Memorial Day

Memorial Day is not just a day to remember those military members who were lost in combat. There are many members of our military who are lost in peacetime, and their sacrifice is not diminished by the fact that we are not involved in hostilities. This Memorial Day, I choose to honor a man who was lost in a peacetime training accident when a rogue wave struck the ship that I was serving on, late one night in 1989 off the coast of Florida.

Three men went overboard when a wave struck the lowered aircraft elevator at 0115 in the morning. They were all wearing float coats. One was quickly found by his survival strobe. The second was found when a smoke float being dropped from a helicopter to mark the position of the first man fell on top of him. The third was never found, despite the fact that we searched for him for 24 hours. His body was never recovered. Airman Craig Harris gave his life that dark night in October. I honor his sacrifice, for the life he gave in support of this nation.

Never Too Old

There are so many times that I have heard people, including myself, say that we are getting too old for the conflicts that are to come. It’s easy to think that the trials that we all see as inevitable are for young men, and let’s face it, many of us cannot consider ourselves to be young any longer. So let’s take comfort in the story of Samuel Whittemore.

Samuel was not a young man when he enlisted in the Third Massachusetts Regiment and fought the French in Canada. He was 49 years old when he killed a French officer and took his sword as a war trophy.

Mr. Whittemore wasn’t done. He fought again against Chief Pontiac in the Great Lakes region at 67 years old as he led troops against the French and Indians. During that conflict, he took a pair of dueling pistols as war trophies.

For the next decade or so, he became a respected leader in the civic arena. He lobbied against the government, speaking out and being a general pain in the ass. He protested the government’s actions, complaining about this and that, went to meetings of government, and represented his town as a member of the Committee of Correspondence. That was how it came to be that, in 1772, Whittemore was one of the three contributors to Cambridge, Massachusetts’ statement in objection to the Tea Act:

If we cease to assert Our rights we shall dwindle into supineness and the chains of slavery shall be fast rivetted upon us 

Then came the day when Samuel Whittemore’s family found him in his farm’s field, lying in a pool of blood, and even the town’s doctor didn’t believe that he would survive. British soldiers had left Samuel Whittemore in a pool of blood alongside a stone wall in Menotomy, Mass. after shooting the old farmer in the face, then bayoneted him at least six times and clubbed him, apparently, to death as they retreated from the skirmish at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Samuel was 78 years old.

Located near him were the bodies of three British soldiers: one shot by a musket, another by a dueling pistol, and a third run through with an ornate French sword.

Samuel survived that day, against all odds, and lived to the ripe old age of 96. He is currently buried in Arlington, Massachusetts.

The marker got his age wrong.

Massachusetts would not honor his heroism for another 230 years, when in 2005, Captain Samuel Whittemore was made the official state hero of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

This is the reason why we stand for the National Anthem, to honor men such as this.

Veteran’s Day

It bothers my wife that I don’t take Veteran’s discounts. I don’t stand when they ask veterans to stand and be recognized. I don’t want anything for my years of service. I served because I loved the country I was serving. I do want to recognize the people I know who are veterans:

  • Dad
  • Stewart, soldier, paramedic, leader.
  • Shane, a good soldier and caring paramedic who proudly served his country and community well.ย His demons finally got the best of him and he became one of the 22 that day.
  • Big Country
  • Peter Grant
  • Jeff D.
  • My FIL
  • Joe, my Mexican connection. Even though you became a lifer chief and a Cowboys fan.
  • Most of my firefighter friends.
  • The friends of my youth, who served with me: Jeff, Joe, Mike, Dave, Ed, Rich, Rick the Mayor. John. Hernan
  • Chef John.

The veterans who came before me: my uncle, father, and others who wore the uniform. It was your love of country that taught me to love it as well.

So many people in my life who served with me. We wore the uniform with me: we cried together, got drunk together, and laughed together. Most of all, we served our country together. If only we had known what a gift our youth was and how soon it would disappear, followed soon afterwards by the death of the nation that we served.

Those I came to know after I served: some police, many firefighters. It is no surprise to me that those who would die to defend their country would also risk their lives to save their fellow countrymen.

I salute all of you. Each of you knows what duty, honor, and sacrifice means- something that is sadly in short supply. May we all retain that moral compass to guide us through the difficult days to come. If I missed anyone, it was not intentional. There are so many.

One More Memorial, from Years Past

Years ago, a coworker of mine at the fire department, let’s call him Rick, had a son who joined the Army in the buddy program. Steve (the son) joined with his best friend, Sam. They went everywhere together. Basic training, combat medic school, and eventually, Iraq.

While they were in Iraq, Steve received a Silver Star for his actions in combat when his unit was ambushed. He later told me that there were so many RPG’s flying by, that you would have thought they were next to the factory that made the damned things. Steve risked his own life to carry multiple wounded soldiers to safety while under fire. The one that he couldn’t carry, Steve laid on top of him and shielded his body from further injury with his own.

Steve came back from Iraq a changed man. I know, because I knew him both as a boy, and as a veteran. I watched him as a teenager, then became his paramedic instructor when he returned with his best friend Sam and they tried to adapt to civilian life.

Sam just couldn’t make the adjustment, and his demons eventually caught him. Sam took his own life several years after returning. The man that he was, was killed in Iraq.

Sam was one of the 22 veterans each day who commit suicide. Even though he didn’t die while he was there, he surely was wounded down in his very soul. One of the things I have always complained about with the US military is that they don’t prepare their members for the life that comes after. You barely get a handshake and a kick in the ass on the way out.

Even though they didn’t die while IN the service, the service was certainly a large factor in their deaths. Honor those who gave all, some years after their service. Sam deserved better than that.

Memorial Day

Each year on Memorial Day, we should take a minute to remember those who died in the service of their countries. Not only in general, but specifically. This year, I have chosen to honor and remember a servicemember who did not die in combat, but did die because of her service. She was killed on April 14, 1988 by a terrorist car bomb that struck the USO in Naples, Italy.

I am talking about Petty Officer 3rd Class Angela Simone Santos. Not every servicemember who gave their lives did so in combat. This post is to remember all of those who have paid the ultimate price in the service of their nation, its people, and the ideals that it aspires to.

An Infantryman and a Pencil Pusher

Watch this video where a BAR rifleman who fought his way across France during World War 2 talks about his experiences. Remember that he received 2 Bronze stars for his brave actions in combat. In all, he has six total decorations.

Then I want you to remember that General Mark Milley has 4 bronze stars, along with 43 other decorations. He received 47 decorations without once firing a shot at a single enemy. I would also note that his Wikipedia page is so long and complimentary, he must have had one of his staffers write it for him.

Brave Cop

If you read here, you know that I levy my share of both criticism and praise at police officers. In this case, I want to share the bravery and sacrifice that this Florida State Trooper made in protecting a group of pedestrians from a drunk driver when she deliberately placed her patrol vehicle between a group of runners and a DUI driver who was refusing to stop:

Man, that had to hurt. If you look at the roofline of her SUV, you can see that the entire vehicle is bent.

That took some real bravery and self sacrifice.

One more

My feed is full of 9-11 posts, as I am sure that yours is. The one I read that haunted me the most is this one from Legal Insurrection. That post includes a link to a video. The one thing that haunts me to this day is the sound of hunndreds of PASS alarms sounding at ground zero. A PASS device as an alarm worn be every firefighter that alerts those nearby that a firefighter has been motionless for 30 seconds. We jokingly refer to it as the “lazy man” alarm.

Listening to this as I read his post gives me chills while putting tears in my eyes. I weep for the number of Americans that will soon die in the war that we don’t want, but the left seems to be begging for.

Ghosts of the past, present, and future

Exactly twenty years ago. I still remember that morning in more detail than all but of a few of the mornings that have come since. The sky was a beautiful blue, the sun was warm, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A typical Central Florida day. My shift, C shift, had just started our 24 hour workday.

I was driving Engine 2 that morning. Dennis was riding in the seat next to me as the Lieutenant, and Justin was the back seat firefighter. Our shift had begun at 7:30 that morning as it always did. We did our morning routine as we always do. At 8:30, we left the station to do annual flow testing of fire hydrants.

By 8:45, we were behind the Winn Dixie and just about to test our first hydrant. Our Battalion Chief called us and told us to return to the station and turn on the TV. I remember jokingly asking Dennis who the guy on the radio was and what they had done to the Chief, since he would never tell us to watch TV during the day.

We arrived back in the station just in time to see the second plane hit the south tower. I remember watching Fox news and seeing them switch to the DC bureau, where reporters said they could see a column of smoke. Things were happening so fast, I couldn’t figure out what that smoke was coming from. It was then that a fellow firefighter told me that the Pentagon had been hit.

The chief called us, and when I was on the phone with him, the first tower fell. The chief said to me, “Oh my God. 30,000 people just died.” I remember being stunned that so many people could be in a building.

By noon, we had an armed SWAT officer with an MP-5 riding along with us on all of our calls “for security.”

For weeks, we firefighters were stunned at the loss of 343 firefighters. I felt a sense of awe that the guys who went into that second tower after watching the first one fall went into that building, in awe of the guys who were in the second tower when that first one fell, all the while knowing that they would never come out of the second tower. What was going through their minds? I asked myself if I could make the same choice, if I *knew* that I would not come out?

We all wanted to be able to say yes. It isn’t the same thing when you go into an ordinary fire. Firefighters are a cocky, professional bunch. When we run into a burning building, we tell ourselves that we are trained and experienced enough that it will not happen to us. Not so those guys in the towers. They went in KNOWING that they wouldn’t come out. That is a time that you don’t know what you would do until the moment of truth comes.

I just hoped that I would have the fortitude to make the choice that needed to be made, to have the courage to choose duty and honor over self preservation, and the fortune to never be placed in that position. I hoped that I would never have to make that choice.

I spent the majority of my adult life in one uniform or another, dedicated to the protection of American lives and values. I spent six years in the Navy, doing two combat tours in the Persian gulf. I wasn’t a big hero or anything. I, like millions of others did my job. After that, I spent two decades in a firefighter’s uniform. I that time, I ran into hundreds of burning buildings, jumped into a dozen lakes, thousands of medical scenes, and 22 natural disasters. I was injured three times in the line of duty. I saw a couple of thousand dead bodies, dozens of shootings and stabbings, and saved more than a few lives.

In 2011, I retired. I had seen enough death, misery, and blood for one lifetime. I thought that the time of risking life and limb for the good of this nation and its people was over. I had given enough. I deserved to be left alone to grow old and enjoy the rest of my life in as much peace as I could manage.

All I want is to be left alone to grow old in peace. The events of the past 18 months make me believe that this won’t happen. I fear that I may have to make that choice after all.