HONOR THY VETERAN

A MUSE – Veterans Day

November 11, 2015

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 an armistice was signed in Compeigne, France between the WWI Allies and Germany marking “the end of war to end all wars.” Although WWI was not officially ended until 6/28/1918 by the Treaty of Versailles, President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 to be the first commemoration of “Armistice Day.”

Congress made Armistice Day a legal holiday by an Act in 1938. In 1954, after WWII and Korea, Congress amended the Act of 1938 by striking the word “Armistice” and changing it to “Veterans,” making it a day to honor all American veterans instead of just a day to celebrate the end of WWI.

The Uniform Holiday Act became effective in 1971 and with it the changing of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day from fixed dates to designated Mondays (3 day weekends). Numerous veterans were not happy with the change to the fourth Monday in October, and so, by an act of Congress in 1975 (effective 1978), Veterans Day was moved back to the traditional day of November 11.

After reading the reflections last Memorial Day by my friend and acclaimed author, Robert (Dickie) Vaughan, in which he so eloquently commemorated some of his buddies who died for this country in Vietnam, I was motivated to do the same, particularly thinking about the pilots from my Annapolis Class of 1962. They sacrificed.

Of the 777 officers commissioned at graduation about one out of eight became pilots. In a very few short years 29 were dead ( almost 30%), 13 were BNR (body not recovered). At least six reside in Arlington, including the remains of 3 recovered between 16 and 31 years after going MIA. The group of 29 included three of ten pilots from my company with whom I lived for 4 years (next door, across the hall, not unlike fraternity brothers). But many of the others were also some sort of buddy. For Pete Koch, the handsome gymnast and son of an admiral, it was a mid-air at the 90 degree point on a carrier landing off Puerto Rico; party man Stinger Tanger, a flameout near Gitmo; family man Dave Brodeur, a stall while shooting touch and go landings near Quonset Point,R.I. And this was all before Nam. Smokey Tolbert, from Oklahoma, tough as nails and Brigade boxing champ, who served a flying tour with the elite Blue Angels, was the last casualty in Nam. He had already earned two silver stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross when he was shot down July 23, 1972. He made it to open sea, ejected and was rescued. But on November 6, 1972 a SAM got him. This time he was 30 seconds from the beach when his plane went down. After three tours and more than 200 missions, he was the oldest of the group who didn’t make it back alive. He made it all the way to his 33rd birthday. His remains were returned by the North Vietnamese 16 years later.

The 29 lives ended quickly and caused me pain, but it was the four POW classmates who caused me a longer angst. Each of them stood out for something after their years in the Hanoi Hilton

I double dated with Mike McGrath on Youngster Cruise, the night he first met Marlene, his wife of 50+ years. Four of us were in the back seat. Jim Borsic, who had fixed us up, was driving. Unfortunately, Jim was one of the 29 who later didn’t make it. Mike became the Eastern Middleweight Wresting Champion, Navy’s captain and All American runner up. Father of two young children, Mike was shot down on his178th mission on 6/30/1967, suffered a broken arm, fractured knee and vertebrae, dislocated shoulder and elbow. He returned home 03/04/1973. Marlene did not whether he was alive or dead until 1970. He later authored the defining book about life in the Hanoi Hilton (Prisoner of War: Six Years in Hanoi), including his personal sketches of the torture methods. Everyone should read it to know what hell is really about. Mike retired from the Navy in 1987 and became a pilot for United Airlines.

Another classmate, Paul Galanti, was shot down on his 97th mission 06/17/1966. He was a member of the first group to return home on 02/12/1973, and if any of you recall, he was the returning hero who made the cover of Newsweek Magazine later that month. During his absence his wife, Phyllis, gained great national attention as Chairwoman of the National League of Families and Friends of POWs and MIAs. Once learning that Paul was alive, she gave a televised speech before the Virginia Senate in 1971 advocating a “Write Hanoi” campaign. The League collected over one millions letters which Phyllis and a few other members delivered to the North Vietnamese embassy in Stockholm. She also met with Nixon and Kissinger and delivered letters to the Versailles peace talks in1972. Paul retired from the Navy in 1983, became a motivational speaker and Commissioner of Veteran Services in Virginia. Phyllis died last year.

Another classmate, Ed Davis, was shot down on his 57th mission 8/26/65. After 7 1/2 years he returned home with Paul on 02/12/1973. He is well remembered on television as coming off the airplane with his dog Ma Co that he had hidden in the Hilton and smuggled home with him. Ed retired from the Navy in1987 and became a prolific motivational speaker. He died in 2006.

Dave Hoffman was shot down on 12/30/1971 and returned home 3/28/73.
As a shorter term POW, he received much less torture than his 3 classmates. He retired from the Navy in 1988 after serving as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.
This was only a small select group of my classmate buddies….veterans. I’m sure millions of vets have similar heartfelt memories of buddies from their time. This is why we honor them on Veterans Day.

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