29 November 2009


In Master and Commander, when Captain Jack Aubrey, RN, is shown a model of a revolutionary new mode of framing a frigate (circa 1809), he remarks, “What a remarkable age in which we live!” In 2009, I think that thought frequently.

The blogosphere has allowed us to reach out to folks and reestablish contacts in all sorts of ways that were impossible just 20 years ago. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I made such a contact. Al Paglia, one of my TBS classmates, left a voice-mail message for me concerning a blog I wrote on 14 December 2008. In that blog, I mentioned an incident during our final Physical Readiness Test. A group of us helped a shipmate who was suffering from heat stroke finish the test. I named those I remembered: Pat Oates, Larry North, Tom Mahlum, Blackie Mohr “and several others.”

Pags sent me the following e-mail (which he cc’d to Tom Mahlum):

Hey Mac- hi Tom- upon reading Mac's blog I was impressed with his detailed description of our training, but now that I know that Mac was [later a TBS] instructor, I no longer marvel about his photographic memory. However the following quote requires modification, should you agree. It is as follows "I was running with Pat Oates, Larry North, Blackie Mohr, Tom Mahlum and a couple of others." As I read that I cried out "That was me, that was me!"

Shortly after the turn for home someone ran into trouble, possibly more than one. We took all of the gear to lighten his load- I recall Mahlum having someone's utility belt and possibly more. I know that I carried someone's rifle to a point where we had to return the gear to that Marine in order to comply with the rules that we all finish with our full complement of gear. I do remember someone having a hand on the rifle once it was re-slung over his shoulder in order to lighten the load. I knew then that those of us who gave up the idea of winning by a wide margin to help another Marine would never leave a Marine behind, no matter what the cost! I remember being comforted by that thought and being proud of being part of that.

Enjoy your families today- and as always, SEMPER FI!


So, for the record, Allan Paglia, attorney, warrior and shipmate, was right there with us.

But—to quote the late, great Paul Harvey, “Now for the rest of the story.”

Al Paglia was one of several lawyers in our Basic School class. It was 1968 and Congress was working on the Military Justice Act of 1968—the first major re-write of the Uniform Code of Military Justice since it was adopted in 1949. One of the major changes was to convert the system into one that was run by lawyers. Prior to that, courts-martial were staffed with non-lawyers. As a result, the Officer Selection Officers were actively recruiting attorneys.

But, until the Act was passed and signed into law, there were no guarantees. When our Military Occupational Specialties were announced, the Act having not yet been completed, all of the attorneys in our class were designated as 0301 (basic infantry officer). Several of the attorneys suddenly discovered that they had strong religious scruples against getting killed—er, that is, against war -- and declared that they were conscientious objectors.

But not our Pags. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ah, what the hell. I came this far with you guys. Might as well go all the way.” And that is why I love him!

While we were on leave en route to Vietnam, the Act was signed and his orders were modified to send him to Naval Justice School and Camp Lejeune. It took him another year of hard work to get orders to Vietnam, but he was finally successful. The man is, after all, a warrior!

Glad to finally get that one right.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

24 November 2009


I am an aficionado of “alternate history.”

Several years ago, Newt Gingrich and William R. Fortschen took a shot at alternate history writing a three volume series which asks “What if Lee had listened to Longstreet at Gettysburg?” Good stuff. Then they asked, “What if Yamamoto had taken personal command of the attack on Pearl Harbor? What if Genda’s plan had been completed with the third raid on the sub pens and the fuel farm?”

That is a work still in progress, because Gingrich, Fortschen and Albert S. Hanser have taken a side trip to Tenton, NJ.

In this retelling of American history, it is December 1776. Washington’s Continental Army has retreated from Boston to Long Island to New York, down across New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania. Along the way, it shrinks from 30,000 to less than 2,500 as the men who joined a victorious force expecting a quick victory walked away when the going got hard. Washington is desperate for a victory to rally the cause, and he needs it before the enlistments of his troops expire at the end of December.

Miraculously, Thomas Paine, suffering from writer's block, manages to publish and distribute a little pamphlet, The American Crisis. Its opening poetic phrasing is read to the troops:

“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 that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. 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.”

With those words on their minds, in a driving nor’easter, Washington’s rag tag army crosses the Delaware, dodging ice floes in rowboats. Soldiers jump into the frigid river to save precious artillery pieces. Troops march, often barefoot, over rugged terrain, fording rushing streams that they expected to be shallow. Arriving at Trenton, they defeat a crack Hessian regiment, the best of the best. A New Jersey family is physically reunited, but remains politically divided and eternally estranged.

Washington’s victory raises American morale. The British realize that the fight will not soon be over. The United States stays in the fight until victory is won 7 years later.

“Hey, wait a minute,” you say. “That’s what really happened.”

And that is the point the authors make: By all rights, the history we learned in school, with the Union Jack hanging from above the blackboard and a picture of the Queen (God bless her) staring down on us, would have included the disintegration of the rebel army that Christmas Day. We should have learned about the capture of the traitors Washington, Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Jefferson and the rest. We should have studied about their trial in London and the grisly executions that followed. The American cause should have ended in that bleak December.

Instead, those few men who did stand in the face of the most terrible adversity were, themselves, the authors of a most improbable outcome. It was they who "rewrote" history. Only when a few strong men went beyond all that could be expected of them did we prevail.

What this book offers is the novelist’s ability to explore the unrecorded part of our history: Washington’s fears, Paine’s struggle to find the words for his pamphlet, and the thoughts of common men willing to endure unbelievable privation, loss of family, and pain that we cannot imagine, all for the sake of something bigger than themselves.

My great-great-great-great grandfather, William Jack, served in the Continental Army during the Revolution. Our family tradition has it that he was with Washington at Trenton, the first of nine men of seven generations in my bloodline to serve this Nation in combat. I do hope that he was one of the few who stuck it out. But as this book reminds us, a lot of the “summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots” who had rallied to the cause in mid-76, had disappeared by Christmas Day. Sure, a lot of them came back after the Christmas miracle, and that is something to be praised, but it was a bare few who saved our nation.

And we owe them our thanks this and every Thanksgiving Day.

To Try Men's Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom by Newt Gingrich, William R. Forstchen, and Albert S. Hanser. A darned good read.

12 November 2009


When I asked SWMBO’s Dad for her hand in marriage, he said, “Well, sure, Son. You have my blessing—there’s always room for one more nut in this squirrel cage!”

In that vein, the Scuttlebutt household has grown by one—a ten month old Border Collie-Shepherd mix named Ava.SWMBO, Jumper Girl, and Bionicle Boy are delighted, but I must admit that we have bonded and Ava likes me best.

The Four Amigos (Alex T. Cat, Gideon T. Cat, Uggie T. Cat, and Princess Gracie T. Cat), on the other hand, are not amused.

Just as, after raising boys, I found out that daughters are completely different, so, too, I am discovering that dogs and cats are different. I have been raised by cats since I was 10—never a dog. This morning at 0500, I learned that there is no such convenience as a “dog box.” Further lessons to come.

And now that she has the dog she has wanted for so long, Jumper Girl just suggested that a pig and a goat would be a great addition to our suburban household! Ah, the excitement of the young. (The answer was a resounding "No.")

11 November 2009


Recently, the Congress passed and the President signed into law, a statute that funds the Department of Defense for the coming fiscal year. Glad to hear it—providing for the common defense is one of the six purposes of the Constitution set forth in its preamble. But the joy with which liberals greeted the bill had nothing to do with the common defense or any other legitimate federal purpose.

They had attached a rider to the bill, making it a separate “hate crime” to commit an offense against a gay person. Now, I happen to think that it is despicable for one person to commit any crime against another. So do the States and the Federal government. They have outlawed literally thousands of illegal acts—ranging from murder and assault to running a red light.

But that was not enough for the liberals. They want to create a new constitutional right without resort to that messy amendment process established in the Constitution. And what is that right, you ask?

They want to enshrine in statute a “right” to be liked. And to do that, they attached an irrelevant rider to a necessary and legitimately constitutional bill. Now, that is nothing new. Riders are nearly as old as the republic. The Constitution of the Confederate States of America (1861) actually prohibited riders.

But what caught my attention was Senator Harry Reid’s subsequent outburst about the attempts by Republicans to attach riders to the so-called health-care bills. You see, in a liberal’s mind, they have a right to act in any way they want, but the other side may not. Hypocrisy!!!

The “hate crime” bill is necessary, we are told, because murdering someone who you do not like is even more terrible than simply murdering the victim. (I doubt that the victim much cares why he was killed.) We have to make thought and passion a crime, and when we do that, it is but a short step to outlawing mere thought.

And that is what the “hate crimes” bills do—they make a person’s thoughts criminal. That requires the jury to get into the killer’s heads. Nancy Pelosi is overjoyed that we can now punish a killer, not for the act of murder, but for the thoughts that led to the crime. But only if the thoughts are directed toward the liberals’ friends.

Yesterday, I heard liberal commentators repeatedly argue that Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan could not be charged with a hate crime, “because we have no way of determining why he did such a thing.” So, a guy who is a Muslim, who has written adopting the hateful precepts of radical Islam, and who shouted “Allah Akbar” as he blazed away, cannot be charged with a hate crime, but someone who guns down a black kid on the street can? Seems to me that Major Hasan made it clear that he did not like the soldiers he killed and wounded.

Don’t all victims have the same right to be liked? Obviously not!

The good news is that in each instance, the murderer can be charged with, tried for, and if convicted, punished for his conduct. And that ought be enough to satisfy anyone.

10 November 2009


Today is the holiest day in the Marine Corps calendar—the 234th Birthday of the Corps.

Across the Nation and around the world, wherever two Marines (or a Marine and a Corpsman) are together, the words “Happy Birthday” will be exchanged and old friends and strange places will be recalled. (Spouses and co-workers will look puzzled and may say, “Today’s not your birthday,” but it is!) It happened to me yesterday when a clerk at Target saw my Fifth Marines ball cap and said, “Happy Birthday.”

Her co-worker asked “How do you know it’s his birthday?” We just laughed.

I have spent Birthdays in Virginia, Vietnam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Spain, Wisconsin (including the 200th), Illinois and North Carolina. On the 200th, I made sure that I got a copy of the Milwaukee Sentinel, having just reported as Inspector-Instructor, Company F, 24th Marines. The expected headline -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARINES! –was missing. Instead, the banner read EDMUND FITZGERALD FOUNDERS WITH ALL HANDS.

In 1971, we were ashore in Barcelona, Spain after spending six weeks steaming in slow circles in the eastern Med, waiting to go into Jordan to rescue a bunch of medical missionaries sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee—a group that usually has nothing good to say about Marines until their sorry asses are on the line. The pageant went as usual, although the embassy staffer I was hosting nearly collapsed when he realized the M-60 machine guns carried by the two lance corporals in the honor guard were real. (“You brought real weapons ashore in Franco’s Spain?” A couple of good stiff scotches settled him down.)

My most memorable Birthday was in Vietnam. I had spent all night making sure that each of our companies operating in the Arizona got a hot meal (steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables and, of course, a Birthday cake). I then headed to Hill 65 to spend the day with Dick Rollins. After our Birthday dinner, we scrounged a couple of bottles of wine and sat on top of a bunker enjoying the night. In a paddy below the hill, an ARVN unit had a merry little firefight that lasted for about an hour.

I was monitoring the battalion net. Delta Company, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Jim Webb, was the palace guard for the battalion command group. At about 2100, Webb called the Battalion Commander, LtCol Joe Griffis on the radio. “Hey, Sir,” Webb said. “Look up.”

At that moment, his 60mm mortar section put a ring of 12 flares around their position. “Happy Birthday, Sir. We just lit the candles on the cake.”

Today, the colors will be blessed in Camp Lejeune and a pageant, complete with period uniforms and horse Marines will once again grace Butler Stadium at Quantico.

In 1982, I was on the Base staff for the pageant at Quantico. We were the first on the field and the last off. It was cold, with the wind blowing right off the Potomac into the low end of the football field. We were in Dress Blues and, as is normal, we had wet our right gloves to ensure that we kept our grips on our swords. About two-thirds of the way through the ceremony, the Chief of Staff, who was in command of our staff, whispered to me over his shoulder.

“Mac, I can’t feel my hand. Am I still holding my sword?”


“Well, pass the word to the staff. If I drop mine, you all drop yours, and we’ll come back and get the bastards later!”

We reminded him of that every chance we got.

Some time today, every Marine, whether he is in Afghanistan or Akron, will see a Birthday ceremony. An honor guard made up of two Marines of each rank in the unit will form an aisle, facing inboard. The Commanding Officer will escort the honored guest and the oldest and youngest Marines present to the head of the room. The cake will then be paraded.

The Adjutant will then command “Attention to Orders,” and will read the following:

On November 1st, 1921, John A. Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the birthday of the Corps. Since that day, Marines have continued to distinguish themselves on many battlefields and foreign shores, in war and peace. On this 234th birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United State Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is republished as follows:

"(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

"(2) The record of our Corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long era of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

"(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term "Marine" has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

"(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as 'Soldiers of the Sea' since the founding of the Corps."

Since that time, Marines have continued to serve, adding new battle honors from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, from Inchon to the Chosin Reservoir, from Beirut to Santo Domingo, from Khe Sanh to Hue City, in Beirut, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commandant and our many friends have joined us in our celebration of thei, the 234th Birthday of our beloved Corps.

A Birthday Message from the Commandant

United States Marines represent the best young men and women our Nation has to offer. To be a Marine is to be a member of America's warrior class - to be one of the few who steps forward with the courage and conviction to face whatever dangers await. Our Nation expects her Marines to be ready when the Nation calls; to leave family and the comforts of home behind; to march into battle and thrive under austerity; and to come home under a victory pennant.

From Al Anbar in the west of Iraq, to Helmand Province in the south of Afghanistan, our Corps of Marines can always expect to be found where the fight is toughest. Such is our history. Today, as we write the final chapter on our victory in Iraq, we will increasingly take the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan and add new pages to our legacy in places called Delaram, Now Zad, and Garmsir. One day, we will return to our naval heritage and patrol the high seas with our Navy brothers. Such is our future.

As we celebrate our Corps' 234th Birthday, we first pause to reflect and pay tribute to those Marines who have given the last full measure in defense of freedom. We extend our deepest gratitude to our Marine Corps families - the unsung heroes who endure hardship and sacrifice so that we are able to go forward and accomplish any mission. We extend our appreciation to our countrymen who have answered our every need. And we celebrate the magnificent men and women who willingly and selflessly continue to go into harm's way to protect this great Nation.

To all who have gone before, to those who wear the uniform today, and to the families that give us the strength to forge ahead - I wish you all a heartfelt Happy 234th Birthday!

Semper Fidelis,
James T. Conway
General, U.S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

[Ordinarily, the President also sends a message, but I have been unable to find one for this year. If I do, I will revise this to include it.]

The Commanding Officer will then cut the cake with his sword, or a bayonet if in the field, presenting the first piece of cake to the Honored Guest. The next piece goes to the oldest Marine present, and the final piece to the youngest Marine. I have been at ceremonies where the service of the oldest and youngest Marines spanned over 60 years and several wars. When they shake hands, the electricity in the room is palpable!

I'll share calls and birthday wishes with shipmates throughout the day.

So, to all Marines, and the Corpsmen, surgeons, and chaplains who have served with us, Semper Fi and Happy Birthday.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

06 November 2009


Did it again! Shoulder popped out and it took them nearly 8 hours to get it back in this time. Yuck.

At about 5:30 on Monday morning, as SWMBO rolled out to go for her morning walk, I reached over to give her a hug. “Crunch.” I yelped and finally got to a sitting position. The shoulder was definitely out—for the second time in 6 weeks.

SWMBO took me to the ER at the VA hospital where I got great treatment, but there was a lengthy delay when a vet suffering a “mere” heart attack interrupted my treatment. (Tongue firmly in cheek—I was praying harder for my brother than for myself.) SWMBO later commented on the rapport of the other beaten up vets in the waiting area—and how we looked after one another.

After x-rays confirmed that the shoulder was all the way out, I was referred to a local hospital for anesthesia and assistance in getting the shoulder back in. The ER doc was a young woman (probably younger than my older sons), but a charmer and a damned fine doctor. They finally knocked me out, but she couldn’t get the shoulder to stay in, so she called for an orthopod.

About all I remember is SWMBO, the Doc and the nurses repeatedly telling me to breathe (I would apparently “forget” to perform that little function). They were confused when I kept asking for Gibby (my radio operator), so we’re even.

Yesterday, the orthopod looked me over. The 23 year stretch between my first and second dislocations argued for waiting and seeing. Five weeks between dislocations 2 and 3 changed that argument all to blazes!

It seems that over the years, as I have partially and fully dislocated the shoulder, I have worn down one side of the ball, which allows it to slide out of the socket with ease. The next step is an MRI, but first they have to x-ray my leg to make sure that all the shrapnel is out, lest the MRI’s magnet suck it out! Yow! If there is still shrapnel in there, they’ll do a Cat Scan instead.

Then, the fun begins. They cut through the humerus and either rotate the ball to make use of good bone or they remove the ball and put in an artificial shoulder. I am good to go on that—cannot stand the thought of another dislocation—which says a lot about how much the dislocation hurts.

Soooooooo, I’ll be leaning on other peoples’ shoulders for a while.