Monday, November 27, 2006

Between Three Worlds

I think I packed about as much travel and adventure into last week as I have in a week in a long time. Miss Brenda and her folks drove to Houston the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend the week with my beautiful bride's ugly twin sister and her family, as has become somewhat of a tradition. In years past, all of our kids rallied in Houston as well, but this year that wasn't possible. Everyone was going to be with some family for the week, except for bachelor #2 son and I begged out of the trip to Houston with the excuse that he would be lonely if I didn't spend the week with him. To my surprise, everyone bought it.

We hit the road early Friday morning a week ago--they headed west and I headed north. I got to #2's house in North Mississippi in time to quickly change into hunting togs and slip into the woods near his home with my bow. #2 had given me orders not to shoot any young bucks, but to cull the doe herd a bit. Right at sunset I had a shot at a doe, and missed--twice! Not a very auspicious start to the week, but at least I was seeing deer.

We hunted hard the rest of the weekend and I finally dropped a mature doe Sunday evening at sunset for my first official deer with a bow and arrow. Anybody who thinks that deer hunting is not fair to the deer has never climbed three stories up a sweet gum, stood motionless for hours on a narrow platform strapped to the side of the tree, strained to tell the difference between squirrels bouncing around behind your tree and deer walking up behind you, moved ever-so-painstakingly slow to bring bow and knocked arrow into position for the draw, and fought the heart-pounding shakes off long enough to draw and hold a tiny sight pin steady on the four-inch square vital zone of an animal whose keen eyesight, hearing and sense of smell can pick up a gnat-fart in a cotton-ball at forty yards. And, all of the pre-shot exertions are the easiest part of a successful hunt. Lucky for me I had a son in the woods with me who thinks I'm too old to be dragging a deer out of the woods by myself. It is heartwarming to realize that he cares more about having me around to hunt with than having me drop dead and turn over his (meager) inheritance.

Monday morning required me to transition from camouflage-clad apex forest predator to business-suited corporate consultant and abandon my retreat in the back-woods of Mississippi for a flight from Memphis up into enemy territory. A night in a hotel room in Chicago is as close as I want to get to spending time in a POW camp. Following a three hour meeting the next morning (for which my client is paying an embarrassingly large sum for the kind of work I did as a second lieutenant), I boarded the next available flight for Southern sanity and escaped O'Hare before the Thanksgiving travel crush of inhumanity began.

Two more days of standing motionless in the tops of trees, broken only by a respite in which #2 and I swallowed a nine pound turkey whole (at least that's what it felt like afterwards), resulted in plenty of deer seen--but no shots. Friday evening at sunset, a cow-horn spike buck (one that #2 wanted culled from the gene pool because of its inferior antlers) stepped into the open 20 yards stage left and proved Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest. He was laying motionless on the field when I finally climbed down out of my tree and began the long walk in the dark back to #2's house. When we got back to the field 30 minutes later, the deer was gone. No blood trail. It was as if Sasquatch had picked the deer up and walked away with it. We looked for sign in the dark for the next hour and then gave it up for the next morning's light. In the woods at daybreak, we found him several hundred yards away, where Sasquatch got tired of carrying him.

It being the Saturday after Thanksgiving (and we had tickets for the most bitter rivalry in college sports--Ole Miss and Mississippi State), we hustled the deer to the local venison processor, cleaned up, and headed to the home of hot beer and cold women--Lafayette County, Oxford, and the most gracious college campus in all of American academe. Under a cloudless sky and a perfect 68 degrees, we watched two 3 and 8 teams play a game that meant nothing to the rest of Division I, but meant everything to the state of Mississippi. My Rebels put in dominating performances against Georgia, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn this year only to fail to find a way to win. Against State, they did just the opposite. State dominated the line of scrimmage, time of possession, and total yards and yet the Blue and Red found a way not to lose--20 to 17--and took home the coveted Golden Egg. It was a special day for me--strangely enough, it was the first Egg Bowl I had been to since I became a Rebel 32 years ago.

Sunday morning, I strapped my pick-up to my backside and began the long drive back to my exile on the Redneck Riveria. Seven and a half hours (and several alternate developed plans for escaping the world of sand and sea oats for the world of hills and hay) I was back in Florida.

An hour later I was in a church business meeting, day-dreaming of deer and Rebel cheerleaders.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rangel's Rangers

As if Mississippians, and, by extension, all southerners, didn't have enough reasons to despise and fear liberal yankee politicians, Charlie Rangel's latest disparaging remarks about Mississippi cemented the confederate contempt. Rangel played it off as really meaning that he loved New York (yet another reason to doubt his sanity and veracity) but it gave us a clear look into the mind of one of the most influential congressmen in the new Democrat controlled legislative branch. He speaks from the heart. He hates the south and southerners.

So be it. We speak from the heart as well. We hate uppity, snooty yankees.

And now, Charlie wants to bring back the draft. He floated this idea three years ago and no one payed attention. They will now.

I hope he is successful. Nothing will energize the spoiled students on America's campuses more than the threat of making them serve their country.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stray Votage

What a spoiled, impatient lot we Americans are! But, that is our birthright. We were concieved as a nation by a bunch of spoiled, impatient (some would add: power-hungry) colonial elitists. The dirty little secret from our glorious revolution against the British crown is that the American colonists really had no basis for demanding independence. The truth, as most serious historians know, is that the average American colonist in 1775 enjoyed a higher standard of living, better health, a more sufficient diet, and far more liberty than his counterpart on the banks of the Thames.

Today, our economy is at one of its strongest points in the history of the American experience--we enjoy a higher standard of living and have more personal freedom than any other country on the planet. Yet to hear the detractors (power-hungry politicians and money-grubbing journalists, mostly) tell it, you would think that we were a third world nation. I've been to 3 times more countries than I have states in the re-United States (and I've been to a majority of the re-US) and I can tell you without hesitation that you don't want to live anywhere else on the planet.

I know that the American people are frustrated with the continuing combat operations in Iraq. But let's put that in perspective, shall we? We are fighting that battle in the War on Terror as if we were sitting in a rocking chair with one arm tied behind our back. The losses in Iraq, though each is precious, amount to but a fraction of a fraction of the losses we endure from alcohol-related accidents on our highways. I wish the lead on the news every day was the number of people killed by drunk drivers over the past 24 hours--we would quickly forget about Iraq!

It was politically expedient for politicians (and their journalist allies) to use the continuing battle in Iraq (that is not effecting 99% of the population in the least) as a means to drum up discontent with the incumbent government--just as it was politically expedient for a group of elitists and pamphleteers to use British taxation of the colonists (actually at a lower rate than what their counterparts on the Thames paid) as a means to drum up discontent with royal rule.

Well, we got what we asked for this time. At least 21% of the electorate did, that is. The national shame is only 40% of us took time away from our self-indulged and pampered lives to participate in the most important event in the life of our democratic republic. But, then again, that is about the percentage of the American colonists that actively participated (on both sides) in the decision to fight for independence from Britain in 1775.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day

A continent exhausted by four years of one of the most costly wars in the history of man, found peace 88 years ago, today. The First World War, as it later became known, began like most wars; politicians underestimated and soldiers overestimated. But this war was a perfect storm of political entanglements, military miscalculations, and outdated battlefield doctrine fed into the meat grinder of advanced technology. It was the most horrible war Europe had ever seen. Americans had seen something that approached it in effect half a century before. The American War of Southern Seccession (not a true civil war--but that is grist for another post) had presaged many of the technologies and battlefield experiences (trench warfare, mass assaults against massed firepower, rail and telegraph communications; to name a few) that would mature in the maelstrom of misery on the killing fields of France.

An armistice between the warring parties took effect on the 11th of November 1918. America and its allies commemorated the date as Armistice Day for a couple of decades, until it became clear that the "war to end all wars" had done nothing of the sort. In fact, as has almost always happened in the history of man's wars, the First World War solved nothing, and in fact planted the seeds of conflict that would germinate into an even greater World War in less than a generation. Following that war, politicians eager to curry favor with the generation that fought it (I know, I'm feeling terribly cynical this morning), established the 11th of November as Veterans Day. As opposed to Memorial Day, a commemoration of the war dead that began as Decoration Day and was initiated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at Friendship Cemetery in 1865 (yankees hate this and claim a northern town as the origin--grist for yet another post), Veterans Day was designed to honor the living veterans of America's wars.

It has always bothered me that Americans don't seem to understand the difference.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Corps Celebrations

One of the things I'm beginning to miss more and more since leaving active duty is the pageantry and celebration surrounding the birthday of the Marine Corps. After the first few years of it early in my career, I have to admit that the novelty of all the ceremony began to wear off. But, this is the 4th 10th of November in which I haven't participated in a Marine Corps birthday celebration of any kind, and I kinda miss it.

One of my favorite Marine Corps Birthday memories is from the time I served with the Air Force as an instructor at the Air Command and Staff College. We Marines made up barely a percentage point of the total students and faculty, but made an indelible scarlet and gold mark in a sea of blue around the first couple of weeks of November. We hosted a Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the Officers' Club and could have made a killing had we been more capitalistic--the Marine Corps Ball is recognized as THE social event of the year at Maxwell Air Force Base and an invitation and tickets were prized commodities. One year I served as the ceremonial adjutant for the Ball and took great pleasure in flashing sword work in the close quarters of the crowded ball room--I got comments about it the rest of the year. Actually, I got critiques from my Marine buddies, who pointed out the subtle mistakes in my close order drill and sword manual. But the zoomies didn't see the mistakes--just the business end of my sword flashing perilously close to the tips of bue-suiter noses.

A ceremonial cutting of the Birthday cake with the adjutant's sword, and delivery of the first pieces of cake to the oldest and youngest Marines present, is a traditional and time-honored component of every Marine Corps birthday celebration. Since it's just me here today, I'll have to settle for the first piece of coffee cake.

I'm just short enough to make sword manual work with a butter knife.

Happy Birthday, Marines! Semper Fidelis!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Looking on the bright side

Bad news for Bush and the Pachyderm Party could be good news for me. On my morning walk with Miss Brenda yesterday, I provided my assessment of the election and and what it meant for the future. I opined that I believed the democrats would harry W for the remainder of his term with countless, unending congressional investigations and hearings, the aim of which would be to further weaken the republican party and set up a return of the Clintonistas to power. At the prospect of Hilary as president, my bride exclaimed, "If that happens we are moving to Argentina!"

Better start brushing up on my Spanish.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Corps Novembers

November is an important month for Marines, and is particularly a month tied to memories for this Marine. The obvious reason for its importance to Marines is that we celebrate the establishment of our Corps on 10 November. On that date in 1775, nearly 9 months BEFORE the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a rebellious outlaw group of landed gentry, obstensibly acting in representation of the will of the people of the 13 British colonies in North America, and calling themselves the Continental Congress, resolved that two battalions of Marines be raised for service with an all but non-existent rebel fleet (a resolution for establishing a navy had only been passed less than 4 weeks previous). We Marines attach great celebratory import to the date 10 November, but few realize that the two battalions initially authorized by Congress were actually never raised.

You see, Congress had this great idea. They wanted to invade Canada. Mind you, we had just initiated open conflict with the greatest nation on the planet by skirmishing with its small occupation/constabulary force in America, and needed to be thinking about protecting the territorial integrity of the 13 Colonies against the sure to come full-scale British military operation to quell the rebellion. But, Congress wasn't thinking about border security (sound familiar?) and fancied themselves strategists of the first order. Part of their great invasion plan was an attack on the British naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The two battalions of Marines the Continental Congress resolved to raise were to be the assault force of that naval raid. George Washington, in command of the Continental Army, objected to the diversion of resources, and the plan (along with the two battalions of Marines) never got past the drawing board.

But, an American navy of sorts was growing (converted merchant ships mostly) and the British naval model called for Marines on board to act as the captain's security force (18th Century sailors were an undisciplined lot), as sharpshooters during engagements at sea, and as a landing force for small-scale expeditions ashore. The American colonists were British after all, and they copied the Royal Navy right down to the printed regulations. There was an abundance of out-of-work able seamen in colonial seaports, and some of the more trustworthy were enlisted to serve as Marines. A tavern-keeper with scant martial or maritime experience was the first Marine officer commissioned by the Continental Congress. Samuel Nicholas was evidently prized for his recruiting skills and for the fact that he owned Tun Tavern in Philadelphia--a local watering hole frequented by the afore-mentioned idle able seamen. To this day, we Marines celebrate our birthday with a toast of rum-punch, supposedly the drink supplied by Nicholas to seal the deal on each enlistment. One has to wonder how many toasts were drunk BEFORE the afore-mentioned idle able seamen scrawled their X on the enlistment contract.

November is an important month for Marines for other reasons as well. On 10 November 1918, one hundred and forty-three years to the day after the Continental Congress had resolved to raise two battalions of Marines, two brigades (or the remnants thereof) of Marines prepared for the final assault of the First World War (that operation--the crossing of the Meuse River--occurred the night before the war ended with an armistice on 11 November 1918). That a United States Marine Corps even existed at that point is an amazing and twisted story of near-extinction, evolution of missions, and fighting spirit of Marine leaders who tenaciously fought to save their jobs. But, a Corps of Marines did exist when the US entered the War in France in 1917, and Marines quickly established a name for themselves (thanks in great part to Army censorship of their own exploits) at the bitter battles of Belleau Wood, Soisson, Chateau Thiery, and Mont Blanc. Not much of the two Marine brigades survived the war. What did survive was a reputation for battlefield ferocity, and perhaps more importantly, experience by senior Marine leaders in large scale military operations and staff planning.

The month of November has another Marine Corps red-letter date--20 November 1943. On that date at conclusion of the first year of our war with Japan, the Second Marine Division conducted the first full-scale test of amphibious assault doctrine developed by Marines during the interwar years. While amphibious landing operations had been conducted earlier in the war, most notably at Guadalcanal, the 20 November D-Day on Betio in the Southwest Pacific Tarawa Atoll, was the Corps' first truly opposed amphibious assault. It was a near disaster, plagued by poor intelligence regarding the tides and reefs surrounding the island, poor application of naval gunfire support, and horrible ship-to-shore communications. The Japanese commander of the island had boasted that his defenses were so formidable that it would take "a million men, a thousand years" to overcome. Five thousand Marines of the Second Marine Division took Tarawa in less than 4 days. The cost was horrific--1085 Americans gave their lives for that speck of coral--but the payoff was a treasure trove of lessons-learned that helped to perfect the conduct of amphibious operations and made possible successful Allied amphibious assault landings around the globe--across the Pacific to bring Japan to its knees and across the English Channel to force Hitler into his death bunker in Berlin.

From a force of 6 Divisions and a like number of Air Wings, the Marine Corps, following cessation of hostilities in 1945, dropped to less than a third of that size and was scattered in reserve when Kim Il Sung (the current North Korean Commie's daddy) sent his forces into South Korea in June of 1950. Scraped together quickly from mostly WWII veteran reservists, the understrength First Marine Division spearheaded MacArthur's bold 15 September 1950 Inchon landing that turned the flank of communist forces pinning the remnants of US and South Korean defenders holding the Pusan Perimeter at the southern tip of the peninsula. Two and a half months later, the First Marine Division had retaken Seoul, re-embarked on amphibious shipping and sailed around the peninsula to Wonson, and advanced to the North Korean border with China. In the bitter cold of one of the worst winters in a region known for bad winters (history is replete with battles fought in record-breaking winters, as if God is trying to cool off warring mankind's ardor), the First Marine Division was attacked, on 27 November 1950, by the ten divisions of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Ninth Army Group. Battling sub-zero cold and 100,000 Chinese, the Marines conducted a fighting withdrawal back to the coast and survived, barely, as a fighting force. But, leave it to Marines to celebrate even a terrible defeat such as this (forever immortalized as the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir) as one of the crowning achievements of our Corps.

November is a red-letter month for me as well. The first of November 2003 marked the official end of nearly three decades of uniformed service.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kerry Kiniption

Poor John Kerry. So misunderstood. So misunderstanding. So sure of his superior intelligence and right to be right. He's a brilliant man alright--ranks right up there with Hillary's philandering spouse. And the problem is they are both so sure of their intellectual superiority that they believe that it gives them the right to belittle everyone else; and they actually have the gall to react angrily when we take offense. I've said it before, and I'll say it again (for those of you who have such short memories that you forgot your brains on the way to the voting booth and actually voted for those two lying, whining, haughty, ego-maniacal, concieted mysoginists)--the fact that anyone at all voted for Clinton and Kerry is an amazing thing, and does severe damage to my hope for the future of these re-United States.

What is even more telling about the furor over Kerry's slam of our troops as uneducated, disadvantaged, and unsuccessful is the fact that the media is acting like they don't get it. In other words, they think Kerry was speaking an accepted fact--in their isolated little world, wherein they all form doggie daisey chains sniffing each others butts, only someone with no other option would actually volunteer to fight for his country. They certainly wouldn't "stoop so low" nor allow their sons and daughters to so "waste their lives."

All of these folks who think they are so superior because they are so much smarter than the rest of us show their complete ignorance of the very people about whom they think they know so much. The plain fact is our armed forces are composed of some of the smartest and most successful people in the country. I know this because I spent over 5 years of my career recruiting them. There are high schools and colleges in this country turning out future leaders of our communities, industries, and nation that rarely graduate someone who can score high enough on the military entrance exams to qualify for enlistment. How many companies in this country can say their employees are 90+ % high school graduates? How many companies on this planet can pull off operations equal to even the simplest of evolutions that our 19 and 20 year old troops conduct on a daily basis. I used to think that American business leaders were so much more capable than me and my military comrades--until I spent the last three years out of uniform and operating in the civilian sector. I haven't seen a corporate leader yet that most of the lance corporals in my infantry battalion couldn't out-think, out-decide, and out-lead.

Sadly, most Americans don't know who their liberty defenders are. The only people who know are those who have served. Maybe if John Kerry had actually served longer than most people take vacations, he would understand. But, he served only to get a PT-109 check in the box and then scampered home to malign his brothers in arms for political points.

That's all I got to say 'bout that.