Some Thoughts about Veterans Day

by Cantinker Moss

I am a fifth generation veteran. My predecessors, in addition to myself, participated in the following conflicts: the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War 1, World War 2, and the Vietnam War.

I comment on this not because I like war. On the contrary, I joined the U.S. Coast Guard because I believed I could serve my country without fighting in Southeast Asia; in a war that I did not believe in. How wrong I was. After I enlisted, I found out that there were Coast Guard units in Vietnam— Squadron One and Squadron Two in particular, and maybe more.

Image result for photo of USCG buoy tender in Vietnam

I did not go to Vietnam. I was involved in search and rescue, lighthouse duty, and 18 months on a sea-going tender out of Sitka, Alaska. We guarded the sea lanes and the Pacific Ocean fishing limit, (I can’t remember if it was 20 miles or 200 miles offshore.) and we chased ships that were fishing illegally…including some stubborn North Koreans, who gave us quite a run at the time. No, I didn’t see combat in ‘Nam—I was what was known as a “Vietnam Era” vet. Yet I still faced critics and haters of me as if I were Lt. Calley himself— critics and haters of me who didn’t even know me personally save for the uniform I wore. (Which was an irony in itself)

However, when the Yom Kippur War broke out in the Middle East in 1973, our crew still went to Alpha Status, prepared at a moment’s notice to go there. Yep, “Semper Paratus” (“Always Ready”) and all that. I guess that was always in the back of my mind.

But people are kinder today…free meals at restaurants on this day…salutes from the media…and I’m grateful for that. But there are a host of individuals who served in all branches of the military and in all conflicts. Some volunteered because they believed in a cause—like my father who lost the back of both his lower legs in the South Pacific when the Japanese shore batteries fired back, He may have remembered what FDR said on December 8, 1941,”…the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Also my grandfather who during World War 1 served on the USS Texas. Why would he participate in a war with a nation half a world away? I believed he did this “escort duty” across the Atlantic Ocean because of the u-boats—the German “Wolfpack” submarines who sank the civilian liner Lusitania in 1916. This resulted in the loss of many lives including Americans who for the most part had no quarrel with the German nation.

As for my great-grandfather, I don’t know his motives. I don’t believe he was a warmonger…but there was a cause in Cuba and the Philippines against Spain who was believed to be a tyrant by much of our nation—not to mention responsible for the explosion on the USS Maine. All this feeling, directly or indirectly, could have been a result of the news media of his day. (That means you Mr. Hearst.) What a lesson for the news landscape of our day.

And recently, I found out about the man I believe was my ancestor serving in Maryland during the Civil War. For a Union soldier from Massachusetts at that time, there was plenty of reason to serve to go around.

Actually, I can’t say I know the motives of any of my ancestors. No one completely does. But I do know that they always faced the real possibility of being killed. Even though my own father was saved from Pearl Harbor due to an order for repairs to his ship near Seattle, Washington, he like I was always faced with the reality that we had taken an oath and that no matter what, we had to accept the risk of never coming home (except perhaps in a body bag). This is the reason we celebrate Veterans Day. Memorial Day is to remember the fallen and it is my duty to respect and honor them at cemeteries, with poppies , and displaying my flag at home. Regarding both, like the saying goes, “All gave some…some gave all.”

November 11 was first Armistice Day in 1919 because the “War To End All Wars” ended. But then we came to find out that wars unfortunately continued. Tyrants rose and so did their armies, and no matter how much we desired peace and quietude, someone would bully, make demands and cause the need for severe justice. So more needed to serve and more veterans were counted…alive and dead.

You see, one way we look at the word “veteran” is someone who has been in a time and place and gained experience. It’s kind of like “…been there and done that.” But this Monday, we remember those once in uniform who were willing to be somewhere and do something necessary to keep the gears of our constitutional republic oiled and going for the sake of a free people, whether they felt like it or not. Veterans did what they did because they believed it was the right thing to do. If it wasn’t, a compassionate God in Heaven, who hears prayer, can fix all things!

My uncle once told me that the ones who did not survive the war were the true heroes…and yes, in a profound way they were. As Lincoln said, “…they gave their last full measure.” But we who are here today are heroes too. And we have the completed DD-214 forms to prove it.

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I Almost Didn’t Know America

by Cantinker Moss

 

One of the first things I think about in the beginning of a new year, is prompted by a traditional American folk song.  The title of it is “The Eighth of January.”  Now whether the tune by itself was inspired by events of January 8, 1815, or inspiration came later when country-western singer Johnny Horton sang the Jimmy Driftwood tune with lyrics known as the “Battle of New Orleans” in the early 1960’s,  I always did wonder what happened on that date more than 200 years ago.

During elementary school, I read a book-length account of the battle that was of course, titled The Battle of New Orleans.  Later, I saw the DeMille motion picture, The Buccaneer, complete with its larger-than-life characters, Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson, and the equally larger-than-life actors who portrayed them respectively, Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston.  I presently own the VHS tape and still get goosebumps at the sights and sounds of the fog and drums and pipes of the battle.  Why, over 40 years ago, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band produced an album featuring a sequence that ranged from tolling bells (I would often imagine the bells were from St. Louis Cathedral) to an Appalachian reel to a highly produced version of the Driftwood tune to upbeat Zydeco and finally to a flourish of “Sally Goodin” (with an alternate title).  And then I think of the times we vacationed in the Big Easy, and I was amazed how many different sites made up the historical park, like “which one should we visit first?”  Trouble is, we didn’t visit any of them, having only enough time to get some food in the French Quarter and then get on the road.

But then out of the blue comes Fox News host, Brian Kilmeade, with a bestseller known as Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, the Battle that Shaped America’s Destiny, and I think to myself, “Haven’t I seen this story before?”  Oh, by the way Mr. Kilmeade, I do want to put your book on my reading list.*

Now it wasn’t my intention to write only about January 8, 1815 and its place in New Orleans history.  Remember when I said there’s something about the beginning of the year and the battle?  But then there is Kilmeade’s book and subtitle …the Battle that Shaped America’s Destiny?  Destiny.  Now there is a word.

Destiny

1something to which a person or thing is destined fortune 

  • wants to control his own destiny

2a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency 

  • felt that destiny would determine their future¹

Because I haven’t read the book, I speculate.  It probably goes without saying that January 8, 1815 is an important date in U.S. history.  However, by the sound of the title and subtitle, Kilmeade may be more than suggesting that it is not just a significant date, but that”the eighth of January” could be significant enough to influence history.  History has its moments like April 14, 1865 and November 22, 1963, when Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated respectively; or July 4, 1776, when a number of men staked their lives on a signed document; or more recently, September 11, 2001, when 2 airliners flew into the World Trade Center in New York City.  All four of these dates led to significant events that in turn led to destiny, whether it be Reconstruction, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the birth of a nation, or currently the War on Terror.

Let me bring up this date:  December 7, 1941.

Most of us schooled in the last half-century understand that on that date…”a date which will live in infamy…”² air forces of Imperial Japan maliciously attacked the American air base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  And with a war declaration the next day, the United States entered World War II.  Successive events affected nearly the whole world, whether as a result of violent warfare, social oppression, or unprecedented changes in lifestyle.  Between my wife and me, we had no less than 12 male relatives see action in both theaters of that war.  You could say that so many things in that war had to do with destiny—the least not being the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ushered us into the Atomic Age.

But let me introduce another perspective of December 7, 1941.

You see, my father was a sailor on the USS Colorado (BB45) a battleship with “sister ships” USS Maryland (BB46) and West Virginia (BB48).  The USS Washington (BB47) was sunk as a gunnery target on November 26, 1924 by the battleships New York and Texas.

 

West Virginia (BB-48)Maryland (BB-46) and the Colorado (BB-45) (in the rear) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1939-40

USN photo by Albert Weigandt & submitted by James D. Card, QMCS (SW/AW) (courtesy of NavSource Online:  Battleship Photo Archive)

(http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/45a.htm

 

On December 7, 1941, the USS Colorado was sitting in the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, beholding the news of the attack some 2,600 miles away.  Still, it couldn’t have been too settling for the men assigned to the ship, knowing that much of the American fleet was destroyed or incapacitated, and they could be in line for the same possibility in the future.  But still, glory be, my father had escaped Pearl Harbor for the time being, and life could go on.  In fact, even after my father was wounded during the Marianas Campaign of 1944, he was shipped to Chelsea Naval Hospital for 18 months to recover from major injuries and sit out the rest of the war.  Eerily, this meant that he escaped worse from the Kamikazes who began their missions in October 1944.

Now not only did my father’s life go on, but after the war on New Year’s Eve 1945, my father and mother married, my sister was born a few months later, and I was born in 1952.  Yes, life could go on for my father, but life also went on for his 4 children.  And then for his grandchildren and so far, for his great-grandchildren.

And what would have become of me and my father’s DNA in me if the Colorado hadn’t been ordered for repairs in Washington State?  What if his ship had been sitting next to the West Virginia, or the Oklahoma?  Possibly he would have become a casualty not unlike each of the sailors on the USS Arizona—all hands to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  And after the war?  Maybe another man would have married my mother, and a son could have been born.  However, it wouldn’t have been me.  And though people may discuss fate and kismet, and argue that it wouldn’t have made any difference—only someone else would have been born, I do believe that God, who is Creator, may have had other plans instead.  And like the Empire of Japan in World War II, who are we to determine, or predetermine recklessly who should live or who should die.  Frankly, I am glad my dad lived, and I was born with perhaps a little divine intervention.

But let’s look at the flip side, and I don’t intend to bring guilt upon people who have made mistakes in the past.  God is a forgiving God and can deal aptly with past mistakes.  But how much should we behave appropriately so not to incur missteps?  And how do we do that?  Probably an investigation into one’s belief system or ethics might help.  And if we only depend on what we’ve come up with alone, hit or miss, we might end up with more crashes than we expected.  That’s why we study history—I don’t think Hitler’s national socialism or Mussolini’s fascism has improved the world since each one’s inception.  And for that matter, I’m not so sure we don’t have another problem with certain radical factions around the world; especially those who espouse violence and death.

And speaking of history, how many future marriages and births of children were lost on account of the multitude of deaths that day at Pearl Harbor?  And then there is the matter of about 3000 souls who went to their death in New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Not to mention the emotional toll it took on families and relatives of the deceased.  Some might say it was fate, or even (perish the thought!) that those deaths were meant to be.  Even a hard lesson about war can give pause to “Why did these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have to die?”  Well at least to give the World War II generation the benefit of the doubt, I would say how many more would have died if the war had continued?

The issues of death, destruction, war, genocide, ethnic cleansing and others subject to debate are unfortunately all around us.  For many of us, if we think about them long enough, sadness or even a mild headache might set in.  Others may not be so fortunate.  They may be subject to PTSD, depression, addiction and more.  Again, I believe each person should evaluate one’s ethical system, or even one they observe in another, and determine whether it might work or not.  I’m not saying look at others and judge them (and perhaps pass sentence on them).  That is where the trouble usually has its root: “us against them.”  Perhaps Jesus had it right:  “Watch and pray.”

As for me, I am grateful that I was born and had a chance to live several decades.  I hope others may also have that chance.  I also hope that these who come into the world, and those who are already here may have more than that.  I hope that they who would be welcomed would have those who care about them and care for them any way they can with whatever resources are available.

I am glad I know America today.

 

¹Destiny.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2018.

²Freeman, Elsie, Wynell Burroughs Schamel and Jean West. “‘A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'”: The First Typed Draft of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Address.” Social Education 55, 7 (November/December 1991): 467-470.

*I am presently reading Kilmeade’s book.

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