28 February 2011

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month...

We say goodbye to a comrade in arms.  A man who likely started his service in search of adventure and concluded it administering to his wounded fellows and overseeing the end of the War to End All Wars only to be swept up on the tide of the Second World War.  There is little memory of this conflict, overshadowed by the conflagration which followed.  But it was a war in which the United States proved its assertion as a defender of freedom.  It was a war in which nations began to realize their terrible capacity for destruction through the use of poison gas, indiscriminate bombing and the destruction of property.  It launched the League of Nations and a recognition by the world of how interconnected every nation is to one another.  It also ended the hegemony of old Europe and began to dismantle the colonial structure across the developing world.
Soldier sleep, all is done, soldier sleep.

Last American WWI Veteran Dies
Mon, 28 Feb 2011 12:21:00 -0600

Last American WWI Veteran Dies

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2011 - Frank Woodruff Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, died yesterday at his West Virginia home. He was 110.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, talks with Frank Buckles, the last living American World War I veteran, during a Pentagon ceremony March 6, 2008. Buckles died Feb. 27, 2011 at age 110. DOD photo by R. D. Ward

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Sixteen-year-old Buckles enlisted in the Army on Aug. 14, 1917 after lying to several recruiters about his age.

"I was just 16 and didn't look a day older. I confess to you that I lied to more than one recruiter. I gave them my solemn word that I was 18, but I'd left my birth certificate back home in the family Bible. They'd take one look at me and laugh and tell me to home before my mother noticed I was gone," Buckles wrote in 2009.

Buckles tried the Marines and Navy, but both turned him away. An Army recruiter, however, accepted his story.

"Somehow I got the idea that telling an even bigger whopper was the way to go. So I told the next recruiter that I was 21 and darned if he didn't sign me up on the spot!" he wrote.

Buckles earned the rank of corporal and traveled England and France serving as an ambulance driver. After the Armistice in 1918, Buckles escorted prisoners of war back to Germany. He was discharged in 1920.

In 1942 Buckles worked as a civilian for a shipping company in the Philippines, where he was captured in Manila by the Japanese the day after they attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He spent three and a half years in the Los BaƱos prison camp. He was rescued on February 23, 1945.

Buckles married Audrey Mayo of Pleasanton, Calif., in 1946. The couple moved to his Gap View Farm near Charles Town in January 1954 where Buckles reportedly continued to drive his tractor until he was 106.

On February 4, 2008, with the death of 108-year-old Harry Richard Landis, Buckles became the last surviving American World War I veteran. Since, Buckles championed veterans' causes, was invited to the White House and honored at the Pentagon.

In March 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates honored Buckles during a Pentagon ceremony in which officials unveiled a World War I veterans' exhibit.

"Whoever views this display will, I am sure, feel a connection to Mr. Buckles and his comrades-in-arms," Gates said. "We will always be grateful for what they did for their country 90 years ago."

Buckles, then 107, received a standing ovation from the mostly military audience.

"I feel honored to be here as a representative of the veterans of WWI and I thank you," Buckles said.

Buckles is survived by his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan. His wife, Audrey, died in 1999.

In a White House statement issued today President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama saluted the fallen veteran.

"Frank Buckles lived the American Century," the President stated. "Like so many veterans, he returned home, continued his education, began a career, and along with his late wife Audrey, raised their daughter Susannah. And just as Frank continued to serve America until his passing, as the Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation, our nation has a sacred obligation to always serve our veterans and their families as well as they've served us.

"We join Susannah and all those who knew and loved her father in celebrating a remarkable life that reminds us of the true meaning of patriotism and our obligations to each other as Americans."

Related Articles:
Pentagon Honors WWI Veteran, Unveils Exhibit

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24 February 2011

Libya, orders, orders...

It is incumbent upon members of themodern military to act with speed and decisiveness in the execution of their orders.  Implicit in this requirement is also the necessity to maintain connection with your moral compass.  If you are instructed to fire on unarmed civilians, for example, you have the right and obligation to question your superiors and refuse to comply.  We spent half a century reviewing the circumstances which led up to the second world war and the damage done by a professional military abandoning their core values.
Right now, Col. Mohamar Ghaddifi has instructed his military to slaughter its own citizens.  If there is one sure test of a despot, it is the willingness of a leader to slay their own people.  This has been borne out in the examples of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Amin, Amedinijad, Hussein, Allende, Pinochet and a list of smaller nations' leaders.  Ghaddifi failed to follow the lead of Hosni Mubarak and give up his 40 year reign with some dignity.  The risk to Egypt as a nation to descend into chaos was averted by the discipline exhibited by the military.  Despite the quick aspersions cast by some on the left about the support for the Egyptian regime by the United States over the past decades, one of the very positive effects was a positive impact on military relations and support for the development of a professional military. 
I am hopeful that the few Libyan officers who retain their sense of morality and justice will act to preserve their nation. 
Following orders is not an excuse.