Monday, August 28, 2006

Follicular Fete

I was on the road this week, so an anniversary of sorts for Miss Brenda and I passed without celebration. To be honest, it has passed with barely a mention for the past 30 years. But there once was a time when the date was occasion for significant ceremony and remembrance.

On August 21, 1971, in the halcyon days of the summer before we started the 10th grade, I took Miss Brenda on our first official date. Amazingly, it was the last date either of us ever had with anyone other than each other. That's right, I have only dated one woman since I was 15 years old--and I wouldn't want it any other way. Now, before you write me off as a pathetic, unpopular high school loser, know this: I went on a date or "went steady" with innumerable girls, changing my feminine target as often as I changed my socks. Until I met Miss Brenda. For me at least, as corny as it is, it was love at first sight. And second sight. And third sight. From the moment she drew my attention, she kept it.

My children and brother Marines will find this hard to believe, but when I was in high school I had, if I may say so myself, a marvelous head of fine blond hair that consumed literally hours of my time comb-in-hand/face-in-mirror. I'll admit it, if you look in the 1972 edition of your Funk and Wagnel you will find my picture (comb in hand) next to the definition for narcissist. My comb was my most prized possession, next to my pen knife. After Brenda and I had dated for 2 or three months, I began keeping track of the occurrence of the 21st of each month by carving a small v-shaped notch on the spine of my black plastic comb. Even after I was required to cut my hair short enough (not to mention the ravages of male-pattern balding) to obviate the need for it, I continued to carry the comb and added a monthly notch right up until the 31st of July 1976, after which marriage vows eliminated dating and the joy of marking the anniversary of our first date.

Where did we go on our first date? To the Howard Air Force Base movie theater to see that romantic film, "Lawrence of Arabia."

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reveille Reminder

An early morning fishing trip with #1 son occasioned a discussion of the growing difficulty I have getting up early to go fishing. Frankly, if I don't have someone that I know will be waiting for me at the dock, more often than not I will turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. I love to fish, but the older I get the harder it gets to start my motivation motor first thing in the AM.

Our discussion reminded me of an OCS story that I shared with #1. The summer between my junior and senior year in college (or the close approximation Ole Miss is to a college), I spent 6 weeks at Quantico, Virginia, undergoing that prospective Marine officer rite of passage that is OCS. For 5 and 1/2 weeks the latest we were allowed to sleep was until 0500, and most mornings reveille went an hour or two earlier than that. By the time our last week of training arrived, we were pretty much asleep on our feet most of the time. Consequently, there are huge chunks of time from that experience that have no home in a wrinkle in the shriveled grey matter of my brain housing group.

I do remember, however, that the evening before one of our last days, our DI strode purposely into our platoon's open squadbay and announced, "Listen up, Candidates. Lights out at 2100; reveille at 0600." We remained at the position of attention while he about faced and marched out. As soon as the double doors at the end of the squad bay swung closed behind him, all 50 of us broke into a resoundingly joyful, "OOOORAH!!

The candidate whose bunk was next to mine and who stood next to me in every formation for six weeks, was a Texas A&M Aggie named Ned Hertberg. Unlike most of his unsufferably loud and obnoxious Aggie brethren, Ned was quiet, studious, and an easy guy to like. He rarely commented on any situation we were in, but his observation at this point is one I will likely never forget. He turned to me and said, "Never thought I'd cheer about getting up at six in the morning."

Ned was killed a few years later when the wing of the A-6 fighter bomber, on which he was the bombadier/navigator, came apart at the bottom of a bomb run over the California desert.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Opportunities Lost

The last two years of George W. Bush's tenure as President of these re-United States are shaping up to be bad ones for the home team, and the fault for it is entirely his. Frankly, as much as I like the man he is, I can't help but think that he has squandered the opportunity given us five years ago. Instead of acting boldly on his vision of the world at war with terrorists and their sponsors (World War III, IV, or V depending on which historian you listen to), he fell into the same trap that Johnson and Nixon did in the 60's with Vietnam.

For the better part of a decade we tried to gingerly shape the battlefield in the war with totalitarian socialism by fighting the Vietnam War with one arm (and one leg) tied behind our back. We never took the political, economic, and military actions necessary to decisively defeat the Viet Cong insurgency early in the war and the North Vietnamese Army upon their entry in the latter stages of the war. By the time we started to really get serious about isolating the North Vietnamese from their sources of supply (China and the Soviet Union)--we mined Haiphong harbor to prevent supply ships from getting in--and punishing the North Vietnamese with heavy strategic bombardment of their homeland, the American public had grown weary of a war in which our heavy involvement by that point had lasted 7 or 8 years, and cost over 50,000 American lives. Had we gotten serious in 1967 instead of 1972, we might very well have achieved our objective of a free and democratic (not perfect, by any means) South Vietnam, at probably half the eventual cost of American lives and treasure. We didn't get serious because we were 1) afraid of going nuclear with China and the Soviet Union, and 2) we didn't want to jeopardize the explosive growth in the standard of living in the US. But, China and the Soviet Union would not have pulled the nuclear or even conventional triggers against us, because our nuclear deterrent was too great; and the eventual total cost of the longer war was more than we would have spent if we had gotten serious early on.

The same pattern has developed since 19 fanatical muslims got our attention on 9/11. Instead of leading the great campaign of Roosevelt to utterly destroy fascism, Bush has led the timid campaign of Johnson to have "both guns and butter." Roosevelt was triumphant because we fought against Germany and Japan with unmerciful attacks of both their fielded forces and their homelands. The deaths of a few thousand in today's wrestling matches in the Middle East pale in comparison with hundreds of thousands each killed in one night of fire bombing Dresden and Tokyo. Horrible, gruesome work. But, we speak English in freedom today.

Bush was given the opportunity for greatness, squandered it, and will now be impeached by the democrat party when they win back the house and senate this fall.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Coniferous Canine Capers

I had the great fortune to command an infantry battalion in Hawaii nine (has it been that long?) years ago. The Marines of the First Battalion of the 3d Marine Regiment (abbreviated 1st Bn, 3d Mar, or just 1/3) carried the nickname "Lava Dogs." Marines were called Teufel Hunden, or Devil Dogs, by the German soldiers fortunate to survive facing them in the First World War. Since that time, "Devil Dog" has been as near to a term of affection with which Marines will refer to one another as our warriorhood would allow. When the Devil Dogs of 1/3 moved to their current base in Hawaii following the Vietnam War, one of the island menaces they first faced (excluding the rip-off artists in Waikiki) was the rocky remnants of volcanic activity ubiquitous throughout the Big Island's Pohakoloa Training Area, or PTA. Jagged bits and chunks of broken lava, these lava dogs will chew up a pair of boots in a week of hard training or rip up a uniform in one hit and roll--not to mention the damage they can cause to skin and bone. A month-long visit to PTA was a great but costly training opportunity--both in personnel and gear casualties due to run-ins with the devilish lava dogs. So, it was a natural thing for the 1/3 Marines to assign themselves the nickname Lava Dogs.

At the Officers Club on the hill at Marine Corps Base, Kaneohe Bay, one whole barroom was filled with plaques left by battalions and squadrons. An old, broken 1/3 plaque had bolted to it the figure of a bipedal bulldog that mysteriously disappeared just prior to our battalion's deployment for a seven month stay on Okinawa. At our first 1/3 Officer's Call at the Camp Hansen Officer's Club shortly after our arrival in Okinawa, the LPA (Lieutenants Protective Association--every unit has one or shame on its lieutenants) arrived en masse in the company of one 2d Lieutenant Lava NMI (no middle initial) Dog; a bipedal wooden bulldog bearing a striking resemblance to the missing plaque dog. My XO, Dan Liddell, saw the look in my eyes and leaned in to put the theft in perspective, "Colonel, the LPA has a mascot, and it could have been worse."

He was right, and I didn't even want to ponder long on what the "worse" mascot might have been. So, I resolved to put my stamp of approval on 2dLt Lava NMI Dog as the official First Battalion, Third Marines LPA mascot, and put that resolution in written form that was published at the following Friday's Officers' Call. The resolution/commission included regulations requiring 2dLt Lava NMI Dog's attendance at all official and unofficial functions at which a simple majority of the battalion's officers were present, and made the 1/3 LPA the sole and solemn caretakers, mentors, and minders of 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. My final charge to the LPA with regard to 2dLt Lava NMI Dog, was that he was to be returned intact to his rightful place "en plaque" at the K-Bay O' Club upon our return.

Over the next few months on Okinawa, the battalion's schedule sent individual companies on separate training deployments to Australia, Korea, Camp Fuji, Hokaido, and even one platoon to the Persian Gulf as the adhoc Marine Detachment for the aircraft carrier, USS Independence. 2dLt Lava NMI Dog accompanied the battalion wherever the majority of its officers deployed. At one point I took about half of the battalion to train in Korea for a month and left the XO in charge of the remnant of the battalion on Okinawa. One day, I asked an esteemed member of the LPA about the whereabouts of 2dLt Lava NMI Dog, not having seen him at a function at which I was fairly certain represented a simple majority of the battalion's officers. The lieutenant's answer to the "Old Man" was disingenuous at best, "Sir, 2dLt Lava NMI Dog missed movement to Korea." Missing movement was a court martial offense for which the responding representative of the LPA thought, incorrectly, the LPA would not be held accountable en masse. A quick phone call back to the XO on Okinawa, confirmed not only that 2dLt Lava NMI Dog had indeed missed movement to Korea with the battalion, but was UA (unauthorized absence--aka AWOL) and whereabouts unknown on Okinawa, as well. The fact of the matter was 2dLt Lava NMI Dog had been kidnapped from the care of the LPA by person or persons unknown.

For the next several weeks, a veritable flurry--nay, blizzard--of e-mails circulated among the officers of the battalion. I, of course, instigated most of it with contemptible condemnations of the slovenly safeguard with which the LPA had performed their leadership duties with regard to 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. At one point an e-mail, as they are wont to do, leaped the electronic corral and ran amok amongst the world wide web. I began receiving e-mails of condolences and inquiries as to the status of the search for, and the investigation into the disappearance of 2d Lt Lava NMI Dog. My son wrote from Mississippi to inform me that an admiral guest of honor at his NROTC's formal dinner rose and offered a toast to "the brave, and obviously P.O.W., 2dLt Lava NMI Dog." That he might more nobly be a P.O.W., and not simply, shamefully U.A., became the tenor of all future e-mails, and 2dLt Lava NMI Dog's plight began to take on the status of legend with rumorous reports of his exploits and escape attempts foiled by cruel captors.

At every assemblage of the battalion's officers, I asked for a report from the LPA regarding 2dLt Lava NMI Dog. Soon enough, the LPA pointed a disrespectful finger of fault at their superiors in the battalion's CPA (Captains Protective Association--every unit has one or shame on its captains). The furor that ensued was sheer delight to the XO and me--we had the spotlight and angry attention off of the more onerous requirements we "Old Corps" Marines were placing on the newest generation of Leathernecks (we were on a crusade to maintain the conservative standards of personal appearance and conduct, and Old Corps customs and courtesies, with which we had been raised as lieutenants).

The CPA, it turned out, had indeed taken 2dLt Lava NMI Dog captive; and the LPA finally planned, organized, and executed a rescue raid combining strategic and operational surprise and deception reminiscent of the much-studied Son Tay Prison Camp raid, and tactical actions not matched until Tom Cruise made the movie Mission Impossible. 2dLt Lava NMI Dog was found in solitary confinement in air conditioning ducts in the ceilings over adjoining rooms of two members of the CPA who vociferously denied any involvement and actively accused the LPA of a colossal frame-job.

Great entertainment for all involved--and several weeks of a long deployment passed quickly.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Milestone Mention

This is the 100th post I've made to this blog since its inaugural 13 months ago. At the time of its inception, I expected that I would write every day. I believed myself to be opinionated enough and skilled enough at keyboarding and sentence structure to be able to find something to write quickly about each morning. I tried hard not to merely repeat, or even put a different spin on something I heard from a radio commentator or saw from a columnist. That is harder than one might think. I have also tried hard to keep the subject matter and tone of my missives as varied and diverse as possible. Not that that matters much to the three other people who waste two or three minutes a day deciphering what is posted here.

I think I like to write most about life memories and personal current events. That tends to whittle down the readership interest (from three to two) a bit I'm sure, but is the most fun for me. Frankly, there is a world full of people opining on the air and in print about the condition of the world and its inhabitants. What I contribute to that discourse makes no demonstrable difference. Posting memories dredged from the shriveled grey matter in my brain housing group may appeal to less readers, but is important to me and to my family line (he writes, with insufferable pride in his progeny). So, forthwith, I will write only about my memories...

...or about a world event that interests me...

...or about a skylined jerk on the world stage...

...or about birds...

...but, that's all.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Early Arrival

Twenty-eight very short years ago today, my first son was born. I hardly feel much more than 28 years old myself. Well, my infantry knees and back feel like they are 80 years old, but my mind is still telling me I'm a youngster.

Miss Brenda gave birth to # 1 in a little hospital in Dumfries, Virginia, just up the road from the Marine base at Quantico. I was 2 months into a nine month initial training stint at the Basic School and Infantry Officer Course, and the boy's arrival meant I now had a family to provide for and shed a much different light on the life and death business I was training to conduct. While I remained keenly focused on the instructors' directions about the most effective way to conduct operations to destroy the enemy, I began to pay a little more attention to the instruction that began with the comment, "Listen up, lieutenants; this will keep you alive."

# 1 is so much like me in so many ways that there is very little wonder why we stayed at each others throats for so many years. Guess I didn't like myself that much. But, thank God, he has matured (much earlier than I did) and become a much better man than I am. I like to be around him now. That he and his lovely wife gave me a sharp little buddy of a grandson last year hasn't hurt his cause either!

Twenty-eight years..., amazing.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Charge of the Lieutenant Brigade

The other day a stray synapse in the pea-sized grey matter of my brain housing group fired and I remembered the day that the rifle company I had recently taken command of became truly mine. It was the late summer of 1987 and we were bivouaced in a large field behind the firing line of a set of ranges on which my company had been conducting live fire training. We had completed training for the day and the Marines were in their platoon areas sitting in front of their tents (we called them "shelter halves" because each Marine carried half of a shelter and buttoned it together with another Marine's to form a pup tent -- a term we never used) eating their evening banquet in a bag (MRE). I guess the day had not been too hot or too strenuous for them, because instead of falling quickly asleep as Marines learn to do as soon as strenuous activity ceases, they began to wrestle. The wrestling matches evolved quickly beyond one on one and as my lieutenants and I watched from a safe distance, one squad attacked another squad, and then one platoon attacked another platoon. Each attacking unit would announce its intentions by standing facing its target and clapping slowly in unison, and then a roar would go up as the Marines rushed each other. Our senior NCOs were doing a fair job of refereeing to make sure that things didn't get too out of hand, and my officers and I turned our attention back to planning the next day's events.

Whenever a particularly large roar would erupt from across the field, we would look up, chuckle, and comment on the battle's progress, "There goes First and Second Platoon" or "Tony, Weapons Platoon is getting stomped" or "Look at Smitty leading the charge," and then turn our attention back to our planning. Suddenly the low roar of friendly combat quieted. We looked up to see the entire company facing us and beginning to clap in unison.

I quickly scanned the faces of my five lieutenants and couldn't help but laugh at the looks of bewilderment turning rapidly to consternation...on all but my XO's. Brad McCullough was an accomplished martial artist and I don't think I ever saw anything rattle him. I did, however, see his eyes narrow as he figured the odds and then saw him glance around for an escape route. The other lieutenants were too shocked to do that much thinking. "Gentlemen," I managed to muster without my voice cracking, "we can't run. We have to attack." I turned and started jogging tentatively towards the company. With that, Brad hollered "Keeeyaaa!" or something like that (we laughed for months afterwards anytime one of us would yell "Keeeyaaa" in a not so similar situation) and sprinted toward the 150 Marines facing us.

My platoon commanders and I sprinted after the XO, and the six of us gave a long, wavering rebel yell that 125 years previous would have been right at home in Stonewall's Brigade rushing yankee earthworks. Our Marines actually stood stunned for a second at the sight of us charging them, and then recovered with a roar and charge of their own. We closed the 100 or so yards between us in a few seconds that seemed like an eternity of anticipation of the painful collision with the camouflaged tide. I picked out a big Marine in front of me that happened to be looking away at his own platoon commander, and I slanted toward him and dropped him with an open field tackle that I'm sure rung my bell louder than his. The company engulfed us and all six of us went down under a crush of happily hollering Marines. My First Sergeant saved me from possible serious bodily harm, by reminding in his drill field voice, "Marines, that is your commanding officer!", and pulling Marines off of the pile on top of me. He and I did the same at the piles of Marines that marked the positions of the rest of the officers, and as the men respectfully separated themselves and headed back to their tents I heard a Marine remark proudly, "Did you see the Skipper and the officers charging us?!?"

Little did they know, we had no other choice. But, now the company was mine.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mourning for Mohamar

All of the planet's spoiled brat bad boys seem to be competing for the world's attention this summer. The Ayatollahs and their pet, Amedinajawhatshisname, were getting the lion's share of the limelight early on with their "for peaceful purposes (except for the destruction of Israel) only" nuclear ambitions, so Kimche Kim launched some (not so successful) fireworks and stood on tiptoes behind the podium screeching, "Over here! Look over here!" Not to be outdone, the Ayatollahs grabbed the headlines with a prisoner-snatch raid by their proxy brigade in South Lebanon. That the Israelis took the opportunity to bomb an Arab neighbor back into the Stone Age, was so much the better for the islamo-fascist, rabble-rousing, headline-grabbing cause.

Of course, all of this free-world attention directed at irrational corrupt state actors was too much for Fidel. Putting little brother in charge and South Florida in celebratory suspense got the world's attention for at least two news cycles, and propelled a sick, but "heroically battling" Castro onto the front page and into the fluttering hearts of the closet Sandinista/Fidelista media who have been treating us to an unwelcome diet of rose colored looks at the Life and Revolutions of Fidel Castro, as if he were next in line behind Pope John Paul II for sainthood, instead of the sadistic socialist Stalin-imitator blowhard that he is.

I'm sure Qaddafi is regretting going straight, about now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hotty Totty Time

That strong gust of wind you may have felt this morning was the Rebel Nation expressing a collective sigh of relief. The Ole Miss faithful, and not-so-faithful, have turned Rebel blue and red from holding their breaths all summer in fretful anticipation of the delayed arrival of a junior college transfer quarterback, who has been named the starter without ever taking a snap on a practice field in Oxford. He was named the starter on signing day, partly as a recruiting ploy by Coach Orgeron, and mostly because there ain't nobody else on campus that is worth a hoot under center.

According to news reports this morning, Brent Schaeffer was admitted to Ole Miss yesterday and will report with the rest of the team today. The kid is nothing if not well-traveled. He started the first three games of the 2004 season for Tennessee as a freshman, got hurt, got in trouble, transferred to that California JUCO powerhouse--College of the Sequoias, threw for 40 TDs last year, committed to Ole Miss in the spring, and then bounced back and forth between California and Florida finishing up summer school classes in order to qualify to transfer--driving the Rebel Nation nuts in the process.

Coach O tried to whip up excitement last year on a team that was long on heart, but woefully short of talent. I actually thought they accomplished quite an achievement to make it to 4 and 7 on the year. With twelve games on tap this year, I predict a .500 season--lots of young talent recruited this past spring, but Ole Miss plays in the SEC, not the ACC, and as good as the recruiting class is this year, five other SEC teams had higher ranked classes. Coach O's future as an NCAA Division I Head Football Coach is in the hands of a former Tennessee Volunteer--Schaeffer better be good and better stay healthy.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

30th WAT Recap

Sometimes the best stop on a vacation trip is the last one--home. Five days and a couple thousand road miles left Miss Brenda and the Colonel relaxed, but ready for the familiarity of our own bed and kitchen. The trip was a milestone for us in several different ways, besides the obvious marking of 30 years of matrimonial monogamy.

For one thing, it was the first time the uptight, control-freak Colonel had ever taken a trip without every stop choreographed, all lodging reserved, and every leg mapped and timed to the quarter hour. For the first time in our life, we hit the road with the ability to stop when and where and for as long as we (read: SHE) wanted. It was the most frightening five days of my life.

I had only one stop truly planned and we scrapped that for a direction change halfway through the trip. I had wanted to be at the little country church at which we had wed at the exact hour of our ceremony, 1400, on the 31st. When Miss Brenda got wind of the direction--back toward Memphis--my loose itinerary would take us, she exercised her veto and we swung east at Tupelo (after a photo-shoot at the Tupelo Buffalo Park) and took the Natchez Trace up to Tishimingo State Park in the highest corner of Mississippi.

It was appropriate, I guess, given our vagabond nature for the first 30 years of our life together, that we were at a highway rest area when the magic hour arrived. At a picnic table alongside a road we had traveled countless times (231 in L.A.), I took Miss Brenda's hand and upgraded the simple and small diamond solitaire with which we had engaged to be married three decades ago. She had expressed that she wanted to keep the original diminutive stone for her own sentimental reasons and the upgrade was a wrap of two companion diamonds, the three stones representing her three decades of loyalty to me.

I got the better gift: A Berretta Extrema in Advantage camouflage. She read my mind!