It’s Memorial Day.
As a retired U.S. Navy veteran, I don’t much like hearing people say “Happy Memorial Day”. I avoid saying those words, choosing instead the greeting, “Have a GOOD Memorial Day”. If you think about it you may come to understand why I prefer to use the latter rather than the former. That first greeting is so often and casually used by the media and by people who say such things to each other (and to me) without thinking. There is often confusion between the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day where there should not be. Many people – particularly those who never served in the military or who didn’t know someone who did serve or who never lost a loved one or friend in military service, simply don’t have an understanding of the true meaning of the Memorial Day holiday. Still, I and many of my fellow veterans appreciate the thought and the sentimental greeting and don’t make it a big deal when people say to us, “Thank you for your service.” We know people mean well. Some of us simply remind them that Memorial Day is actually for those men and women who died while in military service.
Sadly however, many other people have a certain amount of ignorance or worse, a form of disrespect for Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) and just don’t give a damn. Those particular people (some whose comments I’ve encountered on Facebook) tend to think of this day as “national BBQ day” and/or ignore the meaning of Memorial Day completely. They attack or speak ill of both my deceased and living brothers and sisters in uniform. They try to write comments or verbally attack anyone who chooses to put on a military uniform, who willingly subjects him or herself to the authority of some elected or political-appointed civilian and/or and higher military ranking as being war mongers, “baby killers” (yes, that old anti-war term is still being used) and destroyers of lands and the way of life of other nations and cultures. They also say that anyone who would intentionally put their lives at risk for capture or death in some foreign ocean, land or air space while serving in the military deserves their fate. There are some very nasty people out there and it’s sad that so many are on social media. People with that mindset probably ask of themselves – and I know they’ve rhetorically have ask others, “Why should they give a fuck about what Memorial Day is, let alone bother to give recognition to people who wage war?” I shake my head at these people for therein lays one of the first signs of ignorance. You see, admirals and generals – and the men and women who take orders from them, do not wage or start wars; they fight them. Only CIVILIANS wage war.
Allow me to digress.
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You know, the very reason people can ignore Memorial Day and have their “national BBQ day” in the first place is due to the efforts and ultimate sacrifices of this country’s brave men and women in military service. The military in many ways is indeed a society and an environment unlike no other. However, some aspects of the military job are awfully shitty. Let me repeat: some aspects of the military job are awfully shitty. Somebody goddamnit, has to got to do that job! Often that means the military service person has to go in harm’s way and take in some burning bullets or fiery explosions from some fired, thrown, dropped or hidden grenade or bomb. People who feel so damn strongly against the military ought not to attack those Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen or Reservists who put their lives on the line nor should they disrespect any date on the calendar designated to give remembrance and honor to those servicemen. Instead such people ought to use their First Amendment right to free speech and the rights and privileges they have as Americans to communicate their concerns and objections to their elected leaders; rights and privileges – which by the way, were protected by thousands of servicemen and women who are now deceased – and the very same rights and privileges which continue being protected daily by many living military personnel on military bases, ships and joint foreign command posts all over the world.
As I said, many people tend to do certain things out of ignorance. Am I bias towards the side of the military because I served in the military? You goddamn right I am! I will call to task any person who shows and/or expresses disrespect for those men and women in our armed forces who have served and died in honorable service to our country! I will call to task any person who shows and/or expresses disrespect for those who are now serving honorably!
**For my hearing impaired readers, here is the clip transcript that starts at point 0:40 with the camera on Nicholson.
The part of the movie speech I like and which I want you to pay attention, is in bold.
A Few Good Men (written by Aaron Sorkin)
Jessep: (Jack Nicholson) You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!!
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When I saw that movie upon its release some twenty-two years ago, me and every military person in the theater shouted in unison praise! It was wonderful! You just had to be there!
Anyone who appreciates their American freedoms usually knows and understands what it took – and what it takes to keep much of what is and has been happening over there (in some foreign country) from coming over here to American shores. They understand that freedom, while taken for granted by so many in the United States, is indeed not free – and is an expression that is more than some easy cliché. One does not have to be a veteran or someone serving on active duty in order to be supportive of our men and women in the military who now protect and who have once protected that freedom. They simply need to know and be thankful that someone is always on the front line as they sleep at night!
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During my military service, I’ve participated in my share of military burial details – both on land and at sea. I’ve done the full military honors thing that included being in full military dress, giving the 21-gun salute, folding of our nation’s flag, carrying the coffin to a burial site or committing the body or the ashes of the deceased serviceman’s body at sea and I’ve endured the playing of Taps afterwards. Each and every one of the ceremonies in which I’ve participated, while beautiful in performance – and which I was honored to have been a participant for that fallen Sailor or Marine, is still ominous and sad.
I will always know the history of – and recognize and respect the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who served in our military long before me, during my period in service and the period after. As a veteran, I too have lived through periods of loss of brother Sailors and Marines during my years of service. I’ve either known personally or were once acquainted (since we served in the same command) with some guys who lost or gave their lives in the honored service of America. May those men continue to rest in peace.
At this writing, I’m remembering a few incidents during my twenty-year career span in the U.S. Navy where servicemen gave/lost their lives:
- the U.S. Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers who, with other friendly foreign military servicemen, lost their lives when the barracks in Beirut, Lebanon was bombed October 23,1983. Some 241 lives were lost;
- the 37 lives were loss on board the USS Stark (FFG-35) on May 17, 1987. I commissioned and had served on two ships built of the same design as the Oliver Hazard Perry class/type guided-missile fast frigate Stark. I’m therefore intimately familiar with the location on the 453-foot ship where two Iraqi Exocet missiles, fired from an Iraq Air Force jet, struck her. That was during the Iran-Iraq war…what many like to refer to as the “First Persian Gulf War” (1980-1988). The Stark incident touched me deeply and personally. Perhaps someday I’ll tell that story.
- the 47 Sailors who died from a gun turret explosion on board the great battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) in 1989. Though she was not attacked by an enemy there were still innocent lives which were needlessly lost on Iowa because of a mixture of carelessness and other factors I won’t dare get into in this article. However, it needs to be noted that there simply are things that cannot be loosely tolerated, short-changed or – to use a Navy term for slacking off, “gundecked” on any warship – for the crew on any warship must first and foremost always prepare and ready that ship to rely on itself for support when at sea until help – if needed, arrives.
…and a year after my retirement from the Navy…
- the 17 men who died on the destroyer ship USS Cole (DDG-67) when Al-Qaeda suicide terrorists bombed her in Yemen – specifically in the seaport of Aden in October 2000. I recall my ship USS Nashville (LPD-13) having moored there years earlier during Operation Desert Storm, which is one reason that incident – in that area, means something to me.
I could go on with more stories regarding the sacrifice of the American military serviceman which occurred during my career and shortly after I retired, and of course, about the thousands of American military lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions before and after 9/11 but these few instances will do for the purpose of this article. I encourage you to click on the links of each to read or refresh yourself of the history regarding those examples of great military sacrifice.
Let me close with this reminder about Memorial Day:
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day which is in November. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while in military service to our nation, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans in wartime and peacetime. While I and many of my fellow veterans appreciate people giving me/us thanks for my/our military service, I must tell you that such greeting and salutations is [officially] about six months early. Don’t get me wrong; we understand your well-meaning but the focus on Memorial Day needs to be on those military servicemen and women who died in battle, from battle wounds and even those veterans who later passed on to the next life years after their honored service.
Since it is Memorial Day, here’s another reason it’s important to observe the day this year! July 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. Click World War I Centennial Commemoration to learn more about events happening in the U.S. to commemorate this point in our country’s history that lead up to America’s entry into what was called,“The Great War”. Click First World War Centenary to learn of other events happening around the world to commemorate the occasion. Many considered World War I to be “the war to end all wars“, a catch-phase created after author H.G. Wells’ book with a similar name was published shortly after WWI started. You may begin seeing and/or hearing media ads and promotions about the centennial of World War I.
If you happen to see a military serviceman/woman in uniform on the street or know a veteran, by all means, please express your appreciation for what they do. Such genuine, impromptu greetings often make that servicemen’s or veteran’s day. Trust me! Stop by a military or veterans memorial cemetery or park and
look at read the engraved names of our deceased brave military service men and women on markers in the ground. Take your children with you!
Finally, remember that America –with all her problems, is still the land of the free. Let’s not forget there are thousands of nefarious people who plot everyday to take away our freedoms and change and/or destroy our way of life! With that in mind, I’m aware that there are many people who have stated repeatedly that they would like to move out of this country due to their distaste in current political leadership, intolerance with certain social issues, conflicts with religion regarding those social issues and a host of other issues which are things which any free republic has to endure. Meanwhile, hundreds of people all over the world are trying to move to this country. People want to live in a place where they can be free to be who they are and where they can [legally] express themselves without fear of retribution. America seems to be that place – to some extent, more than any other country on the globe. If you’ve never visited or never had an extended stay in another country there is little doubt that you will ever truly appreciate nor completely understand the many freedoms we enjoy and often take for granted here in the United States – even though we still have a very long way to go with regard to issues of equality covering race, gender and sexual orientation, just to name a few.
America is a free nation because of the sacrifices of thousands of brave men and women in military uniform and those in that particular sub-culture who died protecting that OUR freedom. Remember that… and again, be sure to teach your children!
Have a good Memorial Day!
Happy Veterans Day – to all my fellow brother and sister veterans – retired and inactive duty vets and to the reservists and active-duty men and women of America’s armed forces.
On this Veterans Day – in fact, every day, we all should be mindfully thankful and appreciative to the men and women who have worn – and who are wearing the uniform of the Air Force, the Army, the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Marine Corps – as well as those in the Reserves and the National Guard units serving here in the United States and those stationed abroad. Each person in the uniformed services either gave – or is giving of him or herself – often at the risk of being placed in harm’s way – and for sure in the separation from their own family and loved ones. We should be so grateful to our veterans for because of them, we can continue to enjoy the freedoms and rights and the sovereignty of our great nation – much of which many of our fellow citizens tend to take for granted. Sadly, there are those who would rather see our nation destroyed from within as has happened – and is happening – in other countries in the world instead of us here, peacefully and respectfully exercising our freedoms and rights to debate and solve our problems in respectable and civil manner and allowing our fellow American citizens to have those same freedoms and rights for which many who served and are serving in the U.S. armed forces have worked to protect.
Many Americans fuss over the politics behind the reasons for why members of our great military are stationed in another country or sent to protect or police a particular situation on foreign soil. Often many of those same Americans fail to see that in many instances our military has served – and is still serving as a deterrent on that foreign land and sea region to ensure that all that has – or is happening to cause strife and likely the internal destruction of another country does not find its way over onto our own shores and ocean areas. Except perhaps for the Civil War, much of the land you walk and drive on each day and the very beaches and ocean you play on here in the United States has for the most part, been spared the costs of mass interior structural damages and loss of life due to war. We have our military to thank for that!
Mind you, I am in no way suggesting that all of our past, present or future military presence and actions on foreign land and sea were or are right or correct, nor do I want to spark a debate over whether some military action we took as a nation was necessary. We must let history and future generations of our country and the world decide that – in much the same way we have judged past conflicts and wars of this world. We must remember and clearly acknowledge the fact that here in the United States all military actions are dictated by the political leaders of the American electorate. That would be you and me, dear reader! The persons whom we elect to govern and/or represent us on state and federal levels are responsible for selecting and approving appointments of those individuals who control and operate our military and where it goes. Our troops alone do not decide such things. Members of the armed forces are trained to issue and/or receive orders and carry them out. In the majority of cases, orders are executed without question; they simply have to be whenever lives are on the line and time is of the essence!
Many people are unaware that federally, Congress sets the number of people to be given and/or appointed to the rank of officer in our armed forces. Officers are people to whom the responsibility of command of various units and battalions on both land and sea are given. Congress is responsible for approving all officer appointments and certain high-level command posts assignments made by the President of the United States. Congress must also approve the funding of pay and benefits earned by our nation’s veterans – be they retired, inactive or active duty. So you see, Americans who elect the people to govern and make laws are, in a roundabout way, also hold some responsibility for how our armed forces is funded, operated and deployed. (Those are some facts I’ll bet many reading this article didn’t know!) At least twice before on this blog I’ve written about the responsibility which we, as citizens of this great nation, hold with regard to our political leadership and government. That responsibility does not stop simply because one doesn’t wear a military uniform or has never served in the military. Try to remember this next time you rant or hear someone else rant about the actions of the President, who under our Constitution, is the commander-in-chief of the military. Think about this the next time our president decides to deploy units to take the offense in preventing some terrorist action from coming to America, or decides to defend – in the interest of national security – a country that is an ally of the United States or when a decision is made by our President, with the backing and approval of Congress, to attack or go to war against an offending nation – particularly if such a defense or attack is for/against a foreign nation whose people and/or political governance or particular way of life you or many who think like you, may or may not like, believe in or support. Regardless of whatever you hear and see in the media, try to keep in mind that the picture of events is often bigger than we are told or led to believe. Often the facts are twisted or inaccurate and for various reasons under the sun, there is a shitload of propaganda – much of which is never good – if any propaganda can be good! Often there are national security reasons for it all. Most veterans and active duty military service members know this all too well for if they didn’t, there would most likely be a mass exodus out of the armed forces!
I would not be “keeping it real” if I led any reader of this blog to think that I believe that America’s military is without sin. Oh, believe me; I know from personal experience that it most certainly is not! I proudly served in the United States Navy for twenty years. I enjoyed my service and have done many things while in service to the land of my birth. If ever asked to go back in the Navy I would answer the call without hesitation. In the time which I served I have met many people from all walks of life and from many places around the world. I have traveled to many great countries and seen many things in some of those countries that make many of the problems of our own beloved nation pale in comparison. During various points of my career, I have worked directly with members from other branches of the armed forces of both the U.S. and those of foreign countries. I’ll be among the first to acknowledge that our military, like those of other countries, is not a perfect entity. It too is plagued with many social problems that are very similar, if not the same to those of the civilian populace.
The U.S. military is a regimented sub-society/sub-culture of America and therefore is governed, protected and operated by its own laws and procedures under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) and the respective regulations of each military service branch. Most or all of the laws of the military are still subject to our nation’s constitution and certain other laws of the land. (There’s another fact I’ll bet many reading didn’t know!) For example, our military has people who suffer from both physical and mental illnesses – which includes depression, attempted suicide and other issues too numerous to mention. I’ll be the first to tell you from personal experience that the longer one stays in the military and/or the more exposed a service member is to battle, the harder it can be to transition and get readjusted or re-amalgamated into a new life as a civilian. It’s very hard. As you read the last two sentences keep in mind that it is an understatement. Thankfully, there are many programs in place – starting with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other help agencies not directly linked to the government that are available to assist any veteran with things like readjustment to general society, education, vocational skills, medical-related issues, financial concerns, housing and employment needs, just to name a few. There are also programs available to help a veteran with issues like alcohol, drugs and other issues related to substance abuse.
Of course as an American sub-culture, the U.S. military also has a shameful criminal element. Knowing this, I feel the need to suggest that a certain exemption from being respected as a veteran be given to those particular individuals who are in or who were formerly of our armed forces who have intentionally disgraced the uniform of my military brothers and sisters – be they retired, inactive or still in uniform. I’m referring of course, to those few individuals of our military who:
- have stolen and/or sold military intelligence and secrets to our enemies;
- have deliberately taken the lives of their fellow service members;
- were found guilty of other heinous crimes while in or associated with the military.
An exemption from respect and honor to being a veteran must also be applied most especially to those persons guilty of sexual harassment and sexual abuse of our uniformed women (and some of men – which you will rarely hear about) and toward those individuals who would practice any form of discrimination and hate towards their fellow service members simply because of gender (male or female) ethnicity, religion, ancestry or whose sexual orientation they simply don’t or cannot accept. I believe I speak for all of those veterans who are proud of their respective military branch of service in which they served and who worked hard to protect, honor and maintain the history, traditions and the respect of that military branch when I say that we too, are ashamed that such people served or are serving among our ranks. We are very sorry that they have brought shame and dishonor to the military which we ask you, our fellow citizens, to respect twice a year.
For more than 238 years our military, in spite of its own growing pains of racism, sexism and bigotry based on sexual orientation, has stood as an ever-faithful bulwark against domestic and international tyranny. Sometimes, it is ordered to take the fight over to where it first came – especially in those instances where a nation or a faction of some nation seeks to bring trouble to our deployed troops and/or embassy personnel or over onto our shores.
As we commemorate Veterans Day, let’s remember the service and sacrifices of the men and women who once wore the uniform of our armed forces and those who wear it today who have helped keep America free and strong. Again, this includes those persons who served in our Reserves and the National Guard. Try to remember that our troops – regardless of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation (click to read LGBT Pride Month: What It Means To Me As a Veteran) or religion, are doing a very important, very hard and often thankless job, even if they don’t talk about it and even if you don’t know or understand what that job is or the decisions and orders issued by our government to perform that job. Those who have never worn a military uniform and served at least a year or more in the military can never fully understand or appreciate much of the work of our armed forces – let alone those men and women who, while in uniform were imprisoned and/or tortured in captivity, those who came home maimed physically, psychologically and emotionally, and those who were killed in action or who died from battle wounds and/or some war-caused disease, thus paying the ultimate sacrifice to a nation they cherished and loved. No, many reading this article cannot possibly know or understand life of a United States service person, which is even more reason for giving a veteran one’s utmost respect and recognition.
Today – and on any given day, if you know a retired or active duty veteran, please give that person a call or send a text message to thank him or her for their distinguished service. Better yet, after the holiday try to visit your nearest Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, a VA medical facility or nursing/retirement home for veterans and ask to see a veteran who may be sick or lonely. Chances are you might make a friend! Your return “gift” for such a visit might be his or her friendship and the giving of some historical insight of what “really happened over there” when that veteran was at such-and-such a place during some war or conflict. We in the military often refer to those insights as war stories or sea stories. Such stories are always fascinating when they come from a person who was there! Listening to an older veteran tell such stores from his or her point of view – especially an uncensored story – one complete with all the foul language, sure beats reading a book or watching a Hollywood movie about it any day! Hearing a veteran tell a war story or a sea story – some of which are not always or necessarily about a battle but about general or common everyday military life, can trigger one’s imagination to a point that, if the story is listened to with patience (very important – particularly with elder veterans!) and with keen interest and care, the listener might come to believe that he/she were actually there with that story-telling veteran! I shit you not! On occasion, I’ve told a few of my own sea stories; I have lots more I long to share before I leave this plane of existence!
If you see a veteran, be sure to look that person in the eyes and say to him or her with all heartfelt sincerity, “Thank you for your service!” If you personally know that veteran you might want to consider asking follow-up questions like, “How are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do to help make your transition back into society an easier one?” Teach your children to do the same…and most importantly, teach them why. We veterans appreciate seeing and hearing signs of respect, interest and appreciation more than you’ll ever know!
My name is G E “RobFather” Robinson, Sr., United States Navy (Retired). I’m hoping that you and yours have or had a very happy, safe and enjoyable Veterans Day!