Archive for the 'History' Category
Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.
Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.
Please join us on Sunday, 21 September 14 at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 246: When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty
As we once again face the promise of a conflict with a limited mission and a strangely ill-defined Strategic and Operational design – what do we need to keep in mind not just from recent history, but the longer term record?
History shows us that military and political leaders either over or under appreciate changing technology, outmoded doctrine, and the imperfect correlation between past experience and present requirements.
From the national psyche to stockpiled war reserves – what happens when the short and splendid turns in to the long slog?
Using his latest article in The National Interest, The Most Terrifying Lesson of World War I: War Is Not Always “Short and Sharp,” as a starting point, but expanding to a much broader discussion, our guest for the full hour will be Chris Dougherty, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).
Mr. Dougherty graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Security Studies from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and received an M.A. in Strategic Studies with distinction from John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He also served as an airborne infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 1997 to 2000.
By Bill Doughty
On Sept. 11, 2001 Michael P. Murphy was an ensign in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
Michael Murphy, a graduate of Penn State University, who grew up in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, internalized and personalized what happened on 9/11, according to colleagues, mentors and writer Gary Williams, author of “SEAL of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Michael P. Murphy, USN.”
The book is on Adm. Greenert’s bookshelf as an essential Warfighting First selection of the CNO Professional Reading Program.
Murphy led a SEAL team into Afghanistan in 2005 where he faced a profound ethical dilemma after capturing some civilian non-combatants. (His dilemma and moral decision is examined in detail in another book about Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell.)
The team then endured a prolonged firefight against a larger Taliban force. At the end of the terrifying and deadly fight, Murphy faced a second, more personal moral choice. At great personal risk, he put himself directly in the path of enemy fire in order to call in help for his team.
In “SEAL of Honor” Williams introduces us to Murphy’s family, shows in detail his training regimen as a Navy SEAL, describes the mission Murphy led in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, and shows the honors paid to Murphy and his family after he was killed. “SEAL of Honor” preserves history and offers a well-documented biography of an American hero.
Murphy’s bond with first responders from his home state is legendary. He had his unit wear the bright orange patch of FDNY Engine Co. 54, Ladder Co. 43 — “El Barrio’s Bravest” — on their uniforms as a team symbol and constant reminder of 9/11 and why the SEALs were in Afghanistan, according to Williams.
Marcus Luttrell also refers to the patch several times in “Lone Survivor.”
Like Williams’s “SEAL of Honor,” Luttrell’s book is understandably an autobiographical account. Before describing Operation Red Wings, “Lone Survivor” explores Luttrell’s upbringing in Texas, his SEAL training in San Diego and a mission in Iraq desperately searching in vain for weapons of mass destruction: “chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness.”
Luttrell’s telling of the firefight with the Taliban in Operation Red Wings is gripping and graphic, but at the end of Luttrell’s book the reader is left with a hunger to know more about the hero, leading protagonist Michael P. Murphy.
“Seal of Honor” shows us how Murphy’s qualifications as a leader developed starting in early childhood. As a toddler, Michael’s favorite book was Wally Piper’s “The Little Engine that Could.” He was a voracious reader at Canaan Elementary School.
According to Williams, Murphy’s favorite book as an adult was “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield, a historical fiction novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 brave Spartans protected their homeland and democracy from an invading Persian Army. Greek warrior culture is part of the SEAL tradition.
The never-give-up attitude, willingness to sacrifice for a cause and strong personal ethos all contribute to what makes a Navy SEAL, provided the individual can tough it through BUD/S training, described in detail by Williams.
“Despite the brutal training, Michael soon realized that almost anyone could meet the physical requirements of the SEALs, but the unending challenge from day-one would be the mental toughness, that never-ending inner drive that pushes you forward when every nerve and muscle fiber in your body tells you to stop — to quit. That warrior mind-set — the mental toughness — is what separates a Navy SEAL…”
“SEAL of Honor” includes inspiring SEAL Creed excerpts or, in some cases, complete remarks from SEAL leaders like Adm. Eric T. Olson, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Loo and Commodore Pete Van Hooser. All focus on leadership expectations and maintaining high standards.
Williams describes the tragic rescue attempt in which Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen and 15 other would-be rescuers were killed when their MH-47E Chinook helo, call sign Turbine 33, was shot down by the Taliban.
Both “Lone Survivor” and “SEAL of Honor” showcase the importance of the concept: “no one left behind.”
Near the end of “SEAL of Honor,” Williams lists each of the warriors who died trying to rescue Murphy and his team.
He describes the many tributes to Lt. Michael P. Murphy, including the awarding of the Medal of Honor by then President George W. Bush. One of the most significant tributes, especially as far as Sailors are concerned, is the naming of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer for him, dedicated May 7, 2008.
During his remarks, then Secretary Donald C. Winter predicted, “Every Sailor who crosses the bow, every Sailor who hears the officer of the deck announce the arrival of the commanding officer, and every Sailor who enters a foreign land representing our great nation will do so as an honored member of the USS Michael Murphy,” writes Williams.
Osama bin Laden haunts both books, written prior to President Barack Obama’s authorization to kill or capture the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After a Muslim ceremony, bin Laden was buried at sea from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) just days before the USS Michael Murphy christening.
“It is my sincere belief that this ship will build on the momentum gained by our special operations forces in the fight against extremism and sail the seas in a world made more peaceful by sustained American vigilance, power and dignity,” said then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. “This ship will carry Michael’s legacy and values to Sailors several decades from now and to a new generation of Americans…”
USS Michael Murphy’s homeport is Pearl Harbor.
(A version of this review was originally published Sept. 10, 2011 on Navy Reads.)
General Robert H Scales (USA Ret.) discusses firepower and the American way of war, specifically: firepower’s use, effectiveness, and place as a cultural phenomenon in American military thinking.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 242: “Lost Opportunities: WWI and the Birth of the Modern World”:
A hundred years on, in 2014 what insights can we gain from the war that started 100 years ago in August of 2014? What are some of the lessons we need to remember in all four levers of national power; diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – in order to help steer our future course as a nation, and to better understand developing events?
Using his article in The National Interest, World War I: Five Ways Germany Could Have Won the First Battle of the Atlantic as a starting point for an hour long discussion, our guest will be James Holmes, PhD, professor of strategy at the Naval War College and senior fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
Jim is former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, graduating from Vanderbilt University (B.A., mathematics and German) and completed graduate work at Salve Regina University (M.A., international relations), Providence College (M.A., mathematics), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (M.A.L.D. and Ph.D., international affairs).
His most recent books (with long-time coauthor Toshi Yoshihara) are Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age and Red Star over the Pacific.
Jim has published over 25 book chapters and 150 scholarly essays, along with hundreds of opinion columns, think-tank analyses, and other works. He blogs as the Naval Diplomat and is an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, War on the Rocks, CNN, and the Naval Institute Proceedings.
Join us live at 5pm (EDT) if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.
Since coming ashore as an NROTC Assistant Professor, I have come to wonder why poems and literature at sea are losing popularity amongst our ranks. Perhaps the mystery and feel of navy life has been diminished – Electronic Chart Data Information System (ECDIS-N) does not have the feel of a sextant and receiving storm data vis-à-vis Meteorological Officers in Hawaii isn’t the same as predicting gales using weather gauges.
Many officers and sailors have talked to me about “how interesting navy life used to be,” or have confessed, “it isn’t the same anymore.” These are accurate observations and I think that an organization with a rich history such as ours deserves admiration. Nevertheless, this is the best time to be in the Navy. Women and minorities serve at equal status with their white male counterparts; sailors have more support networks then ever before; and social media allows many of us to communicate with our families in nearly real time. Our sensory connections with the duties we perform at sea are indeed not what they once were, but does this necessarily mean we are less inclined to write about the encompassing power of our planet’s restless and mysterious waters?
Despite the interest our careers inspire amongst men and women of all ages, there has been a considerable decline in literary reminiscences over the last few years. Instead of using turning to pen and paper to share and confess our thoughts, we merely use hash tags and click ‘share.’
The nineteenth century gave us Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad; the early twentieth century produced Jack London and Patrick O’Brien. They were sailors with the ability to portray sea life from a variety of perspectives that engaged readers at their core. Although their work was primarily fiction, I’d offer that the difference between fiction and reality is razor thin. The stories poignantly reveal human nature at sea and provide meaning that all of us can relate to. Like these famed authors, we too must strive to make meaning in what we do and then portray this cogently to the public domain and each other.
Popular writers have weighed in, but their contributions are not necessarily accurate. The April 19 New Yorker article “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier” by Geoff Dyer, ended with the same dubious colloquialism every landlubber surmises. “When, at last, I was back on the very dry land of Bahrain, I checked in at a hotel, went up to my room, and showered for a long time. The water felt cleaner, more sparkling [. . .] I looked out the window at the empty cityscape and experienced another revelation: I could go for a walk!” Similarly, the only question Thomas Friedman asks a young junior officer when he rode the USS New Mexico for one night was “how do all of you stand being away from your families for so long underwater, receiving only a two-sentence ‘family-gram’ once a week?”
I would contest we are not simply motivated by the same social connotations that our civilian counterparts enjoy. We are sailors. We come from a different breed and our lives by nature do not possess the homogeneous social norms of our civilian counterparts. Although we may have put to sea for a variety of reasons – service to our nation, learn new skills, earn the GI Bill – all of us have been affected by the wonders of navy life; our lives sharpened by the life on the seas. Some of the mystery is gone, but the beauty still remains.
Proceedings and other naval publications primarily exist to discuss and debate naval doctrine, but it should also reflect on our social experiences in a meaningful way. To be honest, I have never mused about the powers of Aegis beneath the vast night sky, with the dust of the Milky Way scattered as far as the eye can see. Even though the Main Propulsion Assistant and the senior gas turbine technician could recite each valve within the main drainage system by memory, we never argued too much about engineering improvements that our senior leaders should be pursuing. We told sea stories, discussed books and history, laughed as we reenacted scenes in our favorite movies, and then went about our duties.
Mahan’s diary as a junior officer is a fascinating read. Many of his entries lament about his fear of drinking too much and his abhorrence of superior officers. “The Captain has annoyed me, and I have felt and spoken angrily and sullenly.” And, like so many of us, he does not always complete tasks on time. “Have failed in my duty concerning the reading of the Articles of War.” Yet, within his complaints and small victories, a portrait of life at sea emerges. His ability to reflect on sea life, both positive and negative, ultimately led to him thinking more critically about naval tactics and the naval profession as a whole. Simply put, it gave him meaning and persuaded him to remain at sea.
Over the years, I have found that life itself is like the sea. Our lives ebb and flow like a foaming tide. We attempt to seize each moment, try to live one day at a time, hang on tightly to lifelines and trust that our faith in each other will get us there. So much we do in our lives as sailors is wandering and I do profess that wandering the ocean is the most exciting profession in the world.
Perhaps John Masefield says it best in Sea Fever.
Oh I must go down to the seas again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by
And the heel’s kick and the wind’s song,
And the white sail’s shaking
And a grey mist on the sea’s face
And a grey dawn breaking
Before my final deployment aboard USS Milius, my wife gave me the finest gift anyone could: a journal. It was an impeccable idea. After all, there’s nothing like a day at sea, to meditate about this earth and to think of all the challenges that await us afloat and ashore. So, as naval officers who experience the daily grind, let us tell the evolving story of our Navy. One hundred years from now these entries will capture us for who we were and where we were going.
Geoff Dyer, “Shipmates: Life on an Aircraft Carrier,” The New Yorker, April 2014, 6; Thomas Friedman, “Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle,” The New York Times Sunday Review, March 29, 2014.
Diary entry on August 6, 1868 and May 11, 1869 in Letters and Papers of Alfred Thayer Mahan, vol. I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1975), 201; 301.
John Masefield, “Sea Fever” in Salt Water Ballads (1902).
Please join us (live!) on Sunday 20 July 14 at 5pm (DST) Eastern U.S. for Episode 237: Military Sealift Command – Past, Present and Future :
Whatever confession of maritime strategy you adhere to, there is one linchpin that all will survive or fail on – the Military Sealift Command. Our guest for the full hour to discuss the entire spectrum of issues with the MSC will be Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at Campbell University.
Sal is a 1989 graduate of SUNY Maritime College, with a BS in Marine Transportation. He sailed on the USNS Neosho (T-AO 143), Mohawk (T-ATF 170), Glover (T-AGFF 1), Comfort (T-AH 20) during the Persian Gulf War, and John Lenthall (T-AO 189). Ashore, he was assigned to the N3 shop for the Afloat Prepositioning Force and focused initially on Marine Corps MPF vessels, but later working on the new Army program, including the construction and conversion of the LMSRs.
In 1996, he transitioned to his academic career. Receiving a MA in Maritime
History and Nautical Archeology from East Carolina University, focused on the merchant marine in the Vietnam War. He later then went to the University of Alabama and graduated with a Ph.D. in Military and Naval History with his dissertation on entitled Sealift.
He has taught at Methodist University, East Carolina, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the U.S. Military Academy, prior to being an Assistant Professor of History with Campbell University since 2010, In addition, since 2008, he has been an Adjunct Professor at the US Merchant Marine Academy teaching a graduate level on-line course on Maritime Industry Policy.
He has been published in the Northern Mariner, Sea History, Naval History, and Proceedings.
As always, join us live if you can or pick up the show for later listening by clicking here.
Some references for our conversation:
Stars and Stripes – With Navy strained, Sealift Command crews eye greater military role
Military Sealift Command: MSC: 60 years strong (2009)
USN/MSC Photos Upper MC3 Erik Foster; Lower MC3 Dustin Knight
Reviews by Bill Doughty
The United States Navy is making and living history right now in Hawaii in the world’s largest maritime exercise: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014), fostering collaboration and cooperation and promoting international understanding. Among the participants in this year’s RIMPAC are navies from 22 nations, including UK, Japan, and China.
Two books give perspective on the past two centuries of naval history and provide context for the history being made by the U.S. Navy this summer.
A lot has happened in the two centuries since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812: from wooden ships to littoral combat ships; the birth of naval air forces, airpower and UAV; nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines; computers and cyber-security. The world is changing too, as captured in the Maritime Strategy, from world war confrontation to global cooperation. Think about the evolution of the fleet and the world in which it operates today.
Thomas J. Cutler thinks and writes about changes and challenges over the past 200-plus years in “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy.” His Naval Institute Press book is a mainstay and now a top pick on the “Be Ready” list of the CNO’s Professional Reading Program suggested reads.
Cutler writes about the “magic” of the lore, language and legacy of the United States Navy, and invites Sailors to reflect on the “club” to which they belong. His book recounts — and makes relevant — history through the stories of Sailors in the past and present.
“The more you know about the Sailors who served before you, the more prepared you will be to do your job, and do it well. It is your turn to follow in the wakes of those who went before you, to lead the way for others who will follow you, and to make your contributions to the Navy’s ongoing legacy of honor, courage, and commitment.”
In a Chapter 6, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Cutler sets the stage with a brief description of Master Commandant (Commander) Oliver Hazard Perry, his famous pennant and the sailors who fought in the face of adversity at the Battle of Lake Erie. Cutler then gives more recent history, including the story of the five Sullivans brothers lost aboard USS Juneau in Guadalcanal Campaign, 70 years ago this year.
Cutler ties in the brothers’ namesake ships, including the current USS Sullivans (DDG 68), showing how the ship was targeted in a failed attack by al Qaeda in Aden, Yemen in January 2000. That same year, on the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday, terrorists launched another attack on an Navy ship, this time against USS Cole (DDG 67).
He recounts the heroism of the Sailors who all focused on three tasks, “caring for the injured, providing security against further attack, and saving the ship.” Don’t give up the ship…
The author packs a lot of history in this easy-to-read overview that contains stories and photos about JFK’s PT-109, Rear Adm. “Amazing” Grace Hopper, 1776‘s gondola Philadelphia, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, battleship USS Maine, Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, and naval aviator and astronaut Alan Shepard Jr., among others.
In the appendix he offers synopses of key engagements through battle streamers, showing the operational history of the U.S. Navy.
The streamers demonstrate a commitment to always “Be Ready.”
Speaking of “back to the basics,” also recommended is a new book by Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., “Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer.”
The book, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, is endorsed by retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, and former President George H. W. Bush, who served as a naval aviator and “junior officer at sea.”
Wray offers self-described bite-sized “sea stories” and practical, pragmatic “salty advice” along with plenty of lists, including traits and tributes, rules and advice, and a list of 35 books on leadership!
Interestingly, the book opens with advice from ancient philosopher from China Lao Tzu:
A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you”;
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”
— Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh Ching,” verse 17, 6th century BC
Wray’s book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is in the same “Blue and Gold Professional Library” series as “The Bluejackets Manual,” “Command at Sea,” and “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” (above), among others.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Navy Reads — http://navyreads.blogspot.com. Recent posts include reviews of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” and “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.”)
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.
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…