31 May 2010

No Sheeples Here: Memorial Day 2010

No Sheeples Here: Memorial Day 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

By Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, USMC (Ret.)

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va.—This is the place that receives the most attention on Memorial Day, though it is but one of 141 national cemeteries in the United States and twenty-four others located on foreign soil. Many of our countrymen will observe this "last Monday in May" holiday with travel, shopping and picnics. But those who take the time to visit one of these hallowed grounds will have an unforgettable experience.

These are the final resting places for more than three million Americans who served in our armed forces—as soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines—including the nearly 5,500 who have perished in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A visit to one of these quiet memorials is a tribute to those who made history by wearing our nation's uniform and taking up arms to preserve our liberty and free tens of millions of others from tyranny. In words written on stone markers, these places tell the story of who we are as a people.

Regardless of when they served, all interred in these cemeteries sacrificed the comforts of home and absented themselves from the warmth and affection of loved ones. Since 1776, more than 1.5 million Americans have lost their lives while in uniform.

At countless funerals and memorial services for those who lost their lives in the service of our country, I hear the question, "Why is such a good young person taken from us in the prime of life?" Plato, the Greek philosopher, apparently sought to resolve the issue by observing, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." I prefer to take my solace in the words of Jesus to the Apostle John: "Father, I will that those you have given me, be with me where I am."

My sojourns to this "Sacred Ground," as Tom Ruck calls our national cemeteries in the title of his magnificent book, remind me that among those here are veterans who served with my father and all of my uncles in the conflagration of World War II. Only a handful of those 16.5 million from that "greatest generation" remain. Others resting in these consecrated places were tested just five years later in our first fight against despotic communism—on the Korean Peninsula. They braved stifling heat, mind-numbing cold and an enemy that often outnumbered them ten to one.

Here are headstones of those who served in the decade between Korea and Vietnam. More than twelve million young Americans donned military uniforms in what was called "the cold war." It was only cold for those who didn't have to fight in it. They served on land, air and sea in lonely outposts, dusty camps, along barbed wire barriers in foreign lands, on guard against those who would have done us harm if they had the chance.

Between 1964 and 1975, more than seven million young Americans were committed to the bloody contest in Southeast Asia. The names of 58,267 who died from that fight are on the wall of the Vietnam War Memorial—some of them were my Marines and my brother's soldiers. Headstones in cemeteries all across this land testify to more of their selfless sacrifice—and serve as a reminder that the victory denied in that war should never happen again.

In the three-and-a-half decades since Vietnam, not a single year has passed without Americans in uniform being committed to hostile action somewhere around the globe—including Grenada, Beirut, Panama, the Balkans and Kuwait. We are not a warlike people. But for more than two centuries, ours has been the only nation on earth willing to consistently send its sons and daughters into harm's way—not for gold or oil or colonial conquest, but to offer others the hope of liberty.

Since Sept. 11th, that great legacy has been borne by volunteers serving in the shadows of the Hindu Kush, along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, in the Persian Gulf and on anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean. These young Americans are engaged against a merciless enemy who has proven repeatedly that there is no atrocity beneath them—and that they will do whatever it takes to kill as many of our countrymen as possible.

Those now in uniform deserve our thanks, for no nation has ever had a better military force than the one we have today. And no accolade to those presently in our country's service is greater than honoring the veterans who preceded them on Memorial Day.

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Five Of Five

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Five Of Five

Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Five Of Five

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remember the glory of the spirit, the valor and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen. This Memorial Day, I want to share with you five sobering stories from Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives.

The Knock

Every door is different. Some are ornately hand-carved hardwood, some are hollow tin. Some are protected by elaborate security systems, some by flapping screens. The doors are all that stand between a family and the message.

For Major Steve Beck it starts with a knock or a ring of the doorbell—a simple act, really, with the power to shatter a soul.

Marines are trained to kill. They are known for their blank stare and an allegiance to their unofficial motto, “No greater friend, no worse enemy.” Since 2003, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, Marines such as Major Beck found themselves catapulted into a duty they never trained for—a mission without weapons.

As a Marine, the forty-year-old had already won accolades as the most accomplished marksman of his class. He later earned two master’s degrees in a quest to become a leader on the battlefield. He had hoped to deploy during the Persian Gulf War but was still in training when the conflict ended. He then trained and led Marines in preparations in Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti at the Marine Ground Task Force Training Command in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. During the attacks of September 11, 2001, he served as a recruiter for the war he ached to join. During the initial invasion of Iraq, he was finishing his term at the Air Command and Staff College, hoping to transfer quickly to a deploying unit. Instead, he was sent to Colorado where he once again trained Marine reservists for war, expecting that he would soon join them.

He found himself faced with an assignment that starts with long walk to a stranger’s porch and an outstretched hand sheathed in a soft white glove. It continues with a promise stepped in the history of the Corps that most people associate only with the battlefield: Never leave a Marine behind.

In combat, men have taken bullets while retrieving their comrades’ bodies, knowing that the dead Marine would have done the same for them. It is a tradition instilled in boot camp where Marines are ingrained with 230 [now 234] years of history and the sacrifices of tens of thousands of lives.

For Major Beck—and thousands of men and women throughout the world tasked with notification duty—it is a promise that holds long after the dead return home.

Ask a Marine. Even the “grunts” on the front lines say they would rather be in the danger zone in Iraq than to have to stand on that porch. From the beginning, Major Beck decided, if he was going to have to do it, he would do it his way, the way he would want it done if he were the one in the casket.

Over the next two years and through several notifications, Beck made a point of learning each dead Marine’s name and nickname. He touched the toys they grew up with and read the letters they wrote home. He held grieving mothers in long embraces, absorbing their muffled cries into the dark blue shoulder of his uniform. Sometimes he returned to his own family and cried in the dark.

When he first donned the Marine uniform, Steve Beck had never heard the term casualty assistance calls officer. He certainly never expected to serve as one. As it turned out, it would become the most important mission of his life.

As Veteran’s Day slid into another blank date on the calendar, the Marines drove through the snowy streets of the Laramie neighborhood. The house found them first, beckoning with the brightest porch lights and biggest address numbers on the block. Inside the SUV, the major played out scenarios with the gunnery sergeant as if they were headed into battle. What if the parents aren’t home? What if they become aggressive? What if they break down? What if, what if, what if?

The major pulled to the curb and cut his headlights. He looked at the gunnery sergeant. Then the two men climbed out of the truck, walked on the untouched powder and heard the soft snow crunch.

From then on every step would leave footprints.

In the basement of their home in Laramie, Kyle Burns’s parents didn’t hear the doorbell. The couple had spent most of the snowy night trying to set up a new television. It was nearly 1:00 A.M. when the dog leaped into a barking frenzy. Kyle’s mother climbed the stairs from the basement, looked out the window and saw the two Marines on the frozen porch.

Go away! She thought. Get the hell away from here! Then she started screaming.

While each door is different, the scenes inside are almost always the same. “The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. The always know,” said Major Beck. “You can almost hear the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor. It’s not the blood as much as their soul. Something sinks. I’ve never seen that except when someone dies. And I’ve seen a lot of death.”

“They’re falling—either literally or figuratively—and you have to catch them. In this business, I can’t save a life. All I can do is catch the family while they’re falling.”

30 May 2010

Joan of Arc at the Panthéon

Joan of Arc at the Panthéon

Joan of Arc at the Panthéon

Today we celebrate her Feast, in commemoration of her death at the stake on May 30, 1431, at the age of 19. For a brief and necessarily inadequate account of Jehanne’s extraordinary life, I refer you to my post of last year. This year I was wondering how to honor a woman whose memory has remained so alive through the centuries. And then I thought of that most unfairly ignored of Paris monuments, the Panthéon.

It contains remarkable paintings dedicated to two saints who were also major political figures of their troubled times: Geneviève, patroness of Paris, and Jehanne. The latter series is the work, completed in 1890, of the neoclassical painter Jules Eugène Lenepveu.

First we have Jehanne the peasant girl, receiving the first intimation of her mission under the form of a sword delivered by an angel.


joan of arc by lenepveu at the pantheon

Then so many things happen in such short time: Jehanne, a peasant girl of 16, succeeds in meeting the Dauphin and, against all odds, he entrusts her with an army of 12,000 men. And still more amazing, she turns out to be an outstanding military leader.

Again let us listen to one of her contemporaries: In all she did, except in affairs of war, she was a very simple young girl; but for things of war, such as bearing the lance, assembling an army, ordering military operations, directing artillery, she was most skilled. Everyone marveled that she could act with as much wisdom and foresight as a captain who had fought for twenty or thirty years.

Now Lenepveu shows us Jehanne before the walls of Orléans, where she forces the English troops to life the siege of the city. Here I am reminded of her statement at trial, when asked which she liked better, her banner or her sword: “Better, forty times better, my banner than my sword!

Joan of Arc Lenepveu Pantheon

Joan of Arc Lenepveu Pantheon

But Jehanne is not content to win battles. She knows that military success is meaningless if it is not consolidated by the symbolic and religious power of the French monarchy. She convinces the Dauphin to have himself crowned King. Here she is, attending the coronation ceremony of Charles VII at Reims, still holding the banner she carried into battle. This moment is her work, and marks the peak of her glory in this world:


joan of arc-lenepveu-pantheon-3

But we know how her life ends. She is captured at Rouen, in Normandy, tried and found guilty of witchcraft and heresy to discredit by association the French King. Confronted by learned theologians, she defends herself with courage and intelligence. Grace never leaves her during the questioning. Yet at the end, when she understands that death at the stake awaits her, her strength fails her and she recants. Not for long: soon she repents her weakness:

“God,” she declares to her judges, ”has sent me word by Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret of the great pity it is, this treason to which I have consented, to abjure and recant in order to save my life. I have damned myself to save my life! Before last Thursday, my Voices did tell me what I should do and what I did on that day. When I was on the scaffold on Thursday, my Voices said to me, while the preacher was speaking: ‘Answer him boldly, this preacher!’ And in truth he is a false preacher; he reproached me with many things I never did. If I said that God had not sent me, I should damn myself, for it is true that God has sent me; my Voices have said to me since Thursday: ‘You have done a great evil in declaring that what you have done was wrong.’ All I said and revoked, I said for fear of the fire.”

In the margin of the transcript, the Court Clerk writes responsio mortifera, “a response that carries a death sentence.” Jehanne might as well have signed her own death warrant (indeed she could sign her name) but others are more than ready to do so.


joan of arc by lenepveu at the pantheon

For a contemporary account, I recommend the Ditie by the great poetess Christine de Pisan, written during Jehanne’s lifetime. Also it is indispensable to read, or reread the transcripts of her condemnation trial, where we can hear her voice in all its boldness, defiance and simplicity, and her nullification trial, conducted twenty years after her death, while many who had had the privilege of knowing her, including her mother, were still alive to testify.

Joan of Arc: military leader, national heroine and Saint

Joan of Arc: military leader, national heroine and Saint

Joan of Arc: military leader, national heroine and Saint

Joan of ArcThanks to Elena Maria Vidal for her beautiful post on the Maiden of Orléans. Indeed today we celebrate her holiday.

Like every other French child, I learned about Jeanne d’Arc in elementary school. Of all the characters I encountered in the course of my history lessons, she was the one who left the strongest impression on my young mind.

Years later, at the beginning of my career as an attorney, I read the transcripts of her trials. Time has passed, but my admiration for Jeanne (or Jehanne, as her name was spelled then) has remained the same. To me, she is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful figures in history.

Who would ever believe this story if it were not true? An illiterate peasant girl of 16 is entrusted with an army, proceeds to win decisive victories, turns the tide of a war that had been raging for a hundred years, is captured in battle, is tried as a heretic and is burned at the stake at the age of 19?

Jehanne was born in 1412 into a peasant family from Lorraine, in eastern France. The country, at the time of the Hundred Years’ War, was divided between the victorious King of England, who also claimed the crown of France, and the legitimate heir, who did not even go by the name of King, and was content with the title of Dauphin.

At the age of 13, Jehanne has a series of visions where Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret and the Archangel Michael appear to her. The three Saints prompt her throw the English invaders out of the country and crown the Dauphin. A tall order for a teenager of the lowest social status.

But Jehanne is a woman of faith. She simply leaves home, dressed in men’s clothes, and sets out to accomplish her mission. She tries to enlist in the armies of the Dauphin and is of course rejected. But she is not discouraged, and the amazing thing is that people, far from mocking her, listen to her. Thanks to her piety and extraordinary charisma, she develops a following among the poor and the nobility alike. Some courtiers even convince the Dauphin to receive her. He is understandably suspicious of this unknown girl and has one of his friends sit in the place of honor during the audience, while he himself remains standing. Jehanne, of course, is not fooled and walks directly to him to address him.

Joan of Arc manuscript marginHe is so impressed by her that he soon entrusts her with an army. Then another amazing happens: Jehanne , in spite of her 16 years and total lack of military training, turns out to be an outstanding leader. Let us listen to one of her comrades, who testified at her second trial:

In all she did, except in affairs of war, she was a very
simple young girl; but for things of war, such as bearing the lance, assembling an
army, ordering military operations, directing artillery, she was most skilled.
Everyone marveled that she could act with as much wisdom and foresight as a
captain who had fought for twenty or thirty years. It was above all in the
use of artillery that she was so wonderful.

She forces the English to lift the siege of Orléans (hence the affectionate name of Maiden of Orléans.) And she goes on to win victory and victory. The French troops go from demoralization to elation. Jehanne frees the road to Reims, where French Kings are traditionally crowned.

In France the coronation of the King had a meaning that is difficult to imagine today, and had no equivalent in other countries even at the time. It was not simply an official occasion for pomp and pageantry. It was a religious ceremony, whereby the newly crowned King became akin to a priest. It had a tremendous symbolic and political impact. For a masterful scholarly analysis of the issue, read Marc Bloch’s Les Rois Thaumaturges (The Healer Kings) translated into English under the – atrocious – title The Royal Touch: Monarchy and Miracles in France and England.

So Jehanne attends the coronation of the Dauphin, who, thanks to her, becomes King Charles VII. Other military operations follow, during which the aura of Jehanne develops. Many already consider her as a Saint.

After her exploits, she is invited to take some rest in a chateau, but she decides to join the partisans of the French King to Compiègne, then besieged by the Bourguignons, allied to the English. During a sortie, she falls from her horse and cannot get back to her feet. Her armor weighed well over 40 pounds. The Bourguignons seize her, only to sell her to their English allies.

She attempts unsuccessfully to escape, but is taken to Rouen, in Normandy, still controlled by the English. Her trial for heresy is conducted by Bishop Cauchon. He too takes his directions from the English rulers. Jehanne is jailed under dreadful conditions. When berated by Cauchon for still wearing male clothing, she replies that it allows her to better fight her guards whenever they attempt to rape her. In the face of her judges’ questions on disputed points of theology, she answers with courage, clarity and intelligence. And let us not forget that she still cannot read and write. She only learned to sign her first name. Yes, it is her signature below.

The outcome of the trial is a foregone conclusion. She is found guilty of blasphemy and heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. When taken to the place of execution, she loses her courage at the sight of the pyre. This may be the most moving part of the story: Jehanne is after all human, she is 19, and she recoils from a horrible death.

She accepts a bargain whereby she will be jailed in a Church prison for life if she confesses to lying about her visions. Instead she is still kept in an English jail. She understands that she had been tricked and recants. Cauchon and the other judges reinstate her death sentence. Her jailers then rape her and beat her so hard that she is disfigured, which may explain why she is burned with a veil over her face.

She faces her execution without any further hesitation. She cries three times “Jesus” before her body is consumed by the flames. Unusual precautions are taken for it to be thoroughly cremated, and her ashes are thrown into the Seine River to prevent them from being kept as the relics of a Saint.

Over 20 years later, the Hundred Years War is over and Rouen has been retaken by the French. At the request of Jehanne’s mother, King Charles VII and the Pope order a new trial, which rehabilitates her memory and makes her officially a martyr.

If you want to know more about Jehanne, read the transcripts of both of her trials. The first one was a clumsy, fraudulent and failed attempt at discrediting her, the second one is the record of her contemporaries’ testimony on her life. An extremely moving read.

Joan of Arc signature

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Four Of Five

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Four Of Five

Remember the glory of the spirit, the valor and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen. This Memorial Day, I want to share with you five sobering stories from Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives.

Marine Air Squadron 23

Before graduating from boot camp, every Marine masters the blank stare: the focused but distant look that glares down from recruiting posters, the one meant to strike fear in enemies, the one intended to convey more than two centuries of tradition.

Marines are taught to hold the stare no matter the distraction. If a fly crawls on their face or in their ear, they are ordered to remain steady. But no training could prepare them for the funerals.

According to protocol—an extension of their sacred “Never leave a Marine behind” mandate—a fallen Marine’s body must be guarded whenever is it accessible by a member of the public. While they trained for war, the active-duty Marines stationed at Buckley Air Force Base took turns standing guard over the caskets. Inevitably, they learned about the life of the person inside. Underneath the formal white caps they call “covers”, many of the Buckley Marines keep the funeral brochures of every Marine they watched over.

“Now they are watching over us,” Sergeant Andrea Fitzgerald said as she turned over her cap, revealing a photo tucked inside. “I call them angels.”

During visitations, Marines hear the families talk to the body. At the memorial services they listen to the eulogies. During the burials they see the flag presented to the grieving mother or widow.

Through it all they try to hold the stare. They can stand still for hours. Their feet fall asleep to their knees.

“The pain we’re feeling drives us. It drives us for the family because the pride is bigger than the pain,” Major Beck said. “But the pain—you gotta take it home and cry in the dark. What else are you doing to do?”

For Staff Sergeant Kevin Thomas it starts when the Marines first meet the casket at the airport.

“You always hear all the statements like ‘Freedom isn’t free.’ You hear the president talking about all these people making sacrifices,” he said. “But you never really know until you carry one of them in the casket. When you feel the body weight, when you feel them, that’s when you know. That’s when you understand.”

Staff Sergeant Thomas said he would rather be in Iraq or any place he doesn’t feel so helpless. Still, he said, he has learned lessons from funeral duty that he knows combat can’t teach.

“I’ll be sitting in front of the computer and I’ll see the news: Another service member killed. It’s enough to choke me up, tighten my chest. That’s another hundred people that are about to be affected,” Staff Sergeant Thomas said. “All these things their parents are going to miss—watching their son get married; have children, watching their parents become grandparents. It makes you forget everything that’s important—well, everything that society makes you think is important. There’s no way that doing one of these funerals can’t make you a better person. I think everyone in the military should have to do at least one.”

Some of Staff Sergeant Thomas’s friends had been deployed twice already, but he had yet to be sent to Iraq. As much as the Marines will say they train so they never have to fight, once the battle begins, they want to be in the middle of it. Imagine training for your whole life to be a lawyer, one said, and never entering a courtroom. Imagine training for years as a journalist and never writing a story.

“It makes me feel guilty. People come up to me and say ‘Thank you for serving our country,’ I want to say, ‘I haven’t done shit.’ I want to take the Global War on Terrorism medal home and give it to my son,” he said. “He’s done as much as I have.”

Staff Sergeant Thomas couldn’t name many of the Marines he has been stationed with for three years. He never forgets the name of someone he helped bury.

“Sometimes I’ll just be sitting on the back porch, drinking a beer and I’ll start thinking about it. It’s those times, when you’re doing the regular things that people do that I think, ‘He’s never going to do this.’”

Then, inevitably, the burden returns.

“I agree with what we’re doing in Iraq, but the funerals, they exhaust you. It’s not the physical part. It’s just so exhausting. It makes me feel guilty for saying that. I feel a sense of loss even though I didn’t know the person. But the family members come up and they speak to you and there’s nothing you can say. Often it’s just a handshake. The standard line is, ‘It’s an honor and a privilege to do this.’ But that feels so inadequate. You want to do so much more for them and you just don’t know what to do. There’s no way to convey it. There are no words in the English language…I’ll go off for a walk, have a cigarette…to keep from crying like a baby.”

Ruke 5 Sunday- Memorial Day Edition

Memorial Day - Arlington (Trace Adkins)

Trace Adkins - Arlington

29 May 2010

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Three Of Five

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Three Of Five

Remember the glory of the spirit, the valor and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen. This Memorial Day, I want to share with you five sobering stories from Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives.

Bringing Them Home

As the motorcade escorting the body of Christopher “Doc” Anderson made its way toward his hometown, about an hour away from the Denver airport, the three sailors who served as pallbearers jumped into a white van, which then pulled in behind the limousines.

Police officers and firemen saluted as they left the airport, bathed in the flashing emergency lights.

“This is so cool that they do this,” said Storekeeper Third Class Ben Engleman. “This is so amazing.”

At one freeway exit, fire trucks and ambulances parked on the overpass, lights flashing. As the procession exited the interstate, the lights burned even brighter.

Along the highway, cars pulled over, along with firefighters who continued to salute.

Then there was Longmont’s Main Street.

At Twentieth Avenue and Main, the flags began: kids holding plastic flags, Korean War veterans holding worn American flags, bandana-clad Vietnam veterans holding POW/MIA flags.

At Eighteenth and Main, groups held candles and signs. GOD BLESS OUR SON. THANK YOU. A boy held his candle to his mother’s light to light it as the hearse passed.

At Seventeenth and Main, hands over hearts. Hats over hearts.

“Dude, this is giving me chicken skin,” Petty Officer Rick Lopez said, shivering inside the van. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

At Fifteenth and Main, people came out of a restaurant to watch the procession. The blue lights of the police cars and the red lights of medical cars shone on the Christmas decorations wrapping the trees of downtown.

Outside it was about 40 degrees. Still, the crowds continued to line the streets: more children with wobbly salutes, a woman with a walker, a couple who embraced in a hug as soon as the hearse passed.

They drove in silence for a few minutes and then Petty Officer Lopez spoke again. “You know,” he said, “sometimes I wish they would do this for us when we come home alive.”

Inside the funeral home, a few feet from her son’s casket, Debra Anderson held tight to a single photo.

”I had to have my picture of my smiling Christopher,” she said, staring at the photo and then the casket.

While Christopher was deployed, his parents talked with at least once a week—mostly for only a few minutes.

“You could hear his smile in his voice. You could hear it on the phone,” his father said. “He was going back to work, back to do his job, back to doing what he wanted to do.”

Inside the funeral home, Debra leaned into her husband of twenty-six years, wiping her face with a tissue.

“My boy, my boy,” she said. “Christopher said he’d be okay. He promised he’d be safe, Rick—he promised me. I miss him. I miss the phone calls. I miss him terribly. I want to talk to him.”
“Hey,” Rick said softly, “now we can talk to him anytime we want.”

“Ooooh,” she moaned. “My heart hurts. My heart hurts. It was my job to take care of him. I shouldn’t have let him go. I shouldn’t have let him go.”

“You were going to stop Christopher?” his father asked. “Since when?”

They both managed a smile and their eyes again fell on the casket.

As the family told Christopher stories from chairs in a corner of the room, the corpsman’s younger brother, Kyle, stood at the front of the casket, refusing to leave his place, patting the rough, wrinkled flag.

The brothers had grown up as opposites; Christopher the well-dressed go-getter and Kyle the rebel who shopped at thrift stores. They fought like most brothers fight. Sometimes, they fought worse than most brothers fought. They hadn’t spoken while he was in Iraq.

As the family continued to share stories, sniffling and laughing, Kyle refused to move from the casket.

“Why don’t you come over here with us?” Rick asked him. “Why are you standing there all alone?”

Kyle looked at his father, his eyes red, and patted the casket again. “I’m not alone,” he said.

More than sixteen hours after John Dragneff’s day began, the skinny sailor walked into the room and handed Christopher’s parents a condolence card:

Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” I wanted to say, “Thank you” for Christopher. We claimed each other as brothers.

“You did good, John,” Rick said. “You did good.”

Debra Anderson grasped the young man’s hand and looked into his eyes.

“I’m glad you came with him. It’s what he wanted. You did a good job. You got him home,” she said, gripping his hand even tighter. “Thank you for bringing him home.”

No Sheeples Here: A Graceful And Gallant Man—Mr. President, I Salute You

No Sheeples Here: A Graceful And Gallant Man—Mr. President, I Salute You

From a speech by the Right Honorable Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the “Tribute of Freedom” dinner in Washington, DC on March 1, 2002

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honor to join so many friends this evening in a tribute to freedom and a tribute to the President whose name is synonymous with it – Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan – Conservative

Ronnie and I got to know each other at a time when we were both in Opposition, and when a good many people intended to keep us there. They failed, and the conservative 1980s were the result.

But in a certain sense, we remained an opposition, we were never the establishment. We were opposed to big government, to fashionable opinion within the belt-way, and to the endless round of so-called liberal solutions to problems the liberals themselves had created. As Ron once put it: the nine most dangerous words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. As usual, he was right.

Ronald Reagan helped America – and so America could help the world - because he rejected that approach. He believed, and he never stopped proclaiming, that the talents of a nation, not the wisdom of bureaucracy, forge a country’s greatness. Let our children grow tall – he urged - then they can reach out to raise others higher too.

For our opponents, there are always a hundred reasons why the government must intervene to plan its children’s lives. For us, there’s one overwhelming reason why it shouldn’t – because men and women are born to be free.

The world isn’t much used to hearing that kind of message now. We live in an era of sound bites and spin doctors, of false sentiment and real cynicism. That’s why just reading – or hearing as we shall - the words of Ronald Reagan is so refreshing. They remind us that men and women were born for high ideals and noble purposes.

They remind us, too, that the world which so many now take for granted was won by struggle. And Ron had to struggle. The fact that he kept his composure and lifted us all with his humor testified to his inner strength, not to a life without hardship. And it also testified, as he never failed to add, to the boundless, enfolding love of Nancy.

Reagan’s Achievement

Ronald Reagan’s achievements can be summed up like this: he made America great again, and he used that greatness to set the nations free. Either of these achievements would qualify a President for the political pantheon: but to have succeeded in both marks out President Reagan as one of America’s very greatest leaders.

All his policies were of a piece, and all reflected his own distinctive philosophy. He believed in America, and he believed in people.

When the academics foretold American decline, he replied that there was nothing this nation couldn’t do, once given the chance.

When the economists denounced his policies of tax cuts as simplistic, he didn’t mind if his answers were simple because they were true.

When liberals doubted if Americans were willing to master events and make sacrifices, he replied (and I quote):

“No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women”.

But nor did Ron ignore those arsenals of weapons. His build-up of American military might, sustained by a revived economy, was the decisive factor in winning the Cold War for the West and Liberty.

But how they mocked him!

Do you remember how he was told that the only way to deal with Soviet advances was to negotiate arms control?

Do you remember how they said that toughness in dealing with the Soviets would only help the hard-liners in the Kremlin? And then came Gorbachev, and then an end to the Evil Empire itself!
And do you remember how much they mocked an old man’s obsession with Star Wars? Well now we know, from the mouths of ex-Soviet officials no less, that SDI was crucial in forcing them to renounce military competition and to end the Cold War. And now President Reagan’s vision is the starting point for the world’s most necessary military program – I mean, of course, Ballistic Missile Defense.

Reagan’s Legacy and the World Today

Missile Defense is just one example of the continuity between the world which Ronald Reagan and I faced in the 1980s and the world we know today. Now, as then, it is crucial to keep our defenses strong and up-to-date. It’s particularly vital to ensure that America maintains its lead in military technology, which gives us mastery of the battlefield.

But Missile Defense also illustrates how the world has changed since those Cold War years. No longer do two nuclear superpowers confront each other around the globe. Rather, we face threats from numerous different quarters – threats less potentially catastrophic it’s true, but grave… and graver still because all but impossible to predict and deter.

Ronald Reagan’s political legacy is one where the captive nations have been freed, where democracy is dominant, where the march of capitalism is unchecked. The world is freer, fairer and richer.

But yesterday’s conservatives never imagined that the end of the Soviet Union would usher in an end to danger – only the liberals, wrong now as in the past, thought that. Those liberals were all too influential. The West cut back its defenses too far. It weakened its intelligence effort. It succumbed to the fatal illusion that government’s role is to make us comfortable, rather than to keep us safe. And so it was that those who hate America, fear liberty and attack progress, were able to prepare their wicked assault on this nation that fateful Tuesday last September.

Since then the world has watched, with growing admiration and a rebirth of hope, how America has taken swift and devastating action against the West’s sworn enemies. This was an extraordinary feat of arms. It was also an inspiring example of leadership. What we have seen proves beyond doubt that America is in truth, not just name, the unrivalled global superpower. And it proves too that another great American President sits in the White House.

I am pleased and proud that Britain, once again, has made an important contribution to this struggle against evil. Echoing both Bismarck and Churchill, President Reagan once remarked: “future historians will note that a supreme fact of this [twentieth] century was that Great Britain and the United States shared the same cause: the cause of human freedom”. My friends: in the continuation of the War Against Terror our countries must again stand firm.

For as President Bush has reminded us, though a great battle is over, the war itself is not. Our purpose must be to strike the other centers of Islamic terrorism wherever they are. And we must act equally strongly against those states which harbor terrorists and develop weapons of mass destruction that might be used against us or our allies.

The recent shameful European reaction to President Bush’s State of the Union Speech reminds me of nothing so much as that which greeted President Reagan’s words two decades ago. Americans shouldn’t take too much notice. Fear masquerading as caution, pique posing as dignity, words substituting for thought – we have been there many times before. Whatever the protests of the faint-hearts, it is high time to take action against the Rogue States which are arming against us.

In particular, Saddam Hussein constitutes unfinished business. And he now needs to be finished – for good. First rate intelligence, the support of opposition elements within Iraq, and overwhelming force will probably all be required. But the risks of not acting far outweigh those of allowing Saddam to continue developing his weapons of war. I hope and trust that Britain will support to the hilt the action your President decides to take.

Trust America

America today is not just the only global superpower. She enjoys a superiority over any other power or combination of powers greater than any nation in modern times. This also places on her shoulders an awesome responsibility. For the United States, as for any country, national interest must come first – and without apology. But America’s interests are so vast that no region lies beyond them. This, my friends, has three implications – each full of significance for the future.

On the first I have touched already. America must remain strong. She must again, as under Ronald Reagan, rebuild, reshape and modernize her defenses. President Bush’s military budget and Secretary Rumsfeld’s visionary plans demonstrate that this lesson has already been heeded.
The second implication is that America needs trustworthy allies in every region. America is mighty, but no democracy will tolerate becoming the whole world’s policeman. My advice is: pick your allies wisely, support and reassure them – and then insist that they fulfill their promises and commit their resources.

Third – and here may I step just over the line of political even-handedness – America will know that particularly in times like these the Leader of the Free World must be seen by your friends and foes alike to speak with unqualified authority. The world does not much understand the doctrine of the Separation of Powers. But it respects America more when it knows that the promises and warnings of the US Commander-in-Chief are endorsed by the other main organs of elected government. That message is powerful politics – and it has the still greater merit of being true.


My friends, one further golden thread connects Ronald Reagan with the Republican Party today – the love of liberty. So it is doubly fitting that this should be your theme tonight.

President Reagan didn’t just abhor communism, mistrust socialism and dislike bureaucracy, he truly loved liberty – he loved it with a passion which went far beyond anything else in his political life. It was what brought moral grandeur to his vision of America and to his dreams for a better world. It was directed not mainly at earthly powers and principalities but rather at the infinitely precious, utterly unique human being, wherever he or she was yearning to breathe free. The thought is memorably expressed by the poet Byron: ‘Eternal spirit of the chainless mind! Brightest in Dungeons, Liberty! Thou art, For there thy habitation is the heart – The heart which love of thee alone can bind; And when thy sons to fetters are consigned – To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom, Their country conquers with their martyrdom, And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind’.

My friends, God Bless Ronnie - and God Bless America!

Video Courtesy of Jason F. Wright

28 May 2010

Dr. Grossman: a Catholic Funded Abortionist in Colorado's Four Corners

Dr. Grossman: a Catholic Funded Abortionist in Colorado's Four Corners

Click here to find  out more! Denver Independent Examiner

Dr. Grossman: a Catholic Funded Abortionist in Colorado's Four Corners

May 26, 5:38 PMDenver Independent ExaminerGualberto Garcia Jones

Dr. Richard grossmanDr. Richard Grossman M.D. is the only abortionist in over 200 miles, and he's not shy about publicly touting his grisly profession.

Every Wednesday of every week, Dr. Grossman kills children at the Durango Planned Parenthood. He charges a sliding scale based on the age of the child. For killing a child of 5-11 weeks he charges $425, 12-13 weeks $515, 14-15 weeks $780, and 16-17 weeks costs $880.

Pictures of what each of these children look like after they are aborted at these different stages of development can be seen here.

I first learned of Dr. Grossman, on Wednesday, Novemeber 18, 2009. I was participating in a vigil outside the abortuary that was organized by Life Guard of La Plata, a Catholic non-profit organization that helps mothers in crisis pregnancies. During this vigil, pro-lifers told me about Dr. Grossman.

I already knew what abortionists do, and I was saddened to see approximately six young ladies escorted in to participate in the killing of their children. What I wasn't ready for was to learn what Dr. Grossman did on the other days when he wasn't killing children.

Dr. Grossman worked, and still works at a Catholic hospital, Mercy Regional Medical Center, as a staff physician with full medical privileges!

Here is a man that kills children once a week, and he is employed by a hospital that is supposed to share my belief that what he does is murder? What in the world was going on? I immediately fired off an email to my Bishops.

Despite repeated entreaties to my Bishops, I have not learned of any action being taken to end this scandalous situation. I have since learned that local pro-life activists (Catholic and Protestant) have been trying to get the Catholic church to step in and stop Dr. Grossman for at least three years!

It should be noted, that while I realize that it is scandalous to point out this ongoing situation within the Catholic church, it is a much more egregious scandal to let it continue unaddressed.

Dr. Grossman would not be able to financially maintain himself on what he earns killing children one day a week. Does this not make Mercy Hospital in Durango and the Catholic Church a material facilitator to the killing? In effect, the Catholic Church, Mercy Hospital, and the Catholic Health Initiatives (based in Denver) are subsidizing abortion services in the Four Corners area.

If that were not bad enough, and it is, Dr. Grossman openly promotes eugenics in his regular column for the local Durango newspaper, the Durango Herald in a column entitled Population Matters.

It seems that the Catholic church is not capable of putting a stop to Dr. Grossman's evil audacity. The reason, according to local activists, is that the hospital and the church fear federal employement discrimination lawsuits. There is, however, a valid basis to believe that this Catholic hospital would be within its right to fire a murderer such as Dr. Grossman, although it is more likely that the church would lose a lawsuit from Dr. Grossman.

When it comes down to it what makes a church like the Catholic church great is its claim to be the repository of the Truth, not the health of its bank accounts.

In an age when the Catholic church is sued on an almost daily basis, wouldn't it be refreshing if the church were sued for preventing child killing at its hospitals instead of for allowing children to be molested.

I for one would welcome the fight. In the meantime I will be helping activists in the Durango area protest, not only at the abortuary, but at the Catholic hospital that makes it possible for Dr. Grossman to kill children and still make a good living.

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Two Of Five

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part Two Of Five

Friday, May 28, 2010
Remember the glory of the spirit, the valor and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen. This Memorial Day, I want to share with you five sobering stories from Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives.

Sam and Mary Holder,
Jo, Bob and Kris Burns

Sam and Mary Holder brought out a bouquet of flowers, a bucket and a camera to Fort Logan Cemetery.

“We have a kind of ritual. Mary cuts the flowers and I make sure the water’s there,” Sam Holder, Sr. said. “The last thing I do is take pictures.”

The ritual began more than a year before, when Jana Kramarova, their son’s fiancée, sent twenty-seven red roses for what would have been his twenty-eighth birthday. Since she lived in Prague, Sam Holder, Sr. took a photo of the flowers and sent it to her via email. He did the same thing the next week and the next week.

The photos capture the changing seasons. In October, the flowers sprout from a pumpkin. In December, snow covers the grave. In January, artificial flowers contrast brown dormant grass.

The only contrast is the dull, gray marble tombstone and its inscription.

Eventually, as families heard about Holder’s photos, they asked if he could take pictures of their sons’ graves, too. Soon Mr. Holder was emailing photos of Kyle Burns’s grave to Kyle’s parents in Laramie and photos of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz’s tombstone to his widow, Maria Dietz, who lives in Virginia; she calls the regular emails “a window to my husband’s grave.”

As they looked at the graves together in 2006, the couple realized that it would have been Kyle Burns’s twenty-second birthday. Mary Holder placed flowers on the grave, and then, to their surprise, Kyle’s mother and brother arrived at the cemetery after driving from Laramie.

As the two families stood in the section of the cemetery that holds the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan, they exchanged hugs.

“I didn’t know it was Kyle’s birthday today,” Sam Holder, Sr. said.

Jo Burns sniffled a yes.

“What are you going to be up to for the rest of the day?” Mary Holder asked.

“Crying,” Jo Burns said.

“I thought the hardest days would be the holidays, Christmas and Easter,” she said. “But this is the hardest. Birthdays.”

As they stood at the marker, they looked at the date they had in common etched in stone.

“Veteran’s Day,” said Kyle’s brother, Kris.

As the afternoon wore on, only a few cars entered the cemetery. Before his son died, Sam Holder was one of those who never been inside Fort Logan.

“You look at the war and it only touches a few of us. It doesn’t touch the majority of the America people,” Sam Holder, Sr. had said earlier. “What always bothered me was how disproportionately the whole war has affected people in the U.S.”

He knelt down, propped his camera on another grave and snapped photos of his son’s grave. Then he walked to Danny Dietz’s tombstone and took another picture.

The Holders said their son believed in the war and in what he was doing. His parents said they do, too. Despite their son’s receiving the Silver Star, they don’t dwell on the battle. They don’t need to. In some ways, Sam Holder, Sr. said, he has heard enough war stories. As a Vietnam veteran he has seen how too many of them end.

“I have friends whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial. You go there and you think of how much life I’ve experienced that they never will.”

When he got back to Kyle Burns’s grave, he stopped.

“Sometimes I’ll just stand back with the camera,” he said as he looked at the grave, his wife and Jo Burns. Sometimes in addition to the gravestone photos, he said he likes to capture the spontaneous moments that not enough people see, that not enough people want to see—those that continue long after the battle is over.

“Sometimes you can get some pretty touching pictures,” he said.

At the foot of their sons’ graves, the two mothers embraced once again. Sam Holder, Sr. brought the camera to his face and pressed the button.

27 May 2010

No Sheeples Here: Jihadists Are Not America’s Enemy—The Bastards Are Merely Victims

No Sheeples Here: Jihadists Are Not America’s Enemy—The Bastards Are Merely Victims

John Brennan, Fearless Reader’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security believes that violent extremists are victims of “political, economic and social forces.”

He also feels that describing America’s enemies as “jihadists” is wrong. Brennan argued that it would be "counterproductive" for the United States to use the term, as it would "play into the false perception" that the "murderers" leading war against the West are doing so in the name of a "holy cause"—jihad.

Mr. Brennan is an unmitigated fool. Proof that he is a fool can be found in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini:

“Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Quran] psalms and Hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”

This president is surrounded by idiots, none of which is useful.

Tea at Trianon: Reverence or Ruination

Tea at Trianon: Reverence or Ruination

Reverence or Ruination

How the Fourth Commandment is necessary for civilization. Some insights from Monsignor Charles Pope. (Via Argent)
The Fourth Commandment is Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Ex 20:12)
Lack of Respect – One of the Key maladies of our day is a lack of respect of the young toward their elders. I remember when I was young that my Father would not allow us to watch the Flintstones. He banned it because he said that it made adults look stupid (it did) and that viewing it would not help us children to respect our elders. Children today of course are expose to much worse. A regular theme of sitcoms is that children run the show and parents and adults are all a bunch of idiots. Music from the 1960s on has produced a steady diet of anti-authoritarian themes which question and undermine the wisdom of elders and the past. Many children today are bold toward their parents, teachers and other elders. They often act as though they were speaking to a peer or an equal. Much of this comes from a culture that has largely jettisoned the insights of the 4th Commandment.
Reverence or Ruin: One of the most essential fruits of the fourth commandment is to instill respect. Respect is essential for there to be teaching. For if a child does not respect his elders, how can he learn from them? If he cannot respect, he cannot learn. And if he cannot learn then the wisdom of the past including the faith, cannot be communicated to him. And if the these cannot be communicated to him, he is doomed to error-ridden and misguided life fraught with foolish decisions. When this happens broadly in a society to children in general, (as it has in ours), civilization itself is threatened as whole generations loose the wisdom of the past and are condemned to repeat major errors and take up behaviors long ago abandoned as unwise and destructive. Without heartfelt reverence being instilled we are doomed to continue seeing an erosion in the good order and the collected wisdom necessary to sustain any civilization.
But reverence must be instilled. It must be insisted upon and their should be consequences for rejecting its demands. Too many parents today do not command respect. They speak of wanting their children to be their friends. But children have plenty of friends. What they need are parents, parents who are strong and secure, firm in their guidance, loving and consistent in their discipline, and not easily swayed by the unreasonable protests of children. No one will follow and uncertain trumpet and children need firm, clear and certain direction. If we want children to rediscover respect for their elders then we must insist upon it and command it of them.
What are some of the implications of the 4th commandment? The Catechism is actually quite thorough in describing them in Paragraph #s 2214-2220:
The Origin of respect – Respect for parents derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love, and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:27-28)
Obedience - Respect is shown by true docility and obedience. “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 6:20)… As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”(Col. 3:20) Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so. As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them.
Honor and care in old age – The fourth commandment also reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress. “Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. Whoever honors his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prays he will be heard. Whoever glorifies his father will have long life, and whoever obeys the Lord will refresh his mother.”(Sir. 3:2-6).
Wider family implications – The fourth commandment also promotes harmony in all of family life; it thus concerns relationships between brothers and sisters. Finally, a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith, the grace of Baptism, and life in the Church. These may include parents, grandparents, other members of the family, pastors, catechists, and other teachers or friends.
Societal Implications - The fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal. [But] It likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it. (Catechism # 2199)
Another important key in instilling respect is for those in authority to be “respectable.” Parents and all those in authority have obligations and duties that flow from their status. To overlook or ignore these obligations places significant burdens upon children, subordinates, and others. This in turn can lead to bewilderment and contributes to an undermining of the respect and honor which ought ordinarily be paid parents, elders and those in authority. Thus, while parents and lawful authorities ought to be respected it is also true to say that they must conduct themselves in a manner that is respectable and observe their duties with care. What are some of these duties? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a fine summary of them and the text is largely reproduced here.
The duties of parents – Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law…They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service…self-denial, sound judgment, and self- mastery are learned…Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them…Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies…parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church…Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. (Catechism 2221-2231).

Conservative Film Icon John Wayne Born Today

Conservative Film Icon John Wayne Born Today

They sure don’t make em’ like they used to:

“I have found a certain type calls himself a liberal…now I always thought I was a liberal. I came up terribly surprised one time when I found out that I was a right-wing, conservative extremist, when I listened to everybody’s point of view that I ever met, and then decided how I should feel. But this so-called new liberal group, Jesus, they never listen to your point of view”

-John Wayne (1907-1979)

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part One Of Five

No Sheeples Here: Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives—Part One Of Five
Remember the glory of the spirit, the valor and sacrifice of our fellow countrymen. This Memorial Day, I want to share with you five sobering stories from Jim Sheeler’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Final Salute: A Story Of Unfinished Lives.

Navy Corpsman HM3
Christopher “Doc” Anderson

A Navy Corpsman looked at the blue star in the window and the name underneath, and felt his entire body wince. As a hazy winter sunset draped the foothills in the suburbs of Longmont, Colorado, the eyes of Navy Chief Petty Officer Kip “Doc” Poggemeyer fixed on the blue star flag, signifying the family had a loved one overseas. Christopher “Doc” Anderson, the flag’s stitching read.

The star tradition began during World War I when families would hang a blue star in the window of homes with a serviceman deployed overseas. A gold star meant he didn’t make it back alive.

A year earlier, Doc Poggemeyer’s wife had one of those flags in her window, as did his parents. Only the name was different. Poggemeyer had spent his deployment at Marine Corps Air Station Al Asad in Iraq, the closest medical base to some of the heaviest fighting in the country—a base that frequently shook with mortar attacks. In his first week he saw massive combat wounds while performing the job his grandfather had held during World War II, the same job he knew he had wanted since he was a little boy.

Unlike Major Beck, he had seen the effects of combat “in country”. He had watched men die. He tried not to think about the sailors who had to deliver the news back home.

That afternoon the corpsman and another casualty assistance officer first met a Navy chaplain. Together the sailors drove down the street, searching for the address. Each home they passed was one more where life would go on—homes where families sat down for dinner, made plans for the holidays, discussed the arrangement of Christmas lights.

The SUV stopped in front of the home with an American flag flying on the front porch, and the blue star flag that was about to turn gold. Doc Poggemeyer walked to the porch, pushed the doorbell, and felt as though a horse had kicked him in the stomach.

Debra Anderson opened the door, saw the men in uniform, and smiled. “Oh, honey,” she said, calling to her husband. “The sailors are here. The recruiters are here.”

Rick Anderson came to the stairs and his face fell. A former Navy SEAL, he recognized the uniforms.

“Honey, we need to sit down,” he said. “These aren’t recruiters.”

The history of the Navy hospital corpsman dates back to the Spanish-American War. The Marines needed a field medic and looked to the Navy to provide one. Since then, each time a Marine is wounded, he or she is turned to the sailor whose uniform is stitched with a caduceus—the well-known symbol of two intertwined snakes on a winged staff often used as an emblem for healers.

Navy corpsmen have served in some of the most harrowing battles of the last century. They have earned a disproportionate share of accolades and awards and suffered a similarly large percentage of casualties.

Despite both services operating beneath the umbrella of the Navy, Marines and sailors hold an intense traditional rivalry. When new hospital corpsmen are assigned to Marine units, the Marines may tease them, calling them “squids” or worse. Still, the hospital corpsmen have to learn to think, act and react with the speed of their Marine unit. Sometimes they are forced to grab a weapon. Before that, they are the ones reaching for the first aid kit.

When a hospital corpsman is first attached to a unit, the Marines will call the sailor by his first or last name, or maybe just “corpsman”. Eventually, when sailors earn the Marines’ respect, they are called “doc”. Once the fighting begins, the corpsman’s duty is usually one of the riskiest—the corpsmen carry their own weapons along with loads of medical gear. The Marines say they will take a bullet for the corpsman because he or she is the only one who can take it out.

Somewhere near Ramadi, Christopher Anderson’s Marines had called on their doc. Hours later, near Denver, Doc Poggemeyer received a similar call, one he hadn’t prepared for in field medical training school.

A corpsman, he was told, had been killed in action in Ramadi near a mortar attack. The doc had come full circle.

That night, twenty-two-year-old Kyle Anderson steered his food delivery truck along the crumbly gravel roads of eastern Colorado. His cell phone rang and he heard his father’s voice asking him to come home, saying that he needed help with something. It was the first time in Kyle’s life that he heard a waver in his father’s voice. After serving in the Navy’s most elite team of special forces and later earning a black belt in karate, there was nothing the old man couldn’t handle.

Kyle asked the question that immediately consumed him: “Is my brother alive?”

“No,” his father finally managed and Kyle hung up the phone. On the other end of the line, his parents worried. The notification team offered to pick up the young man who was suddenly the couple’s only son. When Kyle called back, his parents asked him to pull over. The sailors would meet him and help him drive back. He parked his truck near an intersection just off the interstate and waited, crying alone in the dark.

Is this really happening? he wondered. As he waited longer, he thought, Maybe they won’t show up.

When the sailors arrived, Kyle dropped his head. He got out of the truck and stepped into the stinging 25-degree wind, his tears freezing on his cheeks.

Along the nearby interstate, cars rushed past at 75 miles per hour. They did not slow down.
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