Sunday, December 4, 2016

PEARL HARBOR’S UNDELIVERED MESSAGE



            As far back as 1893 the U. S. Military began planning for a defense against an attack by the forces of the Empire of Japan known as Plan Orange. Ironically it called for a response in the form of an island-hopping campaign eventually crossing the Pacific to the Empire’s home islands. Again in 1923 Army and Navy planners updated Plan Orange. The Japanese military and Foreign Office were keenly aware of what they saw as a “racial bias” against their people as a backdrop to all their dealings with America.
            In World War I Japan sided with the U.S. and Entente nations in fighting Germany and her allies hoping to earn a greater parity in any future international planning. When the Washington Naval Treaty placing a limit on future Naval power among the victorious nations was laid down in an effort to force arms limitation in the 1920s, the ratio of Capital and lesser warships left Japan “playing 3rd fiddle” to the other major powers. The Japanese insult was serious and long-lasting ending in their renunciation of the treaty in 1936 and contributing to the erosion of trust and relationships between the two countries.
            Japan’s counter-plan called for a first blow against the largest part of the Pacific fleet where it was gathered, followed by two great sea battles which would finish off the remaining U.S. battle force. Aircraft carriers were not yet considered capital ships although by war’s breakout they would be key factors for both.
            Among the intelligence not known to the planners in Tokyo was the absence from Pearl Harbor of the three (or four) U.S. Carriers they must destroy, and the ability of diplomatic code-breakers to garner advance information of enemy intentions. Perhaps even more important, the U. S. decision-makers in Washington had failed to grasp the delicate balance of military/political “winds” blowing among the highest level of leaders on the Japanese side. The cooler heads among Japan’s leaders had realized that the invasion of “bottomless” China had been a losing proposition from the beginning and that the pending invasion of Indochina would bring more economic problems than it would solve in addition to angering the United States beyond the breaking point.
            The most respected military mind in Japan, that of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had long counseled against war with the U.S, as had no greater an authority than Marshal Tojo himself. The much-loved and respected younger brother of Emperor Hirohito urged him not to take his country into a war “that couldn’t be won.” Facing these arguments was the constant worry of a coups by young Army “Hawks” who were committed to victory in China and the always-lingering fear of loss of face. A disengagement from the “China disaster” might even be welcome to Japan if it could have been accomplished over time and without shame. And then – at the suggestion of Ambassador Grew there was the message from President Roosevelt which contained a possible solution to the impasse, but mysteriously got “held up” somewhere in the corridors of power in Tokyo.  Tojo would later remark that if Roosevelt’s peace message had arrived three days earlier, war might have been averted. As it turned out it was an empty observation; December 1st, 1941 had become the commitment date.
            On December 2, 1941 from an anchorage in Japan’s Inland Sea, Admiral Yamamoto sent a radio message to Admiral Chuichi Nagumo whose 1st Air Fleet was just crossing the International date-line along the 180th meridian en route to Pearl Harbor. It read simply “Climb Mount Niitaka 1208.” World War II in the Pacific was about to begin.

NOTE: There were no U.S. aircraft carriers or submarines at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, and Nagumo     failed to bomb the fuel tanks and repair shops. Nearly all the sunk and damaged ships would be
            raised and repaired within six months; The “Sleeping Tiger” would be awakened!
                                                                                                                   

Friday, November 25, 2016

THANKSGIVING THE MOST UNIVERSAL CELEBRATION



            Across virtually every corner of Native American culture “thanksgiving” festivals are celebrated not only at harvest time, but throughout the year; a manifestation of the idea that all our wants are supplied by the spiritual God of this earth. Nowhere was this more firmly established than among the Algonquian and Iroquoian people of the northeast where harvests from gardens, the forests and the sea were commemorated in days of prayers and rites of renewal – if not by entire villages, by individual families. Nearly every food tradition practiced in today’s Thanksgiving feasts is a reflection of something learned from the coastal people of Samoset in 1621.
            Each year as I lift the first slice from my still-warm-from-the-oven Wampanoag cranberry pie I revisit in my mind the beautiful story of the ice-bound Indian youth saved from death by the lovely white bird dropping strange never-seen-before red berries to him like gifts from the winter sky. When I lift a fillet of Pacific salmon, glazed with wild honey and redolent of alder smoke after six hours in my smoker, I think of my Aleut niece and the generations of sea-bound island traditions which speak to her and her modern-day family – and to me.
            I enlisted in the United States Air Force less than three years after it was created out of what had been the U.S. Army Air Forces (and before that the Army Air Corps.) At that time a (sometimes painful) marriage of cultures was going on. The old timers took pride in clinging to their olive drab, army-style uniforms along with other less-obvious habits of dress and behavior. I was among the first training camp graduates to be issued only the new blue uniforms and a new sense of pride in identity. (I wouldn’t have worn an “old” OD uniform even if invited to do so!) I use this as an introduction to the subject of “Thanksgiving Day mess hall menus”. It took me a while to notice that wherever I happened to be both in the “states” and overseas at holiday times, we would be served sweet potato pie, not pumpkin pie. So I learned to like sweet potato pie – and will be making my own this year. But why? Why was this an old “Air Corps” tradition?
            In the 1930s and all during WWII, Army aviation training activities were centered in the South where flying conditions were favorable. The “sweet potato” was brought to the U.S. with African slaves and became a strong African-American food favorite, and one much preferred over pumpkin in pie-making time. I believe that the “old school” mess sergeants of that era (and NCOs have long been the heart-and-soul of continuity in military customs around the world) passed this one along.
            I also believe that of all our seasonal holidays, Thanksgiving is the most powerful celebration of American traditions and – along with Christmas – the most family-centered. It is a natural “avenue” for the passing-along of family tradition and family history. For those of us who have a sense of our generational responsibilities as parents and grandparents to do something more important than carving a turkey and grating orange rind into grandma’s cranberry relish, this is a time to put our signature on a lesson of love and values.
            As I stand today as the senior living representative of four generations of our united family “tree”, I was gladdened to learn that a 13-year-old great-grand-daughter informed her mother that they just could not leave on a family vacation unless they had Thanksgiving first.
            And one more reminder: For those courageous 103 seekers-of-freedom who dared the waters of a mighty ocean to get here, Thanksgiving was a “thank you” to their God. 

                                                      Wampanoag Cranberry Pie

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

FINDING NEW LIFE AT A SNAIL’S PACE



            Ever since I read Laura Hellenbrand’s best-selling Unbroken in 2010 and then an account of the horrific and confining illness which she was suffering with at the same time (and had been while researching and writing her previous masterpiece, Seabiscuit as well,) I began studying whatever I could find dealing with a little-known disorder unfortunately nick-named Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or CFS for short; an invented label which tends to understate one of the most terrible human afflictions to befall modern humankind.
             At about the same time I received a phone call while preparing to go on air with my weekly radio talk-show from a male caller accessed through an obvious third-party care-giver. After telling me that for one hour each week I was his “whole world” he explained that he was blind, suffered from a terrible illness and existed alone in a small dark room. I was touched, and after doing my best to deal with his queries, I began to unravel the strained voice and what it hadn’t “told” me in so many words. The more I learned about myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) the more I was haunted by the recognition of the kind of hopelessness I had heard that day.
            Elizabeth Tova Bailey a hard-working professional gardener in Maine went on a short well-earned  vacation to Europe where she encountered a mysterious and invisible pathogen that struck her down, leaving her totally devitalized and bedridden, unable even to sign her own name to a document. At the age of 34 she leaves her beloved Maine home and dog Brandy for a room in a convalescent studio where she lacks even the sight of the outdoors from a window she can’t raise her head to look out of.
            A friend coming to visit her digs a violet plant from her lawn to fit in the earthen pot she carries; then spotting a snail on the walkway, she picks it up on an impulse and places it under one leaf of the plant before presenting it to Elizabeth and placing it beside the bed which is now her “home”. Neither of them – least of all the benighted Bailey -- could have imagined that this garden mollusk might change and enlarge a damaged life and lead to the publication of an award-winning and inspiring book with the elegantly delightful title The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.
            With nothing better to do Elizabeth begins watching her be-shelled neighbor, noting the daily routine of drinking drops of water from the leaves, wandering, exploring and sleeping. She realizes that this tiny animal is weighing options and making decisions. Each morning she notices tiny square holes in letters and papers left nearby and realizes her neighbor is finding a needed food source. After this she begins arranging for a small cache of mature mushroom pieces to be available where the snail will find
them.
            Noting their friend’s growing interest in her “accidental” room-mate, visitors  present her with the gift of a glass terrarium fitted out with a carpet of neighborhood woodland vegetation and maturing material. Daily observations reveal more and more about the secret life of a forest snail from the shiny silvery trails left behind by the slippery slime excreted as a natural travel lubricant by snails and slugs whose tender “feet” would otherwise be damaged by the slightest movement, to an ability to sleep for extended periods of time depending on food, temperature and environmental considerations.
            For more than a year Bailey watches the snail’s life, literally listening to it eating its meals, all the time gathering strength and an appreciation for life no medical treatment or magical medication could have prescribed. The healing process carried her through years of time; years that would otherwise have been a torture of brutal aloneness.
            The life of even the most fortunate CFS victim has been described as a” life in limbo which goes by with nothing in it.[and] You don’t get a chance to put anything in it. It’s just empty time.”
            For Elizabeth Tova Bailey the companionship of a tiny creature which has been present on earth since before even the dinosaurs reconnected her with a love for earth and its riches, in the process gifting us with a small book which for me has been the greatest written treasure of the past year. 
                                                                                                                             

Sunday, November 13, 2016

THE PERSONAL SIDE OF VETERANS’ DAY



            For me Veterans’ Day 2016 will be my 83rd, although I still prefer to call it Remembrance Day as they do in Canada and some other British Commonwealth countries. The first “Armistice Day” of my firm memory was in 1937, when I learned that the men with white beards riding in the big open cars had fought at Gettysburg and Bull Run for Abraham Lincoln.
            Many folks even today do not understand that this particular national holiday serves a distinctly different purpose than Memorial Day which is primarily to honor those who died in service to their country. Veterans’ Day is to thank those living veterans who served our country. One reason I routinely and proudly wear my cap outfitted with symbols of my military story is to give citizens the opportunity to say “thank you” -  a small service I can perform – an opportunity which makes both of us feel good.
            Days ago a young mother with a three-year old boy in tow called out to me “Sir! Sir!” as it looked as if I hadn’t seen him.”My son wants to thank you!” Sure enough, the anxious and eager young guy proudly extended a hand. So impressed was I that I dropped to his level to warmly welcome his grip. He really was very sincere and serious and I was touched. As I rose again I felt another hand on my sleeve. It was a much younger sister reaching out from where she clung to her mother’s nesting arm. With pleading eyes she begged for the same greeting. As I pressed her tiny hand to mine the mother whispered an emotional thank you of her own in my ear. I rejoiced silently that I lived in a place such as this where families like this one were raising children who would not be apt to forget to express thanksgiving at such moments.
            Most Veterans’ Days I spend some time in my dress ‘blues’ at Memorial Square in Cedar City under the flapping flags where I close my eyes; and remember:
            A week after the signing of the Korean armistice in July of 1953, the exchange of POWs – known as Operation Big Switch by the Allies – began at a place called Munsan-ni near a radar control detachment my Air Force unit operated on the Imjin River where some of the last battles of the three-year war took place; a war in which more casualties were sustained in so short a time than in any conflict since the American Civil War. We called the place Freedom Village where a long bridge over a ravine marked the separation between the two sides. It became known as Freedom Bridge. Over it the released
prisoners  passed,  first the communists heading north, well-fed, healthy and noisy with insolence and bravado. Then came the Americans, thin, skeleton-like and emaciated, quietly helping each other across to where a welcoming gathering of U.S. troops waited behind a military band and color guard.
            Last came a lone G.I., struggling even to walk, finally dropping to his knees. A big Military Police officer left the waiting ranks to give assistance, but the prisoner motioned him away clearly wishing to continue on his own, crawling painfully toward the flag bearer on all four. Seeing what was wanted the trooper lowered the red, white and blue banner. A hush fell over the small crowd as the G.I. with tears streaming from his eyes reached up pulling the flag to his face amid convulsive weeping. The MP Lieutenant finally took over, lifting the skinny kid to his shoulders and carrying him to waiting staff as the crowd watched in stunned silence, not a dry unmoved face in the crowd. Those watching and those who heard the story would never forget the experience.


When veterans meet each other what passes across their hands and between their eyes conveys a sense of shared pride that swells the heart but is difficult to describe. Here Al is embraced by a Viet Nam and a Gulf War veteran while traveling in Georgia