A Seasoned Veteran

This is an excerpt from “River of January: Figure Eight.”

After waiting nineteen months for his transfer west, the actual trip raced by almost too rapidly. One morning he boarded a train in New York City, the next he soared over the Ko’olau Mountains of Oahu. This war waited for no one, and Chum’s new duties began at once.

Lesser damage from the 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor had been cleared away. The runways, taxiing strips, airfields, and hangars bore little evidence of the strafing and bombing that had rained down a year and a half earlier. Not gone from view, however, was the lifeless hulk of the once proud battleship USS Arizona. Broken in the harbor, she had been cut dead in her moorings. Nearby, her sister, the USS Oklahoma, listed unnaturally on her side—both vessels now sacrificed ruins lying prostrate on Battleship Row. The twin wreckage supplied all the reminders Chum needed of why he had come to the Pacific.

Billeted in junior officer housing at Makalapa, the pilot began each morning commuting past the somber remains in the harbor to attend briefings and equipment familiarization. Assigned to Air Transport Squadron Ten, Chum straightaway began logging air time aboard another giant seaplane—the Martin PBM-3 Mariner. Designed for heavy cargo and armaments, this aircraft was enforced with a deep hull. The lieutenant spent his flight time practicing raising the titan from the sea and maneuvering under the weight of heavy payloads.

Opening his orders on July fifth, the lieutenant—along with his newly attached co-pilot, Lieutenant Richard Forman, and seven crewmen—departed from the waters of Pearl Harbor for Johnston Island, 750 nautical miles deeper into the Pacific. On board, the Mariner carried a hefty cargo of medical supplies, military dispatch files, and bags of civilian mail. Lieutenant Chumbley covered his maiden flight in five hours and forty minutes—enough hours, under wartime conditions, to render him a seasoned veteran.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Amazon and Kindle.
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Holiday On Ice

I am proud to announce that River of January: Figure Eight is now on Kindle. If you loved the first volume, River of January, this is a chance to discover the rest of the story.

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We are in talks to see both books on the big screen. Stay tuned for news on that exciting front.

Now both books are on Kindle. If the spirit of the holiday moves you, give us a short review.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And He Stood Up

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This post is a reprint from a few years ago. They young men mentioned are now other phases of their respective careers. Their names are used with permission.

Asked by my old high school, I had the privilege of speaking to young people on the eve of Veterans Day. My remarks appear below.

Thank You for inviting me today—It’s good to be back at Eagle High.

On October 23rd, a few weeks ago, U.S. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Oklahoma was fatally wounded in a rescue mission freeing Isis-held hostages in Iraq. He died after rushing into a firefight to support the allied Kurdish soldiers he had trained and advised. Secretary of Defense, Asthon Carter, later described the chaotic events that cost this soldier’s his life.

“As the compound was being stormed, the plan was not for U.S. … forces to enter the compound or be involved in the firefight. However, when a firefight ensued, this American did what I’m very proud that Americans do in that situation . . . he ran to the sound of the guns and he stood up. All the indications are that it was his actions and that of one of his teammates that protected those who were involved in breaching the compound and made the mission a success.”

The death of Master Sergeant Wheeler spared the lives of 70 Isis prisoners scheduled for mass execution the following morning.

Wheeler ran to the sound of the guns. Now I can’t speak for our service men and women, and when I was asked to give this talk, I had to confer with those who have made that solemn commitment. My questions were misleadingly simple . . . why did you choose a military career? What persuaded you to risk yourself for potentially dangerous service?
I wanted to try and understand that burning force of purpose, of unquestioned focus to duty, detach from self preservation for the welfare of others. I wondered how personal fear could be swallowed when, as Secretary Carter explained, “Wheeler involved himself in the firefight.” Where does this nobility of character draw from? Where do these individuals come from—the few that can’t sit on the sideline when duty calls them from their homes?

The answer, strikingly enough, is right here, in this auditorium. Home. Here. No, not someone else from somewhere else. Here. And people, that is where America has always found It’s defenders, from every town and city.

A number of Eagle students have, from many graduating classes, chosen the disciplined military life. Once wiggly kids who, warming the same seats you now occupy, resisting, as you most surely are, the urge to check your cell phones, daydream about the newest version of Halo, or wonder if Bogus Basin ski hill will open before Thanksgiving. They were kids just like you.
Now I don’t pretend to know the name of every Eagle Mustang who has volunteered for service, but I’d like to mention a few.

After earning a college degree as a civilian, 2004 EHS graduate Captain Greg Benjamin was commissioned an Infantry Officer, sending him north to Ft. Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. From this first posting, Greg has served, so far, two Central Asian tours, first in southern, then in eastern Afghanistan. He wants you to know that he loves the training opportunities he’s experienced so far–Ranger School, Airborne, and Air Assault Schools, and leadership training. When I asked Greg, now married with small children why he chose to place himself in harm’s way, he replied, “I want to take the fight to our country’s enemies, leading America’s finest young men and women in combat and training. And change the lives of people in some of the worst places on the planet.”

Captain Joe Peterson, EHS class of 2005, made his decision after high school too. “I had a number of teammates from Eagle’s Lacrosse team one year ahead of me go to a service academy . . . and this kicked-off my thought process in a serious manner. I’d always held the belief of service, but this made the choice tangible for me . . . I received an invitation to visit the University of San Francisco and their ROTC department. I decided to accept.” Joey was posted in installations ranging from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Ft. Lewis, Washington, across the Pacific to South Korea, and Central Asia as a platoon leader in Kandahar, Afghanistan overseeing all aircraft and artillery surrounding that area. Reflecting for this talk Joe added, “It was trying at times, but . . . I am proud of my service and it added a value and perspective to my life . . . it has opened doors that are unbelievable.”

Second year West Point Cadet, Colt Sterk described his heartfelt desire to be part of something he termed, “Larger than myself.” Cadet Sterk, EHS class of 2013 explained, “When I was 14 I was given the honor of presenting a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, (in Arlington Cemetery). The nameless soldier in that tomb willingly lay down his life for me, a stranger. I felt a debt of gratitude. Since then I’ve always felt I was called to serve. A senior cadet told me when I was a freshman, ‘Colt in everything you do leave a footprint.’ By that he meant make an impact even if it’s only a little bit. Is it hard? Absolutely. But I know it’s where I’m meant to be.” Colton wants you to know that he visited Israel last summer for ten days studying the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the implications in that region for the United States, and for the US Army. This semester Colt is attending the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado on cadet exchange—jumping out of airplanes, and on gliding tactics. He just earned his jump wings after completing the requisite five jumps.

Colby Hyde, EHS Class, 2010 shared a different response. He said, “We are fortunate in this country that military service is not an obligation. We are unfortunate, however, in that we do not often appreciate the sacrifice of those who volunteer on our behalf. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want to be comfortable. Comfort leads to boredom and ignorance, I thought, and life is too short to accept either of those. When someone suggested applying to West Point, I could not resist. I applied, was accepted, and have never left. My life now is not comfortable by any means, and I know the hardships are yet to come. That said, I am more satisfied with my life than I ever was before. I have taken part in New York City memorials for fallen 9/11 responders, and traveled with active duty units to the deserts of Death Valley to help them prepare for combat in Afghanistan. I have traveled across Southern China, can speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese.

I am thankful for everyone who has served me along the way, from my parents to my teachers, and I only hope I can return the favor in the years to come.” At the end of his letter, Colby added, “I have not done anything for our country yet, but I promise I will. Cadet Colby Hyde graduates from the Military Academy at West Point in 2016.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Now I am not here to tell anyone to enlist in military service. Truly, the life of a soldier, marine, or sailor isn’t suited for everybody. At this point in your life you should be dreaming about double diamond ski runs, video games, and Harry Potter marathons with your best friends. And also, to be frank with you, that depth of courage and commitment to duty blooms in the hearts of only an extraordinary few.

What I do want you to reflect upon when you exit this auditorium is that Captain Greg Benjamin, Captain Joey Peterson, Second year Cadet, Colton Sterk, and third year Cadet, Colby Hyde, and many, many other Eagle High School alum have solemnly sworn to protect you. And consider as well, that this oath assures these few will run toward the sound of danger–for us—just as Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler of Oklahoma.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight, a memoir in two volumes.

Beware Of Darkness

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Vote, but don’t vote in fear. If concern guides your trip to the polls, clarify those fears.

While one party points to desperate and dispossessed people as threatening our country, recognize this distraction is providing cover for deeper, more substantive threats.

At this writing thirty-five people have been indicted for conspiring to hack the 2016 Presidential election. This is not theory, it is fact. Of those thirty-five, four convicted conspirators have  “flipped” and are cooperating with Federal Prosecutors to shorten their sentences in this scandal. George Papadopolous, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and others are awaiting their fate while they each divulge all they know about Russian meddling and their aid in that subversion.

Russia, under the direction of former KGB operative Vladimir Putin, powerful ‘oligarchs’ have organized electronic sabotage to interfere and undermine the integrity of the United States of America. Never forget that. It’s treason: providing aid and comfort to our enemies.

To silence his own critics, Putin has dispatched hit squads of assassins, at home in Russia, and abroad, using military grade nerves agents, thallium, and firearms to silence opponents. Though Putin has denied authorizing any such thing, as he did in Russian election meddling, our president says he believes him. That is a serious concern.

Friendship has extended from this White House to other totalitarian regimes similar to Putin’s. Kim Jong Un, the North Korean butcher of his own family members, and starving people, Rodrigo Deterte of the Philippines, and Erdogan of Turkey who is demanding the US release a Turkish journalist critical of the autocrat. As I write, the president still wants to do business with the Saudi Prince, MBS, despite the grisly murder of a Washington Post journalist by his order. That is a concern.

Fear is a powerful and toxic motivation to rush the polls on Election Day. However, we must all show caution in what we fear. Do we look where this administration points, or do we ignore the calculated chaos and figure out the real threat to our nation?

“Beware of Darkness” from George Harrison’s song of the same name.

Splendid Little War

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Precise beginnings to distinct endings, that is how wars are remembered. ‘The Shot Heard Round the World’ to Yorktown, Fort Sumter to Appomattox, Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima; all in explicit order from the opening salvos, to the tense calm of ceasefire. And this arrangement has worked well for classrooms, historical fiction, television documentaries, and films. Still this practice has its limits, failing to consider intricate causes, and lingering effects that set the table for the next war. Here is an obscure example from the past that isn’t fully understood—The Spanish American War (1898).

Cuba was in revolt. Through the 1890’s freedom fighters such as Jose Marti and Maximo Gomez struggled against 400 years of Spanish occupation. Alleging atrocities at the hands of their colonial oppressors, of burning villages and starving civilians, rebels captured headlines across America. Enterprising publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst took action dispatching droves of reporters to the war-torn island. Reporters filed even more sensational stories and readership mushroomed. Hearst illustrator, Frederick Remington, dispatched to Havana, cabled his boss reporting he found no war. Hearst famously, and tersely replied, “you furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” A flood of salacious, skewed stories gave birth to the “Yellow Press,” of tabloid journalism. Facts didn’t bother these editors, they were busy raking in profits. Questionable newspaperman found help too, from the Cuban rebels themselves. To make sure America would intervene, insurgents torched acres of American-owned sugar cane fields. Absentee American sugar planters, losing their investments railed for war, pressing McKinley to act. 

As the last US President to have fought in the Civil War, William McKinley hesitated to draw America into armed conflict. But, in the face of fiery Cuba, the pressure grew fierce. A noisy, war-hungry faction of the GOP called “Jingoists” clamored as well for war against Spain. Young Republicans, like Theodore Roosevelt, impatient to flex American muscle, demanded action. Still McKinley held fast, understanding, what the young could not, the real cost of war in morality, blood and treasure. But following the sinking of the US gunboat “Maine,” moored in Havana harbor, the President relented, and the Spanish American War began. In the years that followed, the President’s worst fears were more than realized.

Characterized as a “Splendid Little War,” the Spanish American War reaped huge rewards for mainland business interests. Annexing former Spanish-held islands from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, to Guam and the Philippine Islands in the Pacific, the US gained ready access to resources and markets for American-made goods. To many this step into world affairs proved worth every penny and every drop of American blood. The ability of American businesses to produce goods far outstripped purchasing power stateside. Overseas markets quickly absorbed stockpiled goods, and demanded more. Besides, it was argued at the time, if America didn’t shake a leg Great Britain, Russia, Japan, or France would gladly take over.

Unexpectedly, policy makers encountered a moral and legal dilemma. Were the people living in these newly-controlled possessions protected by Constitutional law? Should the US government follow custom and promise eventual statehood for these far flung islands? Prior Indian policy shed no light on the situation, these populations were the majority, not small, isolated pockets of nomadic people. 

The Supreme Court soon obliged and settled this legal quandary. In a series of Supreme Court opinions beginning in 1901, the Insular Cases established a principle that despite America’s governing authority over island possessions, the people could expect no civic protections. Essentially the Court ruled that “Rights don’t follow the Flag.” 

Consequently Pacific and Caribbean islands became US territories, but Cuba did not. After ‘liberating’ the island from Spain, optics prevented an out and out American takeover. Still, the embattled island could not be permitted full independence, Cuba was too valuable to the US. In 1898 the Teller Amendment established a military installation at Guantanamo, followed in 1901 with the Platt Amendment codifying continued American oversight.

Further, the McKinley administration opted to annex the Philippine Islands in 1900, rather than granting expected Filipino independence. This decision triggered a bloody, colonial uprising that resulted in the death of thousands. American Marines battled determined guerrilla insurgents in sweltering jungles; both sides committing horrific atrocities (six decades before a similar war in Vietnam). Businessmen salivated for nearby Chinese markets, and the Philippines offered deep natural harbors for passing American Vessels. 

But that’s not all the unexpected outcomes springing from the “Splendid Little War.” The US plunged into a world-wide race to carve up China. American business interests demanded a fair share of the Open Door to Chinese markets. By 1899 this multi national intrusion exploded in the bloody Boxer Rebellion. Young Chinese nationalists outraged by naked exploitation; the trade in opium, the depletion of gold to pay for the opium, the national bane of addiction, and overbearing western missionaries who insisted on ‘saving’ the Chinese from their pagan beliefs. Approximately 100,000 Chinese civilians died in the fighting that lasted three years.

In the end, there was no end. The frenzy for colonies quickened into a global mania. An arms race ensued, naval building reaching breakneck speed, nations vying to outstrip their rivals for dominance. Countries with few colonies jumped into the fray scooping up whatever lands remained open for the taking. Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Italy, relatively late on the imperial scene, headed into the Balkans and Africa. By 1914 the strain of fierce rivalry reached critical mass, engulfing, first Europe, and then America into the horror of the First World War.

Beginnings and ends work in delineating historic events, but with war there are no such limits.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two part memoir, River of January and River of January: Figure Eight. Available at http://www.river-of-january.com and on Amazon.com.

 

Happy Tidings

 

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An extraordinary event has come our way. River of January, then River of January:Figure Eight are to become feature films. We have signed an option agreement with Falls Park Entertainment of Greenville, South Carolina to bring Helen & Chum’s story to the silver screen. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Books are available at http://www.river-of-january.com, and at Amazon.com