Archive for the 'History' Category
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…
How did the United States Navy achieve victory at Midway and turn the tide in the Pacific so early in World War II? An anthology from the Naval Institute Press shows the answer: Sailor ingenuity, science and skill blended with Nimitz’s wisdom and determination — along with some luck.
Other factors contributed, including miscalculations and overconfidence of Imperial Japan, whose military leaders were set on taking out “Hawaii’s sentry,” Midway Atoll. But fortune favored many of the U.S. carrier aviators who fatally damaged three enemy carriers, writes John B. Lundstrom in historian Thomas C. Hone’s “The Battle of Midway: The Naval Institute Guide to the U.S. Navy’s Greatest Victory.” Imperial Japan would lose four carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor and more than 100 of its aviators.
Lundstrom notes, “The actual sequence of events was stranger than anyone could have imagined; as [Rear Adm. Murr] Arnold wrote in 1965, it was ‘the most god-awful luckiest coordinated attack.'”
In “The Battle of Midway” editor Hone brings together a gifted roster of writers and leaders including Craig L. Symonds, E.B. Potter, James Schlesinger, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton, Elliot Carlson, Mitsuo Fuchida, Masatake Okumiya, Lundstrom and Mark R. Peattie, among others.
Throughout this book of mostly essays written over a span of seven decades, Hone adds context and analysis. In his introduction to Chapter 9, “Prelude to Midway,” he explains Imperial Japan’s motive for the attack.
“The Midway operation had two central objectives. The first and more limited one was the seizure of Midway as an advance air base to facilitate early detection of enemy carrier forces operating toward the homeland from Hawaii, with the attack on the Aleutians as a diversion … The second, much broader objective was to draw out what was left of the United States Pacific Fleet so that it could be engaged and destroyed in decisive battle. Were these objectives achieved, the invasion of Hawaii itself would become possible, if not easy.”
Hone’s “The Battle of Midway” opens with Part I, which explores Nagumo’s kido butai (air fleet), presents Admiral Yamamoto from a Japanese perspective, and shows why Imperial Japan’s carrier pilots were so skilled in the first year of the war with the U.S. Navy; it was because they had already gained experience in the previous decade in China. Part II is titled “Approach to Midway” and includes a brief but powerful piece from Proceedings, “Lest We Forget: Civilian Yard Workers,” by Lt. Cmdr. Thomas J. Cutler, USN (ret.). Cutler is author of “Bluejacket’s Manual,” “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” and numerous other books.
Part III, “The Battle,” recounts the battle Kurosawa-like, from different angles and viewpoints including several from an Imperial Japanese perspective. “I Sank the Yorktown at Midway,” by Yahachi Tanabe and Joseph D. Harrington, is one provocative title. Parts IV and V deal with the aftermath of the battle, its finale and the official report by Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Part VI of “The Battle of Midway” explores the personalities, strategies and relationships of the commanders: Nimitz, Spruance, Nagumo, Yamato, Fletcher and Mitscher. Part VII shows how code-breaking helped provide some of the “god-awful luck” that gave U.S. Navy the edge against the enemy fleet. Editor Hone leads with an analysis of the complicated state of affairs with regard to code-breaking, and he includes an excerpt from Elliot Carlson’s excellent “Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebraker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway.”
Hone’s book concludes with Part VIII “Assessments of the Battle” and appendixes, including the USS Enterprise Action Report and Spruance’s Letter to Fletcher of June 8, 1942.
The source materials, oral histories, chronologies and analysis in “The Battle of Midway” make this book a compelling overview of the heroic battle while leaving some mysteries, fog-of-war questions, and the impact of luck as still part of the story and lessons of Midway.
An extended version of this post appears on Doughty’s Navy Reads blog, along with a recent review of Robert D. Kaplan’s “Revenge of Geography.”
RADM Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, joins us to discuss the creation of strategic literacy within the Navy’s officer corps. discusses the Current Strategy Forum, a strategy sub-specialty, education, and the mentors that engaged his interest in strategy.
Since WWII, have we developed an officer corps that has not only developed a record of defeat, but has become comfortable with it?
Is our military leadership structurally unsound?
In his recent article, An Officer Corps That Can’t Score, author William S. Lind makes a scathing indictment of the officer corp of the United States in from the structure is works in, to its cultural and intellectual habits.
We will have the author with us for the full hour to discuss this and more about what problem he sees with our military’s officers, and what recommendations he has to make it better.
Mr Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, with degrees from Dartmouth College in 1969 and Princeton University.
He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Senator Gary Hart until joining the Free Congress Foundation in 1987.
Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (Westview Press, 1985); co-author, with Gary Hart, of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (Adler & Adler, 1986); and co-author, with William H. Marshner, of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (Free Congress Foundation, 1987).
Mr. Lind co-authored the prescient article, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” which was published in The Marine Corps Gazette in October, 1989 and which first propounded the concept of “Fourth Generation War.”
Join us live at 5 pm EDT if you can or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here .
In the summer of 1964 Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was enjoying his retirement and living in the San Francisco Bay area. He was asked to address a group of young naval cadets and fresh junior officers about their profession and their future. Nimitz had been connected to the sea almost since birth, his father had been a ship captain before moving to Texas to open a hotel, and his grandfather had raised him on stories of the sea. At age fifteen Chester took the Naval Academy entrance exam and passed.
He left high school before he graduated in order to enter Annapolis with the Class of 1905. In those days the entrance exam was the most important qualification for entry, not high school. The Academy was the only source of line officers for the Navy and Marine Corps, there was no ROTC or OCS. (Actually, Nimitz later helped established the NROTC unit at the University of California). When he was invited to speak it had been over sixty years since he entered the Academy, but he looked back across his many years in the service of his country and focused on three lessons for the junior officers.
It is once again commissioning season at the Academy and in ROTC units across the United States. These three lessons from the Fleet Admiral who commanded the war in the Pacific are just as valuable for our rising Ensigns and Second Lieutenants today as they were fifty years ago.
You are on the threshold of a great and honored profession – that of a naval officer. You will find among the naval officers of all countries a brotherhood of the sea which recognizes as a common enemy – the sea itself – and which has a primary duty of understanding that old enemy – the sea – in all its moods – in order to preserve the men, planes, and ships entrusted to them.*
Life at sea brings many challenges. Our history books are full of stories of combat and lessons from battle, but the sea is a danger in itself. It is something we rarely talk about in our training programs prior to commissioning, and the realization usually reaches us after we begin going to sea or taking to the air. As Joseph Conrad wrote, “the sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.”
It’s also important to note Nimitz’s connection with the “brotherhood of the sea.” (I point this out in the most gender-neutral way possible, which is sometimes an issue when using historical sources.) The bond between Sailors and Marines of many nations around the world is a long and historic one. One of the things you’ll realize on your first deployment is that you have a great deal in common with not only our allies, but everyone at sea. Today the CNO talks about building partnerships around the world, but this isn’t new and it is something that can come naturally to Sailors and Marines, if you let it.
You will understand that for a nation to survive it must control the sea and air approaches to the homeland – and that this responsibility will fall primarily on the shoulders of its naval officers who will also have the duties of protecting interests far off shore.
Nimitz knew that understanding the role we play in our nation’s defense is important. To a nation like the United States, with limited borders and friends both north and south, seapower is central to national defense. As Alfred Thayer Mahan once wrote, “every danger of a military character to which the United States is exposed can be met best outside her own territory—at sea. Preparedness for naval war—preparedness against naval attack and for naval offence—is preparedness for anything that is likely to occur.”
But besides the defense of our country, Nimitz also alludes to work “far off shore.” For today’s new junior officers this is a reminder that for the Sea Services, as the wars of the first decades of the 21st century wind down, we probably won’t be “coming home” in the same way the other services might. We are needed “far off shore” in peacetime as much as we are when war arrives. You’ll be deploying and you’ll be operating all over the world and that means being away from family and friends in order to do your job.
You will learn that you are never finished with your efforts and studies to prepare yourselves for your duties of naval officers. This will continue – as long as you live. You will share with the brotherhood of officers of all nations an abhorrence of war but you must be prepared to confront force with force whenever the interests of your country requires such action. You will learn that bravery is not enough – and that you must do your utmost by professional study and reading of history to perfect your readiness to serve your country.
Admiral Nimitz was not the first to point out the vital importance of self-study and learning your profession. From William Sims and Alfred Thayer Mahan, to Carl Von Clausewitz and Napoleon, the idea that you must continuously be reading history and studying the world around you in order to be a professional military officer has a long pedigree. Nimitz wasn’t the first, nor was he the last. However, today it is something that we all must be reminded of.
You will likely be told that if you do your job today tomorrow will take care of itself. While this may be true from a careerist perspective, it is not true from a professional perspective. You must always be studying, reading, and learning in order to prepare yourself for your next set of orders or promotion. Not just NATOPS, or the standing orders, or other pubs (though you’ll need those too). Professional development comes from books about leadership, history, and strategy. If you wait for someone else to teach you what you need to know you may never learn it. You may be tempted to say, “well, I’ll wait until I go to the War College” or “I don’t have time for that, I’ll do it once I make Department Head.” That is the wrong attitude. There will never be time unless you make time. That is as true today as it will be twenty years into a career in the Navy or Marine Corps. You don’t need to enroll in a correspondence course or an online degree, just pick out a couple of good books to read every year.
The officers that Nimitz spoke to in 1964 were an interesting group. It wasn’t the latest class from Annapolis or the recent graduates of his University of California ROTC unit. No, he was addressing the junior officers and naval cadets of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Training Squadron. Commanded by Rear-Admiral Kazutoshi Kuhara, who had fought Nimitz’s task forces just two decades before, the four Japanese ships were on a training cruise across the Pacific. Many of the officers Nimitz addressed were small children when their nation was defeated under his command. His advice not only stands the test of time, but has well served a naval force that became one of our closest allies, and one of today’s most professional navies.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz was a great naval officer. He is remembered by most as the man who led the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, but he should be remembered for much more. He was the Ensign who commanded a gunboat off the Philippines, fighting alongside Marines and Army Soldiers in the counter-insurgency campaign during the Philippine Insurrection. He was the Lieutenant that revolutionized submarine tactics and was asked to lecture on it at the War College. He was the Lieutenant Commander that introduced the Navy to diesel engines and helped develop the procedures for the very first underway replenishment.
And maybe that’s the final lesson from Admiral Nimitz, you don’t become a war winning Admiral overnight. Follow his advice: face the challenges of the sea, understand the role you and your Navy and Marine Corps play in our national security, always keep studying history and your profession, and maybe some day one of the members of the Class of 2014 will be our next Fleet Admiral. As he said:
Remember that you have an important place in a highly honorable profession. I wish each of you success and happiness.
* Original copy of Nimitz’s remarks archived at Naval War College Historical Collections, Record Group 29. Digital copy available from the Nimitz Gray Book digitization project.
So far in 2014, the big lesson is what people have known for centuries; in Eurasia you cannot ignore Russia. The cliché is accurate, Russia is never as weak or as strong as she seems.
What do the developments so far mean not just for Ukraine, but for all the former Soviet Republics, slumbering Western Europe and Russia’s near abroad?
To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.
Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
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Somethings just don’t change. Like, getting that letter. Waiting to see if your loved ones, your friends, your family; waiting to see if they wrote back to you. Knowing in your hand is that letter, which they once held, which was written in the very place you hold so dear: Home.
“I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you.”
1,800 years ago. That same sense which is so real for those who have deployed, was felt. It was known. I immediately identify with the sentiment uttered by a Roman Soldier in a land far from home.
We know the Soldier’s name, Aurelius Polion and it seems he wasn’t getting replies to his letters. Which, yeah, is the worse part–waiting, wondering if your absence is felt. You know that life is still going on back home, yet you don’t know what those goings-on exactly are, especially when all that was had for communication was papyrus and the hand carrying of letters across Continents.
Today, I sit at a computer, watching the curser blink as thoughts of what to say race through my mind. But, the effort is no different, the thoughts are much the same. There’s a very good reason why we include the phrase, “those who have gone before us” in the Sailor’s Creed, we find that reason in reading and identifying with the words of Polion.
Her email address was nowhining@…, a symbol of her outlook on life. Married to Paul since the early 1960s, Phyllis Galanti endured six years as a wife of a prisoner-of-war (POW) in Vietnam. But she never complained. Instead, she got busy. The “shy, retiring housewife,” as she was described by Paul at the time he left for Vietnam, later became a national advocate for the release of all our American servicemen who were held as POWs in Vietnam, as well as those service members who were missing-in-action (MIA).
Warned by the military that speaking out publicly about their husbands’ status as POWs would result in worse treatment for them and a setback in the government’s attempts to secure the POWs’ release, wives like Phyllis were ordered to keep silent about their husbands and, for awhile, they obeyed. But after several years of inaction by the government, many of the POW and MIA wives grew tired of suffering alone. Fearing their husbands were languishing and deteriorating in prison, the women were also becoming increasingly impatient. Backed financially by Ross Perot, they banded together and decided to raise awareness of their husbands’ plights, overtly defying the military’s directives. It was a bold move and, at the time, their aggressiveness was shocking. But, encouraged by Mr. Perot and their own determination, they walked the halls of Congress and talked to anyone in the White House, the State Department and the media who would lend them an ear. Phyllis became a leader of this forceful group of women.
Addressing a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly, facing down Henry Kissinger, and traveling the world to meet with the North Vietnamese and keep the pressure on the peace negotiations, Phyllis became an outspoken advocate for all the POWs. She was tireless. She never gave up and never lost the faith. More than six years after Paul was shot down and incarcerated at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was finally released on February 12, 1973 – 2,432 days after his capture. Four decades later, the wives and their campaign are widely credited with influencing the Paris peace negotiations and securing their husbands’ freedom. That shy, retiring housewife had been replaced with a steely advocate for change. As Kissinger later said to Paul in his thick German accent, “Your vife, she gave me so much trouble.” Paul was so proud.
Statuesque, poised and calm, Phyllis was not easily excitable. She had a softness about her that was disarming. It started with her full head of spun-silver hair, punctuated by a large, sunny grin that filled her fair-skinned face and lit up her blue eyes. She exuded Southern charm, warmth, and class. And she had the patience of an oyster.
Their emotional reunion was captured on the cover of Newsweek magazine and their story had a happy ending: Paul finished out a successful Navy career and is now the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. They had two sons and three grandchildren. They continued to serve in the community of their adopted home of Richmond, Virginia, through extensive volunteer work – especially at the Virginia War Memorial, which named its new education center after the couple. They were enjoying their golden years. And, then, Phyllis became ill and died very suddenly last week. I’m sure she would say that she had no regrets in her life – except for perhaps more time with Paul and her children and grandchildren.
Einstein was quoted as saying, “In the service of life, sacrifice becomes grace.” Phyllis sacrificed greatly for Paul and her country, but she won her war, and she exited this world quietly and full of grace.
Taylor Baldwin Kiland is the author of two books about Vietnam POWs.
Battleships ceded their primacy to aircraft in WWII, but they still played an important role. Today’s object comes from one of the more unusual ship to ship engagements during the war, that between the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the French battleship Jean Bart, in Casablanca as part of Operation Torch.
As the US prepared to strike back in Europe and the Pacific, the Navy prepared for the logistical challenge by creating construction battalions, the famous Seabees. Today’s object chronicles the first time the Seabees went into combat at Guadalcanal.
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