“My child is a submariner… I’ll sleep when they come home” 5

I will never forget that day in June 1972 when my parents came to Pittsburgh International Airport to see me off on my way to Boot Camp. I was not the first in my family to leave home (big brother went to a nearby college three years earlier) but I was the first to go into the military. Dad had proudly served in World War 2 and I did not want to miss the adventure that I knew lay ahead of me.

Back in those days, the families could go to the gate with no problems and Mom, Dad, and my high school sweetheart all came to see me leave to go to the faraway land of Lincoln where the Navy had one of its three Boot Camps. (I had asked for Orlando and San Diego so of course was sent to Great Lakes outside of Chicago IL.) There were a lot of hugs and a few kisses and then it was up the ramp. I turned just before I went through the door and saw them all standing there. The girlfriend was sobbing, Dad had his arm around Mom, and Mom just had this sad look on her face. One of her children was leaving forever and he would never be the same again.

The next six months were fast and filled with all kinds of new adventures. Boot Camp, Machinist Mate A school, and temporary duty when I failed to make the needed requirements for Nuc school. Somewhere in the whirlwind of activity, someone sat down with me and placed a pile of paperwork in front of me. Since I was no longer going to nuclear power training, there were some forms to sign and the need to refocus on a different path. One of the options was to volunteer to undergo submarine training and ultimately serve on a boat. I will freely admit that I didn’t give it much thought at the time. The idea of making an additional fifty five dollars a month seemed to be the biggest motivator at the time. The decision to volunteer would change my life. And it would change my Mom’s life, too.

I will freely admit that I have never been a Mom of a submariner. But I did have a Mom that had two boys on board submarines who would eventually serve for over twenty years. For nearly four of those years, my brother Tom was on the same boat with me.

I knew from the first minute I told them that Mom was worried. As a kid growing up, we were not allowed to have guns or motorcycles since they were too dangerous. She would wait up for me to come home from dates to make sure I was safe and no harm would come to me. I suppose that is what normal mothers do.

Mom used to worry, I am sure, but despite serving on a combined total of nine submarines, we both came home each and every time. The boats we served on had the highest level of quality of any that had ever been built. The training is and has been the finest in the entire world. Between Tom and I, I am sure that we went to over a hundred different schools and classes. The mission could be a bit dicey from time to time but the emphasis was always on safety.

Communications were not always easy back in the day. There was no internet and phone calls were pretty expensive. So we wrote a lot and called when we absolutely needed to. The infrequent visits home would be celebrations that we survived another mission. But I know now that the times for her had to be pretty hard. She was always enough of a patriot that she never complained about the life we had chosen. Like our wives, she was as much a part of the service as those of us that wore the uniforms.

So how did my Mom handle things?

While we were deployed, Mom worked with the veterans groups in the community and did her best to support active duty men and women with her volunteer work, contributions and activism. She focused on the things around her and remembered every day that her boys were volunteers that did so twice: once to become a United States Navy sailor and once to become a volunteer in the submarine force.

I pray for all of the sons and daughters who go to sea in submarines and ships.

There are no guarantees. But know that we have the finest Navy and submarine force anywhere in the world and their main focus is and should be on the mission to protect this country. But I also pray for all the Moms who sit at home and wait for their child to return safely home. When they do, you may notice they are a little different from when they were younger. That can’t be helped. They have seen and done things they will never be able to fully explain. But in their hearts, they are still your children and still love you for all of your sacrifices that allowed them to be who they are today.

Thanks Mom.

Mister Mac

Sometimes I weep for my country… then I vow to fight on 2

Elizabeth PA Memorial Day through the years 019

Like many others, I spend a lot of personal time and resources preparing for the Memorial Day observance in my home town. It is not a celebration since the day was designed to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers and sailors of the Civil War. It is not a party because the honorees made the ultimate sacrifice to defend their brothers and sisters in arms and ensure freedom could survive in the face of evil.

Ever since I was a kid, I have seen the crowds grow smaller and the number of children diminish. I grew up during the Vietnam war so this is not too surprising. The anti-war crowd used the tool of Anti-Americanism as one of their tools. Their work was done well.

This video is a clear demonstration of how far we have gone:

 

But I am not deterred. Seeing it makes me weep and laugh at the same time. Then I get more determined than ever.

What are you doing Memorial Day? If you live under the banner of freedom, you have a debt to those who paid the price to keep that banner flying. Teach the children. The schools probably no longer do. Take them to a service and teach them about reverence. You will have the whole summer to picnic and party. Do something remarkable this year:

Make Memorial Day a Priority

Mister Mac

MEB38B~1 Memorial Day Elizabeth PA 1988 005

(There’s) Always something there to remind me… 1

“I walk along the city streets
You used to walk along with me,
And every step I take reminds me
Of just how we used to be.
Oh, how can I forget you, girl
When there is always something there to remind me
Always something there to remind me”

The Sunday after Easter is always one of the poorest attended Sunday’s in the year. Even ministers often take the weekend off and hand their pulpit over to someone who they are not afraid of making too much of a mess of things. Only the most faithful are there and they spend their afternoon chatting about how empty the place was.

For me, two of the loneliest days are the day after Memorial Day and the day after Veteran’s Day.

The parades are all over, the speeches have been tucked away for another year, and the warm embracing feelings of the community are checked off of the “things to do” list. Time to get back into the old routines and close the cabinet where we keep the banners, faded old pictures and what passes for compassion.

There are two groups of people who become invisible again on days like today.

The first set is the ever growing population of warriors who have found the transition back into the world a bit more difficult than others. You see them on off ramps near the interstate highways. They also show up on inner city streets and food kitchens. A few weeks ago I was coming back across the Ben Franklin from New Jersey into Philly. The roads and interchanges down there are maddening to say the least. Getting back to the turnpike forces you through a maze of traffic, all of whom need to be in some other lane.

That’s where I saw him.

He had a cardboard sign that simply said “Help me I’m Hungry … Iraq war vet”. He couldn’t have been more than 25 or 26. His face was sunken in, hair shaggy, olive green t-shirt and definitely looking like he had seen better days. I normally donate through the mail to agencies that are purpose filled and resource centered. That’s the excuse I use anyway. Anonymous means I don’t have to look at them too often.

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I rolled down the window and gave him a five. The light changed and he became invisible again as I drove off.

There are others too. Many have jobs but still have the nightmares. Some drink and some do drugs but have built up enough defenses that keep you from seeing them in pain. They see each other though. There is a look that is only shared between brothers (and more often now sisters).

Truly, there is always something there to remind them.

The second group that become invisible again after Memorial Day even have their own flag.

Once the ceremonies are over and the wreaths have been laid, the whole notion of POW/MIAs becomes wholly owned by activists and families who still have no answers about their loved ones. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel (DPMO) is the focal point within DOD for conducting Prisoner of War Missing person reports.

From their web site: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/vietnam/

“Immediately after the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973, Operation HOMECOMING returned the 590 POWs captured in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (two POWs from Vietnam and a Cold War POW were released from China). The MIA families and some government officials, however, expected a greater number of returnees, giving rise to concerns that POWs had been withheld. This gave rise to the urgency of the accounting mission. Although Article Eight of the Accord called for mutual assistance among the parties in accounting for the missing, in the immediate postwar period, continuing hostilities precluded access to many sites. After the POWs came home, the U.S. still listed some 2,646 Americans as unaccounted-for, with roughly equal numbers of those missing in action, or killed in action/body not recovered”

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There have been some success stories.

Air Force Colonel Robert M. Elliot of Springfield, Massachusetts

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On February 14, 1968, Elliot was flying his F-105D Thunderchief on a strike mission over Hanoi, North Vietnam, when he was hit by a surface-to-air missile. He radioed to the other pilots in the flight that he had been hit and they witnessed his crash. None of the other pilots saw any ejection attempt nor heard any emergency beeper signals, but one reported seeing a streaming (unopened) parachute at approximately 3,000 feet.

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/rmelliot.htm

Between 1968 and 1999, Elliot’s status was a subject of near misses, rumors, missed identifications and more rumors. His family had to have gone through some kind of hell while all the drama carried out. In the end, investigators were able to determine the real story and aided by his daughter, his remains were returned. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2000.

Yesterday the Commander in Chief placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It is a traditional role of the CinC to pay homage to our lost service members and remind us about the sacrifices made in freedoms name. I turned the sound down and within a few minutes had to switch over to another station.

I can almost hear some people saying in their minds right now, “Bob, what a partisan thing to say… can’t you leave the man alone on Memorial Day?”

Well, maybe I could have if I hadn’t read an article written by Adrian Cronauer in the American Legion magazine the night before. Adrian was an Air Force veteran and the man behind the famous character in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”. Adrian also served as special Assistant to the Director of DPMO from September 2001 – March 2009.

In the June 2012 issue of the Legion Magazine, Adrian brings to light two things in his article “The Deepest Cut” that make Obama’s words and actions less than meaningful.

First, the Obama White House has nearly abandoned a commission established by President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin to help account for U.S. personnel who disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. Was that part of the behind the scenes agreements between Obama and his new friend Vladimir Putin (the former head of the KGB)?

In 2011, the Obama administration questioned the scope and budget for the DPMO group. Failing to achieve a budget (again) the deep and draconian cuts will directly impact the office and support structure needed to continue the work that has been done to restore our brothers in arms to their families. While this is just as much about Congress failing to act, it also lays directly at the White House’s feet.

Words are cheap. Actions speak volumes.

It is long past time for the “Leader” of the free world to stop campaigning long enough to actually solve some of the problems he said he was going to address. All the new found love for those of us who served in the Vietnam era seems kind of hollow once you know what’s going on in the background.

Seeing those homeless vets growing in number and knowing that most of our missing will remain missing for a much longer time makes it hard for me to forget that we have not done enough… there is always something there to remind me.

Mister Mac

Update for June 1 

Apparently Democratic Mayor Nutter from Philadelphia must read my blog.

The men who beg near the Franklin Parkway are being given notice that compassion is no longer welcome.

http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/06/01/city-begins-enforcement-of-ban-on-outdoor-feeding-programs/