June 6, 1944

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France will be observed today on the beaches in Normandy, at Pointe du Hoc, at the nearby town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. These will be solemn tributes to the thousands of men who gave their lives to begin the reclamation of Europe from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Nazis had suppressed freedom for four long years and the fate of the world hung in the balance as the largest seaborne invasion in history landed troops on a fifty mile-wide stretch of beach on the coast of France.

None of the Allied objectives were achieved on that first day at the staggering cost of over 10,000 lives in the first twenty-four hours. Alone, 2,400 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) occurred at “Bloody Omaha Beach.” It took tremendous courage, sacrifice, perseverance and determination to finally break through the coastal defenses and begin movement inland. The liberation of Paris would follow in August 1944, but the unconditional  surrender of all German forces would not come until May 7, 1945. Neither would have been possible without the success of “Operation Overlord.”

Dignitaries from the United States, Britain, France, and Canada will honor the dead as well as the veterans still living today. Due to the passage of time, only a handful remain. They’re in their 90’s now and this will be the last major celebration for those that survived the chaos and carnage of that day. They should be honored for their bravery and certainly world leaders will speak to their heroism. The Press will cover the speeches and most Americans will take pride in their words, but that remembrance will be fleeting. Less than 1% of our country’s population serves in the military. Few have any personal knowledge of the sacrifices made by our military members and their families, and they go about their lives without much reflection on wars past or present.

So, how will you observe D-Day?

I would be in France if I could to be a part of this last great celebration. I’d like to meet face-to-face with the veterans and hear their stories. Their numbers are dwindling and their first-hand recollections are all but gone. Their pride in being a member of the Greatest Generation and their pain over the loss of their friends and comrades will recede from public consciousness. Soon, their recollections will be just words in a history book.

I can’t be there, so I’ll watch the news. I’ll read the paper. I’ll put on my two favorite movies about D-Day, The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. These are insufficient gestures at best, but at least I’ll be remembering. For me it is a very emotional journey back in time. We face a far different world today thanks to their sacrifices. However, it is one no less dangerous. Threats evolve and echoes of the past remain. The 9,388 crosses and Stars of David at Colleville-sur-Mer remind us of the cost of the Normandy landings, while ongoing burials at all our National Cemeteries attest to the price in human lives of ongoing wars. I hope that we will always remember. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

So, how will you observe D-Day?

 

Who Are Your Heroes?

 

Fallen Heroes

A confluence of events has caused me to reflect on this question. The first is the posting on social media by a very dear friend of photos of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, policemen, and firefighters who have died in the performance of their duties. The second was a speech given this past Monday at the weekly luncheon at Aggie Park in San Antonio by the Fifth Army North Commander, LTG Jeffrey S. Buchanan, where he addressed this very question. Third is the upcoming gathering of Texas A&M University alumni to honor those Aggies who have died this past year. And last, though I don’t have an exact release date, is the publication of my most recent book, Tarnished Brass, and my inclusion of a section entitled “In Memoriam.”

The social media postings honor individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Their photos are poignant reminders that service to country, whether in the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement, or as Firefighters often comes at a very high cost. These men and women are the very embodiment of heroism. Their conduct reflects great courage, superior character and integrity in a noble cause greater than self, and it cost them their lives.

In his own way General Buchanan echoed these sentiments by relating the story of a subordinate officer who served with the general in various assignments throughout his career including multiple deployments in Iraq where he was severely injured by an IED, and in Afghanistan where he lost his life. The general wears a wrist band in his memory.

The Muster tradition, an annual gathering of fellow Texas Aggies that dates back to 1883, has evolved over the years from just celebrating college memories to honoring those Aggies no longer able to attend the ceremony due to their passing. Normally held on April 21st in remembrance of Texas Independence and San Jacinto Day, this year’s event at the San Antonio A&M Club will take place April 22nd. April 21st is Easter Sunday.

National recognition of Muster hearkens back to April 21, 1942 and the Second World War when a roll call of the twenty-seven Aggies serving in the Philippines on the small island of Corregidor was held. All would either be killed or captured by Japanese forces, but their solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds heartened the nation’s will to persevere.

On April 21, 1946 the memory of those twenty-seven Aggies was honored in a ceremony on Corregador at the Malinta Tunnel, and the tradition of remembrance has continued ever since. Aggies gather together wherever they are in the world, read aloud the names of the departed, and answer on their behalf… “Here.”

It is the solemnity of making that declaration that leads to me to my final thought before my book comes out. Tarnished Brass is a work of fiction but the war and many of the characters included in the novella are real. At the end I pay tribute to two of those individuals:

Lieutenant Colonel, James M. Basile, U.S. Air Force, served as the Deputy Commander, U.S. MilGroup, San Salvador during the years covered in the book. More importantly, he was my friend who I both admired and loved as a brother-in-arms. He was killed in a helicopter crash July 16, 1987 at age 43.

I also had the honor of serving under General John R. Galvin, who was the Commander, USSOUTHCOM during the three years that I was assigned to the J3. He passed away after a distinguished career September 25, 2015 at age 86.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency within our society to equate heroes with sports figures, celebrities, wealth and power. When asked, the average person will name their favorite football, baseball or basketball player as their hero. Those not into sports might name a famous pop icon, television or movie star. However, though fame and fortune may keep these individuals in the public spotlight, their notoriety does not constitute heroism and their designation as heroes does a disservice to those who have given their all in service to others.

Keep this in mind the next time you’re asked the question, “Who Are Your Heroes?”

 

 

 

 

Veterans Day

Military LogosDuty, Honor, Country is not a mere slogan to the men and women who wear the uniform. It is the creed by which they live.

The oath of enlistment or oath of office for commissioned officers states “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” These are not mere words either, but a promise to serve and protect the country and its citizens in peacetime and war.

Sunday, November 11th is Veterans Day; the national holiday will be observed on Monday. It will be a day in which the President of the United States places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, usually followed by speeches from various dignitaries honoring the men and women (past and present) from all branches of the military. All around the country schools and organizations will celebrate by flying the American flag, singing the National Anthem and renewing the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. And in just about every American city people will observe of the holiday with parades, barbeques and Veterans Day sales.

In quieter moments those that truly understand the commitment and sacrifice required of military families and service members will reflect on loved ones currently deployed in hot spots around the world and those who have died fighting for their country. In many instances the thoughts of aging veterans like me will be of brothers and sisters in arms with whom we had the privilege to serve. These were individuals we trusted to always have our backs and whom we stood beside in good times and bad. Because time erases memories the names and faces of everyone we knew may have faded, but we remember time and place and circumstance and long to rekindle those bonds. I served twenty-four years in the US Army (1973-1997) in assignments that spanned the globe. In each of those postings I was thankful for the men and women, enlisted and officer, who served alongside me. Some became lifelong friends, many I lost track of, while others  succumbed to the passage of time or never made it home.

To each and everyone of you… a heartfelt Thank You.