Sad Day

It is with profound sadness that we report that Lou Conter, the last survivor of the USS Arizona has passed away at his home in Grass Valley, California. Surrounded by family in his final hours, Lou lived a long and distinguished life. Fair winds and following seas Lou.

The muster for the crew of the USS Arizona is now complete. The WW2 generation is slowly leaving us.

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.