Archive for June, 2014
“What is India’s role in the Indo-Pacific?” “Does India have a national interest at stake in the South China Sea?” “How should India shape its maritime relationship with China?”
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to India to take part in an engaging three-day conference on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, joining two other CIMSEC members in Chennai and Kochi. While the above questions of India’s maritime strategic future were not the theme of the conference (that being Sea Change: Evolving Maritime Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific Region), they were frequent points of discussion, only natural given the event’s location and the preponderance of preeminent Indian minds. While I’ll focus here on these conversations, the conference’s top-notch organizers from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Stimson Center are publishing a collection of the papers presented, on an array of topics, which should make for stimulating reading. I’m grateful to the organizers for inviting me, and the U.S. Consulate Chennai for sponsoring the event.1
I’m also grateful for the effort these organizations made to bring together scholars and practitioners from the United States, China, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India to consider the challenges and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific from a variety of perspectives. These representatives from the fields of maritime shipping, offshore energy, geopolitics, international law, private maritime security, and fisheries and climate sciences had the chance to share and contest ideas in a cross-disciplinary approach. And contest they did.
Observers and attendees of similar events will be familiar with the contentious dynamic that can develop between Chinese and Japanese or Chinese and American representatives, as highlighted at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier in the month. In India, Dr. Liu Zongyi of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) carried China’s banner. Some of the feistiest exchanges involved his assertions that the United States had previously agreed to Chiang Kai-Shek’s claims to the South China Sea and that there were no maritime disputes in the South China Sea prior to U.S. involvement in the region in the 1960s-70s – the former rebuffed by a personal account of the post-War discussions with Chiang relayed by U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Director for Plans and Policy, W.J. Wesley. As for Liu’s latter argument, South China Sea claimants on all sides have produced a multitude of historical documents stretching back centuries, but if he was referring to the start of a more active phase of the disputes he may have the timing more accurate. Yet China’s seizure of the Paracels from South Vietnamese forces in 1974, killing 70, is probably not what he meant as an illustration of U.S. trouble-making.
In spite of these disagreements over China’s positions, the conference to its credit maintained a cordial atmosphere, with several presenters touting the benefits of establishing personal connections and dialogue over beers or cocktails – the benefits to which many CIMSEC chapters can attest. The organizers’ ringing of a concierge bell to mercilessly keep panelists to their allotted time also built a sense of shared sacrifice against a common enemy. Even by continuing to press his country’s positions Liu won some professional empathy for resoluteness in the face of near-universal criticism.
For it was near-universal. If anything surprised me at the conference it was that the Indian panelists and presenters also openly disparaged both Chinese claims and their actions in the South China Sea. The 9-dash line came in for particularly sharp treatment, with one analyst noting that by the same basis of drawing lines in the water Spain could claim all lands 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands – with a treaty to back it up. Yet a consensus on the merits of the issues doesn’t mean India will take action. Indian participants led a robust discussion and were of divided opinion as to whether India had a national interest in getting involved in these disputes on the eastern end of the Indo-Pacific.
To be fair, it was not only China that came in for criticism. During Q+A segments Indian audience members asked why the United States is focused on destabilizing China, whether it should be viewing the region through a Cold War lens, and whether the Rebalance to the Pacific is waning. None of these questions reflect the reality or the logic of U.S. goals in the region, but they do highlight some existing perceptions.
Dr. Liu’s view of India’s role was clearer, arguing “a swing state and hedge is the best choice,” and describing newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in The Global Times last month as having a chance to become “India’s Nixon,” and bring about closer ties with China. The outreach to India was oddly tinged with scare tactics, however, as Liu claimed “If China was crushed, India will become the target of the U.S.,” based on a remark former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made calling India an “emerging threat.” Even a Pakistani newspaper acknowledged this slip-up as a gaffe.
For their part, many of the Indian representatives saw opportunities to increase already growing maritime cooperation in the region while weighing the risks of increased Chinese activity in the Indo-Pacific. Inspector General Satya Sharma, of the Indian Navy, touted India’s sustained and close cooperation with several counter-piracy efforts from East Africa to Singapore and room for closer Coast Guard collaboration in the near abroad. ORF’s Manoj Joshi and Madras Christian College’s Dr. Lawrence Prabhakar explored ways India could build its own deterrent power in the context of increased risk from increased contact with China at sea. Prabhakar further stated that India would continue to focus primarily on bilateral relationships with regional powers, but noted several instances of developing trilateral engagements, including the upcoming Malabar exercise with the United States and Japan. At the same time, ORF’s Dr. P.K. Ghosh cautioned against expecting India to “play the role of headmaster” in setting the agendas of its neighbors at the west end of the Indo-Pacific.
Taken as a whole, the workshop was more productive than most with its focus on presenting not only challenges but also the potential means to mitigate them. By the time I presented my paper on U.S. Maritime Security Relationships and Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific I had coalesced some ideas around a concept raised by retired Vice Admiral Hideaki Kaneda earlier in the day on “webs of maritime collaboration,” specifically creating linkages between such structures as maritime domain awareness and info-sharing agreements for counter-piracy and EEZ enforcement. For despite the focus of this article on some of the more contentious issues in the conference2 there were in fact large areas of agreement and mutual concern – from the need to protect sea lanes to the projected impacts of climate change on coastal regions and ports to the benefits of collaborative humanitarian assistance / disaster response (HA/DR). As noted yesterday at The Diplomat, there’s a real need for workshops such as these, where participants talk with each other and not just at each other, to bring productive dialogue to the region.3
This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.
Fittingly, it was held as Monsoon rains began to lash southern India during the 5th anniversary of the precursor article to Robert Kaplan’s book of the same name, discussing India’s role in the region. ↩
In addition to the more academic debates over the scope and history of the term “Indo-Pacific.” ↩
And well worth cramming one’s 6’3″ frame into 40+ hours of coach flight. ↩
Is the profession of arms, as the Navy believes it is, primarily a technical job for officers – or is it something else?
To create the cadre of leaders one needs, do you train them as empty vessels that one only needs to fill up with what you want or an empty checklist to complete – or do you train them by helping them bring out their ability to lead and make decisions through informed critical thinking?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Major Matt Cavanaugh, USA. Matt is currently assigned as an Assistant Professor in military strategy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Prior to this assignment, Matt was a Strategic Planner at the Pentagon, after service with the with Second Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment with multiple deployments to Iraq from Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tal’Afar.
Matt earned his Master’s in Strategic Studies at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on generalship at the University of Reading (UK). He is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Civil Military Operations, has been published with several peer-reviewed military and academic journals, and is the Editor at WarCouncil.org, a site dedicated to the study of the use of force. Matt has represented the United States in an official capacity in ten countries, including: Iraq, Kuwait, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Latvia, and Great Britain.
Matt is the author of the blog essays Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, Another Ten Questions West Point Does Not Ask Cadets – But Should, and What Cadets Should Study – and Why Military History is Not Enough.
Join us live at 5pm (U.S. EDT) on Sunday, 29 June 2014 or pick up the show later by clicking here.
Alex Clarke is joined by the cadre in a third panel discussion for the East Atlantic Series. They discuss multination forces: whether and how nations should combine together to maximize security and minimize cost. The particular focus of this session is feasibility: how nations can go about building cooperative strategies and whether they would want to.
On Dec. 18, 2008, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service wrote, “The bombs that severely damaged the Golden Mosque in this city on the Tigris River almost destroyed the foundations of the nation, but the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
Jim Garamone and I were traveling with ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during one of his battlefield circulation tours, at the time. As the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying him all over the world. The places I went and the things I saw left an indelible mark in my memory. This place was no exception.
The Golden Mosque is a Holy Shi’a Shrine in the city of Samarra on the Tigris River in Salahuddin province.
In February 2006, the Golden Dome of the Mosque was destroyed in a bombing perpetrated by the affiliates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s brutal tactics were intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and the attack on this holy site precipitated a near civil war leaving scores of dead behind and the city of Samarra in ruins.
General Stan McChrystal, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command, tells the story of the hunt for and eventual killing of Zarqawi in June 2006, by U.S. Special Forces in his book, My Share of the Task. Zarqawi was public enemy number one and for good reason. With his downfall and the simultaneous Sunni Awakening in neighboring Al-Anbar Province, the reconstruction of Samarra and the Golden Mosque was undertaken.
Realizing the importance of this place and the special role that U.S. Forces played in the restoration of the rule of law which enabled reconstruction, ADM Mullen decided to pay a visit to Samarra, this time with 60 Minutes and reporter David Martin and his cameraman in tow.
We arrived that morning in a Mine Resistant Ambush Penetrant (MRAP) vehicle on the outskirts of town and were escorted by Major General Bob Caslen, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division charged with the responsibility for security in the region. It was a long walk up a straight road to the Golden Mosque and ADM Mullen relished to opportunity to see the city and speak to some of the Iraqi inhabitants about their lives in this war ravaged region. As we walked up the street in full body armor and Kevlar helmets, ADM Mullen felt a little awkward when compared to the residents of Samarra staring at us from both sides of the street. It was an unfortunate necessity to ensure the safety of the senior U.S. military officer on active duty.
Our plan was to walk through the market in Samarra, in broad daylight, in order to take in the sense of the reconstruction. As I looked down the side streets at several intersections we passed, I could see the fields of fire and incredible damage that the war had inflicted on this little town. That said, the market section was teeming with merchants and locals alike. In a word, it was “vibrant.” Shops were full of merchandise–clothing, kids toys, spices, poultry, meat, eggs–and the smells of street vendors cooking foodstuffs of all variety filled the air. Despite the remnants of war, to me, it seemed that the city was very much alive and well.
With my friend John Tigmo, NCIS agent and senior member of ADM Mullen’s security detail at his side, the Chairman felt unconstrained and undeterred when he stopped to talk with normal Iraqis in the street. Surrounded by soldiers, he ordered them to stand aside as he went over to talk with some Iraqi children. A father with his son came over to thank Admiral Mullen. I don’t think he had any idea who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was, but it was clear he was someone important and ultimately a party to the restoration of order in this city. I remember one man, wearing a long black dishdasha who worked his way in to talk to AMD Mullen through his interpreter. This man was a merchant and he was not shy. He unloaded on the Chairman about the lack of reliable electricity, poor city services and unhealthy water and sewage systems near his shop. The Chairman listened carefully to the complaints and said, “Do you know this man? He is Major General Bob Caslen and he is in charge of this region.” He then asked MG Caslen to give the merchant his contact information. Then he asked the merchant for his name. The man wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to the Chairman. ADM Mullen said, “I will see Prime Minister Maliki tonight in Bagdad and I will tell him of our conversation and give him your name.” As always, the Chairman was true to his word.
As we continued our walk up the street, someone said, “The Mayor may come out to receive you as we get closer to the Golden Mosque.” We were told that the Mayor was a former Iraqi Air Force pilot, in the Sadaam Hussein-era, who left the service to run for mayor. He was forced to evacuate after the bombing and the ensuing civil unrest, but returned to regain the confidence of the people and be reelected as Mayor of Samarra. Sure enough, after a few more paces up the street, Mayor Mahmood Khalef Ahmed appeared, looking very dapper in a fitted blue suit, blue tie and characteristic aviator sun glasses. It had to be over a hundred degrees outside and we were drenched but the mayor wasn’t even breaking a sweat. He accompanied the Chairman the rest of the way up the street to the Mosque and regaled him with stories of the war and the reconstruction of Samarra. The mayor had high hopes for his city and it showed in his enthusiasm. He looked forward to the day when thousands of pilgrims would return to Samarra to appreciate the Golden Mosque as we had.
As we approached the Golden Mosque, I was stunned by its beauty. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed inside and instead, viewed the reconstruction from the roof of an abandoned apartment building next door. While on the roof, we heard the story of the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam. It was in this place where Imam al-Mahdi went into concealment, known as the Minor Occultation in Islam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that one day, the Mahdi will re-emerge with Isa or Jesus Christ to complete their mission of bringing peace to the world. Wow, that was a powerful story… so powerful that while listening, the 60 Minutes cameraman focused only on Admiral Mullen, MG Caslen and David Martin and forgot to pan around to get the Golden Dome in the background. This created a little consternation with the producer reviewing the raw footage on the way home, but somehow 60 Minutes recovered the image as the camera’s digital field of view was much wider than that seen through the lens of the videographer.
That was six years ago and fortunately, the images in my mind and those that you see in this Blog were preserved by the venerable Combat Cameraman, Petty Officer First Class Chad McNeely, always with and out front of Chairman Mullen on his many trips overseas.
Now fast forward to the present day. As I watch the events unfold on the ground in Iraq I harken back to the many visits I made to this country and Jim Garamone’s opening sentence of his byline on 18 December 2006: “…the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Strike Group was positioned forward and ready at the time that this crisis unfolded. Her presence gives the President and our national leaders options, but as we have heard recounted time and again on the news, the best option is for a political solution by Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish leaders on the ground in Iraq.
From the USA, Europe, Russia, to the South China Sea, nations continue to signal where their priories are by what type of fleet they are building.
What capabilities are they expanding, and what capabilities are they letting drift away?
To discuss this and more for the full hour will be returning guest Eric Wertheim.
Eric is a defense consultant, columnist and author specializing in naval and maritime issues. He was named to the helm of the internationally acknowledged, one volume Naval Institute reference Combat Fleets of the World in 2002.
Join us live at 5pm or pick the show up later by clicking here.
This week, Sea Control Asia Pacific looks at cyber security in the region. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), interviews her colleague Klée Aiken from ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre about the major cyber issues facing Australia, ICPC’s new report on cyber maturity in the Asia Pacific, what cyber maturity means and how it’s measured, China’s and India’s respective cyber capacities, and what this all means for the individual internet user.
Hopefully, most readers here have already listened to EagleOne and my one hour interview on Midrats with Vice Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Navy Chief of Naval Personnel, and Commander Guy “Bus” Snodgrass, USN, concerning Bus’s paper, Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon.
If not, you can listen via the Midrats archive here. If you have yet to read the paper, then click the link in the above paragraph to get that too.
Well, the “quick look” is out and you can get it here. It is an executive summary, in a fashion, that outlines the respondents’ demographics and the above-the-fold responses from an unofficial survey taken between May 1st – May 31st.
A couple of things out of the box; yes, everyone knows this is not a scientific survey and only represents those who decided or were able to respond – but it is still useful. You know the old phrase, “half of life is showing up?” Well, take a large dose of one of my favorite versions, “the future belongs to those who show up,” and a dash of, “you must be present to win” and “it isn’t the people, it is the voters who decide.”
No one was forced to take it, so this is really a snapshot from the, “I’ll at least make the effort to take your survey” brigade. Does that skew the results? Who knows … and really who cares. To be part of a conversation, you have to make the effort to speak. These people decided to join the conversation, so we should listen to them.
For statistics geeks and fanatics for transparency and the messy yet vibrant creative friction found only in the market of ideas, this is the – dare I say – sexiest part;
A full report will be published in early fall which will provide an in-depth look at survey background, methodology, and analysis.
This gives everyone with a good understanding of the art to play around with the results and make their own suppositions and observations. From what we have already, there are a few things the stick out.
First, the a few things about who participated sounds about right:
1. Warrant Officers and those already retirement eligible really are not interested in surveys – their decision has been made.
2. Those who are at the most critical decision point are the most interested in the survey.
The results present what appears to be a slit personality – but one most of us will recognize. All you STEM types can roll around in the numbers and graphs, let me summarize the personality type of the plurality of those who responded.
They feel they are making a difference in their job (60%), but regardless of what they do – they don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance (64%).
Looking at what they could do if rewarded for performance, luck, or whatever the flavor of the board is – most aren’t really sure they would even want their boss’s job (61%).
Not that any of this matters anyway – they have no confidence that senior leaders will take the time to try to internalize and take action on anything they have to say anyway (62%).
In spite of it all, they want to make a career of the Navy (56%).
One of the more cynical things that is said about this line of work is that lesser men ride to the top on the backs of the well meaning and idealistic. The implication is, of course, that the well meaning and idealistic are too slow witted to know what is happening.
Well, I don’t know. Taken together, the profile we have is of people what are striving to make a difference, and want to dedicate the most productive years of their life pursuing something they find of a value larger than themselves. They know they won’t be rewarded for doing it well – are not sure they want to be – and really don’t feel that those promoted in position of authority above them care what they think anyway.
Yet … they sign up. They deploy. They serve. They leave their families. They die – in spite of it all.
For those reasons along, I do hope that the 38% were right. We have good, smart people in positions to try to address this perception/reality – maybe they can prove the 62% wrong.
Many of these issues and attitudes have always been with us and always will be. They key is the degree, extent, and strength of feeling. No human system is perfect, but you can make them less imperfect.
The people we have are not the problem if we desire to have a meritocracy and the best Navy we can. No, the problem is the structure and senior leadership they find themselves working with.
Earlier this spring, the former commanding officer of the Blue Angels was relieved of his duties as Executive Officer of Naval Base Coronado, CA, after he was found guilty at mast of “condoning crude practices on the F/A-18 flight team that led to a sexually hostile command climate.” I don’t know exactly what happened during CAPT McWherter’s second (or first, for that matter) tour as the commanding officer of the Blue Angels. Having read the Command Investigation from start to finish (available on multiple sources, but CDR Salamander has it posted on his site and it’s also available here), I am still unsure of the sequence of events and whether or not this is cause for alarm or celebration. I tried to read between the lines of the Command Investigation and failed at that too. Much of what is described sounds distinctly like regular squadron life, albeit on a more high-profile scale due to the nature of the Blue Angels.
Media reports and discussions focus on the pornography (or porn-lite as it may be), whether or not what happened was offensive, and the actions of the female members of the Blue Angels relative to the rest of the team. But those discussions miss the point, as does most of the ongoing commentary.
Having spent the majority of my Marine Corps time in a skid squadron, I think I have an idea for what gets said and done in such an environment. Skid pilots are not Blue Angels, but they are no shrinking violets either. Let’s just say my learning curve on such matters was steep. I was not offended by porn, nor was I bothered by dirty jokes, and there were plenty of both to go around. Luckily, however, I had a strong and close peer group with several amazing commanding officers. If something had felt wrong, I think that I could have spoken up with few repercussions. There were guys who were bothered by pornographic material, off-color humor, and similar things; out of respect for them others toned it down. That wasn’t the important part of squadron life, anyway, nor did it take up much of our time. What was important was whether or not you knew your job.
Pornography, sexual innuendo, et cetera, while raucously funny to some and at the right time, do not bring about unit cohesion. People don’t need porn to bond, or dirty jokes to trust each other. Humor is needed; smut, not really. Common interests and shared goals and standards, yes. Strong leaders to offer guidance versus camaraderie, yes. Giant phallic symbols on the roof? Not required. Those things are just not that important, but trust, mutual respect, and the understanding that we all have a job to do are. Creating and encouraging that kind of environment among a bunch of type-A, strong-willed pilots—or anyone, for that matter—does not require heavy doses of testosterone, porn, or raunchy humor. I belonged to some great squadrons, led by great COs, who led by example and were strong enough to stand up and do the right thing at tough times. That makes a cohesive Ready Room.
The point—regardless of the outcome of the investigation or the actual events in questions—is not that pornography, dirty jokes, and painted phalluses run rampant throughout naval aviation. It is that when a member of a unit asks others for some respect, a CO needs to take charge of the situation and lead. According to the investigation, CAPT McWherter inherited a broken, “fractured” Ready Room, and to fix it he allowed the pilots to follow the “will of the majority,” “failed to set limits,” and “returned the Ready Room to a more democratic style of leadership.” That sounds like putting the cart before the horse, and the ensuing mess suggests that it was. If people don’t trust each other, don’t respect each other, and cohesion is low, relaxing the rules and fostering overly familial relationships seems like a misstep, not leadership. Maybe that’s not really what happened, but the fact that none of the postmortem discussions note this bothers me.
From the entertainment of the risk board to the grand scale of international exercises… war games of varying types and scale inform and misinform us in learning about war and conflict. For the first in a two-part series on wargaming, CIMSEC jumped onboard with Jeff Anderson and the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Podcast to discuss the CRIC’s Fleet Battle School game as well as a more general group discussion of the benefits, tripfalls, potential and limitations of wargaming. Chris Kona discusses the Fleet Battle School game and some larger wargaming programs. Jeff nerds out on Starcraft, and I talk a bit about the first world war.
Speaking of wargames… remember, CIMSEC is running our “Sacking of Rome” series starting 16 June! Instead of talking about securing the commons, maintaining global security… using historic examples, modern-day developments, or predictions of the future, red-team the global system and develop constructive answers to your campaign. If you were an adversary, how would you seek to subvert or tear down the global system and how could we stop you? Paul Pryce is our editor for the week: (paul.l.pryce -at- gmail.com).
A SOLDIER’S STORY
On Friday, the 6th of June, we will observe the 70th Anniversary of one of the greatest endeavors ever undertaken—Operation Overlord—the Allied invasion of Normandy which was the beginning of the end of World War II. Many veterans are already flowing into Washington, D.C. for ceremonies at the WWII Memorial, and others, including the President of the United States, will pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy. As Tom Brokaw is famous for saying, the men and women that made this happen are part of The Greatest Generation in our history.
My father was a veteran of World War II. He originally joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba at the outbreak of the war. This was his father’s regiment which won acclaim in WWI. My grandfather was a Captain of the Grenadiers and won the Military Cross at the Battle of Bourlon Wood. My dad’s picture, in uniform, shortly after he joined up is attached with the characteristic regimental emblem of a flaming grenade.
After my dad joined up, he was supposed to ship out for Hong Kong with the Regiment. He missed the boat. He never talked about it much… something about a train not getting to the port of Vancouver on time. As fate would have it, the entire regiment was wiped out in the defense of Hong Kong. Those not killed in action spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW camps. This had to be painful for him as, in the Regimental system, the ranks were composed of young men and officers who grew up together.
So my dad became part of a new unit, The Lake Superior [Scottish] Regiment of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division. As a kid, I was always interested in what happened during the war, but my Dad didn’t talk much about it. I suppose I was a bit of a pest and I always wanted to know what he kept in his soldier’s leather shaving kit in the top drawer of his dresser. I’d often see him looking at his keepsakes of the war but he chose to keep them private. Like most combat veterans, he abhorred war and used to tell me that it was something he hoped I would never have to experience. In the run up to Allied invasion, my dad found himself in England with his new regiment. While there, he attended an officer training course and was commissioned. He enjoyed the camaraderie of his army buddies in England and after he passed away I finally got the chance to take a peek inside that shaving kit. I found a signed, 10 Shilling note, labeled Short Snorter and dated March 1944, but I had no idea what it symbolized. Turns out, the Short Snorter was the “challenge coin” of its time. Your friends signed it and you kept it with you at all times. If asked for it in a bar, you had to produce it or buy everyone a drink.
Ultimately, my dad made the trip across the English Channel to Normandy, but not with the main thrust of the invading force. A humble man, he was quick to say that he arrived in Normandy on D + 44 (days)–the 19th of July 1944, well after the initial onslaught took place on the beaches. He also maintained that he was never a hero, just a soldier doing his job for his country and his band of brothers. I found something else in his shaving kit after he passed away. It was a printed clipping with a small cellophane bag stapled to the back which contained sand. A photo is attached. He never mentioned it, but I presume this was from Resistance Forces in France and distributed amongst the troops as a souvenir or good luck charm before they departed England. My dad kept the sand until he passed away. When I found it, I was reminded of Tom Sizemore’s character in Saving Private Ryan. You’ll recall that he collected dirt in small canisters from all the battlefields he fought on.
My dad may have arrived on D +44, but when I stare at his personal copy of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division War Map, which hangs in my study, it is clear that the Division quickly entered the fray with the German Army (Wehrmacht) shortly after their arrival. As he worked his way through France, it was a slog. The dots on the map were spaced very closely together–a clustering early on around the places that he and his fellow Canadians fought and stopped to resupply, regroup and move on–Crepon, Caen, Vauchelles, Chateau de Mondeville, Verrieres, Cintheaux, Garcelles de Sequeville, Saint Sylvan, Falaise (where fierce fighting took place). Casualties were heavy on both sides.
My Dad often commented that the Germans fought hard against the Allies and in the beginning, they were not prone to giving up easily. Many of the units that he engaged were SS Panzergrenadiers–very capable troops. Trained as a “gunner” in the Winnipeg Grenadiers, I presume this skill set carried over in the Lake Superior Regiment. During combat, one of the things my dad told me he did as a young Sub-Leftenant was to order up lorries with .50 caliber machine gun mounts to bring to bear on Wehrmacht forces ensconced in the infamous “hedgerows” of Northern France. These weapons were effective and as enemy fires were suppressed, the unit moved on, not stopping to count the dead.
As logistics became a more and more difficult problem for the enemy, the German Army began to retreat towards the homeland or just give up when cut off or met with overwhelming firepower. Instead of hunkering down for the protracted fight, my dad told me that often in the middle of a firefight, some German units would raise a white flag or if they didn’t have one, just stand up in the hedgerows with their hands in the air, signaling the end of their resistance.
Situations like this sometimes presented problems for him. In a lucid moment, he told me the story of the young Sub-Leftenant, faced with a large number of surrendering German soldiers and officers. My dad said, frankly, he and his men lined them up on the road and told them to keep their hands up and start marching to the Allied rear area. He said, we only had a few Canadians on this one particular day, and frankly we were too scared to try to disarm each German soldier and officer. It wasn’t worth the risk of one of them going rogue on the Canadians. Many of the Germans officers still had their side arms but it was clear that the majority of them were finished, or fed-up, and ready to end the fighting in return for a hot meal and some rest. They chose life over death…
I remember mulling that story over and over again in my head as a kid… Wow, the Canadians didn’t confiscate all their weapons? And my Dad scared? My Dad wasn’t scared of anything. How could that be? What happened to them I asked quizzically?
I don’t really know son, we just told them to march along this road with their hands up until they ran in to the major concentration of our forces behind us.
After Falaise and other battles, the Regiment moved quickly through France and into Belgium. My dad was part of the force that liberated Bruges, Belgium. The Allies arrived on the outskirts of Bruges with overwhelming force. The Germans put their artillery in defensive positions around the town and orders came from higher command to flatten Bruges in order to keep it out of Allied hands. The German Commander refused… He did not surrender but he chose not to destroy one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. This story is repeated in the new book and movie, The Monuments Men.
While I was in command and on deployment in 1999, I asked for and received a port visit in Zeebrugge, Belgium. Bruges was just down the road and I told the crew to forego the Irish Pub and learn to appreciate the culture of Europe. To the man, they all loved Bruges. I sent my dad a post card from the town square of Bruges and he later told me that he recalled spending his most memorable night of the war in Bruges just after the Allies liberated the town. It was an all-nighter in the restaurants and bars and the Belgians showed their deep gratitude and generosity for their freedom.
The fighting continued into Holland and ultimately into the heartland of Germany. My dad had a local artist in Holland do a charcoal of him in January 1945 to send home to his mother. He was proud of that picture as the artist did the drawing in return for a carton of cigarettes. What a contrast between the young Winnipeg Grenadier recruit and the combat seasoned soldier six months after landing in Normandy. Although gaunt, mustachioed, and with thinning hair, his face reflects a steely-eyed determination to get this thing over with.
Although my dad didn’t wasn’t big on telling stories, he loved watching movies about the Second World War. It was like he was reliving some of his experiences vicariously through the big screen. So I grew up on a diet of the classics–The Longest Day (one of my favorites); The Great Escape; A Bridge Too Far; The Bridge at Remagen; Patton; The Dirty Dozen; The Guns of Navarone. Richard Burton was one of my dad’s favorite actors. He had gravitas and he brought reality to the big screen. As a kid, I was never as happy as I was when I got to go to a war movie with my Dad. That’s when admission was about a buck fifty and popcorn and a coke only cost less than a dollar at the most. Sometimes, afterward, he’d open up and out would come another great story.
One of my favorites was the story of a German Panzergrenadier Unit that found themselves surrounded and retreated into a church in the middle of a small town. My dad couldn’t remember the town… they all just blended together. The locals were quick to pinpoint the German location and there was no way out. Their choice–fight or give up. My dad found himself in the unenviable position of being the senior officer present so he had the responsibility to offer the Germans “terms.” This time, he said, he was never so scared in his life—he thought he would surely be shot. He marched up to the church under a white flag and knocked on the door. The door opened and he was greeted by a German officer, a Major. There was a short discussion and the Major wanted to know what the terms of surrender would be. My dad told the Germans they were completely surrounded. Leave your weapons behind and come outside. You’ll be escorted to the rear where you will be processed and held as POWs. The Major agreed. On the way out, the Major turned to my father and gave him his ring—a small gold ring with a flat brown stone. He said, this won’t last in a POW camp, you take it. It was, I suppose, a symbol of respect—chivalry between combatants. My dad never attended college, so this ring became his class ring—he was a member of the class of ’45—consisting of all those lucky enough to survive the war. He never took that ring off. He would have his official picture taken with that ring—it meant a lot to him. After the war, he left the Lake Superior Regiment and joined the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Cavalry Regiment. He became Commandant of the Canadian Forces N-B-C Warfare School in Base Borden, Ontario. His picture is attached with swagger stick in one hand and the ring on the other.
Living on Walcheren Loop on Base Borden was pretty cool as a kid. Many of my friends’ fathers had also fought in the war. Behind our house, there was an armored proving ground where Centurion Tanks maneuvered. The interior of the loop was a playground and ball field. Saturdays were the best day of the week. The baseball diamond was transformed into the scene of the movie The Sandlot. Kids of all ages and all skills would just show up and self-organize. There was no adult supervision… none was needed. You played all day until you were covered with red dirt, sweaty and exhausted. Sometimes when we tired of baseball, the field would turn into a war zone. Kids brought out every G.I. Joe they owned, all their accessories, all of our plastic helmets and Mattel rifles and set up the lines of battle. Trenches were dug on the perimeter of the field and the pitcher’s mound became a machine gun nest. Close to Dominion Day (Canada’s 4th of July celebration), every kid would come to this mock-war with his private stash of “ordnance.” During the skirmishes, sparklers, firecrackers, cherry bombs and the occasional M-80 were tossed like grenades across no man’s land. Windows would rattle in the Quarters on Walcheren Loop when the M-80s went off. It’s a miracle someone didn’t lose an eye or a finger, but they didn’t. OSHA standards didn’t apply back then. At the end of the day, the Canadians always won… so it is written.
Before the advent of iPads, iPhones, Laptops and Tablets, kids found traditional ways of entertaining themselves. I spent all of my allowance building models of the war machines that fought the campaigns of WWII. I liked airplanes the best. When I visited the Udvar-Hazy museum near Dulles Airport for the first time last year, I spouted off the designations and noun names of nearly all of the aircraft on exhibit: Messerschmitt ME-109; ME-262; ME-163 Komet; Supermarine Spitfire; Hawker Hurricane; P51 Mustang; P-40 Warhawk; F4U Corsair; F6F Hellcat and the Focke-Wulf 190 to name a few. Someone said, How do you know all this stuff?
Because I built them all, I said.
One day when I was putting the finishing touches on Revell’s best scale model of the Focke-Wulf 190, my dad walked in. He did not like the fact that I sometimes dripped Testor’s glue on the blotter of his desk. What are you up to, he asked?
I’m finishing up the Focke-Wulf 190 I said.
He stared at the aircraft and said, Oh, I remember that one… I sensed another great story coming and I was right.
I was walking back from the latrine [stuff always happened on the way back from the latrine] along a road to our camp during the war, he said. Out of nowhere, this single aircraft comes in fast and low and just as I turn around, he goes right over my head. So low, if I hadn’t hit the dirt, he might have hit me!
WOW!!! That’s incredible! What did you do dad? Did you shoot back? What happened?
No, I just lay there trying to regain my composure and I watched as he went over the hill. That guy scared the hell out of me and I have no idea why he didn’t pull the trigger. He could have easily killed me… Then he just turned and walked out of the room.
My dad was a great father to me, but oftentimes, I felt like a soldier in the barracks at home. He reminded me of Darrin McGavin, who played the dad in the movie “A Christmas Story” and I think that’s why the movie was so successful for the contemporaries of my generation. Life imitating art or vice versa. Mom was the one who always bailed me out when I was in trouble.
My dad believed in a balanced diet. He loved Brussels sprouts… I hated them. To me, Brussels sprouts were what broccoli was to President George H.W. Bush when he was growing up. With everything else on my plate gone, the Brussels sprouts always remained. My dad would say, you’re not leaving this table until you eat your Brussels sprouts. I would protest and he would say, sometimes, during the war, that’s all I got son–a plate of Brussels sprouts–now eat every last one of them! I could only manage about three in any one sitting and then my Mom would bail me out. Brussels sprouts are an acquired taste and in my adult years, I’ve learned that Brussels sprouts served with an aged balsamic vinegar sauce and grated parmesan isn’t all that bad. My dad would be happy to know that.
He would also marvel over a simple can of peaches from the commissary. What’s so great about canned peaches I would ask? He would say that these were a real treat during the war. On occasion, when closer to the rear area, the cooks would produce a few cans of peaches for the men. He would crack open that can and skewer one with a knife and slowly chew on that piece of fruit enjoying every savory bit as it slid down the back of his throat. As a kid, I could never comprehend why this was so great…
Then there was his favorite story about Calvados–the apple brandy indigenous to the region of Normandy, France. One day, after a trip back from the latrine, my Dad tripped on something he thought was a tree root in a field on his way back to the company area. When he looked back, he saw the neck of a bottle. He unearthed it and it happened to be the first of many bottles of Calvados buried out there, presumably to keep it out of German hands. My dad was a hero that day to the rest of the men in the company. Calvados remained his favorite liqueur until the day he died. Another acquired taste that I grew to appreciate as an adult myself.
My dad’s last assignment in the army was the one he enjoyed most—Canadian Defence Liaison Officer to Combat Development Command at Fort Belvoir, Virgina. He relieved a contemporary named Lieutenant Colonel Ian MacDougal Grant. Colonel Grant was a great guy. He had the swashbuckling good looks of Errol Flynn and he used to give me a lift around Fort Belvoir in his convertible VW Karmann Ghia. He and my dad were great friends and it wasn’t until my dad died that I noticed the name “I. M. Grant” on his Short Snorter… they had obviously been comrades-in-arms for a very long time.
My dad retired from the Canadian Forces in 1972, after the decision was made to integrate all combined arms into one force and go to one green uniform. My dad had to give up his Crimson Red Mess Dress jacket and his Full Dress Blue Tunic replete with chain mail on the shoulders. All symbols of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment. Some traditions die hard. He’d done 32 years in the Forces. It was time to go.
He was never so happy when I became an American citizen because he loved America and Americans. He was unhappy when Canada chose not to fight in the Vietnam War because partnerships, alliances and coalitions were very important to him. They are to me too…
When he died in 2000, I was in command and at sea. When I returned to Charleston, SC, to take care of his affairs, I inquired as to the possibility of arranging military honors from the Government of Canada at his funeral. Nothing could be done in the United States. He would have to be returned to Canada and that was not possible. My mom and I were insistent that he receive military honors, so I arranged a memorial service before my next underway on USS OKLAHOMA CITY from Norfolk, VA and I planned a formal burial at sea for his cremains. My dad was a proud Scotsman so I hired the best bagpiper I could find and a Canadian in a tartan kilt to boot! As the ship cast off all lines and pulled off the pier, the piper started to play Amazing Grace, one of my dad’s favorite hymns. The piper’s gait perfectly matched the speed of the ship as he marched in perfect unison alongside USS OKLAHOMA CITY while we backed into the harbor. On the pigstick [submarine flagstaff] of the bridge, my national ensign was accompanied that day by the Canadian Maple Leaf flag of my father. The piper finished his tribute and I ordered All Ahead Standard. It would be our last trip together as we sailed to the dive point.
I ordered the Quartermaster to plot a course to intercept the Gulf Stream, which passed through our assigned waterspace. The Gulf Stream flows out of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up the east coast towards Canada. The natural power of the sea would take my father home. His service was short and dignified and I laid a wreath in his honor to accompany his ashes on their journey north.
This Friday, I will remember and give thanks for all the members of the Greatest Generation. Many of my friends like RADM Barry Bruner, whose dad was a member of the original Band of Brothers, or RADM Mike Franken, whose dad survived a torpedo attack and the sinking of his ship at the Battle of Savo Island, have similar stories to tell. If you see a WWII Vet around town, please stop and say hello and thank them for their sacrifice.
On this D-Day, the 6th of June, I’m going to go home, put on my DVD of Saving Private Ryan and sit down for a meal of Brussels sprouts, canned peaches and a shot of Calvados. Je me souviens…