Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Amputee Graduates Army Air Assault School

Sergeant First Class Greg Robinson, 34, has graduated from the Army's Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell.  The course is a physically tough 10-day package that adapts a combat soldier to rapid-assault operations out of helicopters.  At his age, that had to be difficult. 

It's even tougher when you're an amputee.

Besides the mechanics of operating in close proximity to helicopters in a combat environment, including pathfinder ops and slingloads, the candidates are required to do a daily two-mile run in under 18 minutes and an obstacle course (including a rope climb), conduct a variety of rappels and fast rope descents from fixed sites and helicopters, and finally a 12-mile forced march with combat load in under three hours.  All evolutions require wearing a 35-pound rucksack.  A successful completion of the course earns the soldier the Air Assault Badge and an open ability to operate within the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) stationed at Fort Campbell.
In the case of SFC Robinson, though, he had to successfully complete the requirements – unmodified or 'normed' – with his right leg having been amputated just below the knee, the result of combat action in Afghanistan in 2006 while assigned (it seems) to the 20th Engineer Brigade.  He is currently assigned as a platoon sergeant with the 101st: "It's not my job.  It's my lifestyle."  As to part of his motivation: "I have roughly 30 men in my platoon.  As a leader, I didn't want to tell my soldiers that they needed to go to air assault school, if I'm not air assault qualified."

There are soldiers who drop out of the course who are otherwise physically capable of doing it.  SFC Robinson shows that, like any demanding course of this type in the military, it is primarily a matter of determination.  At one point during the obstacle course run and again during the 12-mile march, he had to rip off his prosthesis and repair it after its piston broke down, then he straped it back on and finished in good time.  "It's not an obstacle if you don't let it slow you down."

He is also a model to so many others (Boston comes to mind, for example) who have suffered life-changing injuries.  I knew two officers on active duty back during the time of Viet Nam who were trying to stay in the Army after having lost an eye and a left hand, respectively.  The military typically has no time for people with this type of determination, despite their abilities to overcome obstacles, but there are more servicemembers who are proving the military wrong and who fortunately are given a chance to contribute still to their country.  (And whether on active duty or not, who can surpass the story of Marine Corporal Todd Love?)

As for disabilities, I often go back to my love of history and remember that hard times prove the mettle of hard people.  As for aviation, examples include Georges Guynumer, top French ace during World War I who suffered from tuberculosis but insisted on continuing the fight.  Toward the end, he had to be carried to his plane, yet still managed to accumulate 53 kills.  In World War II, some greats included the famous Stuka pilot Ernst Rudel, the most decorated pilot of the Luftwaffe, who lost his left leg; Douglas Bader, top ace of the RAF, lost both legs; and Saburo Sakai, one of the top Japanese aces, was blind in his left eye. 

Congratulations, SFC Robinson, or 'BZ' as we say in the naval service.  We need more people with your determination, though I pray without your obstacle.  But obstacle or not, you're a good man.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Legacy: Amanda Thatcher, Granddaughter of Lady Thatcher, and Brother Michael

It is never quite comfortable to say that one 'enjoys' some aspect of a funeral.*  Yet despite the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, one of the great personages of the late twentieth century during her extended tenure as Prime Minister, co-architect of the victory of the West against Soviet Communism, victorious in re-taking the Falkland Islands from the Argentine junta, and savior (for the moment) of the United Kingdom, the world was treated to a funeral befitting her stature, as fittingly ceremonious as only the British can do. 

The British press (never in her corner – the nature of the beast, as it were) sounded the clarion threat that her 'divisiveness' would leach the dole takers from their union halls and pubs in order to give one last insult to her cortege, but the few who actually turned up were diluted as a drop in the ocean by the legions of her admirers.  But the press keeps pounding that minor key expecting the people to sing along. 

One of the more uplifting moments of the service was the introduction to a far wider audience of the granddaughter of Lady Thatcher.  I was already aware of the existence of Amanda Margaret Thatcher and brother Michael, children of Lady Thatcher's son Sir Mark and former wife Diane Beckett (née Burgdorf), and the fact that their mother took them to live in Texas during their formative years.  In fact, they both attended Highland Park High School in the independent little city surrounded by Dallas, with Michael being a celebrated running back and Amanda voted “most likely to change the world”.
Amanda Margaret Thatcher and brother Michael

Amanda was chosen as one of only two readers for the ceremony (other than PM David Cameron), appropriate I am sure due to her mature poise and the symbolic value of Lady Thatcher being the first female prime minister.  It is delightful to see such poise and natural elegance in a young lady.  (Michael had read at the funeral of grandfather Sir Denis Thatcher some ten years before.)  Amanda’s reading came from Ephesians 6:10-18, also appropriate to the memory of the Iron Lady: “. . . Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. . . .”  Indeed.

Though still a resident of the environs of Dallas, Miss Thatcher attends the University of Richmond.  (Already an excellent equestrienne from her early years living in South Africa, she now participates in track and field.)  Dick Stanley of The Texas Scribbler, who has a family connection to her university, nevertheless observes that considering her background and breeding, she should have attended Texas A&M University.  Oh, would that were so: a Thatcher as a conservative Texas Aggie – what an incredible combination. 

But there is still hope, or I should say, even more so.  As charming as the young Miss Thatcher can be, we mustn't forget her brother Michael.  Like his grandmother, he received his degree in Chemistry, from – of all places – Texas A&M University (Class of '11) and works in Dallas in Pharmacology in addition to his work with a Republican-affiliated group dedicated to Hispanic conservatives. 

Both siblings are considered to be bright, well-adjusted and humble, never seeking advantage from their name or the limelight.  Raised as devout evangelical Christians by their mother (Amanda has spent time as a missionary in China), they remained close to their grandmother primarily through their mother.  Lady Thatcher, who had her own press problems with her twin children, nevertheless absolutely doted on her two grandchildren and called them her "greatest delight".  It was the infant Michael she held at 10 Downing Street when she whimsically announced in faux-regal tones, "We have become a grandmother."

There are several times when I have found myself in conversation with a feminist on the topic of the need to vote for women.  I ask them why it is that voting for a woman simply because she is a woman is any better ethically than voting against her for the same reason.  I then bring up names such as Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin, or the like, and the names are immediately dismissed – showing the feminists' real agenda.  I have always said in those occasions that if I had a chance to vote for Margaret Thatcher, I would.  With these two, I pray that someday before I die, my wish to vote for a Thatcher will be fulfilled. 
With our current dilemma both here and particularly in Europe, growing worse, it shall perhaps be a variation of the famous words of Winston Churchill during the darkest hours of World War II, in his speech to the House of Commons about fighting on, in all its various ways and places, and if the British isles were to be subjugated, then they still "would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."
If that is to be the plan for these two, then they have my prayers and support.

*(On something quite separate from the main topic, I am always reminded in situations involving humor and funerals of Tom Lehrer's comments on Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, upon reading the "juiciest obituary that it has ever been my pleasure to read.")

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Boston Bombing: Media Continues To Attack the Right

I am back to civilization, a computer, and a functioning internet link for another shot at drive-by blogging, and of course the main story continues to be the bombing in Boston and the still-unfolding aftermath. 

By now, any number of interesting details have been covered elsewhere, but the purpose of this post is to collate some ideas about the response of the MSM, beyond how spectacularly wrong the initial coverage was of the incident.

Among those of us more inured to such tragedies, it has become a learned response to simply turn off the sound on the TV, or turn to other stories on the internet, until the craziness of the first hours (or days) begins to settle down from the rampant speculation, mostly pulled out of thin air, that the 24-hour news outlets are compelled to keep up in the competitive 'all bombing, all the time' feeding frenzy.  (This is before it settles into its natural follow-on state, which I call the 'Princess Diana is still dead' coverage.)

Let me say first how impressive it was after the first few days that the investigation developed a picture of the two bombers in such a short time, aided by the large number of snapshots by the bystanders.  Narrowing down the perpetrators amongst such a large and confusing amount of data in so short a time is truly commendable. 

But as to the coverage up to that time, besides the staggering amount of sheer speculation spilled into the news-hungry population, it again proves the maxim that the MSM automatically chose to set their opinions on only one side of the ledger, again hinting, commenting – hoping – that this time the attackers were going to be on the extreme right, or in their minds just the right in general, with Tim McVeigh lumped in with grandmotherly matrons in period costume passing out refreshments at Tea Party rallies. 

Even the Aussies want in on the act (Sydney Morning Herald)

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times led off with a tweet that the Republicans were somehow responsible for the lack of an ATF director (in Kristof's mind the Republicans are responsible for the Sequester, which he leaps to remind us), thus the explosion.  He later withdrew the comment after he tweeted about "people jumping on me" for the absurdity, but it was an excellent example of the Left's knee-jerk response.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews then weighed in to inform us that "as a category, normally, domestic terrorists tend to be on the far right", after CNN analyst Peter Bergen was reminded of Oklahoma City and spoke of al Qaeda making hydrogen peroxide explosives.  He included "some other kind of right-wing extremist" as using conventional explosives, like the "right-wing groups trying to attack the Martin Luther King parade in Oregon in 2010."

[The actual reference should be to acetone peroxide (TATP or TCAP), capable of being created outside of a laboratory but difficult to store or handle.  As for the attack in "Oregon", that involved a crude explosive device, a mechanism more intimidating than dangerous, found in a backpack in Spokane, Washington in 2011.  The single suspect in the case was a self-described psychopath, rejected even by supremacist groups.  Bergen's 'expertise' was wrong on all counts.]

Luke Russert (son of the late Tim) of NBC speculated on a Patriot's Day link to the attack against the Branch Davidians near Waco in 1993. 

Charles Pierce of Esquire warned us not to leap to a conclusion about foreign terrorism, but did want to remind us of the date of Patriots Day being significant to Tim McVeigh, who "fancied himself as a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like."  Pierce couldn't resist telling Rachel Maddow on MSNBC about the "terrific" week for Governor Deval Patrick (terrific? really?) and how we didn't resort to waterboarding or warrantless wiretapping.  In what cockamamie context did that come from, other than a political dig? 

Amina Ismail of McClatchy Newspapers caught Jay Carney off guard during a press conference when she equated the Boston bombings with an Air Force stike in Afghanistan that killed civilians.  Rather than refute her assertion, Carney referred her to the DoD.

Then of course there is David Axelrod, channeling Obama (easy enough for him) by his certainty that the President was pondering the fact that the bombing occurred on tax day. 

And let us not forget David Sirota at Salon and his egregious wish: "Let's hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American."

There is also Dina Temple-Raston of taxpayer-supported NPR who breathlessly reminds us of the "thinking" (whose?) that "this is a domestic, extremist attack and officials are leaning that way largely because of the timing of the attack.  April is a big month for anti-government and right-wing individuals.  There's the Columbine anniversary, there's Hitler's birthday, there's the Oklahoma City bombing, the assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco."  ABC's Pierre Thomas rattled off much the same list on Good Morning America.

Imagine their disappointment when they were proven wrong – again. 

We add these to the example of Brian Ross, egged on by George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, smugly leaping to the conclusion that the shooter in the Aurora theatre was a member of the Tea Party. 

Then there is the widespread blame for the Tucson shooting, including Gabby Giffords, being lain on the doorstep of Sarah Palin, followed by the vast silence when it was later discovered that the shooter was, if anything, left wing in his disturbed rants.

When Faisal Shahzad planted a car bomb in Times Square, Mayor Michael Bloomberg intially blamed it on a "mentally deranged person or somebody with a political agenda who doesn't like the health-care bill or something."  Many others tried to link it to "some squirrely branch of the Tea Party, anti-goverment far right" (as published in the Nation).

The Department of Homeland Security under Janet Napolitano issued a report in 2009 that warns that returning veterans are terrorist risks, along with those opposed to abortion and illegal immigration, and she stands by that report, though she later conceded that she didn't mean to castigate all veterans, and "some of the language was unfortunate".  Thin gruel.

(Sure, it's photo-shopped, but funny.)

Sources including Mother Jones and Daily Kos commented on the story of Joe Stack crashing his plane into the IRS office building in Austin in 2010, but dropped the push when his rambling suicide note blamed conglomerate companies such as General Motors and Enron, insurance companies, the Catholic church, and George W Bush, then quoted the Communist Manifesto.

Perhaps the most famous foul-up involved repeated predictions by television-showcased academic experts who echoed each other in a morbid mutual admiration society during the three week Beltway Sniper shooting spree in October 2002.  They continued to parrot the prediction that the shooter was an angry white male in his mid-20s to early 30s, driving a white van, right up to the end when two black males, John Allen Muhammed, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, jihadi converts, were arrested at a rest stop in a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice.

The media have reached an obscene level of effort in trying to pound round facts into the square hole of their wishful thinking.  They warn the American people against some sort of racist reaction to the thought that this could be (another) attack fomented by Islamic Supremacists, yet gleefully paint with broad brush indeed their perception that the (not quite so) extreme Right is ready to slaughter innocents.  They are quick to suggest white extremists but choke on the word 'Islamic'.  What about the 'root cause' of a religion hijacked by terrorists, and the silence of those who should be trying to wrest it back?

History writes in its book – the one with the copybook headings – and adds two more names of young, Muslim males to the list of jihadis who perpetrate these atrocities, but the press would rather tell of the neighbors and classmates who speak of them as such nice guys, and our security officials still search disabled grandmothers and toddlers at airports.  The press continues to speak of root causes but cannot accept the concept of evil.

But maybe James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has it right:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Obama's Contempt for Britain

Obama has a reflexive disdain for Britain, and he simply cannot pass up an opportunity to put that culture in its figurative place.  Exactly why is speculative, as is so much about his past.  For those such as me who accept (for the sake of argument) the general outline of his life, there is still a lot of information that is left to sheer conjecture.

Don't bother ...

One theory about his Anglophobia comes from the story about his Kenyan grandfather being imprisoned and tortured by the British during the Mau Mau revolt, the report of which is – shall we say – highly suspect.  It is more likely the result of his radical upbringing by family and friends and his education, in and out of school, steeped in Marxism (notwithstanding the refusal to release his college records and transcripts, all of which still remain sealed). 

The latest snub comes from the refusal of the White House to send an envoy for the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher.  Our government typically sends the Vice President, First Lady, important cabinet members or other similarly significant officials as a matter of respect, if nothing else.  Two recent examples are then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending the funeral of John Atta Mills of Ghana, or an official delegation of congressmen to the funeral of Hugo Chávez of Venezuela (of all people – after previously congratulating him on winning his referendum to be declared 'dictator for life').  But the administration was silent about a delegation to Britain, our closest ally for over a century through near-cataclysmic wars and conflicts.  After British press (and back-channel) demands for an explanation, the White House replied that they were just too busy (every last one of them?) with congressional business (read that to mean the gun control effort, which failed).  Note that this took place prior to the bombing in Boston. 

Further pressed, the administration observed that previous officials from former Republican administrations would be travelling to the funeral to pay their respects, as individuals.  These included former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and three former Secretaries of State – Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and James Baker.  As a result, the White House then announced that Shultz and Baker would then constitute what passed for an official delegation, en passant as it were.  Added to that official list was the US chargé d' affairs Barbara Stephenson, already in London of course, and the recently departed ambassador Louis Susman.  In contrast, the Republican-led House of Representatives sent three delegates, including Michele Bachmann.

We were at least spared the embarrassment of the press upstaging the ceremonies with reports of the Obama presence, or listening to another of Obama's self-serving remarks re-directing the events from Lady Thatcher to himself (as if: "A daughter of a grocer, and a woman at that, rising to the highest levels of power, just like a black son of a single mother …"). 

Quite a shabby way to treat the memory of possibly the greatest peacetime Prime Minister in British history, who together with President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II took on the challenge of bringing to an end the threat of the Soviet Union.  I would suggest that this is precisely why the event was snubbed, as a sop to the Left and an example of the severe lack of their civility toward anyone not to their liking.  Obama's Chicago-style pettiness continues to show through, and its habituality distinguishes it more as a character flaw than an acquired political 'skill'.  Newspapers throughout the UK took note of the snub and many were highly critical, with even the left-wing Guardian making no real attempt to explain it away. 

As if this wasn't bad enough, it is only the latest in a string of blatant snubs and petty disrespect shown to the United Kingdom during the reign of Obama. 

What started these off from the very beginning was the return of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill, lent to the Presidency after 9/11 in a token of British solidarity with us, as unshakeable as that of World War II, in this war against the jihadis.  Though there was no official complaint at the slight, it became widely known through a number of unofficial channels.  Those who took note of it, particularly Dr Charles Krauthammer, were castigated by the White House through Dan Pfeiffer, its communications director, who stated unequivocally that the story was "100% false" and an "urban legend", attaching a photo of Obama and the visiting PM David Cameron examining a bust of Sir Winston in a hallway of the White House residence in 2010.  Pfeiffer's dudgeon was quickly undercut by the fact that the bust in the photo was a different one, given during the Nixon administration, and the one in question that had been returned from the Oval Office was sitting in the residence of the British ambassador.  Pfeiffer was compelled to apologize to Krauthammer, but never did so publically. 

Obama also spurned then-PM Gordon Brown on his visit to Washington DC soon after Obama was installed.  The administration first refused to host a state dinner or press conference, as it has always done on such occasions as a sign of respect (the President was "too tired", it was reported), and later refused five separate requests by the British to have Brown meet with Obama at the UN in New York or during the G-20 Conference in Philadelphia.  Obama did meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Medvedev, Japanese PM Hatoyama, and even Iranian President Ahmadinejad, but had no time for the British PM. 

An even greater shock came shortly thereafter when Obama announced, "We don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy and the French people."  Overlooking the obvious history of the strong alliance with Britain over the past century, not to mention the cultural ties (obvious, that is, unless one is a victim of public education), a current example of British support is in Afghanistan with British troops outnumbering the French by 7 to 1, and the British contingent larger than all other NATO troops combined, and it was the British who captured Basra (the "Stalingrad of Iraq" in its war against the Iranians in the 1980s) and a good portion of southern Iraq in 2003. 

It has been widely noticed in the UK that Obama and his administration have removed the term 'Special Relationship' while referring to the Anglo-American alliance.  To make matters worse, an unnamed State Department official exclaimed to a reporter from the Sunday Telegraph: "There's nothing special about Britain.  You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.  You shouldn't expect special treatment."  The exception was the effort of Hillary Clinton who referred to the phrase twice (somewhat too earnestly in an attempt to cover the past slights) in the official birthday greeting to Queen Elizabeth, delivered a week too early. 

In contrast to before, the Obama administration has announced that it is officially neutral in regards the question of the Falklands, and Obama has taken to referring to the islands by the Argentine name, or at least he tried to, calling them the "Maldives" instead of the "Malvinas".  During the Falklands War in 1982, the US government under President Reagan tried an initial stance of neutrality in the early days when the possibility of a negotiated settlement existed, but when this evaporated with the intransigence of the Argentine junta, we very definitely – and appropriately – sided with the British, and remained so until Obama stepped back from that commitment.  Despite the use of the word 'neutral', the administration is nevertheless pushing distinctly pro-Argentine positions, calling for negotiations over the issue, in direct contrast to the British position. 

The ambassador to the Court of St James's has always been one selected from the most accomplished statesmen, politicians, or foreign service diplomats.  (Even FDR's absurd selection of Joseph Kennedy still saw a major politician in the post.)  But with Ambassador Susman mentioned above, this marked a crony appointment with all the appearances of a political quid pro quo as if the United Kingdom were some sort of banana republic.  Susman had no foreign, political or diplomatic experience, and his only value was that he was a major hometown Chicago fundraiser and bundler for Democrat candidates.  The British very clearly took note of this change in quality. 

In 2011, the US secretly passed to the Russians "sensitive information on Britain's nuclear deterrent" to help secure a bargaining point in the negotiations for the New START deal (a treaty which ended up being exclusively to the advantage of the Russians anyway).  This was after the British specifically forbade the transaction when the administration sought their support. 

Other examples prove instructive.  During Brown's visit, the PM presented Obama with an ornamental pen holder carved from the timbers of HMS Gannet, one of the Royal Navy ships that carried out the campaign to eradicate the slave trade.  The Gannet was a sister ship to the Resolute, from which was carved the Presidential desk in the Oval Office, a gift from Queen Victoria, and Brown presented a framed commission for the Resolute as well.  Brown added a first-edition set of Sir Martin Gilbert's biography of Sir Winston Churchill.  The gifts were brilliant not only in their value but their subtlety.  The biography was a gentle reminder – or instruction – of the importance of Churchill after the bust controversy, and the reference to the Gannet was to an anti-slaver that patrolled off the coast of Kenya, intercepting and fighting Muslim slave ships that would otherwise have been preying on Obama's ancestors.  It also might complement Obama's campaign to identify himself with Lincoln, with the fact that beyond Lincoln and the abolitionists' fight against slavery in America, it was in fact William Wilberforce and the Royal Navy that did the most to eradicate the slave trade in the world. 

Obama, in turn, presented Brown with a boxed DVD set of American movies, which could have been purchased at a local K-Mart but which are not formatted to view on British televisions. 

This sentiment was repeated with the Queen, when he presented her with an i-Pod filled with photographs of himself along with a collection of his speeches, followed by him flubbing a toast to her when he tried to talk over the playing of God Save the Queen.  In general, the British monarch acted as a very gracious host to a visit of the equivalent of some very gauche, nouveau riche cousins. 

The continuous string of petty snubs continues unabated then, for how can anyone count up the grand total of the examples and keep making the excuse that each case was simply an oversight or a misinterpretation of protocol?  Someone should remind the Obama handlers that this is not what Karl Marx meant when he spoke of a "classless society".  Even our great friend of centuries past, Edmund Burke, would find it difficult to maintain the charade that our alliance with the British remains unshakable.  "There is a point," he said, "at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eliminated: Distinguished Warfare Medal

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reversed himself by announcing that a review by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has recommended that the Distinguished Warfare Medal be eliminated entirely.

The medal was announced by the previous Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as he was figuratively walking out the door, leaving Hagel holding the bag in explaining the rationale for the medal which was to have been given to drone operators and cyber warfare technicians, particularly those who are outside the area of operations of a conflict or a war zone, often on the other side of the planet such as Bethesda, Colorado Springs, or Honolulu.


The medal itself was not so controversial as was its placement within the hierarchy of medals, ranking above the Bronze Star (for heroism [with a 'V' device] or for acts of merit or meritorious service [without] in a combat zone), the Purple Heart (for being wounded or killed in combat with an enemy), and the Navy & Marine Corps/Soldiers/Airman Medal (for heroic, life-threatening action in a non-combat situation).

The announcement of the DWM brought immediate derision from across the spectrum, most notably the VFW (" . . . medals that can only be earned in direct combat must mean more than medals awarded in the rear"), the American Legion (" . . . an awards system that would place heroism without actual danger above that displayed by our people actually on the ground risking life and limb"), and the Military Order of the Purple Heart (" . . . degrading and insulting to every American combat soldier, airman, sailor or Marine who risks his or her life and endures the daily rigors of combat in a hostile environment")

Further inquiry from groups such as these, with rather direct access to the Pentagon, were confused to say the least (to frame it in polite terms), particularly when the response from the spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense was that the criteria for the DWM was at the "unanimous recommendation of the service chiefs and service secretaries."

Many recommendations were that the new medal should rank below the three medals for heroism mentioned above.  But in response to the outcry, Secretary Hagel announced that the medal would be eliminated altogether and a 'distinguishing device' would be created instead, to be affixed to a medal already awarded.  The device would be similar to the 'V' device mentioned above (for use with the Bronze Star or a service Commendation or Achievement Medal), or a Marine device to be affixed to a campaign medal when the recipient was serving with the Marines (such as a Navy Corpsman), or an Arrowhead device affixed to a campaign medal for a soldier who participated in a large-scale amphibious or airborne assault. 

This new device in lieu of the defunct DWM would be attached to a non-combat medal, including presumably the Meritorious Service Medal, created as the non-combat equivalent to the Bronze Star.

Many of the news stories are written with a view that Hagel in particular is approaching the subject as correcting Panetta's bone-headed decision, but skip the part that about the "unanimous" concurrence of the higher brass and Hagel's initial agreement about the medal in the first place.

And while Hagel is busy correcting this major faux-pas, perhaps he can address the politically correct nonsense about assigning women to infantry combat units and Ranger training.

Monday, April 15, 2013

RIP: Jonathan Winters

I have returned to the computer and my drive-by blogging to discover that the great Jonathan Winters passed away last Friday, peacefully, with family in attendance, at the age of 87.

Faithful readers will know that I sometimes stray from my tendency to address political, military, historical, or economic topics, and yes, this is one of those times. 

For those of the younger generation who are not aware of the specific details of his life and import, or even his name, Jonathan Winters was one of the great pioneering comedians of our time, and practically invented improvisational comedy as we know it. 

In respect to comedy, Winters was nothing short of sheer genius.  I have often observed that the phrase 'crazed genius' can actually be applied to any genius; they're all crazed.  Being crazed is the price of admission to their world, a balancing act of nature.  So it was with Winters, a man who battled sometimes debilitating mental illness but who won through in the end, accommodating his demons and winning them over as his dear friends. 

He came by his problems naturally enough, through his family, with ample doses of nature and nurture (or negligence) growing up in Dayton, Ohio.  His grandfather was a noted banker and frustrated comedian, his father an alcoholic given a job as an investment banker by his dad ("sort of a hip Willy Loman"), and his mother eventually a popular radio hostess.  His memories include the times when he was locked in the car while his father drank himself into a stupor at bars.  With the Depression, his grandfather's bank failed and his parents divorced, and seven-year-old Jonathan (an only child) and his mother moved in with his aunt in Springfield, Ohio.  He credited his grandfather as a major influence of his comedic talent, and he honed it to a fine degree by hours and days alone in his room, and his mother as well, who had a flawed but exacting flair for single performance but was fundamentally an unpleasant person.  He acknowledged her contribution though: "She was very fast.  Whatever humor I've inherited I'd have to give credit to her."

PFC Jonathan Winters, USMC

A less than mediocre student though wildly popular as the class clown, Winters escaped as soon as he was able by joining the Marine Corps at the age of 17 in the latter years of World War II.  He served as a gunner aboard USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) off the coast of Japan in the final weeks of the war and then as part of the occupying force in Yokosuka.  He returned to Ohio with an interest in art and becoming a cartoonist, and met his future wife Eileen in art school (who proceeded him in death in 2009, a victim of breast cancer).  She encouraged him to compete in a local talent contest for the purpose of winning first prize, a wristwatch.  He won, and soon gained employment at a local radio station as the DJ who was only supposed to introduce the songs and pass along the weather report.  He couldn't help himself – literally – and he soon broadened his on-air repertoire to commentary.  Allowed interviews of local newsmakers, the station discovered that he would often interview himself in different characters (e.g., Colonel Hardbody of the Atomic Energy Commission) and suggested that he move along.

Winters and wife Eileen

He set out for New York and promised his wife (and her father) that if he didn't make it within a year, he would return and try his hand at a real job ("Fire up that bait shop over in Pitchin.").  But he won a shot by way of Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts (an earlier, less hyperbolic version of American Idol), and he was discovered.  He provided the voices of beer steins in commercials for Utica Beer (Schultz and Dooley), starting a side career in voicing characters in animation, and as the distinguished refuse collector ("gahr-bahj") for Hefty trash bags.  He soon came to the attention of early comedic television greats Jack Paar, the father of the Tonight Show ("I kid you not"), and Steve Allen, who commanded a repertory of top comedic talents.  Both of them wisely allowed Winters free rein in his comedy gigs ("Did you ever undress in front of a dog?") – one could never call them 'routines'; they were anything but, and they immediately realized and were enthralled by his immense talent.

It was during this early success that Winters invited his mother, increasingly jealous of his success, on the set of the Tonight Show to see his appearance firsthand and to meet Jack Paar.  Paar told her how proud she must be of his talent.  She deadpanned, "He's the biggest joke I ever wrote." 

Winters defied convention by simply winging it, a flow of consciousness approach that didn't rely on jokes but instead whatever happened to appear in his head at the moment.  His amazingly animated face ran the gamut from wide-eyed grimace to a perfect hang-dog expression, voicing a range of characters accompanied by sound effects (a cracking whip, a hovering UFO, the impact of an arrow).  He began to develop characters that would increasingly re-occur, such as Maude Frickert, an old but edgy woman based on his mother and his aunt, and Elwood P Suggins, a Midwestern bait shop proprietor again based on actual acquaintances from his childhood. 

He was proud of his experience as a Marine and used it to craft characters in authority.  His best was one that never failed to pop into my head again whenever I encountered some martinet staff officer – a portrayal of a lieutenant giving a bizarre pep talk to a new platoon of Marines about to attack the beach: "I'm Lieutenant Matthews.  That's First Lieutenant Matthews, and don't you forget it!"  After describing the mission as one of assaulting against impossible odds and letting the sense of impending doom descend, he pauses and says, "I wish I could be with you guys . . . (audience laughter), but they need me here.  I will be observing, however, from a distance, through thick lenses." 

His comedy was a new concept and remarkable in its daring, and people would watch and laugh (laugh? howl) at being battered by his machine-gun delivery of comedy that often had no real context, a surreal comedy just for the sake of laughter.  One superb and classic example was when Jack Paar handed him a stick and asked him to "do something with it":

After Paar unfortunately fell out with the network, Johnny Carson took to Winters as well.  Carson shamelessly ripped off the Maude Frickert character for his own Aunt Blabby years later, and reprised Winters' classic stick act with his own – rehearsed – 'Dickie the Stick' routine, though I would expect that he would be quick to acknowledge the source.

Winters became so immersed in his characters that he became lost, and in 1959 suffered a breakdown while on stage at a nightclub in San Francisco.  The police found him climbing the rigging of a sailing ship at a nearby wharf, and remained in character as a hilarious space alien throughout the incident.  He soon voluntarily checked into a sanatorium for treatment over an eight-month period, which bedeviled him for the rest of his life though he would occasionally make comments about "hitting the sauce" or "going back in the zoo" during his acts.  He was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Disorder (now called Bipolar, but I prefer the former), and he wrestled with his consuming Muse for the rest of his life, crushed by the public knowledge of his malady in the days before such diagnoses and personal news became part of the curriculum vitae of the Hollywood Glitterati.

Within hours of returning home, he received a phone call from Stanley Kramer inviting him to appear in a major role in the huge comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", starring practically every comedian in America at the time.  Unsure of himself after his commitment, his wife quickly told him that his career would be ended unless he took the part.  Winters accepted and played the role of the moving van driver Lennie Pike, which he credits with putting his life back in perspective, and he became a life-long friend with Kramer.  His part is best remembered for the scene (filmed all in one take) wherein he destroys a gas station in a fit of rage for being cut out of the illicit pursuit of buried money by his former cohorts.  I remember him best though for his response to Sid Caesar about the expected ill-gotten gains being tax free.  "What do you mean 'tax free'? . . . But sure if we find the money we still have to report the taxes.  Otherwise it would be like stealing from the government. . . . Listen, everybody has to pay taxes.  Even businessmen who rob and cheat and steal from people every day, even they have to pay taxes!"

Another part that stuck with me was his portrayal of twin brothers in the mortuary business in the otherwise lamentable The Loved One, based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh with screenplay by Terry Southern (most famous for his Dr Strangelove).  More successful was his portrayal of Brigadier General Billy Joe Hallson of the Texas National Guard in the comedy Viva Max! (based on a novel by – oddly enough – Jim Lehrer), wherein a Mexican general (played by Winters' close friend Peter Ustinov), assisted by his sargento primero (John Astin), walks in with a platoon of soldiers and seizes the Alamo in order to impress his girlfriend.  He reprised the same sort of role in The Russians Are Coming!, The Russians Are Coming! as deputy sheriff Norman Jones.

He appeared in another small but important role in Moon Over Parador, sort of a Latin American comedic Man in the Iron Mask.  His role was that of a CIA agent named Ralph, watching the events unfold in the fictional Latin country of Parador (national anthem sung to the tune of Bésame Mucho), who uses the cover of impersonating a vacationing Jonathan Winters.  The country's President for Life, Alphonse Simms, suddenly dies in his palace and his right-hand man (Raul Julia playing Roberto Staussman, whose relationship to the real Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay was entirely coincidental, I'm sure) replaces him with an American actor who bears an uncanny resemblance (both roles played by Richard Dreyfuss).  The unlikely name of Simms as a Latin dictator came about when director Paul Mazursky was stuck with extended footage of a huge crowd scene, filmed in Brazil, with the crowd spontaneously breaking into chants of "Sim! Sim!" (Portuguese for "Yes!").  On the spot, Jonathan Winters launched into an impromptu explanation of how the country was founded by an English pirate named Simms (Why not?  There's always Belize.), and repeated the story to Dreyfuss' character in the movie.

Winters' brilliance shown brightest in short bursts, overwhelming funny at first but soon subjecting his audience to sensory overload.  Some of his funniest bits became dulled somewhat when he had to repeat them.  He felt that he was considered a liability because of his struggles with mental health issues (true to some extent in those days) but it is just as true that his talent did not lend itself to standard television or movie formats.  Some would speak (though never bring themselves to complain) that he was always 'on', persistently in always-shifting character, so that one never quite knew what to expect beyond ever-unfolding hilarity.  He had some modest success in television and in the small roles he had in movies but he couldn't sustain the energy needed for a leading role.  His bread-and-butter occupation was in doing voices for such animated flicks like the Smurfs, and he always returned to his love of art, which he portrayed in a style of Grandma Moses as influenced by Salvador Dalí.  My favorite is his First and Last Day of Spring, with a pleasant little village at dawn under an incoming rain of bombs.

He did a single dramatic role as Fats Brown on an episode of Twilight Zone, alongside Jack Klugman, about A Game of Pool from beyond the grave.

He was an inspiration to a new generation of comics, like Robin Williams (his most successful clone) and Jim Carrey (markedly less so).  Williams in particular practically worshiped him unabashedly, and did what he could to keep him in the spotlight.  Williams' big break came with the series Mork and Mindy but it had overstayed its welcome by the fourth season, when Williams brought in Winters to give him a new audience and also to help rescue the show (which finally succumbed nonetheless).  Winters, playing Williams' son (just trust me on this), was good but stuck in a scripted role, and Williams freely admitted that the very best scenes were always free-wheeling off-camera.

The two could be seen together in the occasional interview, but the two giants in the same room, like two cats in a breadbox, never quite seemed to hit the same rhythm.  I remember one such attempt on 60 Minutes (I believe) when the two were wandering outside on a grassy lawn, with Williams trying to keep up with the banter, when Winters suddenly stopped and assumed a wide-eyed expression of solemnity: "This is where he buried them all." 

Winters over the course of his life received a number of nominations for his work, and was granted an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.  Accommodating himself to his raging talent until he had it under sufficient control, he was content with his lot ultimately.
But I had a hell of a roll.  I've had a great career, a great time.  Had a lot of problems – who the hell hasn't? – and overcame most of them.  I've met some great people, traveled around the world.  My God, a lot of people never get across town. 
Or as he said at another time:
I couldn't wait for success, so I went ahead without it.
 But best, for my purpose at the moment, is a line from his role in the Twilight Zone:
As long as people talk about you, you're not really dead.  As long as they speak your name, you continue.  A legend doesn't die just because the man dies.
And like that character, I expect that he is now peacefully fishing in some Elysian lake, with his loving wife by his side, his voices now quiet and calming.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Colorado Sheriffs: Gun Control Laws Dead on Arrival

The sheriffs in Colorado are organized into an association called the County Sheriffs of Colorado, appropriately enough, and that organization has already announced by way of a position paper that they are in opposition to the recent spate of gun control laws that include bans on "assault-style weapons" (key word there: style) and magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado know first hand that strict gun control laws do not deter criminals from getting firearms illegally and committing crimes.  Rather, they hurt law-abiding citizens who may be left unprotected because law enforcement cannot arrive in time to stop a criminal's bullet once he has pulled the trigger.
By association, the sheriffs are also directing their criticism against the 23 executive orders issued by Obama that are supposed to "crack down on gun violence", though they would have done practically nothing to have prevented the mentally disturbed attackers in Aurora or Newtown.
Law enforcement officers carry high-capacity magazines because there are times when 10 rounds might not be enough to end the threat.  County Sheriffs of Colorado believe the same should hold true for civilians who wish to defend themselves, especially if attacked by multiple assailants.
Several of the sheriffs and some county commissioners had previously and independently issued similar statements.

Now comes news that 37 of the state's 62 sheriffs are separately filing a lawsuit that addresses the new laws, which have already resulted in several long-established companies that support the firearms industry, such as MagPul and HiViz, to announce that they are moving out of state to a more supportive business atmosphere. 

The suit will allege that the laws are a violation of the Second Amendment that allows citizens to keep and bear arms, and the Fourteenth Amendment "which bars states from abridging the 'privileges and immunities' of citizens." 

Several of the other sheriffs state that they are not joining the lawsuit but are supportive of its aims.  The suit is in response to the fact that the state legislature ignored the position paper filed during debate on the measures.
In a letter to residents last week, Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned that the state's new gun laws are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce and won't stop another mass shooting.
Sixteen of the sheriffs held a news conference last week to counter Obama's visit to the state to showcase his push for tighter restrictions on gun ownership.

This trend in Colorado follows the pronouncements of a number of sheriffs in other states that they find such laws unenforceable or even illegal as an infringement on state sovereignty, a move which seemed to take impetus after the publication of the letter of Sheriff Tim Mueller of Linn County in Oregon.

Allusions have been drawn to the Obama administration's announcements about not enforcing several federal statutes, such as the Defense of Marriage Act or crimes of a racial intent directed against Whites, as was discovered in Justice Department memos involved in the New Black Panther voter intimidation case.

It used to be that the Left would often say that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" (at least, during the Republican administration of George W Bush).  They find themselves in that old 'sauce for goose and gander' conundrum, but with the aid of the press they will try to muddle through anyway.

As for the sheriffs, this move is in the tradition of Andrew Jackson concerning the Supreme Court ruling in Worcester vs Georgia (1832): "Well, [Supreme Court Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision.  Now let him enforce it."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

RIP: Baroness Margaret Thatcher

Sad yet expected news came yesterday of the peaceful passing of the Right Honorable Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, also known as the Iron Lady, both appellations being quite unlikely considering the standard British class structure that saw her beginnings as the daughter of a grocer.  Born Margaret Hilda Roberts, she was osmotically nurtured in the atmosphere of politics by her father, active in the Methodist church and local politics as (ironically) a Liberal.  An exemplary student, she studied on scholarship at Oxford, graduating in 1947 with a BS in Chemistry, but her extra-curricular focus was in politics, being the eventual president of the Oxford University Conservative Association.

Upon graduation and while working in her vocation, she immediately impressed the Conservative officials in a Labour Party bastion, as well as Denis Thatcher, whom she married in 1951.  She quickly embarked on a succession of elections for local seats, interrupted briefly by the birth of twins in 1953.  With a tenacity that would impress that perennial loser Abraham Lincoln, she continued to lose in steady succession until 1959 when elected as the MP for Finchley.  She was off and running thereafter, developing what modern Americans may feel to be a somewhat Libertarian bent to her staunch Conservative stands.  (She was an early fan of von Hayek.) 

Her personality was one that could be described as impressive or abrasive – or both, depending on the topic – with her poised yet steely determination to see through her ideas and policies, with succinct arguments that few would find possible to refute.  It was her indisputable talent to force through her arguments by force of personality but more precisely through the clarity of her reasoning.  Though open to hearing and contemplating other views, nevertheless when convinced of her stand she abhorred compromise.  She once explained that consensus was:
The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.  What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: "I stand for consensus"?
With the Conservative victory of Edward Heath in 1970, she became the Education Minister, and one of her enduring and fatuous legacies – and an indicator of how divisive her name continues to be – is that she abolished free milk for school children.  In point of fact, it was actually her Labour predecessors who set that in motion, but that interferes with the media meme that she was parsimonious without regard to compassion. 

That thought is reflected in America with the story of Ronald Reagan cutting the funds for mental health care (ignoring the part played by the ACLU) – both Thatcher and Reagan recognized that a nationally-funded bureaucracy was an invitation to metastasize into a bloated government agency of Kafkaesque proportions (using only these two small examples).  Better to let local governments pick up the responsibility for functions they considered important, funded with the savings from cutting national taxes and not subject to a one-size-fits-all solution imposed by some distant academic
apparatchik.  Though they stridently complain, notice that none of the critics pick up that option; i.e., If it is so important, then why don't you do it?

Heath's government and leadership of the Conservative Party collapsed in 1974, and Thatcher soon succeeded him in the party leadership.  She honed her principles and her speaking voice but had no need to practice her candor.  After denouncing the Soviet Politburo as being unconcerned about the ebb and flow of public opinion ("They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns."), the Soviet press labelled her as the Iron Lady.  She was delighted to accept this accolade as an indicator of her determination, though I am sure that the Soviets actually meant to make a comparison to the medieval torture mechanism of the same name.

She became Prime Minister in 1979, the first woman to hold the position, and she was under no illusion as to the dire status of Britain at the time, which had picked up the sobriquet of "the sick man of Europe", taken from Turkey in the waning days of the decadent Ottoman Empire almost a century before.  In addition to the desperate economic situation, inheriting the nationalized industries of the Labour Party and the enormous power wielded by union bosses and party officials (many of whom were unalloyed communists), she faced an insurrection from Irish terrorists focused supposedly on the status of British Northern Ireland.  As she came to power, these terrorists killed the famous Lord Mountbatten and family members and friends when they blew up his fishing boat, and her friend and advisor Airey Neave, a hero of World War II and famous for escaping from Colditz, was killed when they detonated a car bomb right outside of Parliament. 

As for the economy, she launched immediately into efforts to right it through tough austerity measures and adherence to the ideas of Milton Friedman among others.  Despite some necessary adjustments, she stuck to her guns despite criticism from both sides of the political equation.  By 1982, the economy began to come round, along with her privatisation (or more accurately the re-privatisation) of state utilities, but in the dark days of rioting over the slow recovery (an Occupy movement if you will), she addressed a party conference with the words that helped define her in the eyes of the public and reinforce the perception of her iron determination:
If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, a great nation we shall be, and shall remain.  So, what can stop us from achieving this?  What then stands in our way?  The prospect of another winter of discontent?  I suppose it might. 
But I prefer to believe that certain lessons have been learnt from experience, that we are coming, slowly, painfully, to an autumn of understanding.  And I hope that it will be followed by a winter of common sense.  If it is not, we shall not be diverted from our course
To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'u-turn', I have only one thing to say: "You turn if you want to.  The lady's not for turning."
The audience erupted into loud, sustained applause for some five minutes.  Besides her declared tenacity, I am sure that they delighted at her not-so-veiled reference to the popular post-war romantic comedy The Lady's Not For Burning, involving a woman unjustly accused of being a witch.

She put the question of the Radical Left in perfect perspective with her observation that "the problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples' money."

Her intelligence and wit were always on display during the debates in the House of Commons, known for their erudition and sheer entertainment value.  Her antipathy to socialism was also displayed in her scathing retort to a Labourite: "So what the right honorable member is saying is that he would rather the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich."

In 1984, she fortuitously escaped an assassination attempt by Irish terrorists, a bomb at a hotel that hosted the Conservative Party conference of that year.  Five people were killed in the blast, but she went on the deliver her scheduled speech against the advice of her security staff, enhancing her steely public popularity.

Her resolve was best evident after the invasion of the British-held and -populated Falkland and South Georgia islands by Argentina in 1982.  She quickly composed a war cabinet and dispatched the Royal Navy and accompanying civilian ships (in a program of drafting such vessels delightfully named STUFT – Ships Taken Up From Trade) to take the islands back.  The British did not have time to first come up with a war plan; they had to make it up as they went, and this from a military that had been organized exclusively, for budgetary reasons, to be an appendage of NATO in the event of a war in Europe.  A major turning point in the lead-up to the landing of the Royal Marines, SAS and follow-on army forces to retake the islands was her order to sink the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano by torpedo from the submarine HMS Conqueror, which removed any doubt as to the determination of the British.  Despite the bashing from her critics that she took for giving the order, a post-war investigation of the conflict by the Argentine government – including the opinion of the captain of the Belgrano – admitted that the British were within their legal rights to attack and sink the ship.

By a stroke of luck, she was in Washington when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and she conferred with President George H W Bush on a military intervention.  When the ever-prudent elder Bush questioned some details of the developing plan, she famously bucked him up with "This is no time to go wobbly."  The two together crafted the First Gulf War that liberated Kuwait, though she did not serve to see the end of the conflict as Prime Minister, resigning in an intra-party dispute in November 1990.

The most delightful quote in my mind about Thatcher is the one from François Mitterrand, describing her as having "the eyes of Caligula, and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe".  (Knowing Mitterrand, I have to expect that he had a certain knowing fascination for both.  He sometimes substituted Stalin and Bardot, for like reason.)

Much has been written elsewhere, and for good reason, about her close association with Ronald Reagan and how the two were responsible for directly addressing the Soviet menace and ending it, when that communist empire dissolved “with a whimper” on Christmas of 1991.  (To the group should be added the Polish Pope John Paul II, who quietly answered Stalin’s famous question about how many divisions the Pope had.)  In some ways she was a mentor to Reagan, such as showing her resolve in the breaking of the mine workers' strike and likely reassuring his response to the air traffic controllers' strike shortly after coming into office.  I will not pretend to add to the volumes of eulogies in that regard.

Despite her monumental accomplishment of bringing Britain back from the brink in the 1980s, she remains a divisive character on both sides of the political spectrum.  She has been criticized by the Conservatives for leaving or grooming no real heir to her legacy, apparently having intimidated the party leadership by the sheer force of her personality, and instead they are left with the relatively feckless John Major and his successors.  She once joked that her legacy was not so much that she solidified the Conservative Party but that she compelled the Labour Party, under Tony Blair, to lurch to the right.

On the Left, hard to port as it is in that realm, Labour has had to caution its members against vilifying her memory beyond such examples of an already-rung bell as t-shirts and cups gleefully anticipating dancing on her grave, or some pronouncements such as from "Red' Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, who said that "almost everything that's wrong with Britain today is her legacy."  Add the delegates at the National Union of Students who cheered at the news of Thatcher's death, and street celebrations in Belfast and Derry of Irish republicans and Sinn Féin.  These are of a kind with the Left in America, who are comfortable with the idea that their respective nations are in decline, and should be.

But whether it is communist union leaders or ossified conservative ones of their Establishment, they are uselessly bleating in their attempt to denigrate her.  There is no denying that Baroness Thatcher was a monumental figure in her own right, and memory should remember her, as does PM David Cameron, as perhaps the greatest peacetime Prime Minister in British history.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ted Gundy: An 'Old' Sniper Still Has What It Takes, And the 99th Infantry Division Stops the Wehrmacht

The 2011 story had passed me by but I was given another shot at it by a friend who passed on the footage.  My first reaction when I saw the headline for this piece was encouragement that someone that old could retain his skills to that degree.  I'm not nearly his age (though the clock is always ticking), but even with my trifocals, maybe I can still reach out and touch someone just like I used to – but not as well as this ace. 

Then I watched the footage.  Here is Ted Gundy, an 84-year-old Army veteran of World War II.  More specifically, he was a sniper during the Battle of the Bulge, and that experience led him these many years later to make an inquiry about how the snipers of today can make such long-range shots.  The Public Affairs people saw a great opportunity and he was invited by the US Army Marksmanship Unit to tour the new National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia (which I heartily recommend).  He was made an honorary member of the AMU and was then taken to the range for some updating on the techniques of modern long-range riflery.

Private Gundy, as before

But first, as a wonderful homage and touching token of honor, Val Forgett III of Navy Arms presented him with an authentic reproduction of the great Springfield M1903 A4 .30-06 rifle that Private Gundy carried and used so faithfully during the dark, cold, and doubtful days of the biggest battle in US Army history, until he lost it – and his right leg – as a result of a German artillery shell a few weeks later.  So, an old sniper and new rifle: the next step was obvious. 

The AMU took him to the range to try it out, at a 300-yard metal outline target, for the first time in 67 years.  He carefully took three shots and all three hit the target, all incapacitating with the last round walked into a dead-center-of-mass heart shot.

Private Gundy with upgrade

He next took his turn at a new XM2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle (ESR), an upgrade from the M24, firing a .300 Winchester Magnum (.300 Win Mag) round.  Army snipers operate today as a team, so the AMU walked him though the modern configuration and set him up with a spotter to take on the same target at 1000 yards.  (Mind you, he has only fired three rounds at 300 yards from his '03 up to this point.)

The result is an astounding three-shot group of less than five inches.  Better yet, check and see where they all impacted. 

The Greatest Generation indeed.  Thanks to Shooting USA's Impossible Shots for providing the footage, and my camping friend Don Kaag for turning me onto it. 

To add some more information to the basic story, you can see that Private Gundy (Ret) is wearing the insignia of the 99th Infantry Division.  Allow me to fill in some details that he would not, in case anyone is wondering if he saw any action. 

In December 1944, the new, inexperienced division was dug in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium.  The general attitude in the Army at that time was becoming complacent and believed that the Wehrmacht, rolled up after the break-out from D-Day and suffering from the almost-decisive Battle of the Argentan-Falaise Pocket, was essentially finished and it would only be a matter of time before the war was over.  At the beginning of the war, the Ardennes Forest was considered to be impenetrable, which is one of the principle reasons that the Wehrmacht drove right through it in their surprise introduction of the blitzkrieg that ended up with the capitulation of Belgium and France and the sight of the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force withdrawn through Dunkirk.  Despite this painful lesson, the Allies strangely considered this region to be a quiet sector again.

It was at this point on the night of the 16th that the Germans, led by the 6th Panzer Army, launched its Ardennes Offensive, or the Battle of the Bulge.  The 99th was among four divisions that took the shock of the surprise attack.  The 106th Infantry Division was destroyed and the 28th Infantry Division badly mauled, but the veteran 2nd and the green 99th held, throwing off the German timetable and materially contributing to the eventual American success in the showdown of the Western Front.  The 99th bore the brunt of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger and the 277th Volksgrenadier Divisions, and elements of five other divisions, which tore into the 99th at several places, most particularly into three separate battalions, and captured a fuel depot.  The 99th, outnumbered five to one, took 20% casualties yet inflicted injuries on the Germans at a ratio of 18 to 1.

Their reserves committed, every man of the division fought, including a bayonet charge of cooks and engineer minemen through an artillery barrage to relieve an encircled company, clerks fought off panzers with rifles and bazookas in what had been a rest area, spontaneous counter-attacks were launched because the noise of the continuous incoming artillery was so loud that no one could hear orders, Americans fought back with German weapons and ammunition when their supplies dwindled, an engineer battalion broke out of an encirclement by building a road under fire, artillery fire was called in 'danger close' along the entire front, hand-to-hand combat was common, a communications section assaulted high ground in order to send out valuable information before being beaten back, quartermaster troops fired machineguns while passing out cold-weather uniforms.  The stories go on, and all during one of the worst winters in modern European history.  After the war, once all the details could be investigated, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 99th's 394th Infantry Regiment became the most decorated platoon in history for its defense against the attack of the 1st SS Panzer Division, throwing off by some 18 hours the advance so vital to the German effort.

Gundy's modesty leaves me ignorant of his precise role in the fighting, other than that he was asigned to B Company of the 393rd Infantry, but I am assured that he is one of the untold thousands who did their duty to their utmost under overwhelming odds.  He accepted the gracious honors of his visit in the name of his compatriots of the division, and at the age of 84 he represented them exceptionally well.