Saturday, November 8, 2014

Peace could use a birthday

Sally once asked me how I managed to remember our wedding anniversary. I told her it was easy. It was five days before the Marine Corps birthday. She smiled, I think. Our wedding was almost 60 years ago, but the Marine Corps celebrates 239 years on November 10, 2014.

The Marines once transported my rigid body over Hawaii’s Big Island. The pilot and I shared a helicopter so we could watch napalm explosions below. My blood turned to snow like the frozen cap on Mauna Kea, just to our left. (Measured from its foundation at the bottom of the Pacific, Mauna Kea is the world’s tallest mountain.) In my headphones I heard the pilot soothing me with words about how many other wimps were also paralyzed when they looked down. That’s when they discovered there was no floor under them to obscure the heights and depths below. I think we had a nifty landing. I could tell you more about it if I’d kept my eyes open. I’d been zapped-aphobia by acrophobia.

I never saw written evidence of this, but the publisher of the Big Island daily newspaper told me that in the early days of World War II a Marine officer was so angry about something in the Hilo Tribune-Herald that he ordered it closed. By the time I became editor of the paper in the late 1950s the story was thought to suggest bad taste, a social blip, on the part of that anonymous Marine, and it wasn’t in the spirit of aloha to talk about it. The closing was brief, anyway, according to the legend.

I was newspapering in Honolulu during much of the Vietnam war, and there I met Lt. Gen. Victor H. Krulak, an early advocate of using helicopters for attacks. He became commanding general of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He thought he might be named commandant of the Marine Corps, but Lyndon Johnson had someone else in mind. It was said that Johnson smoldered over Vietnam issues raised by Krulak. Krulak retired in 1968 and became an executive of Copley Newspapers in San Diego. Eventually his son, Charles C. Krulak, became the USMC’s 31st commandant.

Today’s commandant is Gen. J. F. Dunford, Jr.

Not everyone understands the Marine Corps’ enormous contribution to world peace and American stability. A world without any need for police departments or military forces has been elusive from the beginning of history. This country celebrates Veterans Day every November 11, saluting all who wear the uniforms of distinction, Americans who have the strength to stand against Nazis of one generation and terrorists of another.

My son John, a man of many talents and a dedication to justice and peace, served aboard a Navy aircraft carrier. I met my brother-in-law, Frank Petrine, when he returned from the Korean War. Too many of my boyhood friends lost their lives in World War II, and most of the veterans I knew from those days have moved on. As a kid standing near the corner of Main and Third in Jamestown, I waved to Civil War vets in what was then called the Armistice Day parade. I’ve lost count of the wars since then. A newspaper friend once told me he had spent his entire working life covering wars. Even so, civilization is still possible.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Too bad there aren’t enough of them in civilian clothes.


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