Saturday, December 29, 2018

President Ronald Reagan: Peace Through Strength

As the "Great Communicator," President Ronald Wilson Reagan had the unique ability to bring together tens of millions of Americans, people of every background and experience. His presidential tenure marked a distinctive era in American history, a time of decision and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Longest Enlisted Soldier Finally Retires

CSM Jeffrey Mellinger was the longest serving soldier who ever served, who was originally drafted. He was drafted in 1971, but made the U.S. Army his career until he finally retired in 2011. His long service was exemplary and is something that should be remembered.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

History of the 7th Infantry Division

Though I never served with the 7th Infantry Division (Light) in combat, it was certainly a place I felt at home, in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment (Bearcats!).

Sunday, December 16, 2018

WWII IN HD Eisenhower Speech

Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower: The buck stopped there.

VA Announces Electronic Health Record Changes

This change in DoD and VA record management is so significant for veterans who need access to their information.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Overcoming an opioid addiction with VA support

Personally, I have used the VA system for addiction treatment, in East Orange, New Jersey, and found it to be a very positive, effective program. I think this is something that veterans in need should think about.

For information about special health issues, call 1-800-749-8387 and for information about VA benefits, call 1-800-827-1000.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Veterans, Addiction, Mental Health Consumers and Vocational Rehabilitation, Part I

Helping veterans with challenges 
find work again is necessary

It's a big equation for a veteran, being a mental health consumer, addicted and needing vocational rehabilitation. 

   As a peer support specialist, I worked with this population for abot two years. It was an honor, a privilege and the hardest job I ever had. As I speak about this, I am doing so using my experiences in the field as a guide.

Sobriety and Compliance
   To begin with, if anyone who suffers from addiction is actively using mind and/or mood altering subtances then they are not a good candidate for voc rehab. Anyone who is a mental health consumer and is not fully compliant with their medication is also not a good candidate for voc rehab. A veteran must be in recovery, about a year, and medically compliant (a year would be a good amount of time), before they can really get down to the work of vocational rehabilitation. In my experience, prematurely working on vocational rehabilitation leads to a bad outcome for the client.

   Veterans have access to many programs that might assist them with vocational rehabilitation. However, without a willing, medically stable client and with addiction being in remission, the work of vocational rehab is so futile, so often that it makes little sense to try.

   Finding a job is stressful. Preparing for job interviews is stressful. Beginning a new job is stressful. Without a sound program of recovery then these stressors may well lead to a client becoming , compromised in one of these areas. Of course, anyone can fall prey to mental health disorders and addiction at any time. Adding stress to very early recovery, though, is a recipe for disaster.

Dealing with Court, Drivers Licenses, 
Finances and Credit, Etc.
   The work of helping a veteran return to the workforce actually begin with meeting them where they are. Someone cannot get and/or keep a job when they do not have adequate housing; are not able to have access to food or medical attention; have a drivers license or extremely reliable transportation; have the adequate training or experience in a given field; and/or have open warrants by the police.

   Helping a veteran find his way to work restoration is not something that any one individual can do. That effort begins with the client. A man or woman must be sober, medically comliant and interested in moving forward with work, or with school. But, it can be a long road until the task at hand becomes diagnostic testing, interview preparation and creating a resume.

   Many of my clients had pending charges or were on probation or parole. Well, if someone has not violated parole or probation then that is great. If someone has pending charges, outstanding warrants, has violated parole or probation and is pending court on any of these then they need a lawyer. There are organizations that help veterans with legal help. However, pro bono lawyers volunteer for such on an isolated basis and may not be available in every area.

   Having a driver's license or reliable transportation is a must for any job seeking client. If a client lives in the suburbs or in a rural area, a driver's license is absolutely necessary. If a client lives in an urban area then buses or subways are an effect transportation tool.
Using resources available to vets from the VA can really help

   It is straightforward, if a client has a suspended license then it needs to be reinstated. This means that fines have to be paid up, surcharges have to get paid and, perhaps, a client will have to take the driving test and/or a road test. This is precisely why a client must be sober and dedicated. Putting an addict behind the wheel again isn't a good idea for anyone.

   There is also the issue of credit. Many companies today check credit reports before they give an applicant a job. Consequently, if someone is well behind in their bills then they need to deal with that. If the situation requires assistance then referring a client to a financial counselor may be a good idea. If it is worse than that then maybe referring a client to a bankruptcy attorney is the right thing to do. No one wants to go bankrupt, but sometimes it is necessary. Getting a client in front of an attorney that specializes in bankruptcy can be important. Finding an attorney who will do it pro bono is easier to find if a client is a veteran, but that is no guarantee there is one in someone's local area.

   When a client suffers from addiction, when they are non-compliant with their meds and they are mental health consumers, then bad things can happen. The wreckage of past deeds can haunt a client, and spoil their plans for the future -- unless they are dealt with in a forthright manner by a client. This is also why a year's 'cooling off' period is important. A year of sobriety, of being medically compliant makes a statement about a client wanting to help themselves.

Next week: Part II - Housing and Supportive Employment

Friday, December 7, 2018

Upgrading a Discharge Takes Work and Commitment

Veterans who want to upgrade their discharges face an uphill fight


I am not an expert in veterans benefits. However, I have used a lot of Veterans Administration benefits and had good and bad experiences along the way. So, I want to share a few thoughts with my fellow vets throughout the course of several editorials. 

   The fable about how easy it is to change the character of a discharge: One barrier to veterans not receiving VA benefits is them receiving an Other Than Honorable Discharge or a Dishonorable Discharge. When I was a peer specialist working at Lyons VA, in New Jersey, as a contractor, I had some exposure with this.

   If anyone ever tells you or someone you love that it is easy to change the character of a discharge, they have no idea what they are talking about. Most civilian lawyers have no idea how to go about this procedure or how to begin. Rather than give anyone enough information to be dangerous to themselves, I would say this: You need expert help in changing the character of a discharge. The first thing that anyone helping someone is going to need will be records of all of the provost marshal and court proceedings that were a part of Uniform Code of Military Justice proceedings with the veteran concerned. This is a first step for anyone who is wishing to undertake this process.

   In my experience, getting records from the Naional Guard or Reserves can be more challenging than obtaining records for former Active Duty members. The only person whom I have ever met to complete a request for change of character discharge for a veteran was not a lawyer. He was a very dedicated vocational rehabilitation specialist for the VA.

   As a peer, I referred several "pro bono" lawyers to my clients. All of these attorneys or firms stated they knew how to go about changing the character of a discharge. And, after my clients were referred to them they never received a call back, not one, even after more than a year.

   What does this tell me? Well, if anyone is going to attempt changing the character of their discharge, I suggest they find a lawyer who has done it before for someone else. I would not want to be the first client someone ever tried to changea discharge for.

   Trying to find an attorney in your neighborhood to do this is very, very doubtful so be prepared to travel for the right lawyer. Second, with my experience in "pro bono" in mind, I suggest the experienced lawyer in this someone finds will not be pro bono and that is OK.

   Follow through, follow through, follow through. I have helped several former soldiers and one ex-Marine reservist try to obtain hearings for their change of discharges All of them, at some point along the way, simply stopped calling me and did nothing by way of providing documentation regarding their case. While I am no expert, the process for appealing a discharge is laid out pretty well. If someone is detail-oriented with good follow-through they might even consider doing their own paperwork unassisted. For more information, click HERE and HERE. However, I have not met the candidate for discharge upgrade yet that has been on his or her game about getting this done. Yes, I have heard every kind of story about why someone deserves an upgrade of discharge. But, when I agreed to do what I could to help them, then the disappearing act.
VA benefits are valuable for U.S. veterans

   Bottom Line: At some point, a veteran will need to demonstrate, in detail, how a military authority 'got it wrong' with their decision about their discharge, or introduce some new evidence that was not there for the original hearing.

   Review boards are gong to need a lot more than a 'story.' They are going to need facts.

   From what I have seen, in my experience, not many veterans or veteran service organizations are too concerned about these veterans. Veterans who have received honorable discharges have worked for years, often under very trying circumstances, to receive veterans benefits from the VA. When someone is thrown out of the service, when they have been tried for crimes in the military, for right or wrong many people believe they made their own problems.

   'Why should I be concerned if someone could not live up to their duty and did the wrong thing?' It's a valid question. Proving that the military did the wrong thing is an uphill fight...know that. Yes, mistakes are sometimes made, but cases where the military 'got it wrong' are rare. So, they are treated as rarities.

   The chances are overwhelmingly good that a veteran will keep the discharge they left the service with unless they have an incredibly compelling case.

(Jim Purcell is a U.S. Army veteran and former peer support specialist who worked with vocationally challenged, chronically addicted veterans as a contractor within the VA. He is now retired and lives in Western North Carolina with his wife, Lita.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The News Today Is More 'Exciting' Than It Was

I tell myself not to watch the news all the time. The news has always been depressing but it has become especally so in recent years.

I was born in the mid-1960s and started paying attention to the world around me during the 1970s. Back then, some group or other was always protesting something. Whether it was women with the Equal Rights Amendment, people wanting civil rights, or to end the war, in Vietnam or nuclear weapons or rights at work (be they white, black, latino, Native American, gay, straight or bi) or others wanting to save nature or animals or some particular animal (e.g. the manitee or whales), the news was not the news without someone protesting someone, some thing, some company, the government or some civil organization or other. Television watchers were conditioned to be OK with people protesting.

I liked watching protests, whatever they were. A part of me has always loved parades and a protest is a parade with a focus, which is fine. Back then, it was even patriotic to protest; it was an exercise of freedom of speech and good citizenship. There is a big difference between peaceful, acceptable and parade-like protests and violent protests. Violent protests amount to crime, in my opinion. There is nothing about good citizenship in crime. Crime is crime.

Nowdays, protests become violent more often than not. During the 'Good Old Days,' which I characterize as anything that happened during the time Johnny Carson was on television, the world was a different place. Yes, there were horrible atrocities being done to peoples' rights and there were wars and terrible things going on. But, people were nicer. The world was nicer.

During the 1970s, the presidents were Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. They were all professional. Any of them came off as guys who might own an insurance brokerage. They were camera-ready, poised, gracious and said very little to the public about anything. And, I liked it that way. These guys were all sane and I never did see the big deal about the whole Nixon thing. Political parties spying on each other is like professional wrestlers snapping one another's tights in the locker room.

The local news in New Jersey and New York could put me to sleep. Some company wants to rezone someplace to build something, some governing body is raising taxes, someone was getting fired and someone was getting appointed to something. There was a "hot new toy" for kids coming out for Christmas. Whatever. Fine.

Nowadays, it's not the same. There are mass shootings in the news every month. People with guns shooting one another over nothing. Nothing at all. People called Liberals are trying to limit the guns in peoples' hands so there are fewer (hopefully, none) shootings. People called Conservatives are trying to arm absolutely everyone so, when shootings happen, there can be a larger firefight to repulse the mass shooters. It's insanity. This whole mass shootings thing makes the Cold War look downright reasonable. I don't want to 'weigh in' on this insanity, other than to say I do not and do not wish to own a gun and do not now, nor have I ever, wanted to get shot.

I hear about what is happening with President Trump in the White House and it's insanity. It's bad theater. He is nothing like the calm, reassuring (if not boring) presidents of yester-year. Boring is OK. Through the years, I have learned to love all things boring. I do not need anything that raises my blood pressure. Maybe that is why I am a Mets and Jets fan. I can always count on a reliable stream of under-achieving and disappointment among my sports teams. If the Mets win 100 games in a year it's exciting, but I don't know what to do. Thank goodness that doesn't happen much. As for the Jets, if they win eight games a season it's like we won the Super Bowl. If the team wins 10 or more games then everyone goes nuts about what happens next. First, that doesn't happen too often either and, second, I don't think that the players ever plan for a post-season on the team. It gets in the way of vacations and their home life.

Even horror movies have taken horror to never-before seen heights of frightening. In the warly '70s, the big thing was "The Exorcist." Actress Linda Blair spun her head once and puked pea soup and people were fainting in theater aisles. Nowadays...a lot more happens. People used to think zombie movies were terrifying. Now being a zombie is a career ambition for some kids.

I am in my 50s now, and I thank God for it. If I were a little older that would be fine too. People today are very interesting, even exciting. 'Interesting' and 'exciting' are catch-words for 'insane' and 'crazy.' When I was in my 20s through 40s, I was a journalist. And, I got involved with causes and wanted to help change things for the better. Such an attitude was ridiculous. Sure, things can change with enough people getting upset. Mostly, though, people are herd creatures and move that way. Trying to be a part of a cause is like being in a little herd that is trying to help motivate the larger herd to the hay instead of the water. In the end, who cares if a cow eats hay or drinks water? Well, maybe the cows. Everyone else...not so much.

Then there is the toughest six-letter word in existance: Family. It's rough. It's tough. It's not for the weak of heart. Heck, when I was a kid it was a blood sport. In the end, though, it teaches people the need to pick their battles and learn to love the mild sedative experience that is binge-watching television show seasons on Netflix. Thank God for Netflix. It's quiet. It kills time. It's boring. It's the 21st century's answer for comfort food.

Back in the 1970s, people got freaked out about the Vietnam War lasting 16 years (1959-1975). They protested night and day. These days, America has fought two wars for 16 years, are no closer to leaving either Iraq or Afghanistan than the first day U.S. troops arrived and no one cares. People are working very hard to ignore things like war today. Rather than get upset, I guess most people are just binge-watching their Netflix.

There is a ton of stuff wrong today, one thing more upsetting than the next. I am retired from work, retired from having a point-of-view and definitely retired from causes. Now, the most excitement I can handle is if and maybe when the Mets win 100 games and the Jets do better than win eight games. Aside from that, it's all about home improvement, sensible shoes and fighting off collecting weird 'old man' smells.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Some similarities between Washington and Grant

Ulysses Grant inherited the problems of Lincoln
The more I read about the presidency of Ulysses Grant (1869-1877), I cannot help but compare it in my mind to that of George Washington (1789-1797).

Both Washington and Grant grew up in middle-class environments (Washington higher middle-class and Grant lower middle-class). They both served as junior officers in terrible conflicts (Washington in the French and Indian War and Grant in the War in Mexico). Both men married women, who they loved, above their stations (For Washington Martha Custis and for Grant Julia Dent). During the Interwar years, for both, they were each sort of lost. Of course, Washington became a successful farmer, though Grant eventually established himself in the family tannery business.

During their wars, Washington led an improbable army to miraculous victory against an unbeatable force (in the British Crown); and Grant led a demoralized and weather-beaten force (Army and Navy) to victory over a valiant and frequently victorious army led by some of the brightest generals in the history of armed warfare.

In the case of both Washington and Grant, neither one could, in good conscience, walk away from their country in the wake of their wars. In the case of Washington, the newfound United States might well have fallen into civil war or a non-democratic form of government without his acceptance of the presidency. Without Grant accepting the presidency, and given outgoing President Andrew Johnson's inabiltiy to lead effectively after the Civil War, the newly reunited nation might well have fallen back into civil war, or back into slavery, or into war with Great Britain.

Neither Washington or Grant ever sought a nomination for the presidency, during any of their terms, and both men patently refused being nominated for third terms. For both of them, public service beyond their military experiences was an unwanted chore that was a mechanism of national need above personal.

When it came to Washington, he was paid through a complex forumula of GNP and other considerations of the new United States. Grant was paid $50,000 per year to be president, but he had to operate the White House with his pay.

Washington did not serve in Washington as the nation's seat of power: he served in New York. Grant served in Washington DC and his wife supervised substantial building of the presidential home.

There were differences during the tenures of office of the two men. The notion of 'strong executive' or 'weak executive' governments was not considered during Washington's time as president. He was Washington. After earlier turning down being an American monarch, and thereafter enforcing the construction of a democratic republic in America, Washington gave orders and most people just went along. Washington was not a unilateral 'decider.' He never was. Washington liked hearing all sides of any matter and then made an informed decision. Washington listened to people and made the best choice he could based on that advice.

Grant basically did business the way Washington did. He took in all sides of any question and made the best choice he saw from out of that counsel. Both men appointed trusted army subordinates in key govermental posts after their rise to office. Maybe Washington did it a little more than Grant.

So, where were the differences?

Grant inherited a 'weak president' role after taking the presidential reins from Andrew Johnson. Johnson did more to weaken the office of the presidency than any 19th century executive. He was a mess and going into Johnson's many sins would take a book (let alone an editorial). Moreover, Grant assumed office at a time when the Senate had become used to calling the shots on the national scene. Grant was second-guessed from the beginning of his tenure. Far from being listened to, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate of his time were more than happy to go about running the country without his interference. For good or bad (mostly bad in my opinion), Grant went from fighting the Civil War to taking part in the Political Wars immediately thereafter.

Washington wouldn't have had any of that. During his presidency, New Jersey Representative Robert Morris recalled, in his memoirs, on one social occasion putting his hand, unsoicited, on Washington's shoulder. To paraphrase, Morris said he was immediately given a frozn stare by the stately president that informed Morris (without any words passing) that putting his hand on the president's shoulder was a mistake and that it would never happen again. I find it hard to think that anyone in the legislative branch of government considered shoving a bill down the president's throat when they could not even gain permission to touch him on the shoulder.

Washington and Grant were both soft-spoken and not 'talkers.' Both wrote extensively. Washington played a vital part in creating and defining all of the government agencies that would, some 72 years later, wage almost ceaseless war against Grant. If anything drew the ire of white men in Grant's day, it was the said (and often un-said) disagreement they held with him about the slavery issue. To put it plainly, most white men (of both the North and South) wanted blacks to be treated as 'less than' whites. Northerners generally believed that blacks should be free and treated as third-class citizens while Southerners believed they should still be enslaved and treated like third-class citizens.

Washington and his founding brothers consciously made the decision to put off the slavery discussion. Given that armistice of views, it made it possible for the North and South to come together and create a new nation. But, slavery had to be dealt with, and while official slavery ended under Abraham Lincoln, it was far harder work to create the legislation that would eventually lead to recognition and enforcement of black rights. Of course, this was a night and day fight and Grant (an abolishionist by the time he was president) would not surrender or get out of the way of those who would find new ways to enslave black people.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

General Impressions of Grant as President

I am far from done researching President Ulysses Grant. In general, Grant is an icon for me, whose life draws some parallels with that of George Washington and invites comparison. Up until Reconstruction, I think it can be argued Grant was an essential civilian leader. President Andrew Johnson had done so little to advance the cause of national re-unification and reconciliation that Grant's credibility and expertise was vital to the United States neither lapsing back into war or a state of much more chaos than it already  experienced.

With that said, Grant made some horrible mistakes as a politician. He allowed three or four homes to be bought for him and his family, around the country by supporters of his. One of these homes was purchased while he was a serving general and given under the auspices of '...from a grateful country.' I can almost understand that one. But for the subsequent homes I cannot understand this. Those homes were bought strictly during his tenure as a civilian leader. And, someone would have to think a lot of themsleves to think they deserved gaining a free house every few months or so.

Further, in allowing himself to be drawn into a gold speculation scandal dring his first administration, even if it was adriotly or without his conscience deliberation, I think he made a terrible mistake. And, at this point, I am not willing to say that he had no culpability in the "Gold Twins" controversy that led to America's first "Blak Friday" Wall Street market crash.

President Grant had absolutely no background in finance. In fact, his own finances were far from expertly handled. While U.S. Grant was a man of many skills: dependable leadership, complex military logistics management, integration of land and sea-borne forces in practical application, strategy and tactics, negotiations and civil administration, he had virtually no experience in high finance. What little he knew about any finances was constrained to whatever he might have picked up working at his family's tannery in Ohio. Yet, U.S. Grant was not a dope. He knew what he was good at and what he had no valuable knowledge about. So, by virtue of the mere fact that he associated, on a social basis, with gold and land speculators like Jay Gould, I am unconvinced that Grant had no idea that such speculators would try and turn a quick buck from insider information provided through his administration.

I cannot 100 percent say that Grant knowlingly did any misdeed. However, I can understand it if it happened. By and large, with the exception of the Civil War years, Grant had a midling military and business career. There were long periods of time when Grant's and his family were supported by hand-outs or jobs given him by relatives, of both his and his wife's. Though a good man, Grant was humbled many times by circumstance. His marriage to Julia Grant was hallmarked by long periods of separation and living hand-to-mouth more times than not. After he became a national hero and celebrity, as well as a coveted national leader, there is something almost reasonable about him wanting to do more for his wife and children than simply exist. Maybe he could have believed that a little inside information to the odd speculator or so was innocuous. But then, he didn't know what would come of it and the consequences such practices would have on the national scene.

Well, I am sorry but I am not going to say that U.S, Grant was either dumb or naive. I find it hard to believe that the man, the only man, to ever whip General Robert E. Lee was either. I am going to have to research the heck out of this, but I am going to find it hard to argue myself into believing that U.S. Grant had no idea what he was doing with a gang of gold speculators over lunch on more than a few occasions. Further, he gave these men access to inside information, knowingly or not.

Of some note is that one of Grant's many strengths was etimating the characters of the people around him, and it would be strange that this virtue entirely abandoned him post the Civil War.

Doing Research on Ulysses Grant

I haven't posted for awhile because I am reading White's "American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant" and, after that, am going to read "Memoirs of Gen. William T. Sherman, Vol. 2." I want to write a multi-part piece about Grant's experience during the Mexican War, the Interwar Years, the Civil War and his presidency (perhaps the most controversial thing about his public life).

I like to write history but so much of of writing good history is doing good research before the writing. I don't want to rush the research but it is going to take two reads of White's book (and its 667 pages in addition to its 200 pages of bibliography) and Sherman's 448 pages. Hey, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

I'll be back after the researching and the writing. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Strengthening Borders Doesn't Mean Losing Humanity

Living in fear is a bad idea for Americans

As Americans, let us not allow our fears to rule us in how we collectively, and individually, view our nation, and each other. 

  In this column, I would specifically like to discuss immigration, which is as controversial a subject as any these days.

  I do not want to discuss the subject as a Republican or a Democrat, a Liberatarian or Conservative, a Liberal or whatever other label is popular out there for the moment. Instead, I would rather discuss immigration as an American taxpayer and voter.

  I am all for making the United States the most difficult nation in the world to emigrate to, attend college in, or event visit, for those not born in this land. I look out in the world, and there are more dangers out there than ever before, in my opinion. So, being extremely selective about who is offered citizenship or permanent residency is not such a bad thing. It is a good idea, in theory.
National paranoia doesn't advance prosperity

  With that said, our nation's immigration services and policies have excluded record numbers of immigrants in the past few years. And, it is right that illegal immigrants be stopped, detained and held for whatever period is needed to address the law enforcement penalities associated with any alleged unlawful immigration.

  However, it is wrong that families being detained for alleged illegal immigration are being separated. Chidren need parents. Without parents, children are traumatized and such traumatization has dire circumstances in their deveopment as these children mature.

  If a child is traumatized as a consequence of a government's direct action against their family, held by the state as some kind of poker chip in a question of national morality, then that child can grow to hate its oppressor. Of course, the average American is not separating these families in detention: it is the government. It is, however, the government sanctioned by the people in response to the fear (rightly or wrongly) that the people have about immigrants. So, the pain of children separatd from their families today can become the impetus for national hatred against the United States tomorrow. Consequently, the actions of today, with their flawed legal precedence, can become the incubator of terrorists and monsters of tomorrow. And, the United States will have itself to blame.

  How many Palestinian Arab children grew up in the shadow of Israel's imprisonment of their friends, parents and people only to deal with these children years later as the suicide bombers, terrorists and criminals who committed terrible acts against that nation. Well, America is sowing the same oats for itself tomorrow right now.

  If something feels as if it is humane and common sense then it usually is. Yes, alleged illegal immigrants, once captured, must be detained. However, that detainment should be done within family units and not under the harshest conditions possible. Meet the letter of the law, by all means, but do not change the opinion of the world as America as the stronghold of democracy to the notion of America as the divider of families.

  It would take relatively nothing for this policy to change nationwide, nothing more than a presidential executive order, which could be drafted in an afternoon. Such an order could save countless lives and dollars in the years to come, and is worthy for a nation that prides itself on Christian values and decency.

  America is writing its story for the next 30 years right now. I say that story should include some element of mercy, because in the end our nation and its people will receive as good as we gave.

(Jim Purcell is a retired journalist who resides in Western North Carolina with his wife, Lita.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Ronald C. White About "A Life of Ulysses S. Grant"

I have read quite a few books and scholarly articles about the Civil War. However, nothing has impressed me so much as "American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant." Rather than relying on legends or tall tales from yesteryear, Ronald C. White explores the span of Grant's life and sheds new light on his marriage, his personality, his military career and his tactics.

More than anything, this is a fresh look and a masterful work about one of America's most beloved generals (depending upon what side of the Civil War one comes down on). And, White shows the multi-faceted life of a complex man.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

NASA Launching Advanced Laser to Measure Earth’s Changing Ice

NASA Launching Advanced Laser to Measure Earth’s Changing Ice: Next month, NASA will launch into space the most advanced laser instrument of its kind, beginning a mission to measure – in unprecedented detail – changes in the heights of Earth’s polar ice.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Major Turning Points in the Battle of Gettysburg

I think it is clear the the Battle of Little Round Top was the defining engagement of the Civil War


The American Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 13, 1865) can be argued to be the bloodiest in American history, as both sides in the war were comprised of Americans. 

   Until the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), the Army of Northern Virginia, under the commmand of General Robert E. Lee had chalked up many victories against the North's Army of the Potomac. In fact, without a single major Northern victory to that point, many people in the North and South alike believed that Lee's army could and would gain victory in the war. More importantly, with each Southern victory, the rogue administration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was awarded more and more credibility not only in the eyes of Americans, but also foreign governments in Europe.

   Gettysburg was important because the credibility of the administration of President Abraham Lincoln was probably on the line. Should Lee's army have vanquished the army of newly appointed Army of the Potomac Commander General George G. Meade, then it would have resulted in Lee's first and greatest victory in Northern terrirory. And, it would have severely weakened the confidence of Northerners that the war was winnable. Lincoln would have been beseiged in Washington DC even more than he already was. The South would have been a few chess moves away from having succeeded in sucsession and perhaps the Davis government would have been recognized formally by any number of nations. 

   It was not the good intentions of Lincoln, in his opposition to slavery, that created some divine miracle to save the Union. The beginning of the salvation began with BG John Buford's Union cavalry holding Seminary Ridge against superior odds of Confederate Gen. Henry Heath's infantry division. In holding the high ground, he gave a tactical advantage to the North and deprived Lee's army from occupying the heights of the city. If this had happened, Gen. James Longstreet's defensive theory might well have been employed, giving the Confederates a tactical advantage. 

   In engaging Heath's division early, and making it deploy at a time and place not of Lee's choosing, Buford took the Army of Northern Virginia off its plan. This was the first thing that happened 'right' for the Union. Later, Buford's cavalry was reinforced by Gen. John Reynold's infantry, consolidating strength along the ridge and the high ground. This was the good news from the first day.

   The next piece of luck the North had was when Gen. Strong Vincent placed the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment at the end of the Northern line at Little Round Top. General Lee had assigned General Longstreet's corps the responsibility of gaining possession of Little Round Top. Longstreet gave the assignment to division commander  General John Bell Hood. Hood assigned the 15th Alabama Infantry the primary responsibility to attack the 20th Maine. But, not the 15th Regiment, or all of the reserve that was set aside to assist the 15th culd dislodge the 20th Maine from their defensive position.

   If Hood had managed to gain Little Round Top, the situation would have been much different. With Northern forces deplyed along the rige at Big Round Top, Confederate forces could have rolled up Union forces. Should this have happened, Meade's army would have faced certain destruction, defending against Confederate divisions attacking from the front and back. The Army of the Potomac would have been devastated and probably combat ineffective for the rest of what would have been a short war. This was the second day.

   Finally, on the third day, General Lee wanted Gen. Longstreet to attack the center of the Union position, at Cemetary Hill. Lee believed that the flanks of the Union Army had been reinforced overnight and his enemy's strength was not in the center of the Union line. In truth, there were good lines of communication and resupply avenues throughout the Northern line. Northern artillery had ample rounds to fire at advancing Confederates. And, even though Confederate artillery made a strong attempt to prepare the area the infantry would assault, it ultimately came up short. Here is where the human element came into play.

   General Winfield Scott Hancock was the corps commander who had primacy of that area of the battlefield Lee wanted to target. General Hancock was a professional soldier, West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War. He trained his soldiers well and had some success in commanding his troops, despite a chain of command above him that was not always prudent or skillfull. This was made apparent on July 3, when Hancock's troops did not run from the artillery that blanketed the area courtesy of Confederate cannons. His men stood when other nits in the Army of the Potomac might not have.

   Well, Longstreet selected one of his division commanders, Gen. George Pickett to lead an assault comprised of Longstreet's corps (minus Hood's division) and elements of Gen. A.P. Hill's corps. But, because of Northern artillery and courage and skill of Hancock's men, Pickett's charge amounted to 60 percent of the charge's 15,000 men being killed, wounded or missing.

   These were major points of decision in the Battle of Gettysburg. And, each of these points were vital to saving the Union. However, if the 20th Maine had not stood on July 2nd at Little Round Top there would have likely not been a Union Army at Gettysburg to fight on the 3rd at all.

   The poitical cannot help but be entwined in the story of the Civil War. Remember, the United States was not quite 100 years old by the time the Civil War broke out. The American Experiment in democracy was fairly new to the world. And, Great Britain was not entirely adjusted to the notion that its former Colonies would remain its own, independent republic. The Civil War was the opportunity for British rulers to hope. The only thing that England disagreed with the Confederate States about was its use of human slaves. I cannot help but think that, should the Confederate States have won their freedom, the South would have had to rid itself of slavery to enjoy the good graces of English trade and protection. At that point, the South would have had little to no leverage to submitting to English dictates.

   I believe that, in any version of the ending of the Civil War, the South would have had to abolish slavery. However, if such a thing happened at the tip of a British bayonet, as oppposed to a Northern one, then the America we have all come to know would have never happened.

(Jim Purcell is a retired journalist. Mr. Purcell is a U.S. Army veteran who served as a sergeant in the Military Intelligence Corps. He is retired and lives in Western North Carolina with his wife.)



Marty Appel on Casey Stengel - May 2017

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

20th Maine Regiment XO Wanted to Set Record Straight

(This is an update to a previous story that appeared on this site, titled "Chamberlain's 20th Maine Saves the Union at Little Round Top." This is done to provide all points of view about the the action at Little Round Top )


The Battle of Little Round Top (July 2, 1863), during the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), is considered by many to be the key engagement in the most important battle of the American Civil War (April 1861-May 1865).

   Until today, there are differing stories about what exactly happened during that terrible battle between the North and South at Little Round Top.

Major (later General) Ellis Spear
   One of the most popular authors who wrote the history of the battle was Michael Shaara (1928-1988), who penned, among others, the book “The Killer Angels,” in 1974. The book was later made into a movie, which spent a great deal of time chronicling the actions of the 20th Maine Regiment, of the Army of the Potomac, which was led by then-Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

   The book and movie subscribe to the accounts of the battle allegedly given by Col. Chamberlain and several members of the regiment. In these accounts, the role of Col. Chamberlain is cast as very heroic in nature – so much so that Colonel, later General, Chamberlain was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions the day of Little Round Top. Indeed, Col. Chamberlain was heroic that day, but just what occurred has been disputed.

   Col. Chamberlain’s right hand in commanding the 20th Maine was then-Major Ellis Spear (who later became a general himself). Maj. Spear was with the 20th Maine during that terrible day when it faced off against the 15th Alabama Regiment, among others in Gen. John Bell Hood's Confederate division.

   According to Spear, who had been a long-time friend of Col. Chamberlain’s since before the war, in Maine, Col. Chamberlain’s published account of the battle exaggerated his role in the 20th Maine’s victory at Little Round Top. At the same time, though, I believe it is safe to say that every soldier who took part in the Battle of Little Round Top showed an amazing amount of courage and soldierly skill that terrible July day.
MG J.L. Chamberlain 

   Both Generals Chamberlain and Spear survived the war and went on to be very prosperous in civilian life. So, there was no discernable reason why Spear would be frivolous in his rebuke of Chamberlain’s side of the story regarding the battle.

   Yet, Spear claimed that the version of Chamberlain’s story printed by Hearst Publications in the former commander’s later life may well have been “corrected” by the news outlet in a manner which gave a false impression of “vain glory” on the battlefield. Not only was Spear upset about Hearst publication’s account of Little Round Top, but also of the 20th Maine’s participation in the Battle of Fredericksburg previous to the Battle of Gettysburg.

The 20th Maine Regiment can be said to have played a key role at the Battle of Gettysburg

   Essentially, Spear contended that there was far more of a committee to Chamberlain’s leadership that day among officers of the regiment. And, the signature bayonet charge at Little Round Top was the consensus of a group of officers and not the bold unilateral order of Chamberlain.

   With that said, Chamberlain and Spear were, in fact, life-long friends. This clarification on the part of Spear was, in his point of view, nothing more than trying to give an accurate account of a major Civil War battle. 

   Though Spear did not seek to muddy Chamberlain’s name in any way he did seek to set the record straight about the events of July 2, 1863.

   There may be some contention about the exact accounts of what happened during the furious battle between the 20th Maine and the rebels at Gettysburg, yet the fact remains that it was a day when a group of Maine men saved the Union in a bloody action that still resonates today.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Short Story: An Irish Sojourn


      I was staying in Clare, Ireland for a visit when I was 14. My parents were not with me, so when I arrived at Shannon Airport, a security man wearing a really nice sweater took me into the security office and called my parents back in Howell, New Jersey.

  I gave him the number and he talked to my Dad. "Are you sure you want to let your boy stay over here by himself? Someone could knock him over the head and there it is."

   Whatever my Dad said allayed the fears of the man, who turned to me and said, "Well then, go about doing whatever you were doing, I suppose. If you ask me, I think it's a terrible idea but that's it. Good luck, boy."

   There were two things that hallmarked my three-week visit to the Emerald Isle: one was a visit to Clare's Abbey through a bog (which I did not know was a bog until I was ankle-deep in mud) and two, a terrible case of food-poisoning from which I wished to die.

   Clare's Abbey was the furthest thing from a tourist trap. Of course, it was 1981 when I was there and I have no idea if it's changed since then. I can't really envision a gift shop for the place or a sweatshirt reading "I Survived Clare's Abbey." If there were any 'Clare's Abbey action figures,' I am fairly certain they would be small dolls of ticked off monks.

   The abbey was set off by itself down a lonely, dirt country road. It was not especially large, but it was gated up with some pretty high, gothic fencing.

   When I started that day, I woke up at the West County Inn about six o'clock, had breakfast and asked the staff if thee were any 'castles or stuff like that nearby.' I was told by a maid, "Well, it's not much but there's Clare's Abbey. It's out in the country on the other side of town." I asked the maid, Bridget, if it was famous. Bridget was in the middle of folding something when she said, candidly, "Not particularly," and returned to her work.

   Irish people speak really fast, at least that is what I think. I couldn't understand but a few words from some of them. It was an overcast day, but it was nice getting out and seeing things. I asked at least a half dozen people about where to find this country road, picking out a word or two here and there. Finally, I encountered a gray haired Catholic priest in a twead jacket and floppy hat walking along the cobbled street in town. Again, I asked about finding the road. He spoke really fast. So, I asked the older gentleman to slow down like three times. With him speaking very slow and attempting patience I finally caught "...down the street behind the thatch-roofed school..." I was pretty sure he thought I was slow-witted.

   I started walking down the dirt road and after a bit I saw the outline of the abbey. There wasn't a soul in sight. I guess the locals were sort of over the whole abbey thing. The road was kind of winding so I thought it would be quicker if I walked across this green, open field. The abbey was something like a quarter-of-a-mile away. So...with my new, white Nike sneakers and only pressed jeans, I start to walk across the field. At first the ground was fine. and it was a lovely walk. It threatened to rain, but I was 14...and some rain wasn't a big deal.

   The ground started giving away a little bit at a time until I stepped on a spot that gave all the way. I went into the mud to about mid-calf. Until that moment, I really never knew what a 'bog' was. I got the picture all at once. By the time I reached the abbey my sneakers were destroyed, along with my socks, and the bottom of my jeans were caked in mud. But, I was damned if I wasn't going to that cursed abbey after all the trouble.

   When I got there, the place was full of ravens -- really big ones. And, they were scary and practically screaming at me (presumably to leave). In addition, there was a high black, metal fence in open areas of the abbey and signs saying "Keep Out." Being American, and one from New Jersey at that, I yelled profanities back at the murder of crows and told them where to go and threw some pebbles their way. Most of the crows flew away when I did this, and those left didn't seem particularly interested in me. Then, I climbed the fence (it was climbable) and surveyed the small abbey. Actually, it was the most unimpressive abbey I have ever seen. I'd watched enough movies to see some really big abbeys (e.g. Robin Hood). This one looked only liveable for one or two monks -- tops. It wasn't vey nice. It occurred to me that if monks really screwed up they might be sent here.

  After ten minutes or so the crows came back and were pissed. They basically surrounded me along the stone walls of the abbey and crowed menaingly, being very clear about them not being my besties. I got scared and wasn't even sure they'd let me hop the fence again. Inevitably, I did hop the fence, but the ticked off crows didn't stop their complaints about me until I was about 100 feet down the road. the cherry on this sundae of started to rain. It wasn't light small rain. It was big stinging rain.

   I walked through town looking a muddy sight and drew a good share of odd looks. By the time I finally arrived back to the hotel it stopped raining. It only stopped raining when I was crossing the hotel's parking lot a few feet from the door...of course. Despite it being a pretty terrible day, I really enjoyed the little adventure overall. I don't know why I thought that, I just did.

   A few days after my abbey experience I had breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel. I was the first one in for breakfast that day and sat at the counter across from the cook. We were the only two there at 6:30 a.m. The cook was a young man of probably 20 or so. We chatted some and I ordered mutton broth and some looked good. But, it wasn't. There was nothing good -- at all -- about that broth. It tasted good enough, though. So, when I started getting very sick within the next few hours, it was a real surprise.

   The food poisoning was notable because it was the sickest I have ever been in my life. As I write this I am 52 and have had my fair share of 'sick' during my life. But, nothing ever approached the food poisoning I had in Ireland. Not only were all sorts of things coming out of every orifice I had, but the headache and body aches were so constant and heavy that I could barely crawl out of bed and across the floor to use the bathroom.
   I remember contemplating that if someone put a nice, cool gun barrel at my temple I would be glad if they squeezed the trigger rather than go through anymore of that agony. Anything I put in my body, whether it was food or water, came out in the harshest possible ways from a variety of places. The maids dutifully cleaned the room and gave me fresh sympathy, water and lots of towels when they were in. There were no doctors involved and I just called my parents enough to say that I was alive and thinking of them. I said I was thinking of them, but in reality I was just very sick.

   About a day before I was scheduled to go home, I got better. I stayed indoors and played it safe with food and beverages but still boarded the plane home frail and weak. People asked me about my visit to Ireland, and I have always glossed over it '...Wonderful place, really. So lovely....'

   In all, I learned two things during my Irish sojourn: 1. Don't cross random open fields in Ireland, and 2. Never, ever order mutton broth from a menu.


Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor, Vietnam War

I think Medal of Honor winners have stories that should be told. And, it comes from no better place than from them theirselves.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

How Did White Supremacists Get A Seat At The Table?


My father was a World War II combat engineer in the U.S. Army. He fought in Europe and he was part of the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. He went through hell. On top of that, he lost a brother in the U.S. Navy at Anzio Beach. His brother was an LST driver who was blown out of the water by the Germans.

   Now, let’s talk about white nationalism, the Nazi Party and the Klu Klux Klan. Here it is: these things are un-American. Someone cannot be right if they are arguing any of the nonsense that these people spout.

   A lot of good people died getting rid of the national governments that espoused similar beliefs in World War II. A lot of others went through hell.

   My Dad was someone I really respected. But, I think he had really bad, undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress from the war and living with him was really hard. Still, he was a good man.

   Real Americans died getting rid of Nazis in the world. Families lost loved ones, whose losses were felt for decades after their sacrifice.

   Why is white nationalism something that is being tolerated in public speech these days? Why is it tolerated at all? Maybe it is because the children of the Greatest Generation are getting older, becoming retired and just want to be left alone. I know that is my situation.

   As a reporter, then an editor and finally a publisher in community news as a career, I considered myself an advocate against racism, intolerance and white nationalism. My Dad and my uncle paid the real price for my beliefs. I had the easy part, all I had to do was what was right.

   So, I had my career and lived a good piece of the American Dream, like a lot of other people. But, the experience of World War II has faded in America. Young people just don’t remember what the price of a world free of monsters costs. I pray God it will not have to re-learn old lessons.

   When I was a child, my friends and I were playing “World War II.” I just happened to be the Nazis one day. I suppose I was five or six. Well, my best friend, Paul, and I got the drop on the ‘good guys’ and we play shot them up. In victory, Paul and I pretended giving the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute. My father was nearby and hit me with an open hand across my face pretty hard. He yelled, “Never do that again, for the rest of your life.” Then, he walked away. I got it.

   I was a Conservative for many years as a young man. I like to think I was a “Gerald Ford Conservative,” which meant that he fostered business, advocated select government de-regulation and basically excluded social issues from the mix. It made a lot of sense to me.

   Then, Conservatives married the Religious Right in the 1980s and, somehow or other, the white supremacists and their ilk became Republicans too. Now, today, white supremacists have a seat at the Conservative table. I can understand church people wanting to do what they believe in government. But, white supremacists? Really?

   It is ironic in a way, at a time when more people are inter-marrying in races, faiths and nationalities that white supremacists should have a say about anything at all. But, these are the days we are living in.
World War II was a war that needed to be fought

   I am in my 50s. My children are in their late 20s. I am happy I lived when I did: before terrorism, before the societal ‘crazy’ and before Conservative attitudes changed. You know, when I was eight years old, my family went to Washington DC for a visit. I saw all the sights, we went to the Congress and we saw the U.S. Treasury Building and the chapel near the White House where the presidents took Mass. We even saw Ford’s Theater and the room where President Lincoln passed away across the street. Well, people are not able to just go to the Capital anymore, or the Treasury. There are security issues.

   As a matter of fact, I went back to DC maybe 10 years ago. Well, going to the Capital was a big deal security wise. What characterized my trip was that the White House Christmas Tree was behind several barricades, with two police officers guarding it. There was a sign that said not to get within 20 feet of it. Yeah, just not the same world anymore.

   What will America look like in the years ahead? I have no idea. I am retired, living in the mountains of North Carolina and have no plans to travel, make a fuss or leave my lovely little town.

   This is a time for another generation to make its mark. How it will do it is a mystery to me. I do wish them well, though.

Frankly, my days of wanting to make a stamp on society are over. I focus on my health and my home. But, this America is not the one I grew up in and I think that America is gone forever. It’s sad because the America I was born in was awesome. In my opinion, it was the dream.