Category Archives: history

The USS Stark

On this day in 1987, the USS Stark (FFG-31) was operating in the Persian Gulf near the exclusion zone declared because of the ongoing Iran-Iraq War. An Iraqi Mirage F1 launched two Exocet anti-ship missiles at the Stark. Both impacted the port side of Stark. The first failed to explode, but flaming fragments of its unburned propellant ignited fires. The second missile’s warhead exploded.

The Stark was badly crippled. It would take 24 hours to extinguish the blaze. 37 American Sailors died, and a further 21 were injured.  The Stark’s captain, Captain Glenn Brindel, would be relieved of command for failure to defend his ship. He shortly thereafter retired.

The Stark would limp under her own power to Bahrain, where she underwent temporary repairs alongside the destroyer tender USS Acadia (AD-42).

She would then travel to Pascagoula, MS for her definitive repairs.

After repairs, Stark rejoined the fleet until her decommissioning in 1999, and scrapping in 2006.

The Stark was non-mission capable after the attack. But she should have been a loss. The sterling damage control efforts of her crew were very closely studied by the Navy. Many lessons had been learned from the loss of HMS Sheffield in the Falklands, and had been incorporated into US Navy damage control training. And those lessons, as well as new lessons learned the hard way aboard Stark would be further tested in later years, notably aboard USS Princeton, USS Tripoli, and USS Cole.

Update: Here’s the report from the investigation.

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USS Constitution Drydocking

It’s rather fitting that the drydock that USS Constitution is using for its major overhaul is the one at the former Boston Naval Shipyard. She was both the first ship to use the drydock in 1833, and the last to use it before the yard was decommissioned in 1975.  While most of the yard is now a historical park, the Navy specifically kept the drydock portion to service USS Constitution and the former USS Cassin Young, a museum ship also displayed at the yard.

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Military Leadership versus Politics

Just a random thought over my morning coffee. Once in a while, you’ll see something to the effect, particularly in conservative circles, that General X or Retired Military Y should run for president.

I’m not so sure.

Generals tend to be people who flourished in big government. If you’re a conservative, is that really where you want to look to find someone who believes in limited government? The military is a highly centralized organization. While many veterans tend to be quite focused on civil liberties, let us not forget that career military personnel have spent an entire career in an organization where their civil liberties were circumscribed, and in which they circumscribed the civil liberties of everyone who worked for them.

That’s not to say they don’t genuinely believe in the Constitution and honestly and genuinely seek to uphold and defend it. It just means their first inclination to view an issue might not automatically be from a perspective of individual liberty. They’ve spent a career focusing on achieving goals for an organization. You know who else tends to think of political goals in terms of group good? The political left.

Generals tend to make lousy politicians. At its heart, politics consists of a series of compromises, with leaders building consensus from often quite disparate groups. Military leaders simply don’t have to do that. In the end, the people they lead have to follow the leader’s agenda. They may do it enthusiastically, or they may do it grudgingly. But do it they will. Politicians, on the other  hand, can propose an agenda, they can work to build support for it, via both carrot and stick, and sell it in numerous ways. But in the end, that agenda has to have some basic level of support from the polity, or it is dead in the water.

The last time we elected a general officer to the Presidency was when Eisenhower won in a landslide in 1952, and coasted again in 1956. And he was a successful President. Why?

Let’s take a look back at Eisenhower’s role in World War II. Beginning in the Torch invasion of North Africa, through the Mediterranean campaign in Italy, to the invasion of Western Europe on D-Day, through the final defeat of Germany, Eisenhower served in a series of commands of Allied forces. Eisenhower quickly grasped that his role was not to defeat the Germans, but rather to hold together the Allied coalition. He was certainly no slouch at the tactical and strategic generalship required for the war, but his greatest strength was to be able to maintain some level of unity of effort between the forces of the British Empire (and later France and a host of other nations) and those of the US.  And while Eisenhower was nominally in command of those foreign forces, that command was more nominal than real. Eisenhower had to persuade his British subordinates to follow his  proposed courses of action (or quite often, adopt a proposed British course of action as his own).

That same skill at forging consensus and achieving compr0mise served Eisenhower quite well in office.

I cannot think of another general officer since then who has had a similar background that would serve as well in high elected office.

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The Army Air Forces in 1944

A US propaganda film showing the various numbered air forces of the USAAF in early 1944. Lots of good footage of some of the more obscure theaters. It’s about 40 minutes, so grab a cup of coffee.

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“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

That message, sent 70 years ago by  General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces Europe, to the American and British governments, signaled the end of World War II in Europe.

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&ldquo;The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.<br />
EISENHOWER&rdquo;</p>
<p>Top secret document sent by General Eisenhower to his superior officers to inform them that his mission was fulfilled - Germany was defeated and the war in Europe was over. <br />
-from the Eisenhower Library

Alfred Jodl would sign the instruments of surrender for Germany at Rheims.

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On May 8, a similar instrument was signed in Berlin, ending the war with the Soviet Union. The US and most western nations celebrate Victory in Europe on May 8. The Russians celebrate on May 9.

On May 6, 1945, the focus of the entirety of the Allied forces in Europe was the defeat of Germany. On May 8, the focus was on getting out of the damn Army and getting home. It would take some time for that to pass, and indeed, to this day, Americans are stationed in Germany, though since 1955, as guests and allies of their former enemies.

Of course, the War in the Pacific remained to be won. But with the defeat of Germany, it was seen as a foregone conclusion that Japan would fall to the combined might of the Allies. There would be a great deal of death, destruction and suffering to come, but the end game was all that was left to play out.

Tomorrow, to commemorate this 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe, among other events, there will be a huge flyover of the US capitol by more than 40 World War II era aircraft.

More than 40 vintage aircraft of World War II will fill the skies over the nation’s capital Friday in tribute to the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day.

Fifteen flying formations will form up near Leesburg, Virginia, and follow the Potomac River southeast toward Washington. But unlike the usual “river run” of modern commercial flights into Reagan National Airport, the venerable war birds will bank over the Lincoln Memorial, overflying the National World War II Memorial, head east past the Washington Monument along Independence Avenue, turning south as they pass over the National Air and Space Museum near the Capitol.

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Centennial of ANZAC Landings at Gallipoli

Today marks another significant centennial of the Great War.  (Yesterday marked the centenary of beginning of the Armenian Genocide.)  The ANZAC landings at Gallipoli took place on 25 April 1915.  It is a very special ANZAC Day.  From last year:

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Today is the 25th of April.  It is ANZAC Day, commemorating the 99th anniversary of the landings of 31,000 men of The Australian Division, and the Australian-New Zealand Division (reinforced with two batteries of mountain guns) on the crescent-shaped portion of beach known as Ari Burnu, forever after known as Anzac Cove.

 gallipolilanding

The ANZAC landing began before dawn on 25 April 1915, and was initially unopposed,  By mid-morning, however, Turkish troops under LtCol Mustapha Kemal had reacted strongly and taken the landing beaches and the precariously shallow Dominion positions under rifle, machine gun, and artillery fire.  Unable to move forward, and hanging onto hillside rocks and scrapes, ANZAC Commander MajGen Sir William Birdwood asked to have the beach-head evacuated.

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The Royal Navy argued that such an evacuation, particularly under fire, was impractical.   So Birdwood was ordered to stay, with the advice given by General Sir Ian Hamilton to “dig, dig, dig!”.  It is from this message, many conclude, that the ANZACs became known as the “diggers”.    Despite herculean efforts and near-suicidal courage, including the tragically costly landings at Sulva Bay in August of 1915, the stalemate was never broken.  Unable to advance, with no evacuation possible, the ANZACs remained locked in their initial positions, enduring conditions even more horrendous than those on the Western Front, until finally pulled out as a part of the general evacuation of the Gallipoli Operation in December of 1915.

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ANZAC Day has become a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand war dead, but remains especially poignant for the nearly 13,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the foothills of the Bari Sair Mountains, in the eight months of hell on Earth that was Anzac Cove.

At the going down of the sun,

and in the morning,

we will remember them.

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General Mattis Speaks to Veterans

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From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”

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