Category Archives: Heroes

The Greatest Generation: bitter-sweet

WP_20150916_08_56_36_Pro21781_10151127305987547_649138155_n

Sweet because I have had the high honor and privilege of knowing some of these men in recent years who have called me friend and shipmate.  Bitter in knowing the friendships would be short-lived.

The young men above are three of the “greatest”:  Bob Allard, Gene Beckstrom and I don’t know the third young man.  In September we lost Bob Allard, and then in mid-November we lost Gene Beckstrom.

I met Bob Allard briefly at a ship reunion in Denver, and that was a sweet experience. Gene and Bob served together on the Porterfield down in the fire-rooms, but hadn’t seen one another since 1946 and the end of the war. When Bob saw Gene, his countenance lit up and he shouted out “Beckstrom – where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking for you for years.” 

I was the mouse in the corner eaves-dropping on this wonderful reunion, and dared not intrude.

Bob gave the picture of the three shipmates to Gene who from that point on treasured it. The next year (2016) at the San Diego, Gene once more proudly brought out that picture. Gene’s son Bruce – also a Navy veteran – has the picture now.

I’ll greatly miss this man!

__________________________

What is the legacy these men leave behind?

When these young man (Gene was 16), along with 10’s of thousands of others, entered the service the German war machine had overrun all of Western Europe, much of Northern Africa, were threatening Great Britain and had invaded the Soviet Union to the east. Germany’s ally Italy was part of the axis juggernaut. 

In the far-east, the Japanese military had brutally invaded Korea, China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and were threatening New Zealand and Australia. 

So the task facing these young men was daunting indeed.

***  *** ***

What sort of world did these young men, and those who followed, leave behind?

A free Western Europe with representative constitutional governments and free market economies.

Communism was stopped with the former slave nations of Eastern Europe now living as part of the free world.  

The Soviet backed North Korean invasion of South Korea was stopped and South Korea is now a strong, free and successful nation.

Japan has been transformed into a modern free industrial nation.

 

Advertisements

October 23, 1956–The Hungarian Revolution. What would you fight for? What would you die for?

image

This day, October 23 marks the 61st anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

It’s hard for many of us in the free world to appreciate times such as those. What drove virtually all segments of Hungarian society, including the military and police, to rise up against their government? What drove so many to risk everything, including their life in an attempt to throw off the tyranny and brutality of a Soviet controlled dictatorship?  

The following articles summarize those days quite well:

Excerpts:

“ … In the days that followed, frequent attacks and skirmishes took place across Budapest and the countryside, as village-based freedom fighters strove to hinder Soviet brigades heading toward the capital. Workers nationwide launched strikes in solidarity with the resisters, and more public demonstrations continued demanding radical change in government. In one particularly gruesome incident, ÁVH troops opened fire on a nonviolent crowd of approximately 10,000 demonstrators gathered before the Parliament House on October 25th, a massacre that killed around 100 people and injured hundreds more; bullet holes from that tragedy are preserved to this day on buildings surrounding Kossuth Square. …” (the picture at the top)

freedom-fighter-statue-2ee0a0de4e9b9fe0e9e64f2ea024650c2celebration-1956-hungary-1422115

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/10/22/the-freedom-fight-a-chronicle-of-hungarys-1956-revolution/

And an eyewitness to the revolution:

image

https://welovebudapest.com/en/2014/10/23/hope-and-tragedy-an-eyewitness-recalls-hungarys-1956-revolution/

A dear friend and Navy Shipmate Adam von Dioszeghy was also an eyewitness – indeed a twice wounded freedom fighter in that 1956 Revolution against tyranny. Read his account below:

http://www.blurb.com/b/8243686-budapest-at-war

image

Don Johnson – October 2017

Liberty and the Honor of Respecting the Flag

I’ve always stood for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the American flag. Image result for standing for the national anthem
Has it always been a mark of honor and respect? Or had it become somewhat of a rote habit?

The recent dustups in the NFL with professional athletes sitting or kneeling contrary to the custom of standing with an attitude and posture of respect, coupled with an extended stay in Paris have broadened and deepened my appreciation of this long standing flag etiquette. 

Thousands of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers, sailors and airmen died bringing liberty back to captive France in 1944. More than 18,000 French civilians also died in pushing out the evil of Nazism from France and restoring liberty. Many of the civilian deaths were due to the heavy allied bombings of the coastal Norman cities in places like Saint Lo and Caen.

SaintLo
The reception of the “liberators” was mixed as could be expected – towns and homes were destroyed, and loved ones lost in the carnage.

But what I found some 73 years later were many memorials of much gratitude on the part of the French. And this gratitude seemed to extend from 1944 to the present day. For example, in driving to the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, I looked up at the second floor of an old building and saw three small and tattered flags – French, British and American. These flags, off the beaten tourist path showed me that someone still held a heart of gratitude.

And in researching further,  I found this story:

“ … Franck Maurouard and his family of Normandy, France, have not forgotten the sacrifices made by American soldiers trying to liberate France from German occupation during World War II.

Each Memorial Day for the past 10 years, Franck, his wife, Anne, and their children, Alexandre, 16, and Eloise, 14, have decorated the graves of two American Rangers who died in the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.

They volunteered to care for the graves in Colleville sur Mer cemetery by applying to Les Fleurs de la Memoire, an organization that encourages French citizens to remember on Memorial Day the graves of Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and who remain forever in French soil. Les Fleurs de la Memoire (lesfleursdelamemoire.com) represents 132 French Fraternal Associations, 70 French towns and villages, and 3,677 French citizens who have adopted, in perpetuity, 10,451 graves.

Maurouard, who served in the French Navy for 17 years and is now a laboratory technician at the school where his wife teaches, requested to be assigned the grave of one Ranger from the 2nd Battalion and another from the 5th Battalion. But he has done far more than decorate the graves of Pvt. Joseph Trainor of Wisconsin and Pvt. Elmo Banning of Sedan, Kan.

He researched the details of their deaths and shortened lives and searched for their surviving relatives. He and his family developed a close relationship with Pvt. Banning’s family, now residing in California. … “    Read more  here and here.

I’ve walked the grounds of Colleville sur Mer, and yes, there are flowers at the foot of the grave markers – in 2017.

There are similar stories to be found from other places of liberation.

Why do so many in France still honor  their liberators from 1944?

s-l1000

I believe it is because liberty has value. And because liberty has value, there is a cost for its purchase, and a cost for its restoration when lost. I believe the French, having lost and regained liberty, go to great lengths to honor that cost – a cost measured in the many lives lost in achieving liberty once more.   

P1070935

Fortunately we here in the United States have not experienced the traumatic loss of liberty as was experienced in France in the 1940s. Many of our military have witnessed that loss of liberty elsewhere, and have fought to purchase or restore liberty in hostile places far from home.  There is a yearning for liberty among the oppressed of the world – always has been and always will be.

Perhaps those professional athletes irreverently sitting before the flag are in ways they, or we,  may not fully understand – perhaps they are sitting in ways reflecting that yeaning for liberty they perceive as having been lost.

I respect that right of expression. In years past, and even today, many say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

My wish is that our younger generations would be taught the lessons of places like 1944 France. My wish is that they would learn these lessons and honor those many who did “ … fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. found another way to achieve huge change for the good in this nation. Would that the NFL athletes seek other avenues of change.

king


Don Johnson – October 2017




Has it been

Honoring the Flag

Heroes

Sports stadiums and sports celebrities are getting top billing these days – but for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps contributing to this is that  a very small percentage – 1 or 2% – of the population are on active duty in the military these days. It’s easy to think that the national anthem is for the entertainment of sports fan and sports celebrities who can manipulate the national anthem and flag honoring as props for current Social Justice agendas.

But military folks – active duty, families and veterans – typically take a very much different view. I’m a Navy vet from the 1960s, so let me recall some of the protocol regarding the flag.

When out walking around base in the early morning hours toward the pier and “colors”  was heard, you stopped, stood at attention, and if in uniform you saluted in the direction of the raising flag. Likewise at the end of the day when the colors were “retired” and lowered, you stopped what you were  doing, turned towards the lowering flag and saluted. When boarding the ship we turned to the flag, saluted it and requested permission to board the ship. This is protocol and what is expected of  our military and civilians when on board a military base. 

Let me tell you about the four young sailors above – David Crabbe, Jim Devin, Dave Lesh and Frankie Paxton.

These four went through the daily protocol I described, and when it really mattered, put their commitment to the ultimate test. Following their deployment to Vietnam on the USS Porterfield, a US Navy destroyer, they were on the way home to San Diego. A typhoon delayed that trip when a shipmate lay badly injured on the deck, unconscious and in danger of  being washed overboard to his death. These four sailors risked their own lives in rescuing their fallen shipmate, with Devin actually being washed overboard in the effort. The event ended well, with injuries but no deaths, and Devin rescued hours later in the midst of that typhoon.

LetterFromAPilot 

Then there is this image of the family of a fallen soldier who will be left with memories, pictures and a folded American flag. 

These heroes of real life served, fought and many died believing “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

Yes, you have the right to publicly dishonor the flag and the National Anthem. But you ought not to exercise that right.

Don Johnson – September 2017  

France: The Cost of Liberation

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
Ronald Reagan

The cost of regaining freedom was enormous. Paid for by thousands of American, British, Canadian and Free French soldiers, sailors and airman.

P1070875

P1070870

 

The Liberation of France

Five weeks in Paris including two trips to Normandie provides much for reflection and thought.

One such thread is the liberation of France and Europe, beginning on the beaches of Normandie in 1944.

So being of the curious type and always looking to learn something new, I  found some pictures of those days and would like to share.

forrester20-e1500216277248

And why the jubilation and gratefulness on the part of the French?

holocaustIn four years of German/Nazi occupation, 200,000+ French citizens, mostly Jews, and many thousands of children and infants, were ‘deported’ to the death camps never to be seen or hugged again.

 

Don Johnson — September 2017

 

Maximilien de Robespierre

https://www.biography.com/people/maximilien-de-robespierre-37422

image

(Note: I am writing this from Paris France)

I fear we may be headed down the path of the French “Reign of Terror” led by Robespierre.

The American and French Revolutions occurred in roughly the same period in the late 1700s, but with different foundational philosophies and dramatically different results.

Look at some excerpts from the biography of a man seemingly pure and noble at the beginning, becoming drunk with power resulting in the brutal deaths of many thousands, including his own, ending with the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

“ … In April 1789, Robespierre was elected president of the powerful Jacobin political faction. A year later, he participated in writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the foundation of the French constitution. When the people of Paris rose up against King Louis XVI in August 1792, Robespierre was elected to head the Paris delegation to the new National Convention. In December of that year, he successfully argued for the execution of the king and continued to encourage the crowds to rise up against the aristocracy.

On July 27, 1793, Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, formed to oversee the government with virtual dictatorial control. Faced with pressures both from the outside and from within, the Revolutionary government instituted the Reign of Terror in September. In the next 11 months, 300,000 suspected enemies of the Revolution were arrested and more than 17,000 were executed, most by guillotine. In the orgy of bloodshed, Robespierre was able to eliminate many of his political opponents.

Seemingly intoxicated with the power over life and death, Robespierre called for more purges and executions. By the summer of 1794, many in the Revolutionary government began to question his motives, as the country was no longer threatened by outside enemies. An awkward coalition of moderates and revolutionaries formed to oppose Robespierre and his followers.

On July 27, 1794, Robespierre and many of his allies were arrested and taken to prison. He was able to escape with the aid of a sympathetic jailer and hid in the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. When he received word that the National Convention had declared him an outlaw, he tried to commit suicide, but succeeded only in wounding his jaw. Shortly after, troops from the National Convention stormed the building and seized and arrested Robespierre and his followers. The next day, he and 21 of his allies were executed at the guillotine. … “

________________

The target of Robespierre and the French Revolution was King Louis XVI.

https://www.biography.com/people/louis-xvi-9386943#!

Synopsis

“ … Louis XVI became the heir to the throne and the last Bourbon king of France upon his father’s death in 1765. In 1770, he married Austrian archduchess Marie-Antoinette, the daughter of Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. After a slew of governing missteps, Louis XVI brought the French Revolution crashing down upon himself, and in 1793 he was executed. His wife, Marie-Antoinette, was executed nine months later. …”

Image result for King Louis XVI Beheaded

Human nature seldom — probably never — changes, and history often seems to repeat itself, or at least casts its ghostly images on present day life.

It seems to me that today’s America is setting itself up for a replay of Robespierre and his Jacobians.

We are pushing our Judea/Christian Biblical roots into the corners of  churches and synagogues, not to be seen in public.

The barricades of moral standards fall against the onslaught of unbridled thought and teaching.

We are pulling down the reminders of our history – good and bad — by destroying monuments around the nation and teaching history in a politically correct fashion.

We have set up enemies within us, casting the “we” as noble and just, and “them” as evil. Hearts and minds close with breathtaking acceleration.  

I advise carful personal reflection as to our thinking, attitudes and actions in this time of troubles for our nation.

And no better source for such reflection exists than that wisdom from the founders of this great nation.

“ … because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry,  would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. … “    John Adams.

Don Johnson – August 2017