Peace and Freedom
For Veterans' Day, November 11, 2006
Our Veterans are our sons and daughters, Fathers and Mothers, Grandparent maybe. Liberal or conservative, you and I have a share in our great nation. And nobody has a greater share than our beloved veterans.
There are so many wonderful stories of achievement, valor and heroism among our great nation's veterans that it is hardly possible to capture the emotions of this day, Veterans Day.
I have been particularly blessed by a keen interest in history so I "meet" many of our great heroes in my reading. I also served 20 years in the U.S. Navy and actually met many Naval heroes of World War II, among them Admiral Arleigh Burke, Admiral John D. Bulkeley (who evacuated the MacArthur family form Corregidor aboard his PT boat and later won the Medal of Honor), and submarine commander and Medal of Honor winner "Red" Ramage (he surfaced his sub in an enemy convoy and started shooting torpedoes from his bow and stern tubes).
I served with Air Force General David C. Jones and Army General John W. Vessey when they were Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both were inspiring leaders.
Today we recall all who served America in peace and in war. We Americans call this day Veterans Day.
But the day was chosen to recall the end of World War I: The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month marked the end of that war, the Great War.
Today is Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, in many parts of the globe. In the UK they remember more the dead. We, in America, remember more the living veterans as we mark the graves of the dead.
On this day the President of the United States or his representative honors all who have died in service at a symbolic wreath laying at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, at Arlington Cemetery.
But we shall honor some still alive. A few are here chosen for their individuality to represent all American Service men and women in all wars and in peace in service to their country, the United States of America.
My friend Major General Dan Raymond, U.S. Army (Retired) probably gets the award for greatest longevity among those that I know. He enlisted in the horse cavalry in 1938 and eventually worked his way up to two stars in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Another acquaintance, Paul McKay, was a 17 year old in 1940 and intent upon avoiding the likely future he faced in his home town of St. Charles, Lee Country, Maryland: coal mining. So he joined the United States Navy to see the world. Paul has many stories of his exploits but most focus upon his two loves: USS Hornet CV-8 and USS Hornet CV-12.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Paul was aboard Hornet during her initial shakedown cruise in the Atlantic with Air Group Eight. Paul was an aircraft mechanic.
In February, 1942, Hornet embarked two Army Air Corps B-25 bombers and sailed from Naval Station, Norfolk, Virginia. The aircraft launched safely proving the efficacy of a mighty plan: Hornet would launch the first bombing strike against Japan in World War II using B-25s nobody imagined could launch from the tiny flight deck of Hornet; a flight deck designed for small fighters.
After sailing through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific, Paul witnessed the launch of the B-25 strike against Japan by the "Doolittle Raiders" on April 18, 1942.
Sixteen B-25s took off to strike Japan from Hornet. Five American heroes of the U.S. Army Air Corps in each crew. This was a one way mission: Hornet could not land the aircraft and the pilots were told to fly on to China and attempt to land as safely as possible.
Historians estimate that the Japanese military slaughtered 250,000 civilians in China while searching for Doolittle's men.
In June, 1942, Hornet participated in the Battle of Midway. Paul was in Scouting Squadron 8 serving as an aircraft mechanic.
Some of the Hornet air squadrons participated directly in that first major victory for the U.S. in the Pacific war at sea. Her planes shared in the sinking of the Japanese cruiser Mikuma.
Paul was aboard Hornet when she was sunk by enemy action on October 27, 1942. He had to swim for his life.
Paul served out the last years of the war aboard his second love: USS Hornet CV-12. Named for the first Hornet, this ship continued the proud tradition.
I might have been able to interview Paul for many more hours but he and his lovely bride of 60 years Florence were off to Las Vegas to celebrate Paul's birthday!
My friend Mike Benge was an enlisted "peacetime Marine" (1955-1959).
As the war in Vietnam heated up, Mike went to Vietnam in 1963 with the International Voluntary Services (forerunner of the Peace Corps) and joined what is now the U.S. Agency for International Development as a Foreign Service Officer in 1965. Mike was serving as the senior civilian CORDS (Combined Operations Rural Development Support) advisor in Vietnam and was captured by the Communist North Vietnamese during Tet of 1968 while attempting to rescue 4 U.S. volunteers and a group of Missionaries.
Despite the fact that Mike was not a uniformed member of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Vietnamese Communists treated him with the same distain doled out to men like John McCain, James Stockdale and many others.
Mike was joined in prison by two missionaries who later died of malnutrition.
Mike was held captive by the Communists for just over 5 years. The first year, he was held in 12 different camps in South Vietnam. He was held one year in Cambodia then in and three different camps in North Vietnam.
Mike spent 27 months in solitary confinement, one year in a cage and one year in a black box. Finally he reached the Hanoi Hilton where the uniformed American POWs were held. He was released during Operation Homecoming in 1973.
Mike received the State Department's highest award for Heroism for saving the lives of 11 USAID personnel prior to his capture and a medal for Valor for his actions during his imprisonment.
These are but a few examples of the millions of men and women that stand as sentinels to our history and our freedom. There are many more, alive and now gone, and we honor and thank every one of them and their families.
On Veterans Day, God Bless American and all who have served or are carrying out our proud tradition.
John E. Carey is a retired U.S. military officer and former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. He is a frequent contributor to OpEdNews.com and Free Republic.