I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me lately. The reader may think that I am trouncing on hallowed ground …. but first hear me out, and then beat me up.
I think the U.S. Government is behind a recent subterfuge that really irritates me. It has been eagerly picked up by an unthinking public and widely spread. It is the “Thank you for your service to our country” platitude. As a 25 year veteran, thrice combat tested, now retired, former USMC killing machine, I take exception to this patriotically veiled insincerity and urge thinking people not to use it. I shall try to explain why.
First, the statement implies ‘servitude’ and ‘sacrifice’ as does the name ‘service man’ itself. It reeks of self-abnegation, altruism, and renunciation of one’s own interests in favor of those of society, nationalism and the greater good …. (mmmmmm, now it’s starting to make sense). It connotes selfLESS sacrifice of one’s own life and values for the sake of others. I have found none of this to be true in my case, or in any of my military accomplices. I’ll try to illustrate.
To do so, let’s closely examine my own heroic military career <grin>. (But first a disclaimer: all opinions and conclusions presented here are strictly my own, and related only to Marine Corps Aviation of the ‘50s thru ‘70s. Some representations herein are intended to be humorous, some satirical and others outrageously caustic. I must rely on you to figure our which is which. Other members of the US Marine Corps community are responsible for their own lies.)
What made me join up? Self-sacrifice?
My motivations to join the military in the ‘50s (during the Korean War) were…. (not necessarily in this order) (1) To escape my marginal performance and lack of interest in college; (2) To escape parental scrutiny at home; (3) To get a free tour of the world on the government’s dime; (4) To be a hotshot jet pilot and swagger a lot, (5) To fly helicopters too but better than anyone else; (6) To drink enormous quantities of booze; seldom stagger; rarely fall and never puke; (7) To display carnal intent toward any female encountered no matter how ugly, and (8) To have as much fun doing all this as was humanly possible. Lofty goals for a young man you must admit, but I can immodestly say that I realized almost all of these through sheer dedication and dogged pursuit. I fancied myself a disciple of my film idol of the late ‘40s, John Derek, who delivered the famous movie line “Live fast, die young, and have a good looking’ corpse” However, debauchery was my prime motivator … not self-immolation or self-sacrifice.
My politics of that period were perfectly aligned with that of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. I was extremely high on Life. Couldn’t get enough Liberty (in the Naval sense of the term) and was inordinately devoted to the Pursuit of Happiness. What more could be asked of a young ‘defender of liberty’ …. I was a true Jeffersonian Military Man.
There were a few other inducements, like earning the hallowed Navy Wings of Gold, which were a sure-fire chick magnet no matter what you looked like; getting regular promotions and higher pay and benefits; getting the GI Bill for a later college education after I had matured; retiring as early as 40 with a lifetime income, and of course free lifetime medical care for myself and family (if I created one). All generous benefits for a paltry 20 year commitment of time when I was certain to live forever. I figure these goals don’t vary much from those of any immature, insecure young American male today. Just how could anyone resist flying airplanes and chasing ladies for a living and getting paid extra to do it. What a country!
Picking the Corps
Beyond satisfying my lofty ‘patriotic’ ambitions, I was indoctrinated to believe that the crème de la crème of soldiers was an elite society of oddballs, screwballs, misfits and snot flinging narcissists, who believed they were invincible mutant warriors. This was the only crowd for me boy…..you know them as ….. The United States (effing) Marines. OORAAH!! Thank you John Wayne and my drill instructor Sgt. Flores for that enduring worldview.
Peacetime Marine Corps Aviation
So I earned my shiny Navy Wings of Gold, and a shiny new gold Marine Corps 2/Lt bar and it was game on! Almost immediately I discovered a few glitches in my aviation career plan, like …..maybe getting a shitty desk job in DC for a year or two effectively removing me from the cockpit; or getting a shitty desk job at the Group/Squadron level, effectively reducing my flying time; and the horror of all horrors —getting a shitty ground job with the Grunts (Marine Infantry Units) as a Forward Air Controller removing me from aviation altogether for a year or more. ugh. I was only successfully in avoiding the Headquarters DC assignment…. I stoically suffered through all the rest. But Nirvana always shimmered on the horizon … promising its transcendental fulfillment …….namely, an assignment to a jet squadron as a ‘Squadron Pilot’. Think about this … absolutely no duties at all but flying. A position to die for. Even today, I feel a slight sexual arousal from just typing those words. …… buuuut ….I was never able to get that job..
Pre-War War Games
There were a few minor peacetime inconveniences that came with the job, like periodic 18 month unaccompanied overseas absences from family and children (if you had these). This may at first appear sacrificial but actually, the intense flying, excitement and exotic liberty on these tours was more than adequate compensation. Some of our married people even chose foreign companionship while deployed and ‘ranched’ with the indigenous natives off base to relieve loneliness and to satisfy more carnal needs. This was not condoned by military commands but was left up to the discretion of the individual. It was sort of the forerunner of the later homosexual policy … “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”. I personally was not comfortable (morally) with such arrangements at the time, and ‘bar-girls’ were far too S.T.D. risky, so I opted for the monogamist’s mainstay … self-abuse. (For non-Catholics, this means playing with yourself.).
Wartime War Games
Finally our long awaited and hoped for war (Vietnam) finally arrived. We were all charged up to apply our new technology, get into the fray ASAP and earn our strips before it was all over. Often combat was less fun than peacetime deployments, but still exhilarating. My combat tours in Vietnam in ‘65 and again in ‘67 (one helicopter and one attack jet) were done from restricted bases, so liberty was sparse. We had no air-conditioned ‘houches’ or flush toilets, as our troops do today, but we did had a different movie every night; the OClub served 25 cent drinks and 20 cent packs of cigs, as I recall (maybe cheaper); clubs were open 23/7 (closed one hour for cleanup) and 24/7 for chow. For added excitement we had occasional rocket and sapper attacks from the surrounding enemy (clubs closed during all rocket attacks… boo!).
Great Wartime Stuff
Some good thing came via combat (if you were very resourceful). One was the ability to wrangle two or more five day R&Rs (Rest and Recreation debauches) instead of just the one allocated to each troop. The trick was to fill the seat of a Marine already on the R&R list but who had been evacuated, wounded, or killed before his plane departed to either Australia, Hawaii, Hong Kong or Japan. This required inside information that could be acquired if you were properly connected. Once you got the seat assignment you were golden. No questions asked. I suppose that if you were ‘connected’ and had someone covering for you at your unit, you could have remained on R&R an entire 9 month combat tour. (I did give that some fleeting consideration.)
Romance During Combat
Often really unexpected things happen in the heat of battle as well. For example, I accidently met my (erstwhile) second wife to be (a comely young Australian touring singer), in a dark bomb shelter outside the DaNang Officers Club during a night rocket attack on the base. I later R&R-ed to Australia … (my third one) … met her folks … married her later in the States, and had a gorgeous female child. Little did I know that I was simply a Green Card provider. The bliss lasted until my the next combat rotation. She dumped me mid-tour on my third for a wallpaper hanger. Go figure. How is that even possible, man? I wore the Navy Wings of Gold, for god’s sake! I know these things happen regularly to deployed warriors, but I still think it was goddamn rude. Note to all new combat Marines: Beware of denizens of dark bomb shelters with foreign accents…. they can be life disheveling.
Daily Combat Routine Now don’t get me wrong, combat aviation wasn’t all fun and games and could be very dangerous at times, but few Marine Corps jet pilots actually got killed in action, especially considering the many missions we flew. MIGs rarely ventured down south our way. They stayed up north defending Hanoi. Our losses mostly came from flying too low into enemy ground fire, or just flying too low into the ground all by ourselves.
Most of our attack missions were daylight 2 aircraft flights, with mixed ordnance loads, flown in direct support of any Marine ground unit that needed help at the time. This was really cool, because every time you got airborne you were credited with a combat strike/flight mission (toward an Air Medal .. more on that later), even if you didn’t have to do anything dangerous. You could just take off, fly around for an hour or so and if nobody needed help, you would proceed to a pre-designated drop area called a “ordnance disposal zone” and get rid of your ordnance. (For safety reasons, all ordnance must be jettisoned before landing back at the base.) But if you had enough fuel left, you could request clearance to seek and destroy ‘targets of opportunity’ therein. Which meant open season to blast anything that moved within that designated area.
(A brief digression follows:
This just reminded me of the day I tried to nail a black pajama-ed, bicycle rider (a VC bad guy perhaps?) whom I saw ‘hauling’ down a dirt road inside this zone. I was getting low on fuel and could only make one pass at him, so I decided to fire all of my 136 rockets simultaneously (called a salvo). I wasn’t sure if this max-release was even safe or had ever been done, and was totally unprepared for the roar, the thump and the massive cloud of rocket smoke and debris which blotted out the world in front of my jet. I thought for a moment that I had shot myself down. I don’t know if I actually hit that cyclist ….. but if I didn’t, I surely got his attention. I have henceforth reflected on this amoral act and sincerely hope that I missed that hapless bugger.)
Pretty Ribbons (Not) Made of Paper.
Before I continue, I need to speak to my civilian readers about those little colored ribbons that military people attach above their left breast pocket on their uniforms. If one has lots of these, like Admirals or Generals, they are often disrespectfully called ‘fruit salad’. Actually, this array of colored bars and dangly metal pieces represents the complete military history/re’sume of the wearer on full display. If you can read these bits, you can instantly tell where the person has served, how well he/she can shoot, and if he/she is in fact a genuine, iconic war hero. Civilians don’t wear such things, so you can’t tell much about them on the street. Military personnel revere these adornments …. especially the top row where awards for personal valor are worn. Marines do not take kindly to any thoughtless remarks levied by civilian pukes as to their ‘do-dads’ or ‘thingies’. But, don’t ever hesitate to ask any decorated soldier, sailor, officer or enlisted to describe his ribbons, medals and badges …. He or she will be pleased and very proud to do so. I shall describe a few of the aviation awards below that I revered.
First, for every five combat/strike missions flown, a pilot earned an Air Medal with combat V which is a fairly decent aviation award, but to stand out, you need to amass a large number of these. Twenty is a goodly number. If you get lucky, and are called upon to support a unit actually engaged with the enemy, you could sometimes earn a ‘single mission’ Air Medal which is a much quicker route and higher prestige. The more missions and medals you amassed, the more respect (you thought) you commanded from your peers and juniors, so awards of any kind were highly sought after. (This was obviously why they were invented in the first place … probably by Alexander the Great, or the like, perhaps to get dummies to risk their lives for a colored bauble.) For the career military person the awards system was a potent motivator. For the conscripted soldier or airman (military slaves as it were) … they were unimpressive.
Distinguished Flying Crosses
The missions that really pumped-up the old adrenalin, were those in support of ground units that were in danger of being wiped out, or they were attempting a ‘retrograde maneuver’ (that means ‘retreat’ in Marine Corps speak) and the enemy was inflicting serious casualties on their rear. Wow! Now here was almost a sure-fire ‘gimmy’ for a much higher aviation award, like the Distinguished Flying Cross. If you could just press in close enough to place your ordnance directly on top of the enemy (and not your own troops), breakoff the enemy contact and save the day while the bad guys was eagerly shooting at you, then you could qualify. The ground unit commander or the airborne Forward Air Controller had to write it up and send the recommendation through channels, but they were usually pretty forthcoming about this, especially if you had saved their butts. Yes, the DFC is a highly respected medal to earn.
The Three Biggies
Now let’s move up to the three Biggy Awards … Silver Star, Navy Cross, Medal of Honor in that hierarchical order. Fixed wing attack pilots don’t have much of a shot at anything above the Silver Star because of the very nature of the airborne support mission. The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) is primarily an aerial skills award with a fair set of balls thrown in. The Silver Star and above are notoriously “hang your ass out and maybe get dead or seriously wounded medals”. These medals and the purple hearts you do not want except by accident or unavoidable circumstances. They are designed for suicidal people or crack-heads in my opinion. For example: let’s try to upgrade my DFC to a Silver Star in our sample mission above. The basic conditions remain the same. DFC: Friendly troops in danger of annihilation. Dropping the bombs precisely on the enemy in contact; enemy fire moderate to heavy; Not killing your own troops. Saving the day. Recommendation by the unit commander or air control element.
For Silver Star you need much more stuff, like the weather needs to be really bad; you can’t see zip-shit in mostly mountainous terrain; you shouldn’t even be down there flying around, plus … your aircraft needs to get hit by enemy fire, or better yet, you get wounded in the cockpit. Then you totally disregard your own personal safety by returning for repeated passes, taking more hits if possible while delivering all your ordnance and killing a whole slew of those bastards (not the friendly bastards of course) and save the day (before you bleed out) OOORAAH!!! That is about all you can possibly do from a cockpit without a rosary, but you still need some ground pounder to write you up and submit the recommendation. It’s tough to get a Silver Star as an attack pilot, especially if you are sane. Its even tougher to get one as a fighter pilot … there you have to shoot down at least half a dozen (6) armed enemy planes before they shoot you down. Aces are a rare thing today.
But it is much easier for helicopter pilots to earn one of the three biggies because helicopter pilots inherently fly around day and night in harm’s way. Hazardous flying is routine while extracting wounded Marines. Often when helos are shot down, they end up in hand to hand combat with the shoot-down-ers. Much more room for personal heroics ergo higher awards. Combat is up close, and noisy for helicopter crews. Jet pilots cannot even imagine the sight, sound, gore, heat, cold, rain or especially the smells of war from their cozy air-conditioned cockpits and only 30 minutes away from a cold beer. A chopper pilot’s life is nasty, sweaty and gnarly …… but it can be really fun if you are flying a gun ship and shooting back.
I hope you can now better understand why I find the bromide “Thank you for your service to our country” objectionable for me … I was not doing selfless service for my country, … neither were the pilots I flew with. I was voluntarily serving my own career interests and was willing to take calculated risks to attain my goals and awards. But I was just as patriotic as the next guy, I suppose. My attentions were focused on doing my job professionally; watching out for my own ass; looking out for my wingman’s ass, and then looking out for my fellow Marines if they were in trouble. That is not sacrifice … that is what Marines do. We look out for one other to stay alive, NOT to get dead, even for Mom, apple pie or the gumment USofA .
This doesn’t mean that, back in the day, (Vietnam) we appreciated all the ill treatment we received from civilians when we returned home, like …. protestors screaming and spitting on us outside the airports as we deplaned. (Don’t know why many of those long haired unwashed ‘draft-dodgers’ weren’t maimed, as spooky and squirrely as we all were when we returned.) I certainly thought I had been doing the right thing for my country. My two combat mantras were (1) “All this fun and they pay me too. Wow” and (2) “This is only a bad dream. I’m going to wake up in 15 minutes, and its all going to be over” but I still had trust in my mission and my government’s credibility. I should have known better, because I was there thrice and saw clearly what our presence did to the populace plus we were progressively getting our asses handed to us by our adversaries . The VC were tenacious combatants. Our Presidents just could not overcome their hubris and accept our inevitable defeat just because the powerful USA had never acknowledged military defeat before. So, like today, they just kept pumping more and more fresh bodies into the senseless slaughter and telling them they are fighting for our freedoms. Bullsh*t then …. Bullsh*t now.
In retrospect, I am certainly ambivalent now about the killing of a number of other human beings based on the lies I was fed by my Commanders in Chief and believed without question. But shame on me for not using my own brain. Just because we all ended up on the Vietnam battlefield didn’t mean Americans had any right or necessity to be there. But I never reflected on this even once. I was trained well to accept authority and I never questioned our mission (until late in my career). The North Vietnamese certainly knew what the score was. They were fierce defenders of their own country from foreign invaders. First the Chinese, then the French and finally Us. The Vietnamese people and their governments were never a threat to this country or American citizens or our individual freedoms in any sense. Same today for Iraqis, Iranians, and Afghans. (Eeh … for some 9-11 Saudis sure, but we goaded them into it with our aggression.)
We are the world’s most (only) aggressive nation and with our ‘enemies’ are but defenders of their own cultures. The average American just doesn’t get this, and fully supports our troops to carry out these murderous government foreign policies of death. “Hey you mangy suckers!!! If you don’t want to vote and have freedom, then we’ll just invade and kill the shit out of you until you do.” Certainly not a Washingtonian or Jeffersonian foreign policy in my opinion.
War Criminals Then vs War Criminals Now
I don’t want to go too far afield here, but my own Vietnam war presidents were a passel of war criminals just as surely as Hitler, Mussolini, ToJo and Stalin of WWII., Any one of them could have stopped it. Kennedy was going to, but they killed him (maybe for that). It is a historical tragedy that 58,000+ of our young men and women were sent to their deaths in Vietnam based on presidential lies and subterfuge. (And don’t forget the millions of Vietnamese and Laotian soldiers, men, women and children killed. Weren’t they worth something?) A third of our dead were forced to give up their lives by our own government. They were draftees. All the lies are now out and officially confirmed, but has any President been charged or even rebuked for their murderous war crimes? Hell no. They build them libraries to document the brutality. Our current crop of political criminals are doing exactly the same throughout the world today without censure. Wouldn’t you think that a long time Vietnam prisoner like John McCain would have developed a distain for war rather than become a rabid, monstrous, insatiable war hustler. Maybe he is just working off an old grudge ….. he needs to knock it off.
No More Dissenters,or Deserters, But Lots Of Bankrupt Promises
The main difference I see between the Vietnam era and the current era, is the absence of any public anti-war outcry now. And why is that? Because the “Empire-ists” have finally contrived a foolproof Ponzi scheme to circumvent the Vietnam anti-war backlash created by forcing our youth into military bondage (via conscription) The simple solution was to get rid of gold as money (Nixon did this) and then print as much free fiat money as they needed to buy “volunteer” mercenaries with fat enlistment bonuses, good pay, job training, education benefits, medical and retirement benefits, and finally a government school system to brain wash replacements with lies and false patriotic prattle of how vital and precious they are to our safety and defense against foreign aggressors who don’t aggress. Go figure. A nefarious but brilliantly successful artifice. But be mindful… all these promises, goodies and payouts are illusory and totally unfunded and will fall on our great grandchildren to suffer the default. Pox be upon us! I am ashamed to be part of such a detestable legacy. But I cannot recall failing to cash any of my retirement or social security checks. Look who’s outing the phonies. Pox be on me!
The Conning of the American Mom
Have you noticed that today’s moms aren’t telling there sons (and now daughters) to defect to Canada to avoid military service as moms did in the ‘60s-‘70s. And why not? Because as I said, our military troops today are cookie cutouts, recruited directly out of our government indoctrination schools with the parental seal of approval attached. “Johnny and Jill have great career opportunities and will get job training or a degree after the military, and we are all so very proud of them for sacrificing and risking their lives to protect us from those foreign ragheads (or whoever), and they are making real good money right now, and you know how bad the economy is, and how tight jobs are, and besides that, look how far they have come with artificial limbs and rehabilitation. They’ll be good as new in no time at all.” Hear me please: something is seriously wrong with a venture where the suicide deaths of our all volunteer forces are higher than their combined combat deaths. Don’t just keep ignoring this. Figure it out. The mission is the culprit.
No more spittle and No more applause please.
Now, of course we should not be spitting on our troops when they return, but to have air passengers stop and applaud them in airports, string Support Our Troops banners and give them “the sign” over their breasts (see this slick video here) as they pass and venerate them as a clan of camo-clad rock stars, is way over the top. But the public keeps buying into it. It must reflect a collective guilt of some kind. Shame on us. Haven’t we learned anything from the past mistakes of other peoples, like the Germans and their destructive militaristic worship? We should not defame our troops, but we should not deify them either. We should try to educate them to their folly. What our troops do for a living is a damnable, bloody, murderous job performed for ribbons and medals and pay and benefits and job training and college and R&Rs. Don’t believe this? Then cut back on the massive expenditures, and see just how rapidly your volunteer force dries up. The claim that they are self-sacrificial martyrs for our liberty is a State promoted fantasy. This is not true. Yet, in every American airport the beat goes on.
Just as I uncritically sold myself as a mercenary during another era, I too never questioned the right or wrong of my orders or my actions, because if I had, I would have been un-American (actually a traitor), and would have been quickly out of a job-never receiving the promised lifetime booty I had worked so hard to earn. It was best not to ask any questions then. The same is true today. I am not very proud of that. As an older, wiser man I must try to correct this mistake, and argue effectively against our current path to destruction. So I say again. You should not applaud uniformed troops or thank retired military personnel. Why should soldiers be more revered than brick layers or cab drivers or dentists? I contend that any musician or Fed-Ex driver, or dog groomer “has done more to benefit this country, and less to bankrupt it and give it a bad name worldwide, than all the current armed services combined,” says Fred Reed, journalist and former Marine. I say, if you are a volunteer, then you accept the pay to do your job with risks well known and fully accepted …. or don’t accept them. You don’t rate receiving special recognition any more than a lobster fishermen or coal miner’s who also have hazardous jobs. Why don’t we applaud mountain climbers at our airports? Why do active duty and veterans get a 10% discount at Lowe’s, and Home Depot while firemen and rescue workers do not? Why would you applaud men (or women) who sit behind video screens in air-conditioned comfort in Nevada and remotely execute men, women and children on order with armed Predator drones located half way around the world? You may not believe this, but these ‘video game killers’ are actually classified as pilots (but never fly a plane). They are authorized wings for their uniforms (but never leave the ground). They work in the same fire proof flight suits that real pilots wear (but never enter a cockpit or never leave the ground). They make $850.00 hazardous duty flight pay per month extra (but sit in a trailer)…. and the worst yet, they are lobbying for awards for stress and medals for bravery to carry out their joy stick missions (but never risk life or limb and never leave the ground). What a bunch of phony-wanna-be-warriors for your adoration. If we are going to honor somebody, my suggestion is to applaud all the gynecologists and gastroenterologists at our airports, because you have got to admit, these folks really do get down into the trenches … oooooh!…gag! Sorry about that.
The principal point not addressed in this piece I want to pose now by quoting Fred Reed again: “Why would you ever want to thank military troops for selflessly defending our liberty when nothing is farther from the truth? There hasn’t been a soldier that has defended this country since 1945. Our troops have engaged in multiple undeclared, unconstitutional wars of aggression ever since. But none have been to defend this country. If you don’t know that, then you have not been paying attention.” I now ask ….. do you utter these meaningless “thank you” platitudes because they have a nice ring to them, or they make you feel better or perhaps, you just have empathy for our poor ol’ troops, or maybe, just maybe, all that “gumment” propaganda and lies have played with your mind and your ethics? It is definitely time to upgrade your thinking. Wake up Amurikur!
I conclude by saluting all those unsung American heroes out there who are funding my retirement. I humbly proclaim, “Thank you, thank you all, for your selfless sacrifice to our country through your heroic involuntary income tax contributions to me (and mine), I shall try to applaud every one of you at my next airport visit.
A final prayer: God bless you all for your unbridled self-destructive altruism, and blood thirsty xenophobia. Always remain steadfast and true to your patriotic hysteria and flag waving for all our invading mercenaries throughout the world. USA! USA! Über alles. Über alles in der Welt! (Translation: USA, USA above everything. Above everything in the world! Courtesy former Hitler youth high school commencement lyrics <grin>.) Amen.”
Your comments or rebuttal invited. Please …. no ravings or ad hominems.
Major USMC Retired
The two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley A Butler USMC summed it up best :
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only racket international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
And the rest of us pay the bill!