Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Don Hinman, of Waterville, in his words, was "lacking direction in life." It was the early 1960's in rural Oneida County. His father had a large, prosperous farm in the Deansboro area, and he was well-provided for. His family's prosperity, Don said, created a sense that he had no responsibilities. He roamed around without a care and got in trouble.

One day in 1964, he talked to the local Marine recruiter. When he told his parents, his father was not happy. Don's place was on the farm, in his view. The farm foreman had been in the Marines years earlier, so Don's father asked him to talk Don out of enlisting.

The foreman took Don for a ride, but he did the exact opposite of Mr. Hinman's wishes; he told him that it was the best thing for Don, at this point in his life, and would instill a sense of purpose and discipline in him. So, Don Hinman enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Because he was only 17, his parents had to sign for him, and they eventually relented.

Don made it through the torturous blur of Marine Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC and was trained as a Munitions Specialist.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This Is NOT Your Grandparents' War

The War on Terror is unlike any other war our nation has ever fought. We've not declared war on a country. Our enemy plans its attacks from within our borders. They operate irregardless of nationality.

Instead, what drives them is an ideology: Islamic Fundamentalism. Not the Islam of millions of peace-loving Muslims all over the world. This is a twisted, deranged, homicidal cult which seems to attract psychotics and maniacs. It gives them purpose by validating their hatred, and providing an outlet for it. This is our enemy. And they are everywhere.
In World War II, there was a common enemy: The Axis, composed of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy. 

The citizenry of that trio of nations had found a leader in each of their dictators which had come to power. The people, or at least the majority, had chosen them to lead their countries to victory. And in doing so, accepted the consequences of their defeat.

Islamic Fundamentalism, instead of hijacking a nation, has hijacked a religion. Its followers have effectively ensured that any conflict started by them will create a backlash against innocent Muslims, therefore alienating more people against America and its Allies. This is exactly how more Islamic extremists are made. They also have no qualms about killing innocent civilians; these apparently are acceptable casualties in the fight to defeat us. Actually, the killing and maiming of women and children serves the purpose of turning the population against us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost as if to say, "Yes, it's true Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but we didn't have roadside bombs while he was in power".

When I first arrived in Iraq, the civilian population were overjoyed that Saddam was overthrown. They welcomed us with open arms, for the most part. As the weeks turned into months, resentment began to build on both sides. The insurgents accomplished this by targeting our soldiers, ambushing them with roadside bombs, automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades; many of the operations were suicide attacks. American soldiers learned to trust no one; every local was a potential bomb, with the ability to send their brothers and sisters home in a metal box. The Iraqi civilians, who were at first turning in insurgents and Saddam's old henchman, began to look the other way when these bloodthirsty murderers were planting IED's and stockpiling weapons. And we began to raid more homes and mosques, sending the detainees to Abu Ghraib prison. We were caught in a vicious cycle.

So, how do we win against this enemy? An enemy that hides behind innocent men, women, and children, and draws them into the crossfire? There are no enemy troops, planes, or ships to defeat, something at which our military has traditionally excelled. No matter how many of these fanatics we kill or capture, more take their place. It's as if our military is playing chess, and our enemy has decided to play Parcheesi instead, because they know how to win at that.

It's a war of words and ideas.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Old Enough To Enlist, Not Old Enough To Drink

Grove Havener was 17 when he joined the Marines during World War II. His parents had to sign too, giving him permission because he was not of legal age.

At age 18, he found himself in the invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, a miserable place composed of volcanic rock. It was necessary to seize the island because the Allies needed an airfield closer to the Japanese mainland from which to launch their bombing missions.

The fighting was brutal; the Marines had to fight desperately for every inch. The Japanese defenders had built extensive underground fortifications during their occupation of the island. They had survived a heavy naval and aerial bombardment before the Marines landed. Now the enemy could pin down the young Americans from relative safety.

These conditions reinforced an age-old truth about war: All the explosives in the world can't win a battle. Only troops can hold a piece of terrain. It was up to the Marines to win and hold Iwo Jimo.

Grove witnessed the famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi. This iconic image has become a cherished part of our national heritage, and he was there to watch the those Marines and Sailors become a part of history.

After 24 days of combat, Grove Havener was wounded. The Japanese had been launching rockets, called "buzz-bombs", at the invaders. When the Marines heard the tell-tale buzzing, they would yell for everyone to hit the dirt. Grove had recently been deafened by a blast, and he never heard the warning. He was evacuated off the island and sent to a Navy medical ship.

At the end of the war, Havener was heading home.He stopped in Oakland, CA. He and a buddy went into a dance hall to have a drink. A policeman spotted the two and demanded to see their ID's. Grove was 19 and wasn't old enough to drink in that state. The cop told him to leave.

Served his country, overseas for more than 2 years, wounded twice, but not allowed to have a drink.

If you see Grove Havener when you're out and about, buy him a drink, for Pete's sake...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Politics in a Time of War

Well, the Global War on Terror is nearly a decade old. It's also referred to as "The Long War". Based on what I see in the news, the war continues but our nation's will to fight it is diminishing. 

The politicians want to bring the troops home. Being a retired soldier who was deployed to Iraq, I can honestly say that every deployed soldier wants to come home. However, most servicemen and women want to see the fruits of their labor and service; they don't want it to be for nothing. They like to finish the job.

Why do the politicians want to bring the troops home? Is it because they honestly feel the American people want out of Iraq and Afghanistan? If it's true that the majority of Americans want the war to end, then they have spoken, and our elected leaders need to act on Americans' wishes. If ending the war is merely a political stunt to get elected or re-elected, then that's irresponsible.

This war has been compared to Vietnam; that we are stuck in a quagmire with no end in sight. I was only a child during that time, but I honestly believe that the conflict in Southeast Asia was totally different from our current war. Vietnam was our attempt to stop a Communist takeover of the globe. During the Sixties, the battle cry of the Hawks was, "If we don't fight them in Vietnam, we'll have to fight them in San Diego."

Here's a bulletin: We are fighting them in San Diego! The followers of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are constantly probing our infrastructure for weaknesses to exploit as they did on September 11, 2001. They attack us because we are the "Great Satan", and they would like nothing less than our total destruction. They know how to prey upon our weaknesses in security and our open society. And the political infighting and bickering that permeates Washington, DC? The bad guys love it! Because if we're fighting amongst ourselves, we're not fighting them.

As someone who has been in war, I can attest that our serviceman and women would like nothing more than peace in the World. No soldier enjoys the idea of taking another's life, or being away from their loved ones for months at a time, or taking cover in a bunker and praying that the next rocket doesn't land near. Anyone who says they do needs to see a shrink or was never in combat. 
However, our politicians think nothing of playing with the lives of our military men and women, using them as pawns in their games of getting elected.

Case in point: as soon as President Obama came into office, the Republican Party wasted no time in transferring ownership of the War on Terror to the new occupants of the White House. "OK, Mr. President; what are you going to to about Iraq and Afghanistan?" Never mind that the Republicans got us in there in the first place.

When President Bush made the case for invading Iraq, every member of Congress was given detailed intelligence estimates on Iraq, showing how much Saddam Hussein was a threat. Of course, once Iraq descended into chaos, everyone in Congress who voted to go to war switched gears and said that they had been duped and that we had no business being there. And of course, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after the world outcry over waterboarding, insisted that she hadn't been informed of the practice and had never condoned it. The CIA said otherwise.

dis·in·gen·u·ous/ˌdisinˈjenyo͞oəs/ Adjective: Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does. 

 That's a new word I've learned. Maybe we need to let the politicians chew on another one: term limits.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Vietnam Memorial In Madison County

Southeast of DeRuyter, New York sits a Hughes UH1 Helicopter in a grassy field among flags and statues, and surrounded by pine and hardwood trees. A few years ago Bill Middleton,  First Sergeant, Army (Retired), had it delivered there on his own dime. He's a member of a very exclusive club: Survivors of the Battle of Ia Drang.

This protracted fight, which pitted the First Cavalry Division against hardcore North Vietnamese troops, was fought from 14-18 November 1965. This engagement was the first major battle between regular troops of North Vietnam and American forces. It was chronicled in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once..And Young", as well as the movie based on it. Cavalry troopers like Bill Middleton were elite soldiers and the "Huey chopper" got them to the battlefield, making Vietnam our first helicopter war.

The battle was hard-fought and bloody: First Sergeant Middleton was wounded. Another Madison County resident, William B. Bradley of Wampsville, was killed in action. Some American platoons were nearly wiped out.

The UH1 chopper is the centerpiece of Bill Middleton's memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Ia Drang, as well as to other veterans and the heroes of September 11. It is located on Mariposa Road. Take Crumb Hill Road (County Highway 58) east from DeRuyter to Mariposa Road. Turn right. The memorial is on the right hand side about 3/4 of a mile.It is something to see and and is very moving.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

They Move Among Us

They move among us, these veterans of wars, past and present.

They are both teachers and those they teach. They are grandparents and also grandchildren. They are police officers; sometimes apprehending their fellow veterans, sadly.

Because of September 11, these veterans are more apt to be children, barely out of school, yet possessing an education that no college can ever begin to provide. While their peers were attending classes and keg parties, they were attending basic training and firefights, or queued in long lines waiting to use a phone so they could hear their loved ones' voices. To reach out and touch Home Base, if only for a few minutes.

The WWII or Korea vet might be the elderly man in front of you in line at the bank, or the gentleman sitting on his porch, next to the American flag. The elderly driver in front of you whom you curse for not making the left turn faster, because you're in such a hurry.

The Vietnam veteran may be the man who keeps to himself. Who was a young kid when he went overseas and came back aged, and never had a real chance to enjoy his Twenties. Who was ridiculed by his peers for being startled by loud sounds; it was so amusing they made more, and yet he didn't say a word.

The Iraq vet may be the girl who looks extra carefully before she crosses the street; she avoids crowds at any cost because crowds spelled danger in Iraq. She goes to college but drops out because drinking at night by herself gives her solace and helps her forget. She is older than her fellow students, chronologically and mentally. After high school, she joined the Army, and found herself escorting supply convoys out of a place called Log Base Seitz, west of Baghdad. From cheer leader to team leader in less than two years.

Another vet may be the middle-aged man writing, typing and editing (all at once) a blog about veterans,wanting desperately to do right by them. To attempt to convey the awful price they have paid for their service to this country, so that their fellow citizens won't forget them, To be their witness, and above all, to not fail.


Monday, June 20, 2011


6 August 1777. 800 Mohawk Valley militiamen and Oneida scouts ambushed on their way to lift the siege of Fort Stanwix. Their enemy: Iroquois Indians loyal to the Crown, British and Hessian soldiers, but mostly their Mohawk Valley neighbors. Fellow colonists like themselves; many of them their relatives. 

Once the ambush was sprung, the Patriots and their former friends and relatives fought in hand-to-hand combat. One of the bloodiest and most important battles of the American Revolution was fought not 20 miles from my doorstep. And it was fought by many of my own ancestors. 

When the Crown forces finally left the field, the Tryon County Militia was no more. Over half their number was killed, wounded or missing. The casualties were such that not a single household in the Mohawk Valley was left unscathed. Every citizen had lost a father, brother, cousin, or an uncle.

You would never know that men died here, or cried out in rage and pain. It is so peaceful; the only sounds that intrude are from the cars speeding down Route 69. Even those modern machines seem a world away from the ground where so many suffered, and where so much blood was shed. 

For what did they fight so hard? Independence. Freedom. The idea that this nation should be free from a master an ocean away. To make our own laws and determine our own course. 

This summer, we will celebrate the Fourth of July. Time for another picnic or barbecue, maybe? Fine. Please don't forget why we really celebrate. I urge you to visit Oriskany Battlefield. Read up on it. Try to imagine fighting for an ideal so precious, you would be willing to give your life for it.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The veterans I have met have inspired me over the years, especially during my military career. They were always people to be emulated and revered because of their sacrifices for our country and the rest of the free world. And I’d like to tell you how they inspire our soldiers currently serving in harm’s way.

Over eight years ago, my Reserve unit was called up for Iraq. One of the soldiers under my command flat out refused to go. Said he would not deploy. He was afraid. Understandably, this made him somewhat unpopular in the unit. The chain-of-command and his fellow soldiers berated him and called him a coward.  Then they sent him to see me, thinking, “This Ready guy must have a magic wand”.

I had something better. I started telling him about the veterans of World War II and Korea, many of whom were drafted. Their term of enlistment was the duration of the war, plus six months. So, no matter how bad things got, no matter how many times they went into combat, they still had this open-ended commitment. Now that, I told him, was something to be afraid of.

And then I reminded him of the veterans of the Vietnam Conflict, whom never received the parades and the accolades they deserved. Most of their countrymen were prepared to go to prison for 10 years, or Canada for life, to avoid doing what those Americans did for 1 year.

I told him 2 more things: One, he had signed his name, raised his right hand and took an oath, and in this country, that still means something.
The second was something he already knew: that if he did not honor that pledge, he would hate himself for the rest of his life. It was written all over his face.

Well, he changed his mind, and deployed. I lost track of him, as he was sent to another part of Iraq. But about midway through his tour, his convoy was ambushed north of Baghdad. And that young man was the only one of the 20 soldiers in that column who had the presence of mind to stand up and fire back, keeping the insurgents’ heads down, so that the convoy could get to safety. Even decades after leaving the service, the veterans I told him about still make a difference.

I thought about those men and women all of the time, whenever I was having a bad day in Iraq. How would they handle this or that situation? Friends being killed. Writing letters to parents, trying to explain why their sons were coming home maimed. 

And it continues.  I’ve learned what they had learned years ago: just how quickly we can leave this world, and how precious life is. To have the strength to accept uncertainty and to live in the moment. And lastly, if you can’t find your courage in a war, you need to keep looking for it anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Definition of Sacrifice

This is called a "rant". I do this only because I am one of the few in this generation who has served in combat. So, those are my credentials, like 'em or not.

June 6, 1944 was D-Day. Forget the war movies and the video games. This day was horrible and brutal in ways we can only imagine. It was also necessary. Americans, Britons and other soldiers of the Free World rose to the occasion and breached Hitler's Atlantic Wall, a line of seemingly impenetrable defenses on the coast of France. The only way to accomplish this was a waterborne assault on the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy. The men tasked with this mission knew that only infantry could take and hold the beaches. No amount of naval gunfire and aerial bombing could do the job. Only soldiers armed with rifles can take and hold a piece of ground. This is just an irrefutable law of Land Warfare, and no dreaming, wishful thinking and awesome weaponry can change that.

These soldiers knew that, and willingly boarded the landing craft headed for the beaches code-named: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno. The night before, paratroopers and glider-borne commandos had been dropped behind the beaches to help pave their way. They suffered innumerable casualties as the mission went awry. The troops headed for the beaches also suffered heavy casualties when the German defenders unleashed heavy artillery and machine-gun fire on the those soldiers. On Omaha Beach alone, the units tasked with that sector suffered 9000 killed and wounded. The men who survived this still had another 10 months of bitter fighting to endure before the Nazis surrendered in April 1945.

The Americans whom served in World War II were faced with this task and performed it because of the simple fact that they had a job to do. There was no else whom could do this, and it had to be done. Back home, citizens donated their scrap and rationed food in order to support the war effort. They sacrificed so much, also.

We need to remember and emulate this mindset in our own time. There is too much complaining and bickering in the American culture right now. It almost seems like no one wants to take responsibility for their actions. We put sports figures, politicians and Hollywood celebrities on pedestals. There are too many citizens who feel that everybody owes them. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Globe, their peers are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, repeating the sacrifices of their grandparents.

The veterans of World War II and Korea are leaving us every day. These Americans belong on pedestals. Today's youth who serve our country now belong up there with them. Back here at home, it just doesn't seem like there is the same level of effort; no sense of doing without for our country's sake.

I aim to help change that...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Veteran Images is Coming to the Web!

The time has come to honor the men and women whom have served our country with a multimedia Internet presence. VeteranImages.org is a non-profit organization which will preserve and showcase the digitized experiences of the selfless servicemen and women whom have sacrificed so much for so many.

I will meet with as many veterans as possible within the Central New York area in order to capture their wartime experiences for future generations. I will do this by photographing, recording and videotaping them. VeteranImages.org will also scan their wartime photographs, letters they received, awards and medals.

This data will be backed up regularly to ensure these treasures will not fade. These memories will then be posted online so that every American will be able to access them on the Web.

In a time when heroes are few and far between, when our public figures have fallen from grace, the lessons and experiences of these brave Americans become more and more relevant. They are the REAL role models whom we should emulate.

Their stories of courage and sacrifice will bowl you over. This is because they endured unimaginable hardships and separation from loved ones, all the while serving in a conflict which seemed to have no end. There was a job to do and they knew it was upon them to perform it.

Their stories inspired myself while I was deployed to Iraq 8 years ago. I took heart in knowing that these brave men and women, many of whom were just out of grade school, rose to the challenge and endured so much more than I experienced, and came out the other side, stronger and wiser.

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he or she that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman...What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated..."

-Thomas Paine: The Crisis, December 23, 1776