I never planned on becoming an old veteran 15

As Veteran’s Day approaches once more, my thoughts turn to how many veterans I have known in my life. My Dad, of course, comes to mind immediately. He served during the last year of World War 2 in the Navy and returned to an America that was fundamentally changed from the country he had grown up in. His father served in World War 1 and his grandfather served in the Civil War. All of them were volunteers and each came home and participated in veterans groups until they passed on to the next reunion.

Growing up in my hometown, veterans always seemed to be really old.

Their original uniforms were ill-fitting and sometimes they had to wear the uniforms of the organizations they belonged to like the Legion and the VFW. Any attempt to get into one of their original uniforms for many was a struggle that got harder as the years passed. They walked a little slower than I am sure they must have when they served. Some struggled with mended limbs while others just fought the battle of arthritis. But none of them ever seemed to complain. They jockeyed up to see who would have the honor of carrying the flag or one of the Springfield Rifles as part of the honor guard. All of them understood that they were carrying that flag and the rifles for someone who was not able to be there to do so.

As the years passed, there seemed to be less and less of them marching.

Some had to slow down because they were no longer able to take that walk in the cold November weather. Others had long since joined their fallen comrades after having that same flag draped over their coffin. I visit my Mom every Tuesday at the retirement home she lives in now and this week I got a chance to see the men still living as they viewed the pictures from their younger days. Some now need assistance but all came to attention as best they could when the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem were recited and sung. I can’t imagine any of those men kneeling except maybe on the beaches of Normandy to try and avoid getting shot by a German machine gun. Or maybe on a beach in the Pacific to try and comfort a buddy that had just been maimed by a Japanese shell.

Going off to fight for my country

Like my Dad and his Dad, I joined when I was seventeen. I was in a hurry to leave town and serve my tour in uniform. Frankly, at seventeen, all I thought about was the glory and the nice uniform that would set me apart from my peers. Okay, I also thought about how it would help me with girls, but at seventeen, what young man doesn’t have at least a passing desire for the opposite sex. At least in the world I grew up in anyway.

And then reality set in

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered very early on that the payment for wearing that uniform was a lot of sacrifices. On the first day, you find out that in order to serve, you lose your freedoms. Really basic stuff like the freedom to wake up when you want, the freedom to speak when you desire and the freedom to get up and go anywhere and anytime you want. Gone. Just like that you find out that the rights you have taken for granted all of those years are no longer available to you.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still do all of those things. But you will pay an extraordinarily high price if you do not follow the rules.  What you don’t realize is that from that day until the day you are finished, all of those sacrifices are meant to shape you. You learn quickly that all of those around you are going through the same things. You are being built into a team and being prepared to do things that are unnatural and unpalatable to many people. Your actions as an individual and a team could result in the destruction of whole cities and the people within them. Or just a small village and a single enemy. No matter which, they would only be accomplished if the country was in danger. But you needed to be ready to answer if called.

I think that is when I started to understand why those veterans all looked so old.

It wasn’t just the passage of time. It was the understanding of the things they had seen and the things they had done. That hunched over old man wearing an Airborne Badge jumped out of a plane into enemy fire. That Marine who can barely walk had to climb over a sea wall at Inchon and spent the next two years of his life in hospitals trying to learn how to use his legs again. That sailor with the withered hands who survived burns over much of his upper body when a kamikaze plane crashed through the defenses of his ship.

They had the privilege of becoming old while many of their comrades did not.

The ones we remember on Memorial Day hold a special place in their hearts always. Some of them became old because they had something called survivors guilt. Why did that bullet take my brother and not me.

But when you look at your eyes, the age fades away. Those eyes that have seen so much are still intense with the feelings of achievement and sometimes a little pride. I see it every time I volunteer at the VA. I saw it last week at out Veterans Breakfast put on by my state Representative Justin Walsh. Those eyes saw unimaginable horrors but also saw the fruits of their sacrifices fulfilled. They achieved their mission and them came home to a country that was better for their service.

I am older now than the men were who I used to think were ancient. I survived my two decades of service while some of my generation did not. Many who served with me now are suffering from the ravages of age and diseases that surely came from their service. When I have been lucky enough to see them at reunions though, I notice something within a few minutes of talking with them. While outwardly we all appear older, we are all still very young at heart. To a person, they all say the same thing. If they were younger, they would do it all again.

Where do these men and women come from? More importantly, if the country needs them in the future, where will they come from?

Thank you to all who served. It was my greatest honor and privilege to serve as your comrade.

I never planned on becoming an old veteran. But with the Grace of God, I am thankful to still be able to write these words. I know many who did not have that written as part of their stories.

A couple of old Chief Warrant Officers

Mister Mac

 

October 27, 1922 was the very first Navy Day in the United States 1

October 27, 1922 was the very first Navy Day in the United States.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt had been born on that day and it was selected by the Navy League and the Navy Department as the most appropriate day to celebrate the United States Navy.

This celebration was not just held in the United States. Newspapers at the time reported that celebrations were held in London, Paris and Rome (among others). Washington DC practically came to a standstill that day as ceremonies were held at Arlington and the statue of John Paul Jones. The War Department was shut down so members could attend one of the dozens of events around the city.

New York was also a large center for celebration as the Atlantic Fleet was at anchor in the East River. Carnegie Hall hosted a special musical celebration of patriotism and flags could be seen all across the city. All across the country, the nation stopped for a few moments and took stock of its Navy.

Evening star. [volume], October 27, 1922, Page 4, Image 4

SPIRIT OF ROOSEVELT ABROAD AS NAVY HONORS HIS NATAL DAY

The spirit of Theodore Roosevelt walked abroad in Washington today.

Formal celebration on his birthday was claimed by the Navy for Its own and there is none who would challenge the Navy’s right to revel in memories of Roosevelt, to pay gladly the debt of gratitude it owes to him. But, aside, from all this, from the prepared addresses on Navy day that dealt largely with his sayings and his works for the Navy, there ran a curious undercurrent of talk among men everywhere that bore witness to the place the dead President had made for himself In American hearts.

Name in Conversation.

It was natural that around the Navy Department Roosevelt’s name should And Its way into every casual conversation as older officers paused to chat a moment In the long corridors. Many of these had personal stories to recall of his fearless career as assistant secretary of the Navy, the post his son and namesake now holds. Traditions old in the Navy were shattered In those days and new traditions, dear to the hearts of sailor folk of today, were built up In their place around the dominant, energetic, eager personality that even an assistant secretary ship could not subdue.

But It was striking that the talk of Roosevelt was not confined to the Navy or the Army or to government circles, but ran everywhere about the Nation’s Capital. From lip to lip little, intimate, human pictures of the man were sketched as men who knew him met In clubs or on corners In the hurry of a busy day. A tale that brought about quick laughter here; there a terse, cutting epigram repeated; or again the story of a lighting moment vividly recalled by men who shared that moment with him, a veritable unwritten legend of a great American was In the making hour by hour.

Hard to Realize He Is Gone

Perhaps this was more true In Washington than elsewhere In the nation.< for It was hard for these men who knew him In life to realize that the sturdy figure with slouch hat jerked down over his eyes might not come trudging down Pennsylvania avenue even as they talked. But It seemed that this curious Informal celebration of Roosevelt’s birthday must also be nationwide as was the tribute paid his memory in the set events of Navy day.

That he has left a lasting Impress of his fearless Americanism on the hearts of his countrymen for all time, none who heard the undertone of Roosevelt memories that lay beneath Washington life today could doubt.

Why 1922?

Under the headlines was the unspoken fact that the country had just completed several years of arms control negotiations that directly impacted the current and future naval forces of the world. The death and destruction of the first World War were a recent memory and many in the country and the world honestly sought a way to reduce the tensions and danger of unbridled shipbuilding.

The World War did not settle many of the major concerns of the world including expansionism, colonialism, and empires. In fact, if anything, it made things worse. Out of the ashes, unnatural divisions of countries with artificial boarders and the reassignments of far flung imperial assets from one ruling nation to another merely postponed the conflict that would revisit the world in the late 1930’s.

“The Contracting Powers agree to limit their respective naval armament as provided in the present Treaty.”

The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 was well intentioned but in many ways probably made the march to the next war inevitable. While the size and weaponry of the last conflict were limited, the treaty opened a Pandora’s Box of new weapons and tactics that would make the Second World War even deadlier than the first.

The Navy Leaders and the members of the Navy League (which had been formed under the encouragement of Teddy Roosevelt) both had a vision of Naval Supremacy. Without so much as saying so, they also had a fear that the treaty disease would shrink the Navy to such a small size that it would be unable to meet the threats of a two ocean war. Seeing so many first class battleships destroyed and new ones cancelled had to be a frightening prospect for this group.

So Navy Day was born

All of the celebrations and the pomp and circumstance were carefully designed to appeal to the American public’s nationalistic tendencies. Every note was played and every song was sung with the idea of reminding the American public that without a great Navy, the nation itself would struggle to be great. The politicians were free to pursue peace at any cost, but the Navy would do what it did best: fight for its survival. Even as the well intentioned peace mongers were busy planning on the destruction of the Navy, the Navy was putting on a global show of power that would ensure its future.

Not everyone was on board

Besides the politicians involved with the disastrous Washington Naval Limitation Treaty effort, there were many organizations agitating from the sidelines. Below te story about the former President was a cautionary article from the National Council for Reduction of Armament.

Bigger Navy Opposed.

Navy days is indorsed in part and opposed In part in resolutions adopted by the executive board of the National Council for Reduction of Armament. The Navy Is praised for the part which it played in the achievements of the Washington peace conference. Alleged efforts to increase the size of the Navy are condemned. The resolutions state:

“Navy day” as announced by the Navy League and indorsed by the Navy Department of the United States government, has, as we understand, two purposes: first, to Improve the morale of the United States Navy, which is said to have been lowered as a result of the Washington conference and the world peace movement which bids fair in the course of a few years to reduce the world’s navies to police forces: second, to appeal to the well-known patriotism of our people for further sacrifices in order to add to the size of the Navy and Its personnel, with a substantial increase In the appropriation. “The executive board of the National Council for Reduction of Armament Is in hearty sympathy with the first of these purposes and recommends to our affiliated organizations co-operation with others in this movement to keep the Navy efficient.

We advocate this the more enthusiastically because the American Navy has earned the gratitude of civilization by the conspicuous part it played at the Washington conference which launched the epoch making movement to emancipate the world from the curse of competitive armaments. At the same time, we cannot support any attempt under present world conditions in direct contradiction of the spirit of the Washington conference and in the face of our estimated deficit for 1923 of $672,000,000, to add to our already disproportionate military expenditures”

The Navy of the 1920’s did continue to shrink and it took the ingenuity of many officers and sailors to continue the improvements that would lead to a stronger force when the time came. Submarines, aircraft and new ship types were all part of the efforts which lead helped the Navy to quickly adapt to the changes wrought by the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor.

Navy Day lasted from 1922 to 1947 when another group of civilians with good intention but very little vision for the future finally killed it. But they could not kill the American spirit or the spirit of a strong and powerful Navy in the hearts and minds of many Americans.

Happy Birthday President Roosevelt and Happy Navy Day to all of those who care about freedom.

Mister Mac

The New “Star” in Star Spangled Banner Reply

This morning, I was honored to join a few members of the Pittsburgh Sea Cadet Battalion in helping to kick off the Bike Ride for Operation Troop Appreciation in Pittsburgh. This even helps to raise funds to build and sustain the morale and wellbeing of the military community, past and present, with the assurance that the American public supports and appreciates their selfless service and daily sacrifices.

This 100 mile run will travel the hills and valleys of Western Pennsylvania in support of our troops still deployed and those who return to our country after serving.

It is very humbling to see all of the volunteers and meet the bikers who came out to support. God bless all of you for your efforts.

Thanks to the Sea Cadets and a special thanks to the guest singer Antolena who performed one of the most amazing renditions of the National Anthem many of us have ever heard.

http://operationtroopappreciation.org/

https://www.facebook.com/Antolena-2042019952781129/?__tn__=HHH-R

https://www.facebook.com/pittsburghseacadets/

The New “Star” in Star Spangled Banner

When I came home, I posted the pictures and related a few of the stories on Facebook I learned while I was at Operation Troop Appreciation’s Pittsburgh facility this morning. I posted a picture of the young lady (Antolena) and wrote the following comment to go with it:

“Sometimes we take for granted that the National Anthem will be sung nicely. It happens so often that a beautiful young lady or handsome young man stands before a group of total strangers and gives a very pleasant version of a very difficult song. Then, every once in a great while, or in this case, for the very first time, you are standing less then ten feet from someone who owns the song from the moment they open their mouth. No fear. No quivering of the voice. No searching for notes. Without the flourishes and fanfare of an orchestra, you hear something that represents what the song stands for. Courage. Skill. Spirit. When Francis Scott Key wrote the words, he did so with a determination that was meant to convey the emotions he felt at seeing that flag still standing. When I heard you sing this morning, I felt what he felt. So many people had tears in their eyes when you were done. I know that God was with you. I pray that no matter what journey life takes you on, He is always there with you. God Bless you.”

While I was writing my tribute and without any warning, her Mom was writing the following note to me. Both notes appeared simultaneously:

” Bob; I will never forget the day Antolena discovered she was born the same day as Francis Scott Key. She said she had chills and how ironic. The day she first sang at PNC park for the Pirates was her birthday Aug. 1. She said I want to make him proud performing his star spangled banner on “our” birthday!! Funny how God always places people in each other paths…blessed for certain”

To all of my readers: I hope the day comes that you get a chance to hear this young lady sing. I have a suspicion that you probably will!!!

Mister Mac

I will Salute 36

Forty six years ago, I raised my right hand in a room full of strangers and pledged to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I solemnly swore to do so while standing facing the flag that represents this country. For all of the years since then, that flag has played a central role in my life.

I watched her fly as a green recruit and came to understand she is more than just another piece of cloth. I watched her fly from the deck of many submarines and ships at bases all over the world. I listened with pride one night in Yokosuka Japan while a shipmate played Taps as we retired her for the day. I felt the crushing weight of seeing a comrade under her in a casket bound for home. I felt sadness at the deaths of so many veterans who also shared her as a final shroud.

It has never occurred to me that I would do anything but salute her when given the chance. My generation saw the rupture that was known as Vietnam and we saw the riots of the sixties. But the flag was an eternal symbol that gradually helped us to refocus. Now I see that it is becoming too common place that people feel they need to burn her and trample on her. They callously abuse the freedom and liberty we have preserved for them to use her as a blunt object with which to make their point. Politicians kneel and disrespect her for shallow and ignorant reasons. The courts have even given them license and liberty to do so.

But not me.

I will salute.


I have seen her flying on a cloudless day over the graves of so many men and women who gave their last breath to protect her in places like Arlington and too many other cemeteries to count.

I will salute.

I have stood on the platform above the once mighty Arizona and cried while I read the names on the wall of honored dead. I have done the same at the inward most corner of the Vietnam Wall. In each case, I could look up and see her standing guard.


I will salute.


I have spent time with the men and women whose bodies are broken but their spirits still soar as they revere her. Each time the anthem plays, they sit upright or struggle to their feet if they are able and face her one more time.


I will salute.


I have felt the harsh sand beneath my feet at Normandy and heard the wind singing of their glory and sadness on that fateful day. High above in the cliffs, I have heard the echoes of guns that tried to silence her. But they are silent now and SHE flies above their captured forts.


I will salute.


From coast to coast, city to city, borough to borough, I have seen her citizens fly her in remembrance of the bravest and the best and with a promise to protect their children’s future.


I will salute.


While others choose to use her as a sad symbol of protest and a lightning rod for a never ending litany of real and perceived offences, I know her real meaning. Until my dying day when I can no longer stand, I will find the strength to straighten my body until it is properly ready to render honors one last time.

Even then, I will salute.

Bob MacPherson July 27, 2018