciliation. Longstreet would go on, be reconciled and make himself persona non grata in much of the South for fighting for Reconstruction, and openly stating that slavery was the root cause of the war, he grieved the loss of so many friends who he had served with on both sides before the war. Lee on the other hand didn’t even attend the funeral of Stonewall Jackson, and was harsh toward his critics as well as towards those he believed had failed him.

 

James Garfield 

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Members of the Grand Army of the Republic Veterans Association and their ladies auxiliary.The group helped unemployed veterans, paid for burials, and was the only desegregated veterans group.

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37] 

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain 

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren 

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

I do believe with all my heart that Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war, of any kind or for any reason.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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For Everything there is a Time and Season… COVID 19 and a Time to Mourn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I was growing up the Rock group The Byrds released a song written by Pete Seeger entitled Turn! Turn! Turn! (For Everything There is a Season.)  The Song hit number one on the U.S. Pop Chart in 1965 and I still can remember it being played on the AM music radio stations that my mother would listen to when my dad, a Navy Chief was away. It is still one of my favorite songs.

I don’t know about you, but music can get a message into my head much more than simply reading the words, or especially hearing it from an uninspiring speaker, especially boring pastors who couldn’t could preach their way out of a wet paper bag or melt an ice cube with a blow torch.

I was five years old at the time the song was released and living in Oak Harbor, Washington, where my dad was serving with a squadron at the Naval Air Station. Back then I didn’t know that the song’s lyrics were adapted from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 1-8, just in case you want to look them up. Seeger rearranged the words to better work with the rhyme and meter of his music, he composed it in 15 minutes and sent it to his agent who loved it, far more than Seeger’s protest songs, which he couldn’t sell.

But Seeger was  ahead of this time when he wrote and recorded the song as a folk tune in 1962. But it  really didn’t break through until the Byrds recorded it as a follow up to their number one hit Mr. Tambourine Man.

The lyrics to the song are catchy, especially in the version recorded by the Byrds. Over the years other artists and groups have recorded it, but it is the Byrds adaptation that even now still gets airplay, and still resonates in my head, even when that section of Ecclesiastes Chapter Three are part of the lectionary readings.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

The words of the song, and the scripture it is drawn from remind me of our human need to live in the moment and cherish all the times and activities of life. One of those that stood out to me a couple days ago after the death toll from the novel Coronavirus 19 topped 100,000 people in this country. Many of us know people, including family members and friends, who have either come down with the virus or died from it and its complications. Sadly, because COVID 19 is so infectious we are unable to mourn in the ways we normally would when we lose someone we know or love.

That occurred to me Wednesday night when I read yet another article on how COVID 19 is interrupting the normal grieving process, and a second article that discussed who easy it can be to become numb to the deaths, simply because of the numbers. Joseph Stalin said something that to human beings is all too true when confronted with massive numbers of deaths: “The death of one man is tragic, but the death of thousands is statistic.” What the psychopathic dictator was true then and true now. There is something in the human psyche that can accept vast numbers of dead human beings more than they can a single human being. After all, of a hundred thousand people die and you don’t know them they are only a statistic, a mass of numbers who are only that. They are just numbers, and even when we are confronted by their faces or bodies, especially if they happen out of our sight, even across town. However, if one of the dead is a friend, a lover, or even a devoted pet, the loss can be catastrophic.

In a way I kind of know how that goes. When I did my hospital chaplain residency in 1993-1994 at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas there were times that I was nearly overwhelmed by the numbers of deaths where I stood by grieving families and friends, and occasionally over the body of people who went un-mourned, at least at their time of death. I counted myself lucky when I only had to deal with two deaths on any given shift, most of the time it was more. The highest was on a summer night where on an 11 PM to 7 AM shift I dealt with eight deaths in eight hours. Two from gunshot wounds, one from a motor vehicle crash, three AIDS victims, one heart attack, and one newborn baby who was born too early to save, but who was precious to his mother and father in his all too brief life. I walked out into the sunshine of that morning and felt numb. I saw people laughing, and couldn’t laugh. In the eight years as a civilian and military hospital chaplain I have probably dealt with about 700-800 deaths, I lost count along the way. Many simply blended together, but there are quite a few others where I remember them like they were yesterday, even with the dead or their loved ones I remember details that are forever burned in my memory. I can understand what the EMTs, paramedics, doctors, nurses and technicians in overwhelmed hospitals are going through, although with HIV or H1N1 infected people, or maybe a violent family member, friend, or enemy of the victim, most of the time I didn’t have much concern about being infected by a patient in the ER or ICU compared with today’s ER and ICU staffs are dealing.  Likewise, to some extent what the families of the victims are going through, not being able to be with loved ones when they died, because of time, distance, and military considerations.

Too many people are grieving without being able to really mourn, while others are becoming numb to the number of deaths, be they on the front lines, or just bombarded by the news. The way the numbers are shown often reminds me of the “body counts” put out by DOD during the Vietnam War, which were featured on every nightly newscast of the era, like baseball box scores.

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is an episode where crew members of DS9 are reading the daily casualty count: Captain Benjamin Sisko noted: “Every Friday morning, for the past three months, I’ve posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It’s become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list. I’ve grown to hate Fridays.”

I have begun to hate the numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths brought about by the Coronavirus 19. But, at the same I cannot forget that behind every number there is a life cut short, loved ones and friends left behind, struggling to mourn, with no end in sight. But we must find a way to mourn those who we have loved and lost. I hope that we can do that. I am trying to figure out a way at the Naval Shipyard where I serve that we can make that happen, while taking every precaution to ensure that no one else is infected. I hope that others are trying to do what I am trying to do for people who have had their chance to mourn their losses as they should.

All that being said, with the President and his cult of followers, mostly conservative “pro-life” Christians, or those that say they are pretend to be for political purposes, continue to act in a a uniquely disturbing and murderous behaviors. They shun Protective masks and call it government tyranny. The same is true for social distancing rules designed to protect the lives of all, in order to conduct public worship services, crowd around bars, and send poor people back to work where they have little protection from the virus due to the intentional negligence and concern that those workers might become infected or die.

I cannot understand such convoluted reasoning. I actually wrote much more pointedly about them in this post bust decided that those words, which present unpleasant facts and truth would have completely destroyed what I want to say in the article.

We cannot allow such longstanding selfishness, race hatred, suspicion of Americans who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Nor can we allow the lives of the Americans infirm, elderly, or disabled to be sacrificed just to get the economy moving faster and hotter. That is not pro-life, but it is pro death.

While such beliefs remain intrenched among Trump’s shills and supporters, I believe that they are not beyond redemption. It will be hard for them, but when the next wave of the virus hits and kills their loved ones and friends, they might finally see the light. Of course I could be wrong and find them to be like the most fanatical ideologues, religious or unreligious to have their leader be the President of the United States.

Somehow we will get through this together, unless Trump and his cultists destroy us first, and to die so we will have to mourn the dead, as we fight to save the living and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Sadly it will have to be an us thing because the President has determined it to be yesterday’s news, declared victory and deserted the battlefield with the enemy’s counter offensive just beginning.

Peace and blessings, Until tomorrow,

Padre Steve+

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