Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Code Talkers and Their New Mission


Three of the surviving Navajo Code Talkers attended the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. While all the veterans were treated like rock stars, these three men were like the rock stars of rock stars, almost mythical. They are a rare gem, becoming rarer as the years pass. Of the 400 Code Talkers, only 100 are still alive.

These three men were on a mission this past weekend. That mission was to promote the building of the Navajo Code Talker Museum. If you follow this link,
Navajo Code Talker Museum, you can get information on this project as well as see photos of the land where the museum will be built. Its a very beautiful setting.

"Marines help each other out, " Keith Little told his fellow veterans at the symposium on Saturday. "Help us build our Museum. We won the war helping each other, we are asking for your help."

The Navajo language was an unbreakable code. Amazing when you think about the complex mathematical logarithms were devised by Governments to encode information passed on the battlefield - - all broken. Yet, something that had existed for thousands of years, a native language used as a code - - never broken. Having this 'code' as an option is also amazing when you consider the US Governments history regarding Native Americans, their language and culture. The US Government had tried to "
Americanize" the native peoples, sending their children to boarding schools where they were forbidden to talk in their languages, dress in traditional clothing or observe other traditions. The government tried to erase the native culture in the 19th and early 20th century. It failed.

The Japanese tried to crack the code, recording the messages being passed and sending them back to Tokyo for analysis. The analysts couldn't crack it. Bill Toledo related an incident when he had traveled to Japan to speak. He met a Japanese soldier and introduced himself as one of the Code Talkers. He asked the man what he thought of them. The man got a very angry look and stormed away.

Toledo, like several other veterans I spoke with, enlisted in the Marine Corps before completing High School. Marine Corps recruiters were looking for Navajo men who spoke both Navajo and English fluently as well as could read and write. They were not told why the Marines had those specific requirements and would not learn the reason until they were in training.

They were to be the code.

Their purpose, mission was classified until 196. For over 20 years, these men remained silent about their true contribution to the war effort. Once their role was declassified, they began traveling around the country telling their stories.

For Toledo, the opportunity to leave the reservation and see other parts of the United States and the world was one of the benefits of being a Marine. He said meeting other people, experiencing other cultures really helped him grow as a person.

After the Marines, Toledo returned home, finished school, got married and went to work. After a 30 year career, he retired and now travels, promoting the story of the Navajoy Code Talkers and their mission to build a museum dedicated to that story.

The one thing he tells young people from his trive as they consider a life in the military is to not forget their language. "So many of our young people have lost the language, you know. I tell them to hold on to it."

The thing he wants people to remember about the Code Talkers is that the code was never broken.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Iwo Jima Anniversary Weekend in Review


Weekends like this past weekend, I wish I had a laptop so I could type out my thoughts during a break. By the time I got home at night I was so tired that it was all I could do to download the photos.

Fridays event was electric. You could feel the energy in the air. I haven't felt that kind of energy since the museum dedication. The oddity or irony of this celebration was that we were celebrating the anniversary of what experience of their lives.





One of the veterans stated it perfectly when he described the feeling of both Americans and Japanese on Iwo, “None of us wanted to be there. We were doing what our countries required us to do.”

Every veteran I spoke with pretty much said, “It was HELL!”

Was I expecting a different answer? What WAS I expecting? I don't know. Its not like they were playing in the super bowl or something.




I recently saw a video out of Afghanistan's battle for Marjah. Two Marines are crouching behind a wall. One Marine's rifle is at the ready as he scans the terrain. The other Marine is on hands and knees vomiting. It brought to mind an Iwo vet being interviewed by his family in the Iwo Gallery a couple years ago.

“Were you scared Dad?” his daughter asked.

“Oh, yes!” He exclaimed, “I was so scared, I didn't go to the bathroom for five days.”

All of the veterans I spoke with talked about having nightmares, symptoms that we call PTSD today, back then it was called battle fatigue. One corpsman told me that people shouldn't have to see those horrible things. If you weren't effected by what you saw and experienced, there was something wrong with you. Any normal human being would/should be upset by what they saw.

At the symposium on Saturday, Frank Caldwell, a company commander on Iwo Jima, shared a story of a Japanese soldier jumping out of hole charging them with a sword. A Zippo tank hit him with a flame. As the Japanese soldier charged, he lost his helmet. Caldwell's Gunny picked up the helmet and tucked inside was a photo of the man they had just killed with his wife and six children. “My Gunny broke down and cried.”


The Navajo code talkers gifted us with a special serenade, the Marine Corps Hymn sung in Navajo. They made a request of the veterans and their families to support the building of a Navajo Code Talker museum. I'll post more on that later.

General Mattis addressed the veterans with a status of the Marine Corps today and the current fight in Afghanistan. While I have this all on video I will not post any of it. As you know Mattis speaks his mind. During the question session, someone asked him about Iran. Before he answered, he looked at me and asked if there was any Press in the room. I almost responded “Milblogger”. I understood his question to mean what he was saying in the room was meant to be kept within the family. I will respect that.

Colonel Dick Camp gave a great overview on the Naval Operations leading up to the Battle. I will be preparing a blog entry on that for all of the history nuts out there.

A special treat this year was the presentation made by Japan's military attache assigned to the embassy in DC. H spoke about the Japanese preparations leading up to the battle, specifically the tunnel system.

The gala event on Saturday was spectacular. I think General Amos could take a stab at stand-up comedy when he retires. He was an engaging speaker with a motivational message. It was a great evening. A once in a lifetime experience.



Friday, February 19, 2010

Don't Bottle Up Your Combat Stories


John Roy Coltrane from Siler City, North Carolina wishes he had talked about his combat experiences earlier. He didn't start talking about what he had gone through on Midway or on Iwo Jima until he started attending reunions. He says talking about experiences helps the nerves.

Coltrane joined the Marine Corps prior to the start of World War II. He was a 19 year old timberman and decided he could get paid more being in the military so he headed down to the post office where there was a recruiting station, fully intending to join the Army. There, he met the Marine Corps recruiter. He had never heard of the Marine Corps before. Within 5 minutes, the recruiter had talked him into signing a 4-year commitment with the Marine Corps instead of joining the Army which only had a 3-year commitment.

After training, Coltrane arrived at his first duty station on October 4, 1941, Midway Island. Little did he know that in a little over 2 months, the Japanese would launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Midway would become a contested piece of real estate. An artilaryman, he manned one of the 5-inch coastal guns that protected the island.

In 1943, Coltrane headed back to the states, to Camp Pendleton, where he joined the 5th Marines.

In 1945, 23-year-old Coltrane was a squad leader with an artiliary security platoon. As they road the Higgins boat onto the island, he and only 2 other Marines had prior combat experience. They landed on the beach at 4:30 p.m. on the 19th of February. By this time the Japanese were shooting at the incoming landing craft. As the ramp dropped on his boat, a shell hit directly infront sending fragments into his right elbow. The Corpsman patched him up and sent him on his way. He said it was unfortunate that the Corpsman got killed so no one was able to put the required paperwork in for a purple heart.

Because so many men in the 5th Division had been killed or wounded after 36 days of fighting, they did not head to Okinawa but instead were sent to Australia to re-group. They were at full strength again, just in time for the scheduled invasion of Japan. Luckily, the atomic bombs were dropped as they were enroute. Instead of combat, he spent the next 11 months in Japan as part of the occupation forces. They were tasked with blowing up or destroying Japanese munitions and weapons as well as making shipping crates for all the gear that was being shipped back to the United States.

When he returned to the United States and was discharged, he said he suffered from nightmares for years after. The three dreams he shared with me were: 1) A raid on Midway Island kills everyone except for him and he is left alone on the island, 2) a Japanese zero comes diving at him from the sky, dropping its bombs and he would wake just before the bombs hit the ground; 3) The Japanese steal his metal food tray and water during the night and he catches the soldier and shoots him in the back.

Several other veterans I spoke with shared that they also suffered from nightmares for years following the war. They didn't have a name like PTSD for what they were experiencing and they didn't talk about it. They said they just pushed through it.

Left for Dead on the Battlefield


Leonard Nederveld wa 19 years old when he stormed ashore on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. On D +5, he threw a grenade into what he thought was a Japanese bunker. Turned out it was an ammo bunker. The explosion peppered the left side of his body with fragments and knocked him unconcious. The corpsman, thinking he was dead, did not advance through heavy fire to treat him.

A day later, Nederveld woke up and began to crawl back toward his unit. Seeing movement crawling toward them, a couple Marines thought he was a Japanese soldier and were getting ready to shoot when another Marine shouted, "Don't shoot, that's a Marine!"

Nederveld was evacuated to a hospital ship. He lost hearing and vision as well as some mobility on his left side from his injuries. After 11 months in the hospital, he was discharged from the Marine Corps. He said most of the men in his company that survived Iwo Jima were later killed on Okinawa.

After being discharged, He used the GI bill to go to college and he became a Certified Public Account, got married and had 5 children. For many years, he and several other World War II veterans would volunteer at the World War II Museum in New Orleans. He is currently the 5th Marine Division Reunion President.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cat Nap

DSC_0743 Oh, be a cat with the ability to enjoy a sunny window.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hangover from Snowmageddon


I laughed when I took that picture. People here in the DC area are idiots when it comes to snow. What person tries to drive down an unplowed road when it just snowed 3 feet. Unless you are driving one of those off road, 4x4 trucks with tractor tires, you aren't going to make it down that road. At least this driver was smart enough to realize it before they were too commited and got stuck. I did see another pick-up truck stuck down at the end of a cul-de-sac, considered photographing it...but decided the driver might not appreciate it.
We had a lot of trees that snapped under the weight of the snow.


While the photo below was taken the day after the storm (Sunday)... Tuesday it doesn't look much different. I had a scary driving experience getting out this morning.

While our townhouse circle was cleared out down to the asphalt, the main roads through the neighborhood were not...and still look much the same three days later.

The only vehicles that were moving about on Sunday were SUVs, 4-wheel drives and pick-up trucks. However, people driving those types of vehicles aren't always that great at driving in the snow. After honking at me to get out of the tire tracks, this guy gunned it, causing the vehicle to fish tail wildly. I almost thought he was going to spin out right next to me so I started taking pictures...hey, if he was going to kill me, I was going to go down taking pictures.

The reason I had been standing in the tire tracks is that I saw a great picture...nice straight tracks through the snow...then the truck went by. As you can see he fish tailed the whole way.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Reflections Snowmageddon 2010


This first picture was taken at sunset on Saturday night. The snow had finally stopped, after 24 hours and seeing the sun was such a relief! Despite the fact that we didn't have power and that the snow was covering the brokenness of the trees, it looks beautiful. Peaceful. Like an Alpine villiage.

While I know my facebook followers have already seen the chronology of the storm, for those who follow me here on blog spot...and for my own memory, here are some photos showing the progress of the storm.


The above shot is my front yard around 10 p.m. I think I went out to shovel at this point but opted to not shovel the deck off for the third time (big mistake as you will see later).

Around 11:30, 12 midnight, we lost power. Luckily, I have a wood burning fire place and a lot of fire wood. The cats and I snuggled up on the couch in the family room in front of the fire. Besides sweats, I was wearing my hooded robe with the hood up and had two thick, woven blankets thrown on top of me. With three cats that then snuggled over my feet, behind my knees and ontop of my chest, I was quite warm. Actually was sweating. I shed the robe around 2 a.m. when I woke up to stoke the fire and add another log.

Around 3:30 a.m., something woke me with a start. I went upstairs to look out the windows, they were finally plowing down our street, so maybe it had been the noice of the plows. There was an eerie red glow in the sky. Despite there not being any power, it was quite light out. I noticed all the broken trees behind my house and was thankful that none had hit my house. I had been worried about a couple. God is good!

The tree in my back yard was bent almost to the ground.


Poor thing, for some reason this reminds me of something from a Dr. Seus book. Not wanting it to break, I came out with a broom and beat the snow off of it. Despite its freedom, it struggled to spring back into shape.


I'm not sure why I took this next picture at three a.m. However, it becomes a good reference for later. Just remember that garden cart.


In the morning, the destruction was more evident.

With more snow falling, more trees were threatening the houses.


I decided to tackle my deck. I really didn't want it to collapse under three feet of snow. I had shoveled it off twice the night before. However, I had a food and a half of snow in the morning, and it was still snowing.

I am about half way through getting it cleared off. I'll be honest. It was discouraging because we were getting about 2 inches of snow an when I got back in, from shoveling the front, the deck already had another 2-3 inches of snow on it.


Where was all the snow going?

I was pusing it off the side of my deck.

Remember that garden cart? I don't think I'll be seeing it till sometime in June.


Sunday morning was glorious! While I had dug out around my can see how far I got with my car. I was tired of shoveling Saturday night.


This is me before I headed out to check out the neighborhood. Don't worry, I wore much more. It was only about 15 degrees at this point.

Copy of DSCN9545

One of the things I've really enjoyed about the snow is talking with my neighbors as we are all out shoveling. In our busy lives, we really don't do much with each other or say much more than "Hi" as we pass each other coming and going.

Losing power...I didn't realize how much I miss electricity and the internet...or watching DVDs. I would have been fine with no cable, because I could have watched movies ...but no power...I sat there and looked at the cats for awhile, expecting them to entertain me. They however, were content curling up next to me or on my lap. Eventually, I did fall asleep. When the power finally came back on Saturday night, I found I was a bit disappointed.

I did learn what I need to get to update my "Shelter-in-place" kit. It totally sucks when your batteries for the flashlight are dead. While I have candles...they are all scented. I need some plain, white, un-scented candles. In addition, I need batteries for my radio. I can't believe I didn't have those.