Once upon a time, when America was fighting the Korean War, my brother, Jim, and I joined the U.S. Marine Corps. We then experienced what millions of men and women have known down through the years. We entered a new world. Yesterday was Armed Forces Day, and I truly believe we, as a nation, don’t spend enough time saluting, honoring or even remembering what our Armed Forces have done for us or continue to do.
As a young boy, during World War II, I remember a nation unified, determined to beat the Axis powers that would have taken over and enslaved the free world. The nation came together as never before. The men of the nation joined the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. There was no Air Force in those days. The Air Force was a division of the Army. It was the Army Air Corps. More than any other unit, it was the Air Force, with the British RAF, that broke the back of both Germany and Japan. There never is a true victory without “boots on the ground.” It was the infantry, the airborne and the Marines that finally defeated the enemy.
During World War II, it was the Army in Europe and largely the Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific. The Marines are, in fact, part of the Navy, though, to my surprise, when I joined the Marine Corps I learned it was the Coast Guardsmen who pilot those landing barges and bring the Marines into combat on the beaches.
We were fighting all across the world, and, for the first time, the women of America left the home to work in defense factories, and the world would never be the same again.
It is hard to exaggerate the atrocities and horror of World War II, and if the Axis power had fought the war differently, the result might not have come out in our favor. Hitler’s big mistake was to invade Russia before attacking England, and he, like Napoleon, was beaten by the Russian winter.
The Japanese made a terrible mistake in not invading Hawaii after they bombed Pearl Harbor. The Japanese admiral, Yamamoto, when told of the success of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, responded by saying, “We have done nothing more than wake a sleeping giant and make him very angry.” It was the nature of the attack on Pearl Harbor that enraged Americans with a determination to beat the Japanese empire. It was our great ability to produce ships, tanks and aircraft that gave our fighting men and women the tools they needed to win.
Argument with Nazi
One Fourth of July, many years ago, Peggy and I were invited to a cookout. I was introduced to a former Nazi SS officer. When he extended his hand, I refused to shake it. The whole cookout erupted in a debate between the two of us.
He told me how the super race was the greatest force on Earth. I responded that in America, the Jews, Poles, Irish and blacks all put down their six-packs of beer and bowling balls and, on short notice, beat the so-called superior nation twice.
He then counterattacked by telling me of the great generals they had, to which I respond, “Our generals beat your generals.”
He asked, “Who did you have besides Patton?” I said, “We had General Motors, General Dynamics and General Electric,” to which he said, “Ya. Ya. Your generals beat us.” The debate between the two of us was so heated we left early, but I never did shake his hand.
My brother and I enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, which Harry Truman dubbed a police action. But, it was a war. The Marines never send two brothers into combat at the same time. Jim served with the 1st Marines 3rd Air Wing on the front lines. My duty was Parris Island and the Groton Submarine Base. We both surrendered our freedom, as do all veterans, when we joined the military.
It is hard for everyone to take orders blindly. Our Armed Forces have no rights to an opinion. You are told what to eat and when to sleep. The military will push you to the limit in boot training, later in combat training and finally overseas. Looking back, I am so proud to be a veteran and to know the sacrifice our fighting forces make, even in peacetime.
Our war in Korea was a victory, despite what the critics say. The Army and the Marines fought in the bitter cold with one hand tied behind them. The Chinese were allies to the North Koreans, and while the Chinese Air Force did attack us, our planes were forbidden to enter Chinese air space. But without our fighting the war, there would today be no South Korea. It would all be as barren and Communist as North Korea is today.
What the veterans suffered in Vietnam was nothing less than shameful, as the peaceniks created an attitude where our nation actually turned on the young men and women who were fighting our battle under orders. More than 50,000 died taking orders and getting no respect from the vast majority of Americans.
Today, for the second time, we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some people are turned off by the war. The sacrifices being made are real, and the hardships being endured by our fighting men and women are not fully understood or appreciated.
There are no good wars. There is only the good result that comes from victory. Today, we witness the fanatical attitude of our enemy who actually tie explosives to themselves to kill our troops. It is reminiscent of World War II. When Japan was facing defeat, they invented the kamikaze pilots; young men who would fly their suicide planes into our ships. They were, in World War II, the same fanatics who blow themselves up today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though unpopular, this war does have purpose. How often I think if we had fought Hitler in the 1930s, 50 million lives might have been saved. If we do not fight our enemies today, tomorrow, like the Nazi Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy, they will, one day, be a nuclear force to deal with.
This morning, in respect for Armed Forces Day, I speak of war and the need for it as a salute to our Armed Forces who do our bidding around the world and whose sacrifices are never fully appreciated by those who enjoy the freedom and safety that only the Armed Forces can and do provide.
Today, our National Guard, as always, is an important part of our fighting force. The Guard is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will be the valuable men and women of the National Guard who will, in the future, protect our borders from the current invasion.
This morning’s picture takes us back to August of 1950 when the 745th was activated to fight in Korea and march down Main Street to the railroad station.
It was the fighting forces in the Revolution that first won our freedom … the military in the Civil War that unified the nation … the Armed Forces in World War II that literally saved the free world, and it is the American Armed Forces that will protect us now and in the future. Let us always honor their sacrifice.