Royally Kranked

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Considerations

Various points to consider on this Memorial Day

First, because of how I elected to be present for my cat's being put to sleep on Saturday, this story really hit so close to a very emotional mark, and because it's here in my hometown of El Paso, it's another positive after the devastating loss of Jenny

Nobody should die alone and remain unlamented, although it happens far too often to far too many good people, and this seems like a VERY good, humanitarian cause, something that should appeal to The Better Angels Of Everyones Nature

Group ensures veterans get proper burials

No family or friends attended retired Sgt. Willie Clyde Tehart's burial Friday, but he was not alone.

Although Tehart, who died at 68 with more than 20 years of Army service, was laid to rest in a plain wooden coffin painted black, he received full military honors during his burial at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. Over his coffin was draped a U.S. flag, which was meticulously folded and inspected. He received a three-volley salute, and a bugler played taps.

"He gave É for the freedom you and I now enjoy," said Chaplain Ray Jennings, with the American Legion Post 36. "He went wherever the military sent him and did whatever his supervisors told him to do."

Tehart is one of a relatively small number of veterans who become estranged from family members or who simply outlive them, said Yolanda McKinney, co-chairwoman of the El Paso Homeless Veterans Burial Program Committee, a group that makes sure old troopers don't go unrecognized.

Tehart wasn't indigent or homeless, but the committee takes care of all former service members whose family members cannot be found or who decline to participate. Since 2003, only nine service members have been homeless or indigent, said Mary Slawson, of Kaster-Maxon Futrell Funeral Home in El Paso.

The home is part of the Dignity Memorial group of cemeteries, mortuaries and funeral homes nationwide that pay for the funerals and burials of indigent veterans.

Tehart made friends with clinicians at the Veterans Administration where he was receiving treatment, McKinney said. Tehart died in February, and the months since then were spent trying to find family, she said.

"The weather is good here, and many times when we come back from battle, we have a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder and just don't want to go home anymore," said Joe Lopez, commander of the honor guard for Dignity Memorial, who read a poem at Tehart's burial.

The program is "outstanding," said Gene B. Linxwiler, director of the Fort Bliss National Cemetery. "They put in a lot of effort, and they put in a service to a lot of veterans who would not be honored at the time of their interment."

Linxwiler said the cemetery provides burials without charge to veterans who, in general, were honorably discharged and completed their term of service. That includes use of a shelter, a headstone, perpetual maintenance of the grave, and a presidential memorial certificate.

Cemeteries in larger urban areas often have monthly memorial services for what are called "unaccompanied veterans."

In El Paso, veterans organizations attend the services and provide other support, McKinney said. The Marines stand out, she added.

"We still do the full honors even though there's no one there," said 1st Sgt. James Porter, spokesman for the Marine training center in Northeast El Paso.

On May 11, Marine Pvt. Robert Kyryl was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery with full honors.

Sgt. Michael Mascari, who has been stationed in El Paso since 2005, is responsible for the program and folded the flag for Kyryl. He said little was known about him.

"For the Marine that didn't have any family or next of kin, (we) do make a presence so veterans are not buried alone," Mascari said. "We feel that's the right thing to do. We are taking care of those who took care of us."

Asked whether he thought it was a duty, he responded: "In a sense, I guess you could say that, but more than that, it's an honor. (Nothing else matters), he was a Marine."

Whether the veterans left enough money to pay for the funeral services or were indigent, "we go (to the burial) just to witness the last rites and all,"McKinney said. "That's all we're here for, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks and for somebody to be there at the end."

How truly compassionate we are as a nation or people depends on how important we find issues like the one dealt with above, how we treat those which and whom we have political and physical power over says everything about the real characters of our nature

Far too many good people die horrible, lonely deaths, and remain unlauded at physically-empty funerals, there can't be a worse way to finish a life

This effort is an attempt to show that those lonely ghosts and souls lives did matter and make a difference, even if there are no mourners to bear witness to that ideal

That's a basic level of empathy that should be present in every society that dares to call itself "Civilized"

And yet another "REAL Toll Of The Iraq Occupation" column, and wrenching indeed on Memorial Day, but definitely something that needs to be impressed upon so much of the public that thinks it doesn't have a direct reason to be concerned about Iraq, a public which doesn't notice the real lives which can't be replaced, shredded limbs which cannot be replenished, minds which cannot be set back to the easier-going, pre-deployment status once exposed to the physical and ethical horrors of war, a collective yawn here when evil people kill good people far too quickly and easily, then go unpunished for it over in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Living on Iraq Time


York, Pa.

EVERY evening at 10, beeps emanate from the top drawer of my dresser. The sound comes from a watch that has resided there for just over three years. The 20 beeps signify that another day is dawning in Iraq. The watch belonged to my son, Specialist Martin Kondor, who was killed in action with the Army on the morning of April 29, 2004, in the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad. Martin was 20 years old.

Since his death, three Memorial Days have come and gone, and while most people think of Memorial Day as just a day off from work, an occasion for a backyard cookout or a chance to score a good deal at a spectacular sale, for families like mine, Memorial Day has a more somber meaning. For us, the day is a further reminder that our loved one is gone forever.

It’s not that we need another reminder. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Martin. My wife and I each carry one of his dog tags with us at all times. His picture hangs on the living room wall with those of his two brothers, and his bedroom has been left essentially as it was when he was alive. Two of the last packages we sent to him were returned after his death, and they’ve sat unopened in a corner of the room for the last three years.

For most Americans, when the morning alarm wakes us up, we step out of bed to begin our daily ritual. As we jump in the car, most of us don’t think twice about our commute to work, and if we are concerned at all, it’s not for our safety; rather, we’re worried that there might be a traffic jam that will make us late and prevent us from stopping for a quick cup of coffee.

But when Martin’s watch beeped every morning, it signaled the start of a day much different from what most of us are used to. Martin and his fellow soldiers had all volunteered to go to Iraq as members of a personal security detachment. Their sole mission was to safeguard the life of a brigade commander. And their daily commute from their home base to Baquba, where the commander would meet with city officials and tribal leaders, was often interrupted by rifle fire, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs.

Martin — like many combat soldiers who have gone before and come after him, including his older brother, Trevor, who served with the 82nd Airborne — didn’t tell us much about what he was doing. He didn’t want us to worry. We learned most of what we now know about the last three months of his life from his buddies and his commanders.

My first indication of the nature of his mission and the situation he and the others were facing came in a satellite phone call Martin made to me after his team had survived a particularly nasty ambush. He described a horrific scene in which the convoy was taking fire from both sides of the road, with bullets and rocket-propelled grenades whizzing by his head from every direction. He said he just kept firing at every enemy target he could see; and when the convoy finally escaped the insurgents’ trap, he could hardly believe he and his team members had survived.

Exactly 20 days after I received that phone call from Martin, two grim-faced soldiers arrived at our door to tell us that Martin had been killed. It was an “improvised explosive device,” they said. An assassination attempt on the colonel. As the gunner on a Humvee, Martin was completely exposed to the blast.

Our only solace lay in the realization that Martin probably never had time to hear the blast that killed him, let alone feel it. Others are not always so lucky.

His buddies took his death pretty hard. A soldier from Martin’s company escorted his remains from Iraq to Germany, and one of his former platoon sergeants escorted Martin’s flag-draped coffin on the flight from Germany to the United States.

That sergeant and another who had helped train Martin assisted with the funeral arrangements and brought messages from Martin’s comrades and commanders in Iraq. Those still in the fight wanted us to know how much they respected and admired our son. Indeed, some of them got tattoos of Martin’s name or likeness, as did Martin’s younger brother, Joe. At Martin’s home base in Iraq, the colonel ordered that a school for soldiers on post be named the Kondor Education Center, in Martin’s memory.

Here at home, tokens of remembrance from Martin’s friends and former high school classmates still pile up at his gravesite. At his elementary school, his teachers planted a tree and placed a stone marker in front of the school. The inscription on the marker reads: “In memory of Army Specialist Martin Kondor, an American patriot.”

A scholarship fund was created at his high school, from which an annual award is given to a graduating senior who exhibits qualities of leadership and patriotism. And the county Veterans Administration office commissioned a bronze plaque to memorialize Martin and all the other local men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plaque joins the others, which date back to World War I, on the portico of the county courthouse.

As Martin’s buddies have completed their tours in Iraq, several of them have made the journey here to his hometown to pay their respects to us and to Martin. Tears always well up in my eyes as I watch each of them salute his gravesite. Others have written letters or e-mail messages, telephoned or sent packages or photos.

Last month, on April 29, the third anniversary of Martin’s death, we received an e-mail message from the man whose life our son had sworn to safeguard. He’s now a brigadier general, stationed in Baghdad this time on his second tour in Iraq. In his message, the general said: “None of us who served with your son will ever forget the day that he passed away. We will never forget him or his service to our nation. It was an honor to serve with your son.”

As I read those words, I realized that the greatest memorial of all for a fallen soldier lies not in the gravestones, bronze plaques or markers that display his name, but rather in the memories of his family and friends, and in the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers and countrymen.

And so before heading out to the big sale or the opening of the town pool or the neighbors’ backyard barbecue, take some time to attend a local Memorial Day ceremony. Do this not just to glance over the gravestones or the plaques or the markers that list the fallen soldiers’ names, but out of respect for the friends, family members and comrades they leave behind — some of whom have died or are still alive or have yet to confront their fate.

Someday, Martin’s watch will fall silent, and I will no longer have my daily reminder of the new day dawning in Iraq. But his mother and I, his brothers, his friends and the soldiers who served with him will always have our memories of who he was and what he did for his country. And we will gladly tell his story. Isn’t that the purpose of Memorial Day?

That's the real price of war, paid by the real victims, those left behind to shoulder the most shattering of unnecessary grief and anguish, those left without their limbs and senses, those whose minds are irretrievably broken

So many people who don't or haven't had family or friends serve in the military also don't take into account the real lives of those under the helmet and behind the trigger, and all the fears and hopes invested in those troops by those left behind on the home front

And that's because, unlike every other major military engagement the US has been involved in, the Revolution, the Civil War, WW I, WW II, there's been no Administrative call to societal self-sacrifice for the greater good and success of what this Administration claims is the defining struggle of civilization, fighting terrorism on a global scale

The lives of those who serve in the military must never be viewed as dispensable, or worth the trifling and petty attitude of not even signing every condolence letter personally, say, by the Secretary Of Defense

Then, there's this story, which is one of those "Why the Hell isn't this already Standard Operating Procedure" articles, and one that all military families and backers ought to insist on being taught ASAP

Army Adds Lifesaving to Basic Training

The Army will begin teaching combat lifesaving instruction during basic training to enable soldiers to give critical medical care to wounded comrades on the battlefield.

The service's five basic training bases will begin teaching combat lifesaver training by June 15, including instruction on starting an IV and helping soldiers breathe through a tube, Army officials said. The bases train up to 180,000 soldiers annually, including National Guard and Reserve components.

Officials said medical care given immediately after injuries like gunshot wounds and those caused by improvised explosive devices could mean the difference between life and death. Simple lifesaving techniques could cut down on long-term injuries and deaths, they said.

``The most critical 10 minutes in a soldier's care in combat is the first 10 minutes,'' said Col. Kevin A. Shwedo, director of operations, plans and training for the Army Accessions Command, which oversees training. ``We've focused on the skills that would give us the greatest opportunity to evacuate an individual to a higher degree of health care.''

Previously, a limited number of soldiers in each unit were trained on advanced lifesaving procedures and most soldiers only received basic first aid techniques, like bandaging and performing CPR.

``You won't have to wait as long to find the one combat lifesaver you had trained,'' said Shwedo, whose command is based at Fort Monroe in Hampton.

More in-depth medical training can make the difference between bringing back a patient and bringing back a corpse, said Col. Patricia R. Hastings, director of the Army's Department of Combat Medic Training based at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

``First aid is just not good enough anymore,'' she said.

Soldiers at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Fort Knox in Kentucky already have begun the training.

Col. Annie Baker, commander of 434th Field Artillery Brigade at Fort Sill, said after only 10 days at basic training, soldiers there started the combat lifesaver certification course, which includes sticking needles into each other to learn how to establish an IV.

``We've had some soldiers that have been very timid and concerned - because people don't like shots - but not one soldier has not participated,'' Baker said. ``Some looked a little peaked going in there, but between the medics and the drill sergeants coaching and mentoring, they've gotten through it.''

Spc. John Hanson, who was a paramedic before he began training at Fort Sill, said it is important to learn the skills, even if it means getting ``poked by a complete stranger or someone you've only lived with for a couple of weeks.''

``We're used to getting shot at and people getting hurt,'' said the 29-year-old from Arlington, S.D. ``With more of us knowing how to help our buddies, maybe it will make for a more successful outcome.''

The new skill training is comprised of about one week of the soldiers' nine-week training program, and follows only rifle marksmanship and physical training in the time devoted to it.

This is one of those stories that offers hope and rage for both the very same reason, namely, future lives will be saved by the medical knowledge gained through a completely unnecessary military campaign in Iraq

And, lastly, an op/ed piece by Mel Laird, calling for National Service being as important to the US as military service is

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Turning Apathy Into Good Deeds

On Memorial Day, when we honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, our thoughts turn to what all Americans can do to serve the cause of democracy. It is not enough for a few to fight the wars, guard the borders and serve in office while the majority reap the benefits. Too few Americans understand the price that must be paid to maintain our way of life.

As I listen to calls for reinstating the draft to meet our military's needs, I fear that we're not looking at the bigger picture. Young Americans do need to serve their country. But they are not all needed in the military, nor do all belong there. What our nation needs is a system of compulsory universal civil service for young people.

My views on compulsory service have evolved since 1953, when I entered the House of Representatives with universal military service on my agenda. After four years in the Navy during World War II and having seen the effect that the service had on my life and that of other veterans, I thought that we should require all men to serve in the armed forces for one or two years, beginning at age 18. But my thinking changed as the House Defense Appropriations Committee studied military manpower issues. Modern weaponry required extensive education and training, and it became clear that one must serve at least three years to make a serious contribution to the military.

From 1932 until 1971 the draft made it possible to maintain military manpower needs at low pay rates. Thousands were drafted by the Army for two years and sent to Vietnam with a minimum of training for a one-year tour. In addition to the low pay, the draft was extremely unfair to many young people because of all the loopholes and educational deferments. To end this unfairness, among other reasons, I moved first to the lottery draft and then sponsored and supported the all-volunteer force when I became secretary of defense.

Those who would reinstate the draft to meet the demands of the "war on terror" are misguided. The regular forces, National Guard and reserves need only about one out of every 18 young men and women coming of age to fill all of their manpower requirements. In the lifetime of the all-volunteer force, enough young people have enlisted in our military in times of peace and war. All services, including the Army Reserves and the Army National Guard, met or beat their enlistment quotas in the last quarter.

During the past 30 years, even when the pay and benefits of the volunteer military have been lower than in civilian life, our young people have stepped up. Some respond to an inner call to serve; others are motivated by an opportunity for education; still others are drawn to the adventure, challenge or camaraderie of military life. We ask them to risk their lives and put their families aside, but we dishonor them when we take their sacrifice and in return offer stingy paychecks, inadequate equipment and repeated combat tours.

The overuse of reserve and National Guard personnel can be helped if we pay for adequate compensation and medical treatment and if we care for military families. Equipment and supplies must also be rapidly restored after a deployment. Neither the Defense Department nor Congress is dealing with these problems; the current budget is inadequate and unrealistic. If this is not corrected soon, reenlistment rates could fall. Not only will the military suffer, but America cannot afford a generation of young people turning away from public service and all that it means.

Understandably, some youths do not feel that military service is the best way to express their desire to give something back. The military does not need all of them, nor should the Defense Department be saddled with another unwanted draft. But every department of government could benefit from universal service, as would many other institutions. Our schools are crying out for teacher assistants; our immigrant programs need additional staff; Head Start, the Peace Corps and special education programs need helpers, as do hospitals and nursing facilities. Young people could serve one or two years in a much-needed civilian universal service program run by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, or the State Department. Such service would foster a culture of responsibility for our democracy and, as such, would surely have the side benefit of increasing military enlistments. And those volunteering for the military would be exempt from the required civilian universal service.

I am not blind to the economic impact such an idea would have. A program would have to overcome the natural entanglements of the federal bureaucracy; it would not come cheaply; nor would there be universal enthusiasm for universal service. But in a time when our nation is threatened by antidemocratic forces from without, universal service would go a long way toward curing the apathy within.

Just a few things to consider on a day of remembrance, pondering the sacrifices those before us have made for our society and our Constitution



  • In regards to your posting of a memorial day reflection excerpt from your hometown, please know that Sgt. Tehart was not alone in memory, nor in life, in fact, there is more to the heart-wrenching story. I appreciate the fact that you ask others to consider him in memorium. It has been a long healing process, and still is very painful. thank you for considering him one of the many to remember and honor. bless the troops

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:11 PM  

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