Saturday, February 23, 2008

Among Heroes - Iwo Jima Veterans

Yesterday, I met so many wonderful people. While I am EXHAUSTED, I know I need to write about who I met, before I forget what names go with what photos/stories. My one regret, I was unable to photograph everyone I wanted to photograph and I didn't have everyone sign my copy of Eric Hammel's book "Iwo Jima" that I wanted to.

So, let me get down to business and introduce you to men who made history...

First, General Fred Haynes who was a Captain on Iwo Jima, his regiment (28th) is the group that seized Mt. Suribachi. Next to him is Albert Abbartolino (I'm not sure if I have his last name down correctly) he was a demolitions guy in Haynes' regiment. Here they are in front of a captured Japanese flag the 5th Division, 28th Marines captured. The men of the 28th all signed the flag. Al spent some time there while his daughter read the names to him.

Above is Garland Simmons, I met him the first night that I was at the symposium. He was a radio operator.

This fellow with the big friendly smile is Frank Caldwell. When he signed my book, he signed it " Frank Caldwell, Col USMC (ret) CO Fox Company, 26th Marines" As he was signing the "CO" part, he asked if I knew what that meant. I said, "Commanding Officer." He replied, "Good, good, that 's right." Mr. Caldwell was awarded the Navy Cross for action on Iwo Jima, this is the second highest medal a Marine can earn.

This is Jim Blackabee. He was with the 5th Division, 13th Marines on Iwo Jima.

This is Norman Baker, I also met him the first night. He is pointing out where he landed to Dave, one of the docents at the Museum. Mr. Baker was a SeaBee. They are the ones who built roads and got rid of barriers so Marines could move around the island.

This is Gene Daughtry, he is one of the Montford Point Marines. African Americans served in the Continental Marines, but did not serve in the Marine Corps again until World War 2. The military branches were segregated, so the African American Marines trained at Montford Point. By the Korean War, troops were integrated.

This gentleman leafing through my book is Joseph DeLucien. According to his wife, he had just gotten out of the hospital 4 days prior. He had been suffering from pneumonia. Whew, guess wild horses aren't going to keep these guys away from their reunion!

This Pepsi fan is Leonard Colbert also with the 28th Marines. He came with his grandchildren. One grandson, was a SGT in the Marine Corps. Another grandson was a SGT in the Army. His grandson in the Army had so many ribbons on his uniform that all the veterans wanted to know what he had done. Yes, both of his grandsons had served in the middle east. His grandson in the Army is currently working with the Joint IED Defeat Organization. He also had several granddaughters there. He was very proud of them and you could tell that they were very proud of him.

Above is Robert Wolfe. He was with the 3rd Division, 12th Marines.

It has certainly been a jam packed weekend. I have learned SO much and met some amazing people. I will share more with you as I get a chance to write it down.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Day 2 of the Iwo Jima Veterans Reunion and Symposium

The United States Marines are Great! This is General Robert Magnus, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, the keynote speaker at this evening's dinner. He made a point of working the crowd of veterans and their families during the cocktail hour.

The keynote speaker for lunch was Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, he also worked the crowd of veterans and their families during the lunch hour.

Both gave excellent talks.

The speakers today were wonderful! I took over 20 pages of notes. I'm not sharing with you what I've learned yet, I know. I learned SO much. I gotta tell you, if I had the free time, I'd love to just research stuff about the military, military history, Marine Corps and then write about it. This stuff just really interests me.

Funny thing, I was asked by someone at my table if I was with the press, because I was taking so many notes. I told them that I was a volunteer at the museum and I was taking notes so I could learn more - - and have more stories to tell visitors.

I've met some really neat people that I'd like to introduce you to here - - but its late, and I have the museum in the morning -- so again, I'm brushing you off. I'd just like to do a proper introduction for you. I've got some great new stories from veterans to incorporate into my tours. I'm really stoked about working the Iwo Immersion on my next working day at the museum (tomorrow isn't a working day by the way, I'm just going to follow the veterans through the galleries and listen to them).

I'll report back to you all tomorrow with an after action report.

"If you don't tell your story, you're doing your service an injustice."

"If you don't tell your story, you're doing your service an injustice."

Those were the parting words of Major Norm Hatch, USMC (ret) as he wrapped up his presentation about combat photographers during World War 2 at the Combat Veterans of Iwo Jima Symposium tonight in Alexandria, Virginia.

He urged veterans to let their kids and grand kids interview them, "Tell them how you did your job. Why you did your job. What you did. What went wrong and what went right."

I had the honor of getting the opportunity to speak with him for quite some time before he spoke. Yes, I took notes and I plan on sharing with you all. I'm just really tired right now. Oh, just realized many of you probably don't know who Norm Hatch is, he was a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent. His film footage that he took at Tarawa, helped the Marine Corps win an Academy Award in 1943 for the short documentary of the Marine landing on that island. He also shot footage, along with several other Combat Cameramen, that went into another short documentary on the landing at Iwo Jima. The Marines were nominated for another academy award for documentary film for this but did not win.

Before I go, I'd like to introduce you to the veterans I met this evening. There were quite a few along with family members including grand children. One family had their son have the veterans autograph a map of Iwo Jim where they landed, what a good idea!

Below, Cy O'Brien, one of the combat correspondents on Iwo Jima along with Norm Hatch. Above, me with Don Knight, Marine Corps Combat Correspondent in the Pacific and in the Korean War.
This bunch of guys below are Norman L. Baker, 62nd Seabeas VAC; Jack Fagere, 133 CB, 4th Div, 23rd Reg; Garland J. Simmons, 5th Division, 28th Reg. (They are autographing my copy of Eric Hammel's book "Iwo Jima")

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not In My Hometown! ACK!

In the wake of the whole Berkley, California fiasco, what municipality would deny the Marine Corps anything. (Municipality is a really big word for me at this time of night! haha!)

Yesterday, I went to check out Samantha West's blog -- great blog about the Marine Corps and Marine Corps related stuff by the way - - and I was shocked to see a posting about the Mayor of Toledo, Ohio turning the Marines out.

Are you kidding me? (Nothing against Samantha - - just couldn't believe Toledo would do such a stupid thing!)

Today I went surfing through the Toledo Blade's articles to get the hometown version. Hometown version was pretty much, "Carty, you're an idiot."

I really like Kirk's political cartoons (see above). The following editorial Semper Carty - - really kicks butt. Basically said what I would have liked to have said. Here is a summary in quotes:

"ONCE again - it happens way too often - Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has managed to embarrass himself and the city he so zealously represents."

"This was a public relations debacle that could have been headed off were it not for inexplicably poor communications inside city government,"

and this 'stinger':

"On one level, we understand Mr. Finkbeiner's decision. If he agreed to allow the Marines to train downtown, he would in effect be admitting that Toledo has a central business district that is so devoid of activity that a bunch of folks in camouflage with guns, storming empty buildings, wouldn't bother a soul."

When I read the Blade's first article on the issue:

Mayor to Marines: Leave downtownHe says urban exercises scare people

I thought, "What people?" Toledo, Ohio is completely dead, we're talking empty, on weekends.

The fallout: The city council voted to apologize and issue free hotel stays, restaurant discounts and free tickets to the Toledo Zoo to the 200 Marines. Oooooh, I'm telling you that sounds like a great get-a-way with the wife or hubby. O.k. I'll cut Toledo some slack - - The Zoo is really awesome.

If you ask me, I think he should have been fired. What PR guy lets his man flap in the wind and make a fool out of himself and his town. For crying out loud, they let the KKK hold a march last year, and there was actually a small riot. (Um, can you just hear the wheels turning in some political opponent's head - - "Finkbeiner o.k. with the KKK marching in our streets, but not the US Marines." Good grief, Batman!

And my parents wonder why I have no desire to come back and live in Ohio.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Getting Out To Vote

Voting in the primaries this morning was a piece of cake! I was in and out in 5 minutes. Way better than the last time when I got up at 6 a.m. to be at the polling site when it opened - - and it took over an hour for me to vote. I guess I shouldn't complain about that hour, there are places in this world where people have to wait all day to make it to the ballot box and while they wait, they are targets for terrorists bent on obstructing democratic ideals and processes.

The one thing I didn't like, I had to state what political party I was voting for. I guess in a presidential PRIMARY it really doesn't matter if they know. However, I felt like my anonymous vote wasn't quite so anonymous since everyone standing within ear shot knew which political affiliation I had taken.

Our voting machines are touch screen computers, so I handed this colored piece of paper (red for Republican and blue for Democrat) to the volunteer and she selected the political party from the choices on the touch screen and then left me to make my choice between the remaining candidates. I could have made my party choice at the "box".

Once the party affiliation was selected, a list of available candidates came up. After you made your selection, the next window read:

"You have selected _________ as your choice for the ______ candidate for president." You then had to select a "continue" button to move to the next screen which said:

"You have selected __________." and there was another continue button.

Upon pressing the second "continue" button, a large red "Vote" button appeared on the next screen. The "Vote" button took up the entire monitor screen. Yep, I couldn't miss that.

After pressing the HUGE "Vote" button, you received a message that said: " Your ballot has been cast."

The whole voting machine process made me laugh. I mean, it was like I was trying to delete something from my computer. You know how our computers ask us three times if we are sure we want to delete whatever it is we are deleting.

Can you just imagine the voting stress the following voting machine messages could cause:

"You have selected _______________ to be the _________ presidential candidate. Are you sure?"

Hmm, I'm pretty sure so I'll select "Yes"

"O.k. You confirmed your selection of ________________ for the ________________ presidential candidate. Are you absolutely sure this is correct? You still have time to change your mind."

Hmm, well I read their platforms and I'm fairly certain I'm good with my choice.
Next screen with big flashing red "Vote" button:

"Before selecting ______________, you realize that your vote could determine the fate and future of the free world, your life and the lives of your children and grandchildren. Are you absolutely sure this is who you want to chose."

Well, geez if you put it that way - - now I'm not so sure. I mean, does this computer know something I don't know. If I press that red flashing "Vote", will I set off some nuclear chain reaction? AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH I don't know what to do.

Yes, lots of sweaty palms and anxiety attacks.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Feeling At Home

February is a special month for the Marine Corps. It marks the anniversary of one of the most pivotal battles of the 20th century, for the Corps, any way. It also marks the anniversary of one of the most iconic images from World War 2, the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. It seems that we have been getting quite a few more Iwo veterans/survivors visiting the museum with their families lately.

Now, I say Iwo veteran/survivor because these men were survivors. The US Marines lost more men per square mile (about 800 per sq mi) on Iwo Jima than in any battle before it and any battle that has followed. Over 6,000 Marines and Navy Corpsmen perished taking this Island. That was 6,000 Americans in 30 days (that was how long the battle for the island was). That is 200 men killed per day. There were many more thousands of men wounded.

Why did the US have to take Iwo Jima? Because of the air fields. Capturing the island and its airfields would cut the distance in half for US bombers en-route to mainland Japan.

The man pictured above and to the left, is an Iwo Jima veteran. He along with his 4 brothers and a sister all enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War 2. Six out of the seven children in that family joined the military during the war and all joined the Marines. That is pretty amazing in itself.

This gentleman was 20 years old when he landed at Iwo. As I opened the doors to the Higgins boat in the Iwo Immersion and he walked through, he said, "Boy, I feel like I'm ready to storm the beach again."

I replied, "That is what you are going to do next." and I shut the door behind him, closing him into the cramped Higgins boat with his two sisters, two daughters and brother-in-law.

As I stood outside the doors, I wondered, "Should I have told him if he found the boat ride too emotional, he could exit through the same doors he entered the boat through?"

I worried for the entire three/four minutes of the "boat ride" when I knew the ramp had gone up for them to "storm the beach" area of the Iwo display, I walked back to see how he did.

He was wiping tears away from his eyes.

I asked while giving him a warm reassuring pat on the back, "How'd you do?"

"O.k." he said.

"Bet you didn't expect to ever be 'storming' the beach again."

He said, no he didn't, tears were still rolling down his cheeks.
And then,
he said,

"I feel like I'm right at home."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Construction at Semper Fidelis Memorial Park

Thanks to a $5 million dollar gift from the Day family, construction in the area outlined in yellow in the above photo is underway.

I just get so excited about all new things going on at the Museum. This is the entrance to the park via the Taylor overlook.

Segments of the walk are designated by the darker material. On the lower part of the walk, the segment partitions contained the characteristics of a Marine. These carry the names of touch stone battles important to the Marines. For instance, the one you see above says Guadalcanal.

Phase 1A build-out should begin within the next couple months. That should be interesting also. Look forward to sharing photos of items as they become more complete.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Leatherneck's Letter of the Month Honors Go to Miss Jess

Many of us are buddies of Miss Jess a.k.a victorygal (pictured above at the Museum). I had the pleasure of meeting her while we were both going through docent training for the National Museum of the Marine Corps. In fact, Miss Jess introduced me to blogging - - something that I hadn't explored before because I had been too cheap to pay for a high speed internet connection.
I so enjoyed her well written entries. I will admit I was a bit jealous over the fact that she beat me to blogging about the museum. She is just a "from the heart" kind of writer and I thought she should try to get some of her stuff published.
Well, she sent an entry in to Leatherneck Magazine - - its a magazine published by the Marine Corps Association. Many of us may remember this blog entry, her reflections of the first Christmas Eve at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. It made many of us cry - - re-reading it still makes me cry. She received the "Letter of the Month" honors in Leatherneck - - that includes being published in Leatherneck and $25.
I had heard she had sent something in because one of the other docents was asking me who Jess was because one of his buddies in Ohio called him with express orders to say "Tell her, 'Thanks'".
Something tells me there weren't many dry eyes reading the Letters section of February's issue of Leatherneck.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

America's Marine Tour Stops At Quantico

The Marine Corps recently released its new recruiting commercial. It gives me chills.

The Silent Drill team was filmed throughout the United States to provide footage for the commercial. In addition to The Commercial, they captured 15 separate 'programs' at the locations they visited. On November 9, 2007, they filmed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Unfortunately, that was a day I couldn't be there, due to other duties. I always miss all this cool stuff.

Here is the film - - I'm so lucky to work at a cool place like this.

The Marine that talks about the cast figure that he 'posed' for... this is his "likeness" peering around a wall in the Hue City display in the Vietnam gallery.

I think this is the most life like of all the figures. By this, I mean, this figure looks most like the actual man they took a plaster cast of. Hmmm, I think I feel a blog coming on regarding how the figures were made - - yes, I have pictures. Stay tuned!

Back to the America's Marine Tour, you can visit the "Tour Site" and catch film from the other location shoots. They even have a 'blog', so be sure to check that out for stories behind their travels and photos.

Mitt Romney Out Of The Race


I didn't even get a chance to choose. Screw the Virginia primary next week if the decision is already made who the Republican candidate is.

McCain or Huckabee. I don't care for Ron Paul at all.

Since I'm a registered independent, I could go vote in the Democratic primary. Hmmmm, Hillary or Obama? Who are the Republicans most likely to defeat?

I'm pretty much giving it away were I stand politically, aren't I?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Silver Star Marine Awarded Silver Star Posthumously

Corporal Sean A. Stokes was awarded the Silver Star today, his birthday. This is the third highest military award behind the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. Cpl Stokes was awarded this medal for action in the second battle for Fallujah. He was featured in a History Channel episode of "Shootout" describing the action that day in 2005.
While I am unable to find the citation at this time, the following was written by the Marine Corps Combat Historian embedded with the Marines of 3/1 in Fallujah.

As you know, I was an embedded combat historian with Lima Company’s 1stPlatoon during the Battle of Fallajah in November 2004. My goal was to record the oral histories of our troops serving in Iraq. This project was completed in 2006, when1st Platoon’s experience was chronicled in a critically acclaimed book titled: WEWERE ONE ( ).
During my research for WE WERE ONE, I interviewed nearly every survivingmember of 1st Platoon. These interviews took place in Iraq and at Camp Pendleton.Hundreds of hours of testimony reconstruct all of 1st Platoon’s major actions duringthe twelve-plus day assault on Fallujah. Throughout the course of my research, oneMarine was constantly brought to my attention by his fellow Marines: Private SeanStokes.

Private Stokes, now, Corporal Stokes is one of 1st Platoon’s true heroes. Eventhough Stokes was the lowest-ranking member of the platoon during the battle, he was always the first Marine through the door of the houses his fire-team assaulted. His valor was evident on November 10th in an ambush dubbed “Grenade Alley.” During the action, Stokes engaged the enemy allowing elements of his squad to escape death from a narrow alley saturated with grenades from enemy fighters. As Stokes suppressed the enemy, and was nearly killed by an enemy grenade. Instead of leaving the platoon and medivacing to the aid station (as he was required to do), Stokes hid his wounds and pushed forward into the city so he could fight along side his fellow Marines. Stokes received the Purple Heart for this action.

Throughout the next week, 1st Platoon’s causalities mounted, manpower became acute, and on his own initiative (with the consent of his squad leader) Stokes assumed the responsibilities of a fire team leader, essentially leading a fire-team through the remainder of the battle. Assaulting countless houses (where he was always the first Marine through the door) Stokes killed at least nine enemy fighters, including one in hand-to-hand combat. These nine fighters are confirmed kills, however, nearly every Marine in the platoon concedes this number is likely higher. On November 17th Stokes was clearing a house when what was left of his rifle squad (about three or four marines) were caught in a complex ambush. Stokes started to clear the final room in the house when a door opened and his squad was sprayed with AK-47 fire, several grenades rolled out the door, one detonating directly in front of him (this scene was recreated on The History Channel’s documentary Shootout : D-Day Fallujah and is fleshed out in WE WERE ONE).
As the grenade exploded, the blast hurled Stokes backward five or six feet into a dark hallway. Nearly unconscious from the blast (he was suffering from a concussion and bleeding from a shrapnel wounds) Stokes miraculously recovered and aimed his weapon at the approaching Chechen fighters who poured out of the doorway and fired upon him. Expending all of his ammunition , Stokes fired his last rounds at the enemy fighters, killing several. Out of ammunition , he began to prep a grenade. Fortunately, he was rescued by Corporal Heath Kramer who later was awarded the Bronze Star for the incident.

After the incident, a dazed and wounded Private Stokes once again refused evacuation to the aid station. Refusing all requests to vacate the field of battle, his Squad leader, Sgt. Kyle ordered him to the aid station. Nearly a year later, Stokes returned to Iraq with the battalion, and I once again I received reports from men in the Platoon on Stokes was leading his squad or acting a scout for the platoon. Remarkably, Stokes never received a decoration for his actions during the Battle of Fallujah.

Since the fall of 1992, I have interviewed nearly 1,500 WWII veterans. Their stories and life experiences span all the epic battles of WWII. During the course of my research, I have reviewed hundreds of award citations from the Bronze Star to the Medal of Honor. I believe Corporal Stokes’s courage under fire and leadership rises to the level of a Silver Star. His actions and valor are comparable to the Silver Star awarded to 1st Platoon’s Lance Corporal Michael Hanks. However, a conservative approach would merit, at a bare minimum, the Bronze Star. Additionally, I believe Corporal Stokes deserves the Purple Heart he earned on November 17th which is fully documented in his medical records. I respectfully request you initiate a review of Stokes actions in Fallujah and sponsor an award recommendation for the Marine.

He is not aware of this request nor has he requested it. He does not covet medals or glory but simply wants to be Marine and serve his country.

Stokes was killed by an IED this past summer while on his third tour.
My heart just bursts with awe at what these young men and women in the US Military are doing today. They stand toe to toe with heroes from our past. I think what really struck me while listening to his account in the History Channel episode was the credit he gave to prayer. He said he prayed before entering each house and thanked God as they left. When the grenade went off, at his feet in the final house, he didn't take any shrapnel to the front of his body. He said it was as if he had an invisible force field in front of him and he knew it was from the prayers of everyone back home. God truely is an awesome God. Prayer works!

I know some of you out there may be saying, but Prayer didn't help him on his third tour. All things happen for a reason. I believe this. Even things meant for evil, God uses for good (remember Joseph and his brothers selling him into slavery - - God used that to position Joseph in a place and position to save Isreal). The good, his family has started a Memorial Organization to support families of the fallen Sean Stokes Memorial Organization.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

No New Thoughts Sprouting Forth From My Fingers

Its amazing how actually having work to do at work has just sucked my mind dry in regards to material to blog about.

Oh, I have my random thoughts of "Hey, that would make a good blog" but after 9 solid hours at a computer the past couple weeks I get home and I sit down at the computer, read all your blogs, sometimes comment -- by the way if I am incoherent in any of my comments - - I was tired, and then I have nothing to write. Well, I really do have stuff to write but when I write it, it reads like it was written by a 3rd grader.

One news item I found interesting this past week came out of Berkley, California. The town council voted that the Marine Corps recruiting station was not welcome in town. The town council actually gave a permit to Code Pink reserving the parking space right in front of the recruiters so they could protest on Thursday afternoons. I'm sure that is the day and hours the recruiter shutters the office up and goes to make school visits (if they let him/her in) or outside of the office rounds.

My thought on the whole thing - - how ironic that Code Pink is protesting the Marine Corps, one of the branches of the military whose members have taken an oath to uphold the constitution of the United States and protect it from enemies both foreign and domestic. Basically, they (Code Pink) are protesting the folks that defend their right to protest.

Wonder what Code Pink would think about a chant of "Hell no! The Constitution must go!"
I love the United States and the fact that this type of stuff goes on. I don't agree with Code Pink (I think they are all wackos) - - but in so many other parts of the world people go to prison for saying the things Code Pink says. Do you remember all the lawyers and such in Pakistan that got arrested for protesting the suspension of their constitution and the implementation of martial law this past fall?

I also love the fact that our military can not pick and choose what battles they will fight (even though some members have tried with the War in Iraq and Afghanistan). I mean, if someone were to threaten Code Pink's right to protest all the nutty stuff they protest and the President of the United States ordered the Marines to defend Code Pink - - the Marines would defend Code Pink. The wouldn't like it, but they'd defend them.

Those are my brain sucked out of my head through my eyeballs thanks to Microsoft Visio flow charts and financial software crap thoughts for the day.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ranger on Ruffies

Well, my veterinarian saga continues. Ranger has a full blown urinary track infection. I'll save you the details. We had an appointment today at the vet. This time I made sure I gave him enough tranquilizers. My observations are: Ranger has the constitution of a Grizzly Bear and a tranquilized cat is pretty funny.

Two weeks ago, the vet prescribed tranquilizers for Ranger so that he would be less combative for his annual appointment. Yes, that sweet fluffy ball of fur is a vicious wild animal at the vet. So anyway. I give him 1.5 pills. That was suppose to knock him out. It had no effect. So this morning, I shoved 2.5 pills down his throat.

That did the trick, sort of.

Until the adrenaline kicked in.

Do you remember the scene in the Movie True Lies, where Arnold is drugged up with truth serum?

Well, that was Ranger. The Vet did not get his neck broken and I think everyone left the office with all fingers still intact.

It has been an interesting day. Ranger, to put it lightly, has been pissed. Think angry drunk. The poor guy was swerving down the hallway, even ran into the wall. He tried to climb the stairs, and slid back down. I couldn't help laughing. So, he literally clawed his way up the stairs. Of course when he got to the top, he just clunked out and laid there for a while. Poor guy.