Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

They also serve who only stand and wait - John Milton

I never considered myself as coming from a military family, yet when I count the number of men in my family with military background, it surprises me. My paternal grandfather was in the Air Corps in the Aleutians during WW II. My adoptive father was a radio operator on landing craft during WW II. I an uncle on my mother's side was a submariner during the Vietnam era and after. One cousin spent some time in the Air Force, and another in the navy. Another uncle by marriage was also submariner. Another uncle was in the army in the same time period. My mother's husband was amongst the first troops sent to Korea. My wife's grandfather was a navigator on bombers during WW II. His brother was a civilian captured by the Japanese on Wake Island. My father-in-law served in Vietnam. My brother spent nine years in the Army from the late 70s through the mid-eighties.

The sacrifices and service of the WW II and Vietnam ere veterans are now widely and justly recognized and celebrated. The Korean veterans are less well remembered, but when they are, their sacrifices are recognized. The veterans of today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justly honored. Today I want to talk about a largely forgotten group of veterans, those who served during the last years of the Cold War.

The period from the end of the Vietnam war to Desert Storm is seen as largely on of watchful peace. There were a few small wars in Grenada and Panama, but little seems to have happened. It was a period with a completely voluntary, professional standing military, something that had seldom been seen in American History before. At the beginning of the period the military was demoralized, underfunded and poorly regarded. At the end of the period, it was the force that drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait in a few hours, when many of the "experts" were predicting a quagmire. In that period hundreds of thousands of people served, quietly. Many enlisted as a means of earning money for college. Many got to spend a few years in Europe or other exotic locales and have a relatively safe adventure. Because of that it easy to undervalue their service. There were real risks. The troops in Europe essentially a sacrificial force, they were to hold the line until the rest of the military could be brought to bear. If Soviet tanks had ever invaded the West, some of these men and women would have had lifespans measured in minutes. We may look back at the "little wars" such as Grenada and Panama as side shows, but service men bled and died in each of those operations. Even "guard" duty could have real risks. I once worked with man who saw American men hacked to death with axes by North Korean troops. The Cold War never really became "hot", thank God. It didn't because hundreds of thousands of American troops waited for the war that never came. It didn't come because they waited, and for that we should be grateful.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Hero

This is a little belated, but I met a true hero the other day, Lt. Col. Bob Powell (USAF Ret.). Col Powell enlisted in the army in 1940, and was assigned to the air corps. He piloted a glider in Operation Market Garden, hitting ninety foot tall trees that intelligence had described as low lying bushes. He woke up six weeks later in a French hospital with three medals pinned to his bed, including the Bronze Star. He was also promoted to master sergeant, but was quickly "demoted" (his word) to second lieutenant. He flew planes during the Berlin Airlift, carried troops out of Japan into Korea during the Korean war and flew an AC-47 gunship in Vietnam. For years he ran a small military museum at Memorial High School, helping to fulfill that school's dedication as a memorial to the troops of WWI, WWII, and Korea. The museum had recently been moved out of the school and into a freestanding building near 61st and Sheridan.

This kind of service seems to run in families. He commented that he has a grandson he returned from Iraq. minus a foot.

Random Music: Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

Cross posted from Dafydd's Random Music.

Leonard Cohen was one of these famous musicians I knew about, but whose music I didn't really know. I knew that he was widely regarded as a genius. I, of course, knew the song from the Judy Collins version. About six months ago, while coming home from work, I heard his version on a radio program that specializes in obscurities and was blown away. He is not a great singer, but his voice works well with the spareness of the lyric and melody. As fall fades into winter in my part of the world, this seems to be an appropriately melancholy song.