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...