Monday, March 28, 2011

Introducing Jack's Flash!

As of March 1, 2011, my new posts will appear at:

Prior posts may continue to be viewed at:

5B (and me) 3/19/2010 - 7/26/2010
5B (and me) 7/22/2008 - 2/4/ 2010
What Knotts 2/2/2008 - 7/23/2008

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Blog Location

To my most excellent and loyal blog readers:

Going forward, my blogs will be posted on:

Old blogs will remain here and on: also has links back to both for your convenience.

Thank you for your continuing readership and undying support!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winning Hearts & Minds

Bill Moyers had a guest the other day who described the process by which the Taliban in Afghanistan recruited and indoctrinated young male villagers in remote regions.

I was reminded that, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Following is a piece written by Bill Negron, my former Company Commander in Vietnam who, during his first tour in Vietnam (1964-1965), was an advisor to the South Vietnamese Marines. He recalled the following incident which is chillingly similar to that attributed to the Taliban.

We were there not only to check the village defenses, but gather information. Even though the strategic hamlet program was effective, many villagers still lived on the family plots in the countryside. Our mission was to bring people into the hamlet and break the Viet-Cong infrastructure in these villages.

The next three days were spent visiting the villages and walking the land. Each night we set up the largest house in the village. The inhabitants were relegated to other houses or out buildings next to the main house. How were we to gain support of the people for the central government when its soldiers treated the villagers with such distain? We ate their rice and killed their chickens and pigs, all in the name of liberation.

On the third day, we entered a village on the side of a canal we had traversed earlier in the day. The main house in the village was still smoldering and the out-buildings were gutted by fire. A body lay in front of the house. An old woman, a young girl, and a child of about two were looking down on the corpse. The body was laying face up with a clean reddish purple hole in the middle of the forehead. His right hand had been severed just above the wrist. A Viet-Cong propaganda leaflet was pinned to his chest with a bamboo spike.

There were about forty people in the village consisting of old men and women, young women and small children. The old woman told the grim tale. He had been the village chief, elder, and her husband. The Viet-Cong had been using the village as a stop off point for the past three months. During these incursions they gathered the young men and lectured them on the evils of the central government. The old man had always cooperated. He had no love for the central government, but only wanted to be left alone. After the first visits no one joined the cause, but the Viet-Cong still took rice an an occasional pig or chicken. The old man thought it was not a high price to pay for being left alone.

That morning, they entered the village and, as usual, gathered everyone together. They were given a lecture by someone the residents hadn't seen before. After a heated discussion, the village chief was grabbed from behind, had his hands bound, and was made to kneel in front of the lecturer.

He was then stuck several times and told that the guerillas needed more volunteers and he was not cooperating. The old man disagreed and said so to the lecturer at which point the lecturer drew his weapon, demanded that all gathered look, and shot him in the forehead. The boys were then told that if they didn't join the movement, the same fate would await their parents.

They proceeded to burn his house, take his livestock and consumables, and left, herding the village boys ahead of them.

We arrived on the scene about a half hour later.

War is and has always been horrifically nasty business.

Top photo: Bill Negron, June 1968
Lower photo: Bill Negron, March 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My World & Welcome To it.

In September, 1962, I departed Summit, New Jersey to attend prep school in Andover, MA. Several years later, my parents moved north as well, thereby severing any and all ties that I had to legions of childhood friends. My mind left them all encased (entombed?) in an adolescent time capsule.

Lost Summit friends Russ Thomas, Sandy Lane, Jill Barr, Debby Wadmond, me, Karl (Killer) Thomason, and Pete Diemon in Concord June, 2009.

In August, 1968, I departed Vietnam to attend Harvard thereby severing any and all ties that I had to legions of Marine Corps friends. My mind left them in a time capsule as well (several, sadly, actually entombed).

My lifelong friends (and a wonderful lot they are), thereby, date from Andover forward and include a hearty number that, until recently, included no one from either Summit or the enlisted ranks of the United States Marine Corps.

This began to change in 1993 when I felt an overwhelming urge to get in touch with someone (anyone!) associated with my Marine Corps service. After a period, I tracked down Bill Negron. Our initial correspondence may be viewed on the Amazon Loon page under Author Essay. From there, over the subsequent ten years, we found Dan Burton, Terry Tillery, Mac Mecham, and several dozen others.

It changed my life. The memories flooded back. Although many had long ago metastasized into nightmares, others recalled the rollicking adventures of a group of mostly teenaged boys.

We cried.

We laughed.

LZ Loon survivors Terry Tillery, Mac Mecham, Dan Burton, and me in Vail, September 2009.

Loon was published on May 19th. Among the first events was at the Concord Bookshop. By serendipity, on their staff was long-lost Summit friend Sandy Lane who, noting the Summit reference in my bio, initiated reunions with nearly all of my childhood friends.

Two days after publication, Andover friend Jim Fabiani hosted an incomparable rollout party in Washington, DC. It was the first time that my family, Marine Corps buddies, and Andover (and post-Andover) friends had ever shared a room.

Terry Tillery, Bill Matthews, Sal Santangelo, and Jack McQuade represented Charlie Company while Karl Thomason came from Summit.

Rollout attendees Paula Smith, Lou Maranzana, Martha McLean, Me, Charlie and Judy Sampson, Ray Healey, and Jim Fabiani.

The response to Loon over the past 6 months has been awesome, validating, and most humbling for me. This story of a small Band of Brothers caught in harm's way has triggered increased awareness of the lost experiences of Vietnam Veterans and helped bring honor to their service. It has also provided a history lesson of those times that will guide historians and enlighten readers for years to come.

For me, it has been mostly about friends old and new who have rallied around me and the book while mixing with each other.

There was a moment at the Washington DC event when I was able to introduce Sal Santangelo (survivor of the helicopter crash on June 6, 1968), to Linda Heiberger and her daughter Cheryl (sister and niece of Ralph Harper who was killed in the crash.

I'd met Linda and Cheryl the previous week at the Arlington internment of Ralph and three other crash victims whose remains were recovered and identified last year.

Pictured below is the casket bearing the forever commingled remains of LZ Loon victims Ralph Harper, Luis Palacios, Kurt LaPlant, and Jose Sanchez at Arlington National Cemetery May 14, 2009.

Rest in Peace, Brothers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lt. Col. Donald H. McLean Jr.

To a generation of young boys in search of role models, one needed to look no further than the American military heroes of the Second World War - "Loon: A Marine Story"

As the United States is currently astride with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and befuddled by nation-building, I felt it an appropriate time to examine an example of what I meant by the above quote.

We rarely hear of the extraordinary planning and tireless work done by the American military to execute the rebuilding of a dozen nations around the world in the aftermath of WWII - Germany and Japan most notably.

The following piece was written about my Father's (Donald H. McLean Jr. 1910-1984) role in the German reconstruction and includes references to Generals Eisenhower, Clay, Marshall, and Hildring.

It was written by Arthur E. Palmer Jr., a Yale Law School 1935 classmate and lifelong friend of Dad's. The piece is taken from the book Don McLean As We Knew Him, edited by Frederic A. Stott.

With the surrender of Germany in 1945 and the installation of the international military government for that defeated country the United States Government was faced with a new series of problems. General Eisenhower had a military headquarters in Berlin which included a few officers trained as military governors to supervise the reorganization of captured areas and to provide enough order to make way for military operations.

Yet those with vision knew that a primary need for the victors was reconciliation and a return to everyday life, not a continued military government. And the problem of dealing with a defeated Germany was made more difficult the fact that the “civilian” member of the Armed Forces, who had enlisted for the duration, wanted to go home - and go home right away!

As a first step in dealing with the problem of what to do with Germany, General Eisenhower appointed Major General Lucius D. Clay, his deputy, to head the United States Military occupation part of Berlin and Germany. According to Robert Patterson, the Assistant Secretary of War, Clay was one of the finest Army officers he had ever met - a man with the breadth to identify the necessary goals of the future.

General Clay, as Deputy United States Military Commander stationed in Berlin, took with him Major Donald H. McLean and Major Robert R. Bowie, both civilian lawyers, as a roving team to advise him on policy. McLean’s selection for this position was not by chance; he had worked for General Clay earlier in his army career, and his service experience since 1942 fitted him admirably for his new post.

He had first served as a Captain in the International Division, Services of Supply, in Washington, where his work was supervised by General Clay; in 1943 he became a member of a General Staff division administering the planning of military governments and the development of policies for conquered or liberated countries, where his work was supervised by Major General John Hildring.

Sensing the need for closer cooperation between General Hildring's new command and General Clay's supply responsibilities, the latter arranged with the former to use Captain McLean as a personal deputy to each when dealing with common problems, acting as a working member of General Hildring’s office while still a member of General Clay’s command. As a result, he not only got to know both generals, but also learned a good deal about liaison work.

In July 1943, General Hildring’s Civil Affairs Division was given responsibility for all civilian problems in areas jointly controlled by the United States and Great Britain. It was at this point that McLean, now a Major, was appointed to General Hildring’s command.

Late that year he wrote a friend: “I have been most fortunate for the past eight months, spending my time on papers concerned with problems presented to the army by the presence of civilian populations in operational areas, for and with Major General John H. Hildring - pleasant and thoroughly competent by any standards.” At the same time, he was also engaged in giving lectures to army trainees in classes in civil affairs problems at Yale University, Northwestern University, and the University of Virginia, the principal Army Civil Affairs Teaching Center in the U.S. Thus, when the end of the war came, Major McLean was well trained for his new position abroad.

Moving to Germany with General Clay in April 1945, McLean and Bowie watched the celebration at the end of the war in Paris on May 8, 1945. For the next year, the two officers acted as eyes and ears for General Clay, offering him advice on any and all problems of German Military Government. The pair also conducted a seminar for the American staff in Berlin on their functions in connection with Denazification, Demilitarization, Deconcentration, and Democratization, all in line with established Anglo-American policy. McLean described his work as “delving into all phases of the military occupation problems - you swing like a man on a flying trapeze from economics to public relations, to denazification, always hoping there will be a net somewhere.”

On August 15, 1945, while on duty in Germany, McLean, now a Lieutenant Colonel, was decorated with the Legion of Merit for his former services in General Hildring’s office in the Pentagon (he was to later receive an Oak Leaf Cluster from General Clay). On this occasion, he wrote General Hildring to thank him for the decoration as “something I shall always cherish as a tangible token of one of the most stimulating, pleasant, and interesting experiences of my relatively short career - it will always be a reminder of the hectic times we shared during 1943 and 1944.”

But he did not stop there. The letter continues in a way that has been typical of McLean during his career - he made warm friends of all the important men he worked with, treating them as honored equals, a feeling they reciprocated. 

Wrote McLean:
"There is another aspect of which you are not aware. I entered the U.S. Army in the spring of 1942 with considerable misgivings as to whether a civilian of my age (which was 33) with no military background or specialized technical training could be of assistance to the U.S. Army. Working for you removed that doubt.

There were times when my confidence was shaken during those early months when the nomenclature, the customs, and even the grammar were something I had never learned at Yale or in the practice of law. The award is more than adequate evidence to me that my original plan to go in was sound and that my wife did not live on the pay of a first lieutenant merely to satisfy the fancy of a confused and curious husband. She now has a tangible reward her patience and understanding during the course of which she observed the wives of some of my contemporaries profit by the more tangible rewards available to my generation in recent years in the practice of law.

In addition, I received and invaluable supplement to my education. I have come to understand the army, its traditions, and its function in our national life. Our closed-door sessions in the early days were a liberal education few men ever receive. I have come to know, respect, and admire men like yourself and General Clay who have devoted their lives unselfishly to the public service."
At the same time he outlined, in letters to his army friends in the U.S., the personnel situation in Berlin as “impossible.” “The People here are becoming eligible for discharge, but are being held back while their friends in the U.S. are being sent home. What is needed is a first class office here in Berlin and in the U.S. to recruit competent civilian replacements. It is one of the most pressing problems today and the government is doing nothing about it.”

The United States Government in 1947 finally did something about it. It cut the Gordian knot when it made General George Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Secretary of State and when he in turn had General Hildring appointed Assistant Secretary of State with the responsibility of transferring administrative responsibility for the occupation of Korea, Japan, and Germany from the War Department to the Department of State.

Shortly after his appointment as Secretary of State in 1947, Marshall wrote a letter to Arthur Milbank, Senior Partner of McLean’s Wall Street law firm, asking that McLean be loaned to the Unites States Government for two months to work on a special project. 

Secretary of State Marshall wrote of McLean as follows:
"Mr. McLean, during his service in the army, was for a considerable period Liaison Officer between General Somervell and General Hildring in their respective capacities as Commanding General, Army Service Forces and as Director, Civil Affairs Division. McLean became thoroughly familiar with the organization of the War Department and its methods of dealing with the planning and operational aspects of Military Government. He personally participated in the formulation of many of these plans and had a hand in working out techniques for their accomplishment. Moreover, throughout this period, Mr. McLean worked closely with the personnel of the Department of State on major policy aspects of occupied areas programming. He later served as an advisor to general Clay in Germany and in that capacity had constant opportunity to observe and participate in the field activities of Military Government.

In view of Mr. McLean’s unique qualifications, and particularly because of the great confidence which General Hildring has in his judgement and tact, I believe that if Mr. McLean were free to work on this project for a period of two months commencing about July 1, he could perform a great public service to the Department and to his Government. Accordingly, I should like to ask you to consider weather Mr. McLean’s services could be made available to the Department for this purpose without substantial impairment to his relationship with the firm and without incurring undue sacrifice on your part."
Faithfully Yours,
G.C. Marshall
Secretary of State
Needless to say, McLean’s law firm agreed, and in the summer of 1947 he carried out his mission to everyone’s satisfaction. The Armed Forces were glad to see the last of many, if not most, of the civilians who had served during the war. For the greatest soldier in the country to write and ask the help of one of them was a signal of honor indeed.

Equally as meaningful a tribute to Don came from General Lucius D. Clay who wrote to Don in 1946: “Thank you for your letter of January 8. Your faith and confidence always made me feel as if I could surmount any obstacle.”

As a postscript to Don and the Army, he met and made friends with an unusual number of generals and the correspondence between them made it clear that they respected him, and none were surprised to find him already serving one, or even two other generals. As an army friend said: “He collected generals like a dog collects fleas, but with better results.”
Thank you for visiting.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

"You Cheated, You Lied"

Civilian pleads not guilty to wearing Navy medals

By Alan Duke, CNN
November 12, 2009 -- Updated 2216 GMT (0616 HKT)

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- A California man faces a federal trial in January because of what he allegedly wore to his 20th high school reunion earlier this year -- a U.S. Marine uniform decorated with some of the nation's highest military medals.
Steve Burton, 39, never served in any branch of the U.S. military, but he was seen and photographed several times wearing a Marine uniform and various medals, including the Navy Cross, the highest medal awarded exclusively by the U.S. Navy, federal investigators said.

The Palm Springs, California, bank officer entered a not guilty plea Thursday to a charge of "unauthorized wearing of military medals or decorations." The federal misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in federal prison upon conviction.

When Burton made his initial appearance in federal court in Riverside, California, a magistrate set his bond at $10,000, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Akrotirianakis. He posted the bond and was released. A trial was set for January 10, 2010, Akrotirianakis said.

"He has been charged, but these are only allegations," Burton's lawyer, Michael DeFrank, said Wednesday.

The Marine dress blue uniform with lieutenant colonel insignia on the epaulets and a chest full of colorful ribbons may have impressed some old classmates, but one person at the reunion was suspicious, according to an FBI agent's affidavit.

Lt. Cmdr. Colleen Salonga, a U.S. Navy supply officer, recognized the Navy Cross and knew how rarely that honor is awarded, the sworn statement said. She posed with Burton for a photo, which she sent to the FBI in June, it said.

The FBI agent said Internet research showed that Burton had blogged in August 2009 about being a Marine and receiving many commendations and awards. His postings also discussed engaging in combat and serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, the documents said. He said he'd served in Falluja, a city in Iraq's largely Sunni Arab Anbar province where Marines and militants battled for years.

Burton posted a picture of himself online standing on a beach at Coronado Island, California, wearing a Marine dress uniform, the affidavit said. In the picture, he is wearing the rank of gunnery sergeant and is displaying medals including the Navy Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Navy and Marine Corps medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among others.

An American flag flew on a pole on the front lawn of Burton's Palm Springs home Wednesday.

Burton, who was off work because it was Veterans Day, would not come to the door, and a man who came to the door referred CNN to Burton's lawyer, DeFrank. The man said he was Burton's partner for 18 years and retired from the U.S. Air Force.

A next-door neighbor described Burton as "quiet and nice." She said she saw agents carry away several boxes from the home two weeks ago.

A search warrant was executed at Burton's home, said Akrotirianakis, who did not divulge what was found there.

Akrotirianakis also would not say where authorities believe Burton obtained the medals. However, an Internet search showed several medals -- or possibly replicas -- for sale online, despite a law banning their advertisement or sale. 

Even if a medal is a replica, wearing it still violates federal law, Akrotirianakis said.

The Navy Cross is the second-highest award a sailor or Marine can be awarded for valor, behind only the Medal of Honor. It is comparable to the Army's Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Force Cross. It is awarded for "extreme gallantry and risk of life, beyond the call of duty, performed in combat with an enemy force," according to the prosecutors' statement.

The Bronze Star is awarded for "heroic and meritorious achievement or service," while the Purple Heart is awarded "for being wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States."

According to the 2000 Federal Census, the number of Americans falsely claiming to have served in-country Vietnam was 13,853,227. This means that four out of five who claimed to be Vietnan veterans were not.

Thanks to Andover classmate Nick Marble for bringing this to our attention, and thank all of you for visiting.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009

Back From War, but Not Really Home

Published: November 7, 2009
Holderness, N.H.
WASHED onto the shores of his island home, after 10 years’ absence in a foreign war and 10 years of hard travel in foreign lands, Odysseus, literature’s most famous veteran, stares around him: “But now brilliant Odysseus awoke from sleep in his own fatherland, and he did not know it,/having been long away.” Additionally, the goddess Athena has cast an obscuring mist over all the familiar landmarks, making “everything look otherwise/than it was.” “Ah me,” groans Odysseus, “what are the people whose land I have come to this time?”
That sense of dislocation has been shared by veterans returning from the field of war since Homer conjured Odysseus’ inauspicious return some 2,800 years ago. Its vexing power was underscored on Thursday, when a military psychiatrist who had been treating the mental scars of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan went on a shooting rampage at an Army base in Texas.
Who is the veteran, and how does he stand in relation to his native land and people? This question remains relevant to those marching in parades this week for Veterans Day in the United States and Armistice Day in Europe, as well as to the ever-diminishing number of spectators who applaud them. In theory, Veterans Day celebrates an event as starkly unambiguous as victory — survival. In practice, Nov. 11 is clouded with ambiguous symbolism, and has become our most awkward holiday.
The great theme of “The Odyssey” — the return of the war veteran to his home — is the only surviving, and undoubtedly the greatest, epic example of what was evidently a popular theme in ancient times. Another poem, now lost, “Nostoi,” or “Returns,” was an epic of uncertain authorship that was said to have encompassed five books and traced the homecomings of veterans of the Trojan War like the Greek commander in chief, Agamemnon; his brother, Menelaus; the aged counselor Nestor, the priest Calchas, the hero Diomedes and even Achilles’ son, Neoptolemos.
The Greek word nostos, meaning “return home,” is the root of our English “nostalgia” (along with algos — “pain” or “sorrow”). The content and character of “Nostoi” is now impossible to gauge; all we know of it comes from a late, possibly fifth-century A.D. summary and stray fragments. Some of the most famous of these traditional veterans’ stories, however, have survived in later, non-epic works.
Aeschylus’ towering tragedy “Agamemnon,” staged in 458 B.C., centers on the king’s return from Troy to his palace in Argos, where he is murdered in his bath by his wife, Clytemnestra. Virgil’s “Aeneid” famously relates the travails of the heroic Trojan veteran Aeneas, who, following the destruction of his city by the Greek victors, must make a new home in some other, foreign land.
But it is “The Odyssey” that most directly probes the theme of the war veteran’s return. Threaded through this fairytale saga, amid its historic touchstones, are remarkable scenes addressing aspects of the war veteran’s experience that are disconcertingly familiar to our own age. Odysseus returns home to a place he does not recognize, and then finds his homestead overrun with young men who have no experience of war. Throughout his long voyage back, he has reacted to each stranger with elaborate caginess, concocting stories about who he is and what he has seen and done — the real war he keeps to himself.
Midway through the epic, Odysseus relates to a spellbound audience how, in order to obtain guidance for the voyage ahead, it was necessary to descend to Hades. There, among the thronging souls of men and women dead and past, he confronted his comrades of the war — Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Antilochus and Ajax — robust heroes of epic tales now reduced to unhappy shades who haunt his story.
Similarly, while Odysseus is lost at sea, his son, Telemachus, embarks on a voyage of discovery, also seeking out his father’s former comrades, but those who lived to return. First of these is old Nestor, a veteran of many campaigns, now at home in sandy Pylos. No mortal man could “tell the whole of it,” says Nestor of the years at Troy, where “all who were our best were killed.” In Sparta, Menelaus, whose wife, Helen, was the cause of the war, is haunted by the losses: “I wish I lived in my house with only a third part of all/these goods, and that the men were alive who died in those days/in wide Troy land.”
Odysseus’ own memories are more potent. Amongst the kindly Phaiakians, who give him hospitality toward the end of his hard voyage, he listens to the court poet sing of the Trojan War’s “famous actions/of men on that venture.” Odysseus, taking his mantle in his hands, “drew it over his head and veiled his fine features/shamed for the tears running down his face.”
And most significantly, epic tradition hints at the dilemmas of military commemoration. In “The Iliad,” Achilles must choose between kleos or nostos — glory or a safe return home. By dying at Troy, Achilles was assured of undying fame as the greatest of all heroes. His choice reflects an uneasy awareness that it is far easier to honor the dead soldier than the soldier who returns. Time-tested and time-honored, the commemoration rites we observe each Memorial Day — the parades and speeches and graveside prayers and offerings — represent a satisfying formula of remembrance by the living for the dead that was already referred to as “ancient custom” by Thucydides in the fifth century B.C.
The commemoration of the veteran — the survivor who did not fall on the field of war — is less starkly defined. The returned soldier, it is hoped, will grow old and die among us, like Nestor, in whose time “two generations of mortal men had perished.” In our own times, the generation born in the optimistic aftermath of World War II has already encountered veterans of both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf war and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and still has several decades of martial possibilities in reserve. As the earlier of those wars recede into the past, their old soldiers fade away; and thus, commemorative rites for the veteran — by definition, the survivor — also tend to end, perversely, at graves.
How to commemorate the living veteran? Again, some guidance can be found in epic, the crucible of heroic mores. Old Nestor, the iconographic veteran, is a teller of many tales of the many battles he once waged. “In my time I have dealt with better men than/you are, and never once did they disregard me,” he tells the entire Greek army in “The Iliad.” “I fought single-handed, yet against such men no one/could do battle.” Although he is a somewhat comic figure, his speeches are deadly earnest; Old Nestor knows that his is the only voice to keep memory of such past campaigns alive.
One suspects such lengthy recitations are rare today. Rarer still is the respectful audience enjoyed by Nestor; impatience with such reminiscences began well before our age. “Menelaus bold/waxed garrulous, and sacked a hundred Troys/’Twixt noon and supper,” wrote Rupert Brooke, cynically, during the years leading up to a later Great War.
Today, veterans’ tales are more likely to be safeguarded in books and replicated in movies than self-narrated to a respectful throng. Detailed knowledge of the experience in which a veteran’s memories were forged is thus made common. To learn these stories is both civilian duty and commemoration. Death on the field and the voyage home — both are epic.
Caroline Alexander is the author of “The Endurance,” “The Bounty” and, most recently, “The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and the Trojan War.”