Monday, November 10, 2008

For Veterans Day

It’s Veterans Day and I have strong opinions about it. I hate that to most people it just means that there will be a sale down at the big box store. I come from a family where everyone joined the army. Not because of patriotism or nationalistic fervor. As my dad said, it’s just “what we do.” My service was mostly during the Cold War. My father’s was during Korea. I like the irony that he was in at the start of the Cold War and I was there at the end. I’m much more proud of his service than mine, so I’ve included several photos from his album here for you to see.

The way I look at it, every time a “great man” did something that they teach you about in public school, there was a little guy making it happen, or enduring the consequences depending on the outcome. Please use Veterans Day to do two things. First, take the time to listen to veterans in your family or those you know. Ask them what they did, where they were, and what was it like. Record, write it down, and remember it. There are many programs going on now to record and archive veteran’s oral histories. I have a bias for the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Visit their website and participate if you can. There are of course other programs like the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Second, use this day to think about, and talk with your family, about our military and how we use it. Because we employ it. The people decide how it is used. I will not use this blog to promulgate a political debate. I want to only promote the study, appreciation, and enjoyment of history. But please be aware that you can and must have an opinion on how we use our military to advance our agenda around the world as well as provide for our nation’s security. And know that there are young people out there right now who are the instrument of our policies. Only a precious few choose to join the military these days. We need to use them wisely.

To honor the veterans in my family and those that I’ve known in my life, I’m including the text of a speech I’ll be giving at my local Toastmasters Club tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it. And please, sometime tomorrow go up to a veteran, shake his or her hand, and say, “Thank you for your service.” That honor was given to me by a World War II veteran one day a few years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I couldn’t believe that this man who had seen and done more than I could ever dream of would thank me for my service. It meant the world to me.

Getting To Know Clyde
I was a cavalryman. And on Veterans Day it is my duty to impart to you a little bit of cavalry wisdom. Do you know the difference between a fairy tale and a war story? A fairy tale starts out “Once upon a time…”, and a war story starts out “Well, there I was…” But other than that, they’re just about same thing. That being said, let me tell you one of my war stories, of which I assure you, every word is true.

I come from what you might call an army family. It seems that every male member of my family had served in the army. My great uncles chased Poncho Villa and fought in World War I. My dad’s brother Clyde left home to join the cavalry when they still had horses. He later fought in World War II, and Korea. My father was in Korea with the 187 Airborne Regimental Combat Team. Cousin Ivy Charles was there with him and he went on to serve in Vietnam as a Special Forces medic.

As you might imagine, I heard a few war stories growing up. My father told me once that he joined the army because he figured that everything that could be explored or discovered had been explored or discovered and the only adventure left for a poor kid from Texas was going to war. So of course I joined the army. How could I not? Not for patriotism or love of country, but because I had to live up to the standards set by these men. And the fact that I needed a job had a little something to do with it too. I went looking for adventure…and I found it. But those stories will have to wait for another day. Today, I want to tell you how I got to know my uncle Clyde.

I had seen pictures of Clyde when I visited his widow, Georgia Ann. I saw that picture of him. Khaki tie and campaign hat. Riding boots that laced up to the knee. Holding the reigns of his horse. His story fascinated me.

Years later I was in the Aviation Officers Advanced Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. In this school, one of our exercises was to travel up to the Civil War Battlefield at Chickamauga, Georgia and conduct a terrain walk. Study the tactics. Conduct a “staff ride” if you’re from the cavalry. If you’d been there you’d have seen about 80 captains walking all over the battlefield stopping at key points to conduct a class. You would have stood on the exact spot where Longstreet saw the gap in the Union line. He sent thousands of troops under John Bell Hood through the opening, turning the battle into a route and a victory for the Confederate forces. If I’d been there, would I have seen the opportunity and acted on it?

For this multi-day event, we swung a deal with the local National Guard that we could stay in their barracks at a training site called Fort Oglethorpe. In return we’d take the time to tour a museum that some folks had started for the 6th Cavalry Brigade. The 6th Cavalry had been stationed at Fort Oglethorpe back when they had horses before World War II. No problem, so off we go to the museum. Someone had donated an old G-model Cobra from the Vietnam days and they had it parked out in front of a rather plain looking building about the size of a Seven-Eleven. Inside they had a couple of uniforms, an old McClellan saddle, you know, the usual stuff. Lots of pictures on the wall. No kidding, it really was interesting there just wasn’t that much of it. Most of the guys did their duty and moved through pretty quick. But waiting for us in the corner were our three tour guides.

Now, to say these guys were old would be an understatement. They had to have been in the cavalry back when Christ was a corporal, or at the very least rode into Mexico with Black Jack Pershing. I didn’t really have any questions for them and quite frankly I was about to cut out to the parking lot for a cigarette when I heard one of the gentlemen say he had been in the Cavalry in 1941 and had been on the Texarkana maneuvers, which we all remember was the last mounted cavalry maneuvers that the United States Army conducted. Well, my dad had told me many times that his brother Clyde had been on the Texarkana maneuvers.

So of course I had to ask, “Did you know a Clyde Broumley?” The old guy scratched his chin and said, “Yes, I think I did.” Wow. John MacArthur said “Small world.” Rick Rowzee said, “Small army.” The man leads me over to a picture on the wall and points out a couple of the soldiers in the old sepia tone picture. He said, “I think Broumley was one of these youngsters in the recruit troop.” You see, back then, there wasn’t basic training for cavalrymen. They were assigned to the recruit troop until they had “won their spurs” and then assigned to one of the line troops. The old gentleman went on to tell me that as he remembered, private Broumley was a good trooper. Then he proceeded to tell me all about life at Fort Oglethorpe in the 1930s. He told me about how the officers were on the base polo team and played the officer teams from other posts. Enlisted weren’t allowed on the team, so they’d made up their own. The officers played them for practice but never could beat the enlisted team. I listened to that old man’s stories until my friends got tired of waiting and came and got me.

As soon as I got the chance I called my dad to tell him about the man who knew Clyde. My dad had quite a chuckle. He said that Clyde wasn’t in the 6th Cavalry, ever. He was in the 3rd of the 7th out of Fort Bliss at the time of the Texarkana maneuvers. So the man was mistaken. I thought about that encounter for years. I finally decided that in this case the facts are so important. I’m sure that life at that time wasn’t so different at Fort Bliss than it was at Fort Oglethorpe. The old man knew that he knew Clyde Broumley. And as a result, I got to know him too.

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