Debt of Honor (PBS, November 10, 9:00 PM EST)

disabled_veteransUsually at this time of year, I dedicate a blog post to U.S. veterans of foreign conflicts as an homage to their dedication, patriotism, and sacrifice.  It’s a bit odd for me, not having served in the military myself.  I think it’s simply a matter of trying to pay back what little I can within the realization that the sacrifice they made was to the benefit of all of us.

This year though, I will diverge a bit to recognize a very special class of veteran, the disabled veteran.  Those who came home from conflicts with horrible wounds that left them significantly disabled for life.

Tonight (November 10) at 9:00 PM EST (2100 HRS EST) PBS will air the premiere of Debt of Honor, a documentary that looks into the history of America’s disabled vets.

Disabled veterans hold a unique place in the history of veterans in the United States, one that palpably illustrates the human cost of war, and speaks to the enormous sacrifices of military service. Debt of Honor examines the way in which the American government and society as a whole have regarded disabled veterans throughout history, beginning in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War through today’s continuing conflicts in the Middle East.

Many of us consider the issue of disabled veterans to be a recent phenomena, the result of political scandal over the management of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The problem came to the forefront of American politics largely due to the neglect of veterans recently disabled from present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But instead of sitting here, trying to blame one President or another for the problems they rightfully have responsibility for, I’d like to take a different tack today.

dav-logoThe problems faced by veterans in all walks of like, from those suffering not at all to those able to function physically but unable to psychologically due to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to those horribly disfigured and only permitted to function through the graces of modern medical science once they return from protecting us is no one’s fault but our own!

We own it, because so many of us simply do not care enough. If we care enough about it and make it a serious National issue, potential Presidents and all sorts of politicos would find import in the issue.  We allow politicians to skirt the issue because we skirt the issue.

I make no bones about the aspect that many politicians might only care because we MAKE them care about it.  Who really cares what selfish motivation we might instill in our politicians, if it gets the job done?  Self-interest – particularly in politicians – can be an extremely lucrative motivator.  So let’s put it to use!

Take the challenge … The next time you have a chance to speak to your Congressional Representative or a local politician with a potentially promising future in National Politics, don’t ask them first about Jobs, the Economy, Immigration, Gay Marriage, or their views on the Rights of gun owners, minority members of society, or the 1%.  Ask them FIRST about what they would do to improve the lives of disabled veterans in their own districts, or how they would address disabled veteran care during their next term in Washington, D.C., or what they might do to fix the problems at the Veterans Administration.

disabled veteranIf you can’t wait that long (and certainly there is no time to wait), write them a letter and demand an answer from them that matters.  Do not take “no” or a lot of fluff as an answer.  Press the issue and press it hard.

With 11 months until the Presidential election, much hay could also be made by constantly asking our POTUS candidates what they will do in their first days in office to address the problems faced by disable veterans across the country!

The only way we can make this problem go away is by making it The Constant Problem of every politician we elect, especially those we send to Washington, D.C.!

Ponder the true purpose of Memorial Day

On Friday, May 22 I will strap my golf bag to a noble electric steed (i.e. golf cart) and spend four non-productive hours chasing a small, dimpled ball over hill and dale in a contest against Nature, technology, and my inner golf demons.

memorial-dayOn the same date in 1863, 79 Union soldiers would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor in what would be called the “forlorn hope” of a volunteer storming party attempting to breach the Confederate defensive works surrounding Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The plan, ordered by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, required the building of a bridge over a moat and the placement of ladders against the heights surrounding the town in preparation for the main attack which was to follow. Knowing the odds of survival were minimal to non-existent, only single men were asked to volunteer.  Despite this knowledge twice the needed number of volunteers stepped forward.  Many were turned away.

After being pinned down by Confederate fire in the ditch they were to cross, the party unsuccessful in their forlorn hope was unable to withdraw until nightfall.  Of the 150 men who made up the storming party, nearly half were killed.

On Saturday, May 23 I will cut the lawn; plant my usual late May impatiens; and perhaps finish off my piecemeal effort to mulch all the flower beds.

USS Squalus

USS Squalus

On the same date in 1939, the submarine U.S.S. Squalus suffered a catastrophic incident while conducting a “crash test” off the Isles of Shoals.  The crash test, designed to simulate the sudden dive of a submarine to avoid enemy detection, went horribly wrong.  A valve used to supply fresh air to the boat’s diesel engine was mistakenly left open.  The aft torpedo room, both engine rooms, and the crew quarters were immediately flooded. Thirty-three (33) survivors rushed to the forward compartments and awaited a rescue they had little hope of seeing.  A sister sub coming out of Portsmouth found the boat’s telephone buoy, and 40 hours later they were rescued.  Twenty-six (26) sailors drowned in the initial flooding.

On Sunday, May 24 we will take the three-hour trip near Williamsport, PA to visit our son, his wife and our first granddaughter, Harper.

On that date in 1968, 75 U.S. servicemen lost their lives in Vietnam.  To be honest, I could not find sufficient information to do justice to those who died that day in a land far, far from home. So I will simply list their names.

  • JOE E. ALLEN; Bay St. Louis, MS
  • CLARENCE J. BALDWIN; Cherry Valley, NY
  • JAMES P. BIRKS; Pattotomie, OK
  • JAMES D. BOWERS; Johnson City, TN
  • DONALD B. BUTTON; Charleston, SC
  • RICHARD A. CARLSON; San Franscisco, CA
  • DWIGHT W. CARROLL; Springfield, TN
  • WILLIAM E. CASSIDY; Baltimore, MD
  • CHARLES M. CHESSHER; Crestview, FL
  • JERRY M. CHITWOOD; Washington, OK
  • GEORGE W CLARK; Lakeville, CT
  • JOHN C. COLLINS; Moorehead City, NC
  • RONALD J. COOK; Phoenix, AZ
  • JOSE DAVILA; Chapman Ranch, TX
  • MICHAEL L. DEANE; Westfield, MA
  • MELVIN DIVENS; Chicago, IL
  • FRANK G. EAVES; Atlanta, GA
  • RICHARD C. FINA; Hudson, WI
  • WALLACE A. FORD; Huntington, WV
  • GARY D. FOX; Sheridan, WY
  • RONALD L. FRAZER; Cambridge City, IN
  • ROBERT A. HAYDEN; Bridgeport, WA
  • LYNN G. HIEBERT; Thief River Falls, MN
  • JERRY L. HILBERT; Louisville, KY
  • JERRY J. HILL; Minneapolis, MN
  • DAVID A. JACKSON; Tulare, CA
  • JOSEPH M. KAMINSKI, JR.; Wilmington, DE
  • DALE D. KENYON; Sioux Falls, SD
  • WILLIAM E. KNOX; Canton, OH
  • JOHN G. KOMERS; El Monte, CA
  • AL R. LEWIS; Memphis, TN
  • PAUL LEWIS; Saugerties, NY
  • JOSEPH D. MACK; Prairie Point, MS
  • GEORGE E. MASSIE; Clear Spring, MD
  • LARRY R. McFADDIN; Paintsville, KY
  • LARRY D. NOVAK; Platt Center, NE
  • GERALD T. PARMETER; Cazadero, CA
  • GARY L. PATTERSON; Seattle, WA
  • ROBERT M. PAULK; Vallejo, CA
  • GARY W. PURCELL; Torrance, CA
  • LAWRENCE G. RENO; Cincinnati, OH
  • HU B. RHODES; Shelbyville, TN
  • GLOUSTER RHYNES; Fort Pierce, FL
  • LARRY L. RILEY; Midwest City, OK
  • EMMETT RUCKER, JR.; Wichita Falls, TX
  • HERBERT E. SCHMIDT; Kansas City, MO
  • JAMES L. SHANKS; Freeport, NY
  • RONALD J. SHEWMAN; Los Angeles, CA
  • MICHAEL A. SMOGER; Two Harbors, MN
  • FREDERICK G. STEFFEN; New Baltimore, MI
  • BRENT L. SWABBY; El Monte, CA
  • PAUL R. THERIAULT; Cambridge, MA
  • TOUSSAINT L. TITUS; Fairfield, TX
  • PHILIP G. TURNER; Jackson, GA
  • DAVID H. WHITEHILL; Newburgh, NY
  • ROGER D. WILLIAMS; Roanoke, VA
  • FLOYD L. WILLIAMS, JR.; Northglenn, CO

On Monday, May 25 I will spend much of the day chilling and perhaps do some light yard work.

On that same date in 1862, 2400 Americans died in the First Battle of Winchester, VA. The battle proved to be an important strategic victory for Stonewall Jackson in his Shenandoah Valley campaign.

An undersized Union Army formation was forced to flee the town of Winchester, VA, which had been outflanked by Jackson’s defeat of the Union garrison at Front Royal, VA. The battle was one of many smaller conflicts during The Civil War that do not receive the attention of the larger, more notorious battles in the War Between the States.

Regardless of how one feels about the goals and motivations of the Confederacy, one must keep in mind that all who died had been Americans, and their sacrifice helped define what the United States of America would become in the decades to follow.

On Tuesday, May 26 the long Memorial Day holiday will be a wistful memory as many of us head back to work.  I will cheat a bit here to include one more memory in salute to those World War II veterans that are leaving us in sad, alarming numbers every week.

On May 26, 1942, Admiral Nagumo’s 1st Carrier Fleet sailed from Japanese waters for Midway Island.  His task force contains the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu with two battleships, cruisers and destroyers as escort.  The Battle for Midway Island was fought a few days later, from June 4-7.  The sea conflict occurred just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when the Japanese were largely unstoppable throughout the Pacific.  Three hundred and seven Americans died over those three days (Japanese losses: 3000 men, four aircraft carriers) as the American Pacific Fleet dealt a blow that would in effect end the hegemonic wave surging from Japan.  From that day forward, the tide of war in the Pacific would flow The Allies way.


Now this post is not intended to sour anyone’s Memorial Day holiday, although I have to admit, copying those 75 names from May 24, 1968 was more than a little sobering for me.

No, my intent is to simply encourage you to take pause during the weekend to remember the true purpose of Memorial Day … To remember those who died to birth our Country, to build and shape its future, and to protect that future from forces hostile to the ideals it embraces.

Have a great holiday!

Chuck Bednarik: They don’t make them anymore!

2Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik, legendary figure in Philadelphia sports history died yesterday at the age of 89 after a short illness.

Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles for 14 years, Bednarik was the last of the “two-way players”, on the field for both offense and defense and routinely playing 55-58 minutes in a 60 minute game.

That kind of playing time is unheard of now in a sport where hard hitting is no longer the backbone of a game built on speed and athletic ability.

Bednarik’s life – football aside – was a microcosm of The Greatest Generation.

  • Born in Bethlehem, PA, Bednarik spent his entire life living in Pennsylvania.
  • Bednarik_CorpsJoined the Army Air Corp right out of high school with World War II in full swing. Flew 30 bombing missions over Germany as a waist gunner in the B-24.
  • All-American footballer at the University of Pennsylvania where he played linebacker, center and also punted. (In 1947, Bednarik’s junior year, Penn was ranked #7 in the nation.)
  • Philadelphia Eagles signed him for a $3000 bonus, $10,000 salary. He never made more than $27,000 a season!

Bednarik is most widely known for his hard, legal hit on NY Giants running back Frank Gifford, of Monday Night Football fame and Howard Cosell in a 1960 game.

Bednarik separating Frank Gifford (16) from the ball (1960).

Bednarik was an outspoken critic of the modern football player in his later years, bemoaning the end of the two-way player, then laughing at the likes of Deion Sanders when he decided to play “two-way football” at the cornerback/wide receiver positions.

They don’t make them like that anymore.

Inconspicuous news

The video he wishes he never shared

Ahmed Merabet

Ahmed Merabet

The most disturbing piece of video shot during the Charlie Hedbo massacre was perhaps that shot by man across the street from the assassination of French police officer, Ahmed Merabet, a 42-year-old Muslim himself.

Engineer Jordi Mir described the terror and panic he felt after having just witnessed the cold blooded, merciless shooting as Merabet lay obviously wounded on the sidewalk. Alone and feeling isolated in his flat, Mir fled to his computer and posted the video to Facebook.

After but 15 minutes, he thought better of his decision and took the video down; but it was too late. Within an hour he was mortified to see it being replayed across the world on hundreds of media sites and broadcasts.

No one – in my opinion – could blame Mir for what he did, given that moment in time and the terror he must have felt. The story does not go into why he felt posting it was a mistake he regrets. But it is a lesson in the unforgiving nature of today’s instantaneous “share it” culture.

Krauthammer: Boost the gas tax

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer, never one to be mistaken for a “tax and spend” liberal, is championing a $1.00 boost in the national gas tax. But he’s not pushing it as a way to fix the transit infrastructure.

Krauthammer wants the tax boosted to continue the psychological pressure on the consumption of petroleum products and as a way to relieve the pressure – even if only a little – on those consumers living day-to-day in everyday America by reducing Social Security taxes among other options.

He makes several valid points on the both the psyche of the American automotive consumer and his fickle relationship with overseas oil. lying just below the surface is the same mistrust all should feel about the obviously selfish motives of the Saudis, who are driving down the cost of oil (now below $50 a barrel) in a blatant strategy to corner market share and render economically less feasible the hunt for and development of alternative energy sources.

If, as some sources suggest, this artificially low price of foreign oil persists for two years, exactly how much damage will be done to efforts to wean us from the oil nipple?!?

Louie and the Quarterback

If you know the story of Louie Zamperini, you know of the extraordinary trials he went through in his early life. I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Unbroken”, but I plan to. I did thoroughly enjoy Lauren Hillenbrand’s book by the same title. If you haven’t read it, you really should, especially if you can squeeze it in before seeing the movie!

From all accounts, Zamperini is an extremely likeable man. A close family member had several chances to meet Zamperini at public events in a law enforcement role in his native home of Torrance, CA. He had nothing but praise for the old WWII hero.

Zamperini died this past July.

But another interesting friendship Zamperini encouraged was with former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley, third string QB for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, met Zamperini as a USC freshman in 2009.

Barkley describes how no one know who this “old guy” was as he addressed their class. But by the end, Barkley was listening intently and was so struck by his story that he hung around to talk to “Unbroken” hero afterwards.

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

And a friendship was born.

Barkley shares that “Louie embodied what it means to push through your mental limits and even the physical limits of what your body can do.”

It was a lesson that served Barkley well in his struggles to make the transition to the NFL. The two men, roughly 70 years apart in age, conversed regularly. Zamperini even invited Barkley to watch the U.S.-Canada 2010 Olympic Games hockey matchup in his home.

Spoiler alert: Zamperini became such a gracious man in his later years, when he was given the opportunity to carry a torch for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan he sought a media-arranged meeting with the former Japanese soldier who tormented him in the WWII prison camp. The offer was rejected by Mutsohiro Watanabe.

Why we celebrate Memorial Day

memorial-dayAs we enjoy another long weekend, courtesy of those who fought and died to ensure the success of our national experiment, remember those who made it possible even though they never made it home.


Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr. returned home this past December, 45 years after being lost over Laos during the Vietnam War.

COL Francis J. McGouldrick Jr.

COL Francis J. McGouldrick Jr.

On Dec. 13, 1968, McGouldrick served as a navigator on a B-57E Canberra on a night strike mission when the aircraft collided with a C-123 Provider over Savannakhet Province. McGouldrick was never seen again and was listed as missing in action. In July 1978, a military review board amended McGouldrick’s official status to presumed killed in action, according to a DOD POW/Missing Personnel Office news release.

Between 1993 and 2004, several attempts to locate the crash site proved unsuccessful, but on April 8, 2007, a joint team located a possible crash site near the village of Keng Keuk. From October 2011 to May 2012, joint U.S. and Laos teams recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage consistent with a B-57E.

Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command scientists and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as mitochondrial DNA, which matched McGouldrick’s great nephew and niece, to identify McGouldrick, according to the release.

Before the family received the answers they’d been searching for since they first learned McGouldrick was declared missing, his wife Jacqueline and two siblings died. However, his children and grandchildren were able to finally see him return and receive the burial with full military honors he was due.  (Taken from



Army SGT 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt – On December 28, 2013 the remains of SGT 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt were returned to his widow 60 years after he went missing during a Chinese offensive in North Korea.  His wife, who met him in 1942 as he prepared to fight in his first war, never remarried in hopes that some day she would be reunited with the man she loved.


SGT 1st Class Joseph Gantt

Joseph Gantt was reported missing in action on November 30, 1950, while serving with Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Division, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C.

According to the office, elements of the 2nd Infantry Division were attacked by greater numbers of Chinese forces near the town of Kunu-ri, North Korea.

The division disengaged and withdrew, fighting its way through a series of Chinese roadblocks.  Numerous U.S. soldiers were reported missing that day in the vicinity of Somindong, North Korea.

After a 1953 exchange of prisoners of war, returning U.S. soldiers reported that Gantt had been injured in battle, captured by Chinese forces and died in a POW camp in early 1951 from malnutrition and lack of medical care. (Excerpt taken from


USMC jets pass in tribute the memorial on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima

Flyby tribute to the USMC memorial on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima


Private Joseph Gandara – On March 14, 2014 President Barack Obama presented 19 long overdue Medals of Honor.  Among the recipients was Private Joe Gandara of Santa Monica, CA.

From his Medal Of honor citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Private Joseph Gandara

Private Joseph Gandara

Private Joe Gandara distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Company D, 2d Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Amfreville, France on June 9, 1944.

On that day, Private Gandara’s detachment came under devastating enemy fire from a strong German force, pinning the men to the ground for a period of four hours. Private Gandara voluntarily advanced alone toward the enemy position. Firing his machine gun from his hip as he moved forward, he destroyed three hostile machine guns before he was fatally wounded.

Private Gandara’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the cost of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.



Edward J. Kelley

Edward J. Kelley

Please take the time to read the story of Philadelphian, Edward J. Kelley, a graduate of Roman Catholic High School, who was killed while in service with the all-volunteer American Ambulance Corps during World War I in France months before the United States entered the war.

One could argue that his story, as it appears in Sunday’s The Philadelphia Inquirer is not technically recognition consistent with the true meaning of Memorial Day, since Kelley was not serving in a conflict yet including direct U.S. involvement.  My argument would be that Kelley’s actions magnificently demonstrate American heroism in its desire to make a difference when other people are suffering the inhumanities of war.

Finally, experience the somber respect demonstrated by airline passengers this past October, when a hero was transported back to his family on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

And as we all enjoy what looks to be a gorgeous weekend here on the East Coast, be sure to take a few moments to remember those – both past and present, living and passed – who make it all possible.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

When it comes to book reviews, I can get a bit wordy.  (Hard to believe, I know!)  Usually this occurs because my goal is to encourage people, who might hold the same interests, to read a book I have found enjoyable or educational.

Such encouragement won’t be necessary for Unbroken, one of the few books I had to ask coworkers not to discuss in my presence so as not to spoil a highly anticipated read.  As an entry at the top of best-seller lists for quite some time, it had a rather large following long before I got around to picking it up.

Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote the best-seller (and eventual movie) Seabiscuit, masterfully chronicles the true life and trials of Louis Zamperini.  The main character of Unbroken, Zamperini led a fascinating – and at times tragically graphic – life.

Born of Italian parents and living as a teen in Torrance, California Zamperini fought the allure of juvenile delinquency early in life through competitive running.  He developed into a record-holding high school track star, qualified for the 1936 Olympics held – appropriately enough considering the main theme of his story – in Berlin, Germany during the swelling of European Nazism and the reign of Adolph Hitler.

Zamperini tied 5000 meter world-record holder, Dan Lash, to qualify for the '36 Olympics as a high school runner

Zamperini tied 5000 meter world-record holder, Don Lash, to qualify for the ’36 Olympics as a high school runner

While still in high school, Zamperinin’s 56-second final lap performance in the 5000 meter in the 1936 Olympics was so impressive, Der Führer Adolph Hitler pointedly asked to meet him.  Legend has it Zamperini made off with one of the Führer’s personal flags before leaving Berlin.

The circle of karma to which this event belongs is but a small segment of a truly amazing story.

Zamperini, not quite ready to call 1936 the apex of his athletic career, trains hard for the 1940 Olympics, scheduled to be held – of course – in Tokyo, Japan.  But with the drums of World War II beating throughout the world, the 1940 Olympics never occur and Louis Zamperini marches off, along with millions of other young Americans, to a world-wide conflagration to beat back fascism and the Asian Pacific designs of the Japanese Empire.

Louis Zamperini becomes one of the recognizable icons representing all those who risked everything to free half the world from tyranny.   He becomes one who survives perhaps the one collective ordeal that might rival death in combat as a more favorable outcome.

Trained as a bombardier flying in B-24 Liberators in the Pacific Theatre, Zamperini survives a non-combat air crash; barely survives a 47-day ordeal floating in a raft through the Central Pacific with two fellow crewmen – one of whom does not survive the ordeal; then spends the rest of the war at the mercy of several sadistic Japanese prison camp guards.

green hornetThere is no “spoil” in laying out the major waypoints of the Zamperini saga here because you must read the details of his journey to truly appreciate the mind-numbing difficulties faced by Zamperini and the thousands of POWs and civilians held by a Japanese culture where surrender and capitulation rendered the subjugated as inferior beings unworthy of humane treatment.

The telling of this part of the Zamperini tale would normally make the events that preceded it nothing more than prelude, yet his early life challenges and his evolution into an Olympian admired throughout the world is equally interesting.  And his fame in pre-war life has its effects on his captivity at the hands of the Japanese, a scary intersection that may have saved his life while at the same time rendering his time as a prisoner-of-war barely survivable!

Mr. Zamperini still resides in Torrance, CA at the extraordinary age of 96!

Mr. Zamperini still resides in Hollywood, CA at the extraordinary age of 96!

It is – very simply – a story that must be read to be believed.

As one might expect, his life immediately after his return from imprisonment includes post-traumatic symptoms and problems in his attempts to return to a normal life.  In this regard, Zamperini’s experiences are no different in most regards to those suffered by thousands of POWs in WWII and hundreds of others in dozens of wars.

In these “book reports” I tend to share those new things I learned or the more interesting perspectives a good read can bring to light.  But to do this here would simply spoil a fascinating twist to Zamperini’s psychological and spiritual recovery.

So if you are one of the few who – like me – waited too long to pick up a fascinating book, grab Unbroken before the movie comes out!

  • In 1998, at the spry age of 81, Zamperini was afforded the opportunity to run a leg of the Olympic torch relay for the Winter games in Nagano, Japan.  While there he requested the opportunity to meet his worst POW tormentor, but was frustrated in his attempt.
  • For those of us Philadelphia Eagles fans, Mr. Zamperini continues to attend USC football games, and is purportedly a friend of recent Eagles draft pick, QB Matt Barkley!
  • Unbroken, to be directed by actress Anjolina Jolie, is slated to appear in movie theatres for Christmas 2014.

The Admirals (Walter R. Borneman)

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King and Bill Halsey

I have always enjoyed reading American history, especially about both the American Civil War and World War II.  One – a domestic conflict – determined the future course of America’s development as a “united nation”; the other – a world-wide conflict – resulted in America’s emergence as a global leader.

That’s not to say I have read everything out there on either subject.  And from time-to-time I run across a book that teaches me a new thing or two.  In the case of The Admirals, I gained a new perspective on America’s military leadership during the last world war to end all world wars.

Walter R. Borneman ‘s enlightening work focuses on the four admirals, who transcended the U.S. Navy’s pre-World War II rank hierarchy, to become the first five-star admirals in American history.  This development was made necessary by the British Allies’ penchant for Fleet Admirals and Field Marshalls.  The 5-star rank was added (by Act of Congress in June 1944) to the American military ranks to place U.S. admirals and generals on equal footing with their European counterparts.

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Flag of the Fleet Admiral of the U.S. Navy

Five-star ranks of Fleet Admiral were bestowed on the four U.S. Navy Admirals and subjects of the book: William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King, Chester W. Nimitz, and William F. Halsey, Jr.  Fifth stars have not been issued to a Navy officer since 1945 and the conclusion of World War II.

Prior to reading The Admirals I was much more familiar with the four U.S. Army Generals, who carried the five-star rank of General of the Armies:  George C.Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Henry H. Arnold.  (Omar Bradley was added as a five-star General in 1950, the only officer in U.S. military service so honored after WWII.)

In The Admirals a new appreciation is gained for the leadership exhibited by two men often overlooked in most media presentations on the War in the Pacific.  Those men are Admirals Leahy and King.  Until I picked up The Admirals, I had no appreciation for the contributions they made in the prosecution of America’s WWII efforts.

The exploits and accomplishments of Admirals Nimitz and Halsey during the Pacific campaign are well-known and referred to relatively often.  For instance, the other night I could not resist watching part of the movie, Midway in which Nimitz and Halsey are prominent.  For that reason, the following speaks mostly of Bill Leahy and Ernest King.


Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference in June 1945

Admirals King, top left and Leahy, behind FDR, at the Yalta Conference (June 1945)

Bill Leahy had been age-retired and was serving as Governor of Puerto Rico when the long-anticipated conflict with Japan broke with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  His friendship with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cultivated during a period in his Navy career when – as a Navy captain – Leahy ferried the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy up and down the U.S. eastern coast.  Their relationship led to Leahy being named the Ambassador to Nazi-controlled Vichy, France when the Germans had overrun most of Western Europe.

Leahy’s role as ambassador was to influence the Vichy government from total subservience to the Nazi government, especially when it came to the remnants of the French fleet.  When the Vichy eventually fell in line with the Nazis through the elevation of the pro-German Pierre Laval to the head of its government, FDR kept his promise to the previously retired Admiral Leahy; brought him home from France; and recalled him to military service to help fight the war.

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry "Hap" Arnold, top left

Leahy, left, and King, top right, in conference with Generals George C. Marshall, right, and Henry “Hap” Arnold, top left

Tragedy befell Leahy as he prepared to leave the Vichy.  His wife, Louise died suddenly from medical complications of a rushed hysterectomy performed in France.

In time Leahy came to be viewed by  FDR and – almost as importantly – General George Marshall as the perfect candidate to become Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  From this position Bill Leahy would not only coordinate the military’s strategic implementations with FDR’s global considerations, he became the man The President relied upon more and more for all manner of domestic and foreign policy execution.

Admiral Leahy accompanied President Roosevelt to most of the major war conferences, being left behind once in Tunis and missing Casablanca due to a high fever.  He acted as a gatekeeper to information, communications, and personal access to FDR; coordinated execution of the both military and domestic presidential directives; and as Roosevelt’s health diminished, assumed responsibility for the daily functions of The Chief Executive.

The true testament to Admiral Bill Leahy’s effectiveness in those positions was his retention by Harry S Truman as his Chief of Staff for the entirety of his first term following FDR’s death in April 1945.


Fleet Admirals Nimitz and King with Admiral Raymond Spruance aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis

You gain keen insight from the earlier, less exciting chapters of The Admirals for the process through which the U.S. Navy ensures its officers and future leaders are well-rounded and thoroughly trained.  In the pre-World War II chapters, Borneman concentrates on the early careers of his four study subjects.  What is learned is the important role played by the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation (Bureau of Navy Personnel since 1942), an administrative position that controls the assignment and detailing of naval officers throughout the vast opportunities offered by Navy service.  Each of the World War II five-stars is exposed to the various types of boats, ships and planes.  From destroyers, to submarines, through cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers …

Although none of the four officers Borneman follows gains experience in every possible Navy assignment, the reader sees how each officer’s background developed and how those experiences contributed to their efforts, ideas and strategies during the war.

For a U.S. Navy plying the seas leading to an intriguing World War II theatre of operations in a Pacific Ocean covering tens of millions of square miles, this background provides perspective to the Navy’s evolution from a force built around the great battleships of the Great White Fleet to a fighting force oriented around the aircraft carrier and the long-distance reach of ship-borne aircraft.

It was this kind of ingenuity, an ability to take what was experienced and learned in career assignments that led to a vastly improved vision of modern ocean combat.  The kind of vision that most adequately prepared the U.S. Navy for the challenges of fighting a veteran Japanese navy in the expansive Pacific Theatre.

For this reason, Borneman’s focus remains almost exclusively on the Pacific side of the two-front war America faced during World War II.  There is little mention – aside from Admiral King’s assignment as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet – of the Atlantic conflict that was more narrowly focused in the fight against the German U-boat.


Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Ernest J. King was known as cold, career-oriented, hands-on boss with a penchant for hard-drinking, something which changed in the years just before the war broke out.  One of the most senior Navy officers, who was on the short list for mandatory retirement when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Recalled to active fleet duty, King was initially assigned to lead the Atlantic campaign against the German U-boats.  After convincing FDR to use his flag-ship, U.S.S. Augusta in his initial meeting with Winston Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland, King began consolidating a leadership position that would eventually land him as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet (COMINCH).  From this position he would direct the overall strategy of fending off the advances of the Japanese in the Pacific even as the U.S. and its allies pursued its Germany First war strategy in Europe.

King realized that to leave the Japanese free to roam the Pacific, if the Allies became exclusively focused on Fortress Europe, would make retaking the largest ocean in the world that much harder.  Throughout the war King would beg, borrow and steal to keep the Japanese at bay, then slowly start pushing them back towards their home islands.

It was King who charged Nimitz with preserving the vital ocean links from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii and Wake Island as well as the ocean routes to Australia through New Caledonia and Saipan. A strategy that led to the early and successful battles at Coral Sea and Midway.

Admiral "Fighting Bill" Halsey on a Victory poster

Admiral “Fighting Bill” Halsey on a Victory poster

King also endorsed a plan, developed by his Operations Officer, Captain Francis “Frog” Low to bomb Tokyo with Army Air Force bombers launched from aircraft carriers known as the Doolittle Raid.  King’s global strategic vision made winning the war in the Pacific less costly than a myopic obsession with Germany First could have cost the Allies in time, lives and treasure.

As with such major world conflicts, even Allies don’t always get along.  Besides clashes with British and Soviet priorities and strategic visions, American military leaders had to deal with their own internecine struggles over power, resources, and tactical ideas.  As one would expect the U.S Army and Navy did not always see eye-to-eye on how and where the great battles should be fought.  And with personalities as large as Generals George Marshal and – more pointedly – Douglas MacArthur there were more than a few opportunities for paralyzing disagreement.

Borneman credits Admiral King for smoothing the often ruffled feathers of his Army counterparts, particularly MacArthur.  King’s relationship with General Marshall got off to a slow start; would never be particularly close; but was always of mutual respect.  King wholeheartedly endorsed Eisenhower to head the North African invasion (Operation Torch), a success that led to Ike’s leading of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France (Operation Neptune).

MacArthur, as most who competed with or tried to control would learn, was another story.  But King was deft at keeping MacArthur from interfering too much in the Navy’s war efforts; and usually was able to keep him happy enough to remain an effective threat to the Japanese.


In an attempt to summarize this very long post, Borneman’s The Admirals forces the reader to focus on the complexities of developing properly trained, strategic-thinking naval officers; the prosecution of wide-ranging global warfare on a scale rarely seen in any generation; and the way personalities and the politics of leadership comes together in just one arm of the U.S. military.  In a war that encompassed much of the globe and no less than three major Allied powers, respective political establishments and military organizations, it is a tribute to confident and visionary Allied leadership that the effort didn’t simply collapse under the weight of its divergent personalities and priorities.

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Admiral of the Fleet Chester W. Nimitz at Japanese surrender
Behind him stand MacArthur, Halsey and Admiral Forrest Sherman

Other random bits of knowledge picked up from reading The Admirals:

  • Vice Admiral Ernest King staged an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1938 from the U.S.S. Saratoga as part of Fleet Problem XIX manuevers.  The result was complete surprise.
  • When asked what won the war in the Pacific, Bull Halsey stated, “I would rank them in this order: submarines first, radar second, airplanes third, bulldozers fourth.”
  • By FDR’s fourth inaugural, Roosevelt was so weakened and Bill Leahy so trusted by the President that it was Leahy who rendered Roosevelt’s remarks at his fourth inaugural dinner.
  • In early December 1941 Vice Admiral Bill Halsey commands Task Force 8 on a mission to reinforce one of America’s isolated island bases.  Bad weather delays their expected return to Pearl Harbor on Saturday, December 6.
  • Ensign Chester A. Nimitz ran his very first ship command, the destroyer U.S.S. Decatur, aground on a reef near Manila Bay in 1908, an event that usually dooms a Navy officer’s career.  He also once jumped into the water to rescue an overboard sailor who could not swim.
  • Admiral Nimitz almost died in a PB2Y Coronado (flying boat) crash at
    PB2Y Catalina

    PB2Y Catalina

    NAS Alameda after the Battle of Midway.  The crash was caused by a telephone pole-sized piling allowed to drift into the landing area.  The aircraft flipped onto its back and broke apart.  Although Nimitz escaped without injury, the co-pilot, Lt. Thomas M. Roscoe of Oakland, CA, was killed.

  • Early in the war, U.S. submarines were plagued by a host of defective torpedoes.  Many exploding prematurely or, when they did hit, simply emitting a hollow thud and sinking.  The problem wasn’t solved until well after the summer of 1943.
  • In another torpedo story, as FDR – with Admiral Leahy in tow – was sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the Teheran Conference (November 1943 with Churchill and Stalin) aboard the battleship U.S.S. Iowa, the destroyer U.S.S. W.D. Porter decided to track the Iowa in a targeting exercise.  Inexplicably, with the President on the main deck watching a gunnery exercise, someone on the Porter accidentally hit the FIRE button for one of the torpedo tubes.  The Iowa’s skipper, Captain John McCrea, was forced to take violent evasive action to prevent the accidental assassination-by-friendly-fire of much of the country’s war leadership!

As you can see, there’s a lot of good sea and war tales in this very enjoyable and informative book.  And despite the length of this post, it barely scratches the surface.  If you have a “WWII habit” like I do, you should find a few new topics in The Admirals to scratch that itch.