A Rational for tearing down the Barrycades

I received a comment on my recent post “Mr. President … Tear Down These Barrycades” that I thought worthy of rebuttal in an effort to explain some of the motivation of veteran’s reactions to the barricaded memorials.

The commenter’s remark in short accused Republicans of using the demonstrations as a photo-op. My response follows:

  • Yes indeed, it is about symbolism, and about substance. But not in the manner you infer. It may be difficult for a non-veteran, and a liberal non-veteran as you appear to be, to understand; so let me make an attempt.

    Let me begin by pointing out just how rare, and just how special liberty really is, and this is perhaps at the root of why so many veterans feel as we do about our service.

    It has been estimated that something on the order of 4% of all people who have ever lived at any time, and in any place in this world have lived in a free society … the remainder have lived under the control of one form of despot or another; whether it be a Pharaoh, King, Queen, Emperor or the dictators of modern times in Nazi Germany, the Communist Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and elsewhere around the world, and throughout history.

    Then in 1787 something very new and profound happened. A group of brave American patriots asked the question that perhaps had never been asked before in all of history … can man govern himself? This group of men answered in the affirmative, and created a form of government that was based on the worth and dignity of the individual person; a form of government that declared loudly in its opening words “We the People … ” A form of government that banished the rule of kings, queens and despots from the shores of America.

    That form of government has been largely successful since 1787, and a large part of that success has been the sacrifice of the many veterans in the many wars since 1787.

    Preserving America as the “shining city on a hill” has enabled many others around the world to share in and expand this 4%, and is at the root of what has made this nation exceptional. Freedom and liberty, and the opportunity to achieve success and a new life is what brought millions to our shores, including my father and my grandparents.

    Liberty is what has made America exceptional, not it’s material wealth … not it’s natural resources and beauty … not its great literature … not its great inventions. Liberty and opportunity makes America Exceptional.

    I’ve recently talked with and broke bread with four who served in the South pacific battles of World War II; four who stepped foot on a small destroyer in 1943 and spent the next 2 years, 7 months and 4 days at war.

    I’ve talked with and broke bread with sailors who supported GIs and marines in Korea … in the dead of winter where temperatures were 38 degrees below zero. I’ve walked those very same decks off the coast of North and South Vietnam in 1966… there were no inside passageways, and I can only imagine the treachery of walking those icy decks off wintery Korea.

    I served with sailors during the early years of the Vietnam War, and recently had the privilege with reuniting with some of those men.

    I’ve talked with and listened to the stories of the wives left behind as their men went off to war … not knowing when or even if their husbands would return.

    I recently met and talked with a lady at our local YMCA. Janice lost her older brother to Vietnam and years later was instrumental in building a monument to those from our local area who lost their lives in Vietnam. She knows and shared with me how much a war memorial can mean, even to those who did not go to war.

    So yes, memorials can be and are very personal to many people. A picture I did not post was one of a young man with two artificial legs helping to carry a barricade to the White House.

    And there was Sarah Palin speaking on behalf of those tearing down the barricades. Yes she is a political personage, but don’t forget that as Governor of Alaska she was Commander in Chief of the National Guard units of her state … responsible for deployment of those units in time of state or national need … and is the mother of a young man who volunteered to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    What happened on the National Mall was filled with substance … filled with symbolism. Substance and symbolism that I can take great pride in.

    I hope this helps in your understanding of what happened at our national capital this past weekend … I only wish I could have been part of it.

    Don Johnson – October 2013




2 responses to “A Rational for tearing down the Barrycades

  1. Let me add this to the mix from my friend, neighbor and author of “the Millionaires Unit”:

    This article is a bit sappy, but describes men with a great legacy . I just checked and there’s an article about the Fort Walton Beach reunion that says one of the surviving members of the group, age 97, flew and landed a B-25 during the April reunion! Now that’s something I’d like to be able to do at any age: http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20130421/NEWS/304210004/Doolittle-Raiders-gather-final-reunion
    Best, Marc

    Subject: The cup of brandy that no one wants to drink (amazing facts)

    Tuesday, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the surviving Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time.

    They once were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States. There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history. The mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.

    Now only four survive.

    After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.

    Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried — sending such big, heavy bombers from a carrier.

    The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing.

    But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.

    And those men went anyway.

    They bombed Tokyo, and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.

    The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.

    Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid; “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”

    Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider.

    Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.

    Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.

    There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.

    As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96. What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.

    The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts … there was a passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that, on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that emblematize’s the depth of his sense of duty and devotion: “When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home, he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for three years until her death in 2005.”

    So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.

    The events in Fort Walton Beach this week will mark the end. It has come full circle; Florida’s nearby Eglin Field was where the Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission. The town is planning to do all it can to honor the men: a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner and a parade.

    Do the men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice? They don’t talk about that, at least not around other people. But if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach this week, and if you should encounter any of the Raiders, you might want to offer them a word of thanks. I can tell you from first hand observation that they appreciate hearing that they are remembered

    The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date — sometime this year — to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of them. They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets. And raise them in a toast to those who are gone.


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