Hi, everyone. Well, we awakened this morning (Saturday, Jan 12) to a winter wonderland. I am not a tremendous fan of snow, but the vistas are marvelous. The trees have that picture postcard quality that prompted my bride to brave the snow on the patio and in the driveway to take several photos. The light snow that we are getting at the moment is supposed to last until about six this evening. Seems like another good day to sit by the fire and read. We have become fans of BBC mysteries so we may check in on a few of those also.
We had been spoiled in the past week or so by unseasonably (by our standards) good weather. Mostly clear skies and temperatures ranging from the mid-30s to the 40s and even a couple of days in the low 50s. So, we had the rare circumstance of early January in Nebraska with people walking around in sweaters or light jackets. If that constitutes climate change a considerable portion of the population here would probably vote in favor of it.
Thanks for the interest in the Fire in the North book. It is available through Amazon and the publisher (Hellgate Press) and some bookstores have it (it can be ordered through Barnes and Noble). If all else fails, let me know.
When it comes to putting words on paper and plans for the future I am in what for me is an unusual circumstance – no major locked in project on the immediate horizon. In recent years the books have pretty much followed in sequence spaced a year or so apart: Boots and Saddles: Military Leaders of the American West (2015); In the Shadows of Victory: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders: 1776-1876 (2016); In the Shadows of Victory II: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders, The Spanish-American War to World War II (2017); and Fire in the North: The Minnesota Uprising and the Sioux War in Dakota Territory (2018). The latter was a bit out of the ordinary because we sped up the process to accommodate my co-author’s illness, but nonetheless it fit into the niche rather nicely. I had thought that In the Shadows of Victory III: The Cold War to the Present Day would be next in line. However, the publishing company (Casemate) that did the first two volumes is for the foreseeable future putting their primary focus on World War II-era material. There is a continuing very strong interest in World War II stuff and September 2019 will mark the 80th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the war. (Casemate is a British-American company.) So, if there is to be a third volume of the In the Shadows series, another publishing company will have to handle it. I have not yet started looking at possibilities. .
As I think I have mentioned before, I had done the first two chapters (the Cold War and Korea) of a prospective Volume III in draft form. I was starting on Vietnam when the need came to set that aside and go full time on Fire in the North. In retrospect, that was probably okay because in so many ways, Vietnam was unique among the nation’s conflicts. Its effects persist, not only in the lives of many of those who waged it, but also in the political and military decisions made by officials of succeeding generations who, with varying degrees of success, have attempted to understand its “lessons.” It was a terribly complex war that for many of that generation even today leaves a sense of disquiet and a lack of closure. That’s a long way of saying that the words to describe it were not coming easily.
The pattern for the previous books has been to introduce each chapter with a short “Path to War” segment and then develop the short bios of the “forgotten leaders” who were part of it. With Vietnam, none of that is easy. Even the path to war portion poses a problem. As many historians have noted, the answer to that sort of depends on which war one is talking about. The combatant armies fought several different types of wars at different times and each viewed the overall war differently. Even tracing the threads of America’s involvement gets murky. For example, as early as 1950, President Truman gave France $15 million to help combat the insurgent movement in North Vietnam.
Anyway, in recent days I think I have developed a reasonable fix in terms of how to handle the path to war section – and I have pretty much identified the “in the shadows” leaders that I will write about. Particularly at the senior level, that task was not made easier by the very restrictive rules of engagement that were levied on our forces. That sometimes made it difficult to know where decisions were made and who actually made them. In almost every case, the actions of those doing the fighting were restrained -- sometimes severely so. President Johnson famously said “they can’t bomb on outhouse without my approval.” That led to some really dumb and sometimes tragic decisions. All that was making the Vietnam chapter perhaps the most difficult of any of those I’ve written in any of the books thus far. I was fiddling with it yet again a few days ago, sort of anguishing over the need I was feeling to tell more of the story when the thought occurred to me to break the usual pattern and simply include a “Closing Thoughts” portion. A segment like that would allow me to weave in some additional material and describe events, decisions, and results in a more complete form. That does make that chapter (and thus the book) a bit different in structure from the rest. (But, what the heck, it is after all my book – and it may never get published, anyway!)
So, as you may be able to tell after all this meandering around, I still have not totally decided about which next project to tackle full time. I mentioned last time some work on a book about our early vice-presidents that has been gathering dust for a long time. Then, the other day a third possibility arose that may be worth thinking about. On December 15, I was honored to give the keynote speech at the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony at the veteran’s section of a local cemetery. (“Wreaths Across America” was begun at Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago. At 11 o’clock local time at gravesites all across the country, wreaths are placed on veteran’s graves. The 11 o’clock time harkens back to the end of World War I – llth hour of the llth day of the 11th month. Almost 1200 wreaths were placed in Lincoln by veterans groups, scouts, junior ROTC, etc. Veterans from all wars from World War II through Iraq-Afghanistan were honored guests. There is a very interesting and poignant tradition associated with the placement of the wreaths. There is a unique belief/conviction among many that in a sense a person really dies twice. Once, of course, in physical form and the second and final time when his/her name is spoken for the last time. At that point the individual is forgotten and disappears from memory and history. There is a wonderful custom at the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony that plays upon that belief. When a wreath is placed on a veteran’s grave, the person placing the wreath touches the headstone and says the veteran’s name, thus assuring that the veteran will continue to be remembered –a wonderful custom.)
After the speech a passing comment from a member of the audience led to another possibility to think about. The speech has a section in which audience members are asked to “time travel” to observe certain events as they unfold: the first time we were called “the United States of America,” the British surrender at Yorktown, the return of the POWs from North Vietnam, the D-Day landing, etc. Each is presented as brief vignette that provides a little-known aspect of the occasion. What the comment provided as food for thought was the possibility of taking those and other similar events from American history and turning them into a small book with just a page or so devoted to each one. So, we’ll see. For a time, at least, I think I will probably wind up working on the Vietnam chapter. That’s a really tough one and I’d like to get past it before deciding on something else.
For any who might be interested, the text of the “Wreaths Across America” speech is provided below. As spoken that morning, the speech took about nine and a half minutes. In written form, you can probably read it in three or four.
Hope all is well with everyone. Just heard the snowplows clearing our street. (Spring training begins in February …)
Wreaths Across America Speech
December 15, 2018
THANK YOU FOR THE HONOR OF BEING HERE ...
THANK YOU ALSO FOR PROVIDING A REASON – AN EXCUSE – FOR PUTTING ON THIS UNIFORM AGAIN. THAT TOO, IS AN HONOR.
THE PLAN FOR THIS MORNING IS TO FIRST TAKE YOU TO THE MOVIES WITH ME ... THEN DO A BRIEF BIT OF TIME TRAVEL .... THEN COME BACK TO THE MOVIE ... AND THEN RETURN HERE.
THE MOVIE WE ARE GOING TO SEE IS CALLED “SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.” IT IS LOOSELY BASED ON A TRUE STORY ABOUT A SMALL SQUAD LED BY CAPTAIN JOHN MILLER, PLAYED IN THE MOVIE BY TOM HANKS – SENT OUT SOON AFTER D-DAY TO FIND A YOUNG PRIVATE NAMED JAMES RYAN – PLAYED BY MATT DAMON. MILLER AND HIS MEN ARE TO FIND RYAN AND BRING HIM OUT OF THE WAR ZONE AWAY FROM THE FIGHTING BECAUSE RYAN’S THREE BROTHERS, SERVING IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD, HAVE ALL BEEN KILLED IN COMBAT.
HANKS AND HIS MEN EVENTUALLY FIND RYAN WHOSE UNIT IS DEFENDING A VITAL BRIDGE AND IS ABOUT TO BE PLACED UNDER ATTACK. RYAN REFUSES TO LEAVE HIS UNIT AT SUCH A CRITICAL TIME. HANKS AND HIS MEN THEN STAY AND JOIN THEM IN THE FIGHT.
AFTER A HORRIFIC BATTLE, THE ATTACK IS TURNED BACK, BUT MANY ARE KILLED AND HANKS IS MORTALLY WOUNDED. AS HE IS DYING HE, AS CAPTAIN MILLER, SAYS TO RYAN “JAMES, EARN THIS. EARN THIS.” IN OTHER WORDS, BE WORTHY OF WHAT THESE MEN HAVE DONE FOR YOU.
“EARN THIS” IS WHAT HE SAID.
NOW LET ME TIME TRAVEL WITH YOU FOR A FEW MINUTES, AND ASK YOU TO JOURNEY WITH ME TO EVENTS THAT THOSE WHOSE GRAVES YOU WILL PLACE WREATHS ON TODAY AND THOSE WHO SERVED WITH THEM AND BEFORE THEM HAVE EARNED ON OUR BEHALF. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF OTHER SACRED PLACES THAT WE COULD TRAVEL TO, BUT THESE FEW HAVE A SPECIAL MEANING FOR OUR COUNTRY.
I WOULD LIKE YOU FIRST TO GO WITH ME TO DECEMBER 17, 1777, TO THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES NEAR PARIS. YOU WILL BE THERE WITH ME WHEN BENJAMIN FRANKLIN IS CALLED FORWARD TO MEET KING LOUIS XVI. THE WORDS USED TO ANNOUNCE FRANKLIN ARE “MINISTER (AMBASSADOR) OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” IN A SETTING LIKE THAT IT WAS POSSIBLY THE FIRST OFFICIAL PUBLIC RECOGNITION OF THE UNITED STATES AS AN INDEPENDENT NATION – THE FIRST TIME IN THAT SETTING THAT WE HAD BEEN CALLED BY THAT NAME: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. IMAGINE THE FEELINGS – HEARING THOSE MAGIC WORDS FOR THE FIRST TIME. WORDS MADE POSSIBLE – EARNED – BY AMERICA’S VICTORY AT SARATOGA TWO MONTHS BEFORE.
IT IS NOW FOUR YEARS LATER. ON OCTOBER 17, 1781, WE WILL GO TO YORKTOWN, VIRGINIA. WATCH WITH ME AS THE BRITISH SURRENDER TO THIS TINY NATION – THREE MILLION QUARRELING, CANTANKEROUS PEOPLE (THAT PART HASN’T CHANGED MUCH HAS IT?) WITH A RAGTAG ARMY – HAD BY SOME MIRACLE DEFEATED THE WORLD’S MIGHTIEST EMPIRE. WHEN HIS ARMY SURRENDERED, BRITISH GENERAL CORNWALLIS PLEADED ILLNESS AND SENT HIS SWORD WITH HIS DEPUTY COMMANDER, GENERAL CHARLES O’HARA AND ORDERED O’HARA TO TAKE PART IN THE PROCEEDINGS. AT THE CEREMONY – POSSIBLY AS A DELIBERATE INSULT TO THE AMERICANS – O’HARA FIRST ATTEMPTED TO PRESENT THE SWORD TO FRENCH GENERAL ROCHAMBEAU. ROCHAMBEAU REFUSED TO ACCEPT IT AND POINTED HIM TOWARD GEORGE WASHINGTON. WASHINGTON THEN DID A NEAT THING. APPEARANCES MATTER. WASHINGTON ALSO REFUSED TO ACCEPT IT AND POINTED HIM TO HIS OWN DEPUTY, A GENERAL NAMED BENJAMIN LINCOLN. SO IT WAS DONE DEPUTY TO DEPUTY WITH THE MESSAGE TO THE WORLD THAT THE AMERICAN NATION REFUSED TO BE SLIGHTED OR SUBORDINATED IN ANY WAY.
OUR NEXT STOP IS THE NIGHT OF FEBRUARY 13 AND THE EARLY MORNING HOURS OF FEBRUARY 14, 1814. WE ARE STANDING ON THE BANKS OF CHESAPEAKE BAY. THERE IS A FORT VISIBLE ACROSS THE WATER. THE SHELLING OF THE FORT BY THE BRITISH FLEET BEGAN AT SIX IN THE MORNING ON THE 13TH AND HAS CONTINUED WITHOUT LETUP FOR THE NEXT 25 HOURS. THROUGH THE SHELLFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS WE CAN SEE A FLAG FLYING – IT IS ENORMOUS IN SIZE BY THE WAY, 30 FEET BY 42 FEET, SEWED BY A LADY FROM THE BALTIMORE AREA NAMED MARY PICKERSGILL. INCREDIBLY, AS THE SUN COMES UP ON THE MORNING OF FEBRUARY 14, WE CAN STILL SEE IT. SO THE DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT DID INDEED GIVE PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT THAT THE FLAG WAS STILL THERE.
QUICKLY NOW, WE’LL GO TO A NOVEMBER DAY IN 1918 TO THE ARGONNE FOREST IN FRANCE. THERE ON THE 11TH HOUR OF THE 11TH DAY OF THE 11TH MONTH, WE’LL WATCH THE FIRST YOUNG GIS – DOUGHBOYS THEY WERE CALLED IN THAT WAR – CLIMB OUT OF THE TRENCHES, SOME OF THEM WAITING A FEW MINUTES AFTER THE HOUR JUST TO BE SURE THAT THE WAR WAS REALLY OVER. THEIR CAUTION IS QUITE UNDERSTANDABLE. THE ARMISTICE WAS SIGNED AT 5:20 IN THE MORNING. IN THE FIVE HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES UNTIL IT WENT INTO EFFECT AT 11 O’CLOCK, ANOTHER 2,738 ALLIED SOLDIERS HAD BEEN KILLED IN ACTION. SOON, THOUGH, ENTIRE UNITS BEGIN TO LEAVE THE TRENCHES. THEN, AS ONE YOUNG SOLDIER DESCRIBED IT, HE FELT AN INCREDIBLE SENSE OF LIGHTNESS. HE STOOD UP STRAIGHT, SAVORED THE SUNLIGHT ON HIS FACE, HEARD THE BIRDS SING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SUCH A LONG TIME.
SKIP WAY AHEAD WITH ME NOW TO THE ISLAND OF GUAM ON FEBRUARY 12, 1973, WHEN THE FIRST GROUP OF AMERICAN POWS RETURN FROM CAPTIVITY IN NORTH VIETNAM. THINK FOR A MOMENT PLEASE ABOUT WHAT THEY SACRIFICED. MY TREASURED FRIEND JOHN BORLING – SIX AND A HALF YEARS AS A PRISONER. IN CAPTIVITY HE WROTE POEMS, MANY FOR HIS YOUNG DAUGHTER WHOM HE HAD SEEN ONLY AS AN INFANT. HE HAD NO PENCIL, NO PAPER, SO HE WROTE THEM IN HIS MIND AND MEMORIZED THEM. MY FRIEND A.J. MYERS, NEARLY SEVEN YEARS AS A CAPTIVE, WHOSE TRAGEDY WAS COMPOUNDED BY THE FACT THAT HIS SON WAS KILLED IN AN ACCIDENT WHILE A.J. WAS IN CAPTIVITY. AND YET THESE MEN, -- AT LEAST THE ONES I KNEW – NEVER LASHED OUT AT THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES – THEY NEVER LOST FAITH IN OUR COUNTRY – THEY NEVER LOST FAITH IN US – THEY BELIEVED WE WOULD BRING THEM HOME. INDEED, THE FIRST ONE OFF THE PLANE AT GUAM – NAVY CAPTAIN, LATER ADMIRAL, JEREMIAH DENTON SAID “ WE ARE HONORED TO HAVE SERVED OUR COUNTRY UNDER DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES. GOD BLESS AMERICA.”
NOW LETS GO BACK TO D-DAY AND TO PRIVATE RYAN. THERE IS NOW A CEMETERY ON THE HILL OVERLOOKING OMAHA BEACH. IT IS EXQUISITE IN ITS BEAUTY – A FOREST OF WHITE MARBLE CROSSES AND STARS OF DAVID – MORE THAN 9,000 OF THEM.
ONE OF THE D-DAY VETERANS INTERVIEWED BY THE HISTORIAN STEPHEN AMBROSE TOLD AMBROSE THAT WHEN IT WAS CLEAR TO HIM THAT HE HAD SURVIVED THE LANDING AND HAD CROSSED THE BEACH AND SOMEHOW AGAINST ALL ODDS MADE IT TO THE TOP OF THE HILL WHERE THE CEMETERY NOW IS, HE SAT DOWN WITH HIS BACK AGAINST A SHATTERED TREE STUMP. THE SOLDIER TOLD AMBROSE THAT HE AND HIS MEN HAD BEEN ISSUED THREE DAYS OF K-RATIONS TO CARRY WITH THEM. HE SAID HE WAS SO RELIEVED ... SO HUMBLED .... SO SURPRISED ...THAT HE WAS STILL ALIVE THAT HE SIMPLY SAT THERE AND ATE ALL OF THEM.
I HAVE A BEAUTIFUL SISTER IN LAW FROM MONTANA WHOSE BROTHER IS AMONG THOSE NINE THOUSAND WHO REST ON THAT HILL TOP. I WENT THERE TO SEE HIS GRAVE AND TAKE PICTURES FOR HER. I WROTE TO HER THAN SID IS IN GOOD COMPANY. THAT HILLTOP IS A MICROCOSM OF AMERICA. HE IS SURROUNDED BY AMERICANS FROM EVERY STATE IN THE UNION.,
BUT NOW, BACK TO PRIVATE RYAN.,
THE CLOSING SCENE OF THE MOVIE TAKES PLACE IN THAT CEMETERY. PRIVATE RYAN, NOW AN ELDERLY MAN, AND HIS FAMILY ARE THERE. HE HAS SOUGHT OUT CAPTAIN MILLER’S GRAVE AND HAS KNELT BESIDE IT. HE SAYS “I’VE LIVED MY LIFE AS BEST I COULD. I HOPE THAT WAS ENOUGH. I HOPE THAT AT LEAST IN YOUR EYES I HAVE EARNED ALL THAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR ME.”
HE ASKS HIS WIFE: “TELL ME I HAVE LED A GOOD LIFE.”
“TELL ME I AM A GOOD MAN.”
IN OTHER WORDS, VALIDATE FOR ME THAT I AM WORTHY OF ALL THIS.
THE MOVIE ENDS THERE WITH THE AMERICAN FLAG FLYING OVER THE CEMETERY.
WHEN I SAW THE FILM, THERE WAS ABSOLUTE SILENCE AS THE AUDIENCE FILED OUT OF THE THEATER.
I THINK PART OF THAT WAS BECAUSE THE VIOLENCE WAS SO GRAPHIC AND ACTION SEEMED TO REAL. BUT ... I NOW WONDER IF – BECAUSE THE IMPACT WAS SO POWERFUL – THAT AT LEAST FOR A FEW THERE WAS SOME REFLECTION – SOME MENTAL PROCESSING – OF THE QUESTION “HAVE I BEEN WORTHY OF THE SACRIFICE THAT WAS REPRESENTED HERE?” BECAUSE, IN A CONSIDERABLE WAY, IT IS A QUESTION RELEVANT TO ALL OF US. EACH OF US IN IMPACTED BY THAT MORAL BURDEN. WE – THE LIVING – ARE CALLED UPON NOT JUST TO BEAR WITNESS TO THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THOSE FALLEN HEROES. WE, IN FACT -- AND OUR CHILDREN AND OUR GRANDCHILDREN – AND THE BOUNTY OF THIS NATION – ARE THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS.
LIKE PRIVATE RYAN WE CAN’T HELP BUT QUESTION WHAT WE’VE DONE TO DESERVE SUCH SACRIFICE BY OTHERS AND TO TRY TO CONDUCT OUR LIVES IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THEM.
PATRIOTS LIKE THOSE ON WHOSE GRAVES WILL BE PLACING WREATHS MORNING HAVE CARRIED OUR FREEDOM ON THEIR SHOULDERS.
I BELIEVE IF THEY COULD SPEAK TO US THIS MORNING, THEY MIGHT ASK “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY FUTURE? HAVE YOU TAKEN GOOD CARE OF THE TOMORROWS I NEVER HAD? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?”
THOSE WHO SENSE THOSE VOICES MUST FOR THE REST OF OUR OWN LIVES BE ABLE TO ANSWER THEM THAT WE HAVE TRIED ...
THAT WE HAVE TRIED TO DO RIGHT BY OUR FAMILY ...
THAT WE HAVE TRIED TO HELP OUR COMMUNITY ...
THAT WE HAVE TRIED TO SERVE OUR COUNTRY ...
THAT WE HAVE TRIED TO KEEP THEIR MEMORIES ALIVE AND HONOR THEIR LEGACY ...
THAT WE HAVE TRIED TO DO THINGS THAT HAVE EARNED THEIR SACRIFICE ...
THE WORDS CAPTAIN MILLER SPOKE TO PRIVATE RYAN APPLY TO ALL OF US. AS WE LOOK OUT ON THOSE GRAVES THIS MORNING, PLEASE RECALL WHAT HE SAID. THE WORDS WERE: “EARN THIS, JAMES. EARN IT.”
THANKS TO ALL OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE WORN THE UNIFORM OF OUR COUNTRY AND TO THE FRIENDS AND FAMILIES WHO HAVE SUSTAINED THEM.
GOD BLESS AMERICA.