The War At Home

My daily routine during the work week is pretty well established. I commute 22 miles from my home in Chesapeake, Virginia to my office on a Navy installation in Norfolk. I occasionally vary my route because of traffic reports or time of day to avoid congestion. If you are familiar with this part of the country, you will know traffic can be a challenge. Because of the river systems feeding the estuary that is the Chesapeake Bay, people around here are doomed to deal with a system of bridges, tunnels, and bridge-tunnels. Bottlenecks abound!

While I am maneuvering my ride along Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk as I approach the bridge over the Lafayette River, I stay focused on what is ahead of me and what is overtaking me from behind. I don’t notice the scenery or anything off the road if it does not have an impact on traffic. As a result, I am not aware of changes in neighborhoods, especially when it comes to the installation of art on public land.

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Larchmont Branch Library, Norfolk

On a Sunday morning, not too long ago, I was out indulging a hobby of mine. A friend with the same hobby pointed me in the direction of a new art installation around the Larchmont Branch Library in Norfolk. Located south of the bridge over the Lafayette River on Hampton Boulevard, it is a place I pass almost every day. Because it was early in the morning, no one was around, and the rising sun was casting long shadows on that brisk morning.

What I found was an installation of steel plates standing upright on bases positioned on the west and north sides of the library. On each one of those plates, an outline of a veteran was cut out. These were not random cutouts; the veterans represented here are among those who have committed suicide. The installation is called “The War at Home“.IMG_4450 (2)Mission 22, a veterans organization dedicated to combating veteran suicide is responsible for the installation of these memorial plates. Each is an outline of a specific veteran, a dog tag with the name of the lost veteran is placed at the bottom of each plate.

A plaque by the installation states:

This memorial is meant to remind us of our loss, to amend the past, honor the present and prevent this from happening in the future.

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On average, 22 Veterans take their own life each day. That is 22 too many. According to the Mission 22 website, “These memorials remind us of the sacrifice, honor those we’ve lost, and help tie civilian to soldier.” They want to thwart the epidemic of suicide.

The War at Home is a “temporary” installation. If you live in Norfolk or plan on visiting, I would recommend you come down and walk among the plates, among the lost. Over the last 15 years, we have asked a great deal of our volunteer force. They have been going into harm’s way more so than any other generation in American history. Perhaps installations such as this will serve as a reminder that more must be done to engage veterans and help them to live. Mission 22 is looking to find permanent homes for these installations.

If you want to help or get more information, I invite you to go to the Mission 22 website.

Like those steel plates, our nation is weaker because of what is missing.

 

Thwart

I love a parade… usually

President Trump has announced his intention of conducting a grand parade to honor the Armed Forces of the United States. His inspiration comes from the Bastille Day Parade he attended in July 2017 in Paris. The French have been conducting this parade on the morning of July 14 every year since 1880. I will note here that the Germans marched the same route during their occupation of Paris during World War II. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l’Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde. At the end of the route, the formation marches in front of the President of France, his government, and foreign ambassadors. It is a French tradition.

WWII Victory Parade NYC

82nd Airborne marching in the WWII Victory Parade in New York City (Library of Congress)

But I am an American. I am a Veteran with 24 years of military service. The United States does not have a current tradition of an annual military parade on a national scale. We “parade” after significant historical events. For instance, after winning a war. The Grand Review of the Armies was held in Washington, D.C. on 23 and 24 May 1865 to the cheers of those viewing along the route.

After World War I, General Pershing marched the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York. In 1946, the 82nd Airborne Division in “Operation Homecoming” marched, 13,000 strong, with their equipment through the streets of New York representing the combat forces of World War II.

1991 Victory Parade DC

The National Victory Celebration in Washington, DC following the Gulf War in 1991 had representatives from the Active and Reserve Components (8,000 military personnel) and the equipment that won that conflict. The price tag for that parade was approximately $8 million. Of that, $3 million was paid for by the taxpayers. The rest came from private donors.

Military commands are regular participants in patriotic parades and presidential inaugurations. Military Bands and small units march in ceremonies across the country on the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. There are ceremonial units in the Washington D.C. that have the specific mission to represent the Armed Forces at official state occasions. You also see the Old Guard maintaining vigil at Arlington National Cemetery. We march and represent all the time.

Why does President Trump insist on having a full-blown U.S. Military Parade? And what would it cost? I don’t know the answer to the first question. I will tackle the second.

Right now, the Secretary of Defense is preparing options for President Trump. Secretary Mattis will go in with some scenarios to conduct an event ranging from a large-scale parade on par with the National Victory Celebration in 1991 down to small-scale events.

An event with the scope of the 1991 parade would include marching units, bands, vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and missiles. Expect 8,000 uniformed personnel to participate. There will be flyovers by fixed winged and rotary aircraft along the route, most likely moving down Pennsylvania Avenue. Accelerating the cost from 1991, this parade would probably cost over $40 million.

Stepping down from the mother of all parades, a medium sized event with 5,000 troops, their equipment, and aircraft, just less of it, would run in the price range of $20 Million. This parade would be comparable to that of a Presidential inauguration event.

An event with only 1,500 to 2,000 service members and limited amounts of equipment could be sized to a parade similar to a large scale 4th of July event and carry a price tag of around $10 million to $15 million.

The logical time to run a parade, in whatever form it would take, would either be on the 4th of July or on Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2018. Veteran’s Day this year will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice that ended World War I. That may be a reason to honor the service of the men and women of this country that helped, in conjunction with our allies, bring a close to that conflict. I think a small, relevant event would be appropriate to mark that occasion.

A Military Times poll posted on their website (as of 2/10/18 at 5 p.m.), showed that an 89% majority favored not having a parade at all. I live near and work in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is not only a Navy town, but it also sits in the middle of one of the most significant concentrations of military bases in the country. The buzz I am hearing is that a tiny group of people see the idea of a National Military Parade as a good idea. Most of the people (a high percentage are veterans) I have spoken with don’t think the country needs this kind of event. Why? We don’t rely on parades to showcase our military might. We don’t need to march like the Russians in Red Square or the North Koreans in front of their “great leader” (don’t get me started). I really don’t like the optics of that with President Trump reviewing the troops. We can demonstrate our military acumen, when needed, with great effect. I think we need to respect the might of the armed forces of the United States of America, but I also believe we should appreciate the humility of the men and women in the uniform of this country and not put them in the bullseye of an unnecessary political storm.

If I may be so bold as to offer a fourth option to those outlined before, do something small and respectful on the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. Let’s just not make it a date every year. Mr. President, I am sure you can book a room and watch the parade in Paris on July 14, 2018. I hear that it is a beloved national tradition there.

Doughboys

Insist

Returning a Bracelet to the Wall

Jeanne and I found it about a year ago in an antique store on Maybank Highway in Charleston, South Carolina.  A Vietnam era POW/MIA bracelet with the name LCDR James Beene and a date, 10-5-1966. It was in a case with old military buttons, medals, and coins. I had worn one of these as a teenager in the 1970’s, albeit with a different name etched on it.DSCN2492

I think that I was initially bothered by seeing it in the display case with a price tag.  This was not, at least to my thinking, something that should be for sale.  After walking around the store and looking at all manner of antique collectibles, I came back to a sales associate and asked for the bracelet.   I didn’t think it was right to leave it sitting in the case.

Perhaps I should explain two things here.  The first is that the idea for these bracelets came from two college students, Carol Bates and Karen Hunter in 1969 as a way to draw attention to the missing men of the Vietnam conflict without getting drawn into the politics of the day.  (You can read more about how the idea of the bracelets became a reality clicking here:  Bracelet ).  The bracelets originally included the name, rank, and date of loss of the service member.  The idea was to wear the bracelet until the person whose name was on your wrist came home. Second, I am the son of a Naval Aviator who served on active duty and in the reserves from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The name on the bracelet, James Beene, was a Naval Aviator, a contemporary of my father’s.  I spent almost 24 years as a naval officer; I feel a connection to anyone who has worn or is wearing the uniform.

Lieutenant Commander James Alvin Beene, USNR was a native of Burbank California. He was a member of Attack Squadron 152, Carrier Air Wing 16 aboard USS ORISKANY (CVA-34). On October 5, 1966, he was the pilot of a Douglas Attack Skyraider (A-1H), serial number 137610, on armed reconnaissance over the coastal area of North Vietnam. His aircraft disappeared after he entered the clouds during the mission.

I was wondering what I should do with the bracelet.  Should I try to return it to the family?  Was there a group to which I could send it? I knew I did not want to put it in a drawer and forget about it. After discussing it with Jeanne, we decided that I should bring it with me on my next trip to Washington, D.C. and leave it at the Vietnam Memorial Wall at the base of the panel that bears LCDR Beene’s name.

I know that items left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall are collected, cataloged and conserved.  The collection will serve as part of the display for a planned Visitor Center. Perhaps this bracelet could find a home in that collection.

At the beginning of July, I was scheduled to conduct a brief at the Defense Health Headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.  I traveled to the area the day before my presentation to give me time to get into the city in the early evening.  There was a METRO station close to my hotel, so I took the train into the city and walked down to the Mall on a hot, humid evening.

I found James A. Beene’s name on panel 11E, row 48.  I carefully laid the bracelet at the base of the wall.  While there, I noticed other things left behind in memory of some of the more than 58,000 names of Americans killed or missing from that conflict.  Along the wall were a few long stemmed roses as well as a handful military medals from the Vietnam era scattered along the base of the Wall.  There were people carefully taking rubbings of names off the wall onto paper provided by volunteers.  There were veterans, in silent contemplation, lingering near panels.

I didn’t want to stay too long. I had delivered the bracelet that I had for almost a year. It was time to wander back to the METRO station at Foggy Bottom and head back to my hotel.  As I walked through the streets of Washington, I couldn’t shake the thought of the loss of all those service men and women in that conflict. Many of the families still do not have answers about their loved ones. We, as a country, owe it to those who gave their lives in service to this nation to gain as full an accounting as is possible. It is the very least we can do for those who gave the last full measure of their devotion.