28 May 2011


On this Memorial Day weekend, I am remembering some of the men who are my heroes. Number one on the list is my Dad, Chief Pharmacists Mate John J. McCarty, U.S. Navy.

Dad was born in Stanberry, Missouri, a small farming and railroad community in the northwest part of the State. He was the eldest of 11 children of James M. and Gertrude (Kurtright) McCarty.

Stanberry was where he became the man he was. In that dear little town, at my Grandmother’s knee and observing my Grandfather, he learned about duty, honor, integrity, and all the other essential characteristics that make up “a good man.” I suspect that until he was 25—with the exception of a tour with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Yellowstone National Park after high school— he was probably never further from Stanberry than a trip to Kansas City, eighty miles to the south. Like so many men who come from the heartland, he was never one to complain, one who did not have to be told to take the initiative to help a neighbor or a stranger, and one who instinctively loved our Country.

When I hear Garrison Keilor talk about Lake Woebegone, Minnesota (where “all the men are strong, all the women are good looking, and all the children are above average” ), described as “the little town that time forgot and memory cannot improve…”, I am transported to Stanberry. The extended McCarty clan was raised to know in our very marrow that, as my Uncle Charlie often declared, “All roads lead to Stanberry.” If home is truly where the heart is, then Stanberry is my home as it was his.

Now, contrary to current understanding, the Great Depression did not end in 1932. FDR did not wave a magic wand to end it, and the Country was still suffering from its effects as late as 1940. In that setting, on 2 July 1940, Dad joined the Navy and headed for U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. He was paid $21 a month, and sent some of that home. His Uncle Jim Kurtright, a WWI Navy vet, counseled Dad to go Navy because “you’ll always have a warm rack, three squares a day, and no mud.” Alas, the best laid plans…

After completing boot camp, Dad was transferred to US Naval Hospital, San Diego for training as a Hospital Corpsman. He then reported to USS Relief (AH-1) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in late 1940. He remained in Relief, a hospital ship, and at sea until mid-November 1944—just shy of 48 straight months. She returned to the Atlantic Fleet in early 1941 via the Panama Canal and was anchored in Argentia Bay, New Foundland on that infamous Sunday afternoon in December 1941.

By the time Relief got back to the Pacific in early 1943, Dad was a Chief Pharmacists Mate and was the leading CPO (i.e., the senior chief petty officer) in a collecting and clearing company in Relief’s embarked hospital. Those companies would go ashore in the early waves of a landing to conduct triage and evacuate casualties requiring hospitalization to the ship. In that capacity, he landed at Tarawa, Kwajalien, Saipan, Tinian, and Pelelieu.

Although he was never wounded in action, he narrowly escaped injury when a Jap plane dropped a 500 pound dud between his landing craft and another carrying the rest of the company at Saipan. At Tinian, he was saved by his shipmate, Chief Raeder, from falling overboard and being crushed or drowned. Chief Raeder was a distant relative of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who was Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy. A landing craft carrying wounded collided with the ship, tossing Dad into a stanchion and knocked him unconscious. He started to collapse overboard, but Chief Raeder grabbed him by his belt and pulled him back aboard one-handed.

Dad didn’t talk much about the war with us, although he would share sea stories with other vets. I do remember being impressed by an event shortly after we got our first TV in 1954. St. Louis had only two stations, and KWK was just starting up. They used a lot of WWII-oriented programming to fill their air-time, including Navy Log, which opened with the call to General Quarters—a bosun’s call and a gong. One night, my brother was excused from the supper table and went into the living room and turned on the TV, contrary to my parents’ rule, volume all the way up, just as that gong started. Dad jumped up from the table, sending his chair flying. He reached the door before he realized what was happening.

When Mom asked, “What in the name of Heaven are you doing?”, he replied simply, “I was going to my battle station.” It was that night that I first began to consider the Naval Service as a career.

Mom told me two other stories that reveal the effect on Dad of his war.

First, she said that from his return from the war in 1944 until his death in 1963, several times a month, he would wake up, screaming and drenched in sweat. When she got him refocused, he would apologize, saying only “I thought I was back at Pelelieu.” [NOTE: If you ever watch Victory At Sea (Episode 18 “TWO IF BY SEA: Peleliu and Angaur”), about mid-way through the episode, there is a shot of Relief and a one or two second clip of two Chiefs—one of whom I believe is Dad.]

Second, Mom and Dad married a couple of months after Pearl Harbor. They were both 26. (When he died at age 47, I can remember Mom saying, “I’ve been in love with him since 4th Grade”—the year that she moved to Stanberry. I can attest that that love never failed, even though she was a widow for twice as long as they were married.)

Relief came back to the States in November 1944 for overhaul. Dad was detached and transferred to the command that was establishing US Naval Hospital, Yosemite National Park in anticipation of millions of casualties from the invasion of Japan.

Mom and Dad were both 28, and that ol’ biological clock was a-tickin’. However, Dad refused Mom’s desire to start a family saying, “I won’t do that to you. When we invade Japan, they’ll send me back. I won’t come back from that one; I’ve used up all my luck. I won’t leave you a young widow with a baby.” [History will note that on 14 August 1945 (US time), the Japanese announced that they would accept the terms of the Potsdam Conference and would surrender unconditionally. I was born on 13 May 1946—exactly nine months later. It lends a whole new meaning to “VJ Day celebration!”]

About two months before Dad died, I was writing a term paper about Tarawa. I interviewed Dad, and got an A for using a primary source. His description of Tarawa in particular and the Pacific islands that he landed on in general was laconic and of the “I was there, but the real heroes were…..” genre. Still, I treasure that short conversation. I have often regretted that he did not live long enough for us to talk after I returned from Vietnam. It might have helped.

After his discharge in July 1946, he and Mom returned to Stanberry. We later moved to the St. Louis area where Dad was the assistant station manager for Eastern Airlines until his death.

Some of my earliest memories are of meeting at my Nana’s house, Mom's mother, on “Decoration Day, i.e., Memorial Day, to collect peonies to place on the graves of our war dead. The American Legion Post would then fire three volleys and Dad, the Post Bugler, would sound Taps. Things haven’t changed much: my cousin Kathy just e-mailed that she and her husband, Milton, had gone to High Ridge Cemetery to put flowers and a flag on Dad’s grave, among others. All roads do lead to Stanberry.

My Dad and Mom were truly great members of the “greatest generation.”

27 May 2011


The President of the United States
in the name of
The Congress
takes pride in presenting the
Medal of Honor (posthumously)
Private First Class
United States Marine Corps

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as set forth in the following

While serving as a combat engineer with Company B, 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division on 27 May 1969 in connection with combat operations against the enemy, PFC Phipps was a member of a 2-man combat engineer demolition team assigned to locate and destroy enemy artillery ordnance and concealed firing devices. After he had expended all of his explosives and blasting caps, PFC Phipps discovered a 175mm high explosive artillery round in a rice paddy. Suspecting that the enemy had attached the artillery round to a secondary explosive device, he warned other Marines in the area to move to covered positions and prepared to destroy the round with a hand grenade. As he was attaching the hand grenade to a stake beside the artillery round, the fuse of the enemy's secondary explosive device ignited. Realizing that his assistant and the platoon commander were both within a few meters of him and that the imminent explosion could kill all 3 men, PFC Phipps grasped the hand grenade to his chest and dived forward to cover the enemy's explosive and the artillery round with his body, thereby shielding his companions from the detonation while absorbing the full and tremendous impact with his body. PFC Phipps' indomitable courage, inspiring initiative, and selfless devotion to duty saved the lives of 2 Marines and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

26 May 2011


American national holidays, with one exception, are celebrations. Christmas and Easter celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. King Day celebrates Dr. King’s life and ministry. Presidents’ Day celebrates some presidents who deserve it and the rest, too. Independence Day celebrates just that. Labor and Veterans’ Days celebrate the hard work of all Americans and the service of those who took up the citizen’s greatest duty before returning to hearth and home. Thanksgiving Day celebrates and gives thanks for our bounty.

But one is different. Memorial Day is not a celebration as that word is understood today, although it is a celebration in the classic sense. It is the day on which we are supposed to stop and remember the men and women who, on far-flung battlefields, in fiery skies, and shell-splashed seas, gave all of their tomorrows for our today. They gave their everything that we could celebrate all the rest of the holidays.

Most of them were just kids. They had the same dreams that we did, but they never got to realize them. Instead, those dirty, tired, skinny men, pressed on into the cauldron of war. They did the job of giants, faithful to the end!

Some were the dog-faced infantry who stood and fought at Bunker Hill, Sharpsburg and Chickamauga, at San Juan Hill, at Chateau Thierry and the Marne. Some were gunners and pilots, high over Germany or Japan or Vietnam. Some were torpedomen and gunner’s mates and cooks and bakers on the 55 submarines “still on patrol.” Some were the Airborne who—to the everlasting glory of the infantry-- shivered and held at “the Bulge” or Rangers who “led the way” on the streets of Mogadishu. Most recently, they fell at Ramadi and in the cold mountains of Afghanistan.

A few were “Doc,” who died with them while ministering to their wounds at “bloody Omaha,” Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir and the Pusan perimeter. Others were “Padre,” such as Father Vincent Capodano, who died shielding a Marine with his body while praying with him.

And a fortunate few were Marines--riflemen-- God’s most magnificent creation. We are assured that, having served their time in the hell of Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Reservoir, the Ashau Valley and the Arizona Territory , at the barracks in Beirut and in al Anbar, they are now on duty, guarding the streets of heaven until, in God’s good time, we are finally allowed to rejoin them. Semper Fideles!

Some still rest where they fell, while others made a final trip home to rest. Their gallantry and sacrifice ought be remembered every day, but it is not. So, on Monday, precisely at Noon, 21 minute guns will be fired on posts and stations across the world. Taps will be sounded, and at 1221, the flag will be once again two blocked after hanging at half-mast for the morning. And some of us, in our hearts and memories, will be with those men in those times.

I will ponder once again the beautiful words of Laurence Binyon’s To The Fallen:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Lest we forget. (And the people respond “Lest we forget.”)

14 May 2011


While looking at POLITICO’s Arena for Saturday, May 14,I found an article that reports that “the White House is drafting an executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose political donations in exchange for doing business with the government.” According to the White House, this requirement will aid in “transparency”, something that did not bother the White House or the Congressional Democrats as they concocted their health care “reform” and the financial market “reform.” In those two instances, secrecy was the order of the day.

This smacks of the Chicago Strong Arm, a form of government with which the President, Chief of Staff Bill Daley, and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel are intimately familiar. My late first wife was from Chicago and I attended law school there. Watching the day-to-day shenanigans of Chicago politicians was the best contact sport around—no rules and beat the opponent bloody. I can think of nothing that would be more likely to lead to bribery and bid rigging than this. You either donate to the candidates that the President favors or your low bid is somehow lost.

Lest you think, “Oh, there he goes again,” such top level people in the President’s own party as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, have opposed the plan.

This is dog that needs to go back to the kennel right now.

03 May 2011


First, the good news: A raid force of 24 Navy SEALS penetrated deep into Pakistan, conducted a lightning raid on a fortified compound where they met armed resistance, overcame the enemy, and sent Osama bin Laden off to meet George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James Madison, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson and the other 64 Virginians he was promised. I’ll bet that was a fun meeting.

Now, the bad news. A lot of liberals are complaining. Maybe, just maybe, OBL did not have a weapon in hand when he grew a third eye. Oh, my. No one shouted for him to put his hands up. Oh dear. No one read him his rights. Oh darn. They shot too much: after the head shot, they double tapped him in the chest. Oh give me a break.

I wonder if the same cry babies who seem to think OBL was just another petty criminal would have been up in arms if Marshal Zhukov’s troops had put one between Hitler’s running lights?

The real problem, as I see it, is that a huge majority of Americans have never worn our nation’s uniform. They have never trained for man’s deadliest pastime—war. They have never been in a darkened building at zero dark thirty on a difficult mission surrounded by some nasty dudes who want to do them in and who have no qualms about shooting first. They don't know what it is like to be there.

So, bravo zulu, SEAL Team 6. Good shooting! As for the chest tap? Well, as Murphy’s rules of combat remind us, “anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice!”