Funeral with Military Honors

I had the solemn opportunity this past weekend to attend my first funeral where the deceased was buried with military honors. The deceased was a member and former adjutant of the American Legion Post I belong to. I’d never had the opportunity to meet her, but I felt as Post Commander I needed to show my respects to the family.

The chapel service focused on her military service her service to the Order of the Eastern Star. The graveside service began with a caparisoned horse following the hearse. A casket team from the local military installation took the casket from the hearse to the gravesite, where a Sergeant Major and another senior NCO stood at the ends of the casket. The other members of the detail marched to the west end of the gravesite and three riflemen fired three volleys, followed by the bugler playing Taps. The senior NCO and the Sergeant Major saluted the flag-draped coffin and then folded the flag. The Sergeant Major then knelt in front of the next of kin to present the family the pall.

One other military aspect of the funeral was a Patriot Guard escort for the funeral procession from the funeral home to the cemetery. It was a very reverent ceremony and well executed.

A missed opportunity

This should not have been the first funeral I attended to have military honors. My grandfather died in 1997 and was buried without any recognition of his service, other than an mistyped obituary that cited him as a WWII veteran (he was in Germany during the Korean War). My recollection is that the local VA office could not find record of his service. His records were most likely lost during the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. Unbeknownst to the family (and forgotten by my grandmother), my grandfather had copies of his service records in a shoebox in his closet. I found them years later when I took an interest in his military service. He had his DD-214, his Honorable Discharge certificate, several official letters and pamphlets, letters from buddies and old girlfriends, and photos and coins from Germany and other parts of Eastern Europe.

After I found this treasure trove, I had my grandmother to request copies of his service records, to see if the archives actually had a copy. They did not, so next I put together a packet to send to the archives to rebuild his records. My grandmother has still not been presented with a flag in honor of his service, but hopefully now, his service will not be forgotten.

Prepare for your day

Each of us will leave this life to face our Creator in due time, and there are many things we need to do to prepare for that day. I’ll leave it to each of you to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, but I would offer some advice [1] to those of you who may be due military honors at your funeral:

  • Make it known that you want to be buried with honors.
  • Make sure you have your appropriate military records on file, and that your significant other (or whomever is handling your estate) knows where they can be found to prove your service. If you can’t find them now, request new copies.
  • If the archives doesn’t have them, work to rebuild your file from your copies.
  • Be involved with a veterans-related organization, such as the American Legion. Your comrades will likely be in contact with your family to ensure that you are properly honored.
  • Attend the services of other veterans who pass on before you. Show their families how much their service means to you.

Resources:

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[1] I am not a lawyer and I am not offering legal advice.

House passes new Stolen Valor Act

Great news:

Stolen Valor order applauds new Act:

Less than three weeks after a resolution passed at the 94th National Convention of The American Legion called on Congress to introduce and approve a new Stolen Valor Act, the U.S. House of Representatives has done just that.

The revised legislation, which replaces a law signed in 2006 but struck down last June by the U.S. Supreme Court, sailed through the House by a 410-3 vote Thursday.

“The American Legion is impressed with Congress today,” American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said. “Those who deliberately lie about military service, wear medals they did not earn or make claims of combat heroism they did not achieve are more than just liars. They are perpetrators of the worst kind of fraud. Their lies are an insult to all who have truly stood in harm’s way and earned their decorations. We raised this issue at our national convention, and the House acted.”

The Supreme Court ruled in June that the former Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment right of free speech. The revision narrows the scope of the act, focusing on the fraud aspect and profiteering from lies of military achievement. The revised version reflects newly passed American Legion Resolution 238, which states in part: 

“False claims of military service and receipt of medals of valor have resulted in literally millions of dollars in fraudulent claims for VA services, as well as related costs of investigation by the VA, and law-enforcement agencies, to uncover false claims, all of which, ‘takes away valuable resources from those who are entitled.’” The full resolution can be read online.

Fines and up to one year of imprisonment would be imposed upon those convicted of the new Stolen Valor Act, if it passes the Senate and is signed by the president.

The American Legion, with 2.4 million members worldwide, is the nation’s largest veterans service organization.

I have posted on this topic previously. Now the Senate needs to move decisively on the issue with full non-partisan support.

Remembering 9/11

Every generation has moments seared into their memories. For me, there are three: the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin wall, and 11 September, 2001. The first two are just fuzzy recollections, but I still remember 9/11 well.

On 11 September 2001, I was working for a company that rented trade show exhibit equipment, and part of my job was to be the ‘field engineer’ (or Exhibit Support Specialist, as the formal job title read) and supervise the installation of booths at venues for the company’s customers. I don’t recall exactly how we found out about it, but we didn’t know what was going on until we found an old black and white TV to watch it on. Why a company that does A/V support for trade shows didn’t have a nice color TV to watch it on is beyond me. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, and we were all taken back by the events of the day. There was a shadow of despair and disbelief over the office for days after that.

I still have a nagging fear of flying, and back then it was a full-blown phobia. I was scheduled to fly to Houston to support a trade show that was scheduled for the weekend. I was horrified. What if there were more attacks coming? Having separated from the military a year before, and recalling an incident [1] (that turned out to be nothing) and was mentally expecting the worst. The news was so unreliable that morning, and I didn’t know if this was a coordinated attack or what it might be. I was a little paranoid and asked my boss to let me drive to Houston instead of flying. I was told that such an action would be seen as my voluntary resignation. To my relief, the trade show was cancelled, but it made me think about my future there.

Later in 2002, I was working a trade show in the Javits Center (I was still working for the same company; I try not to do anything in haste) and had a chance to talk with some of the NewYorkers about that fateful day. I was in awe of some of the first-hand accounts I was given and I had opportunity to look down into the hole that used to be the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was a deeply saddening moment to imagine the chaos and death that occurred that day.

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[1] There was an incident in the late 90s when a black duffel bag mysteriously appeared against an interior wall of the drill hall for my unit. When it was noticed, the tenor of the day changed at the possibility of having a bag full of explosives waiting to detonate. I can’t recall what led to this heightened sense of apprehension, but I recall vaguely this being the first time I recall hearing the name Osama bin Laden. To make a long story short, after many anxious hours, the bomb squad ‘blew up’ the bag, and later that day its owner returned from the field to find his change of clothes utterly ruined.

Stolen Valor

My politics are pretty libertarian and I advocate free speech even when I don’t like or agree with it, on the premise that if all speech is not free (even hate speech), then no speech is truly protected. Americans allow the Ku Klux Klan or the New Black Panthers to speak things offensive to the general sentiment of the nation because they have a constitutional right to, and we fear what happens to us as a nation when we start  selective limitations on what is allowed as free speech.

Here is were my view of free speech may deviate from my libertarian friends: I support the prosecution of individuals who engage in what is known popularly as “Stolen Valor“, who attempt to present themselves as “war heroes”, wearing decorations they have not been awarded. Stolen Valor is not free speech in my opinion. Some lies may be free speech, but this is more than just a lie, it is fraud.

I am not talking about re-enactors who wear combat uniforms and recreate battles from past conflicts, which commemorate the events, and honor those who fought. Stolen Valor is also different than dressing in a militaristic manner and even wearing decorations that one has actually earned on a military style uniform. The type of uniform I suggest here would be in line with the Kentucky Colonel uniform worn by Stephen Lautens. (Please see my post on Honorary Colonelcy for a more detailed discussion of this topic.)

I am referring to individuals who either have never served in the military, or who actually may have served, but wear decorations not awarded to them in an effort to represent themselves as some sort of “war hero”. This is akin to the custom in the US of the post nominal Esq. being reserved for legal professionals (i.e. if a person has Esq. at the end of his name, then he is assumed to be a lawyer), but much more heinous. For one thing, most lawyers do not put their lives on the line in defense of liberty.

What brought on this particular topic was this FBI press release:

Huntsville Man Charged with Fraud and Unauthorized Wearing of Military Medals

U.S. Attorney’s Office

Northern District of Alabama(205) 244-2001

August 28, 2012

BIRMINGHAM—A federal grand jury today indicted a Huntsville man for fraud and unauthorized wearing of U.S. military uniforms and medals, U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Haley, III announced.

An indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges Christopher Bernard Graham, also known as Christopher Harold Graham and Christopher Graham Lyndsey, with one count of fraud in relation to identification documents, two counts of unauthorized wearing of the U.S. Army Combat Uniform and eight counts of unauthorized wearing of U.S. military badges, decorations, or medals.

Graham, 43, is charged with fraud for possessing an identification card on August 14 that was illegally produced to appear as though it were issued under the authority of the United States, according to the indictment.

He wore the U.S. Army Combat Uniform, without authorization, between October 1, 2010 and April 20, 2011, and also between November 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012, according to the indictment. During the same two time periods, Graham also wore, without authorization, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Army Ranger Tab, the Army Parachute Qualification Badge, and the Army Air Assault Qualification Badge, according to the charges.

The fraud charge is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The unauthorized wearing of a U.S. military uniform or of military badges, decorations and medals are misdemeanors carrying maximum penalties of six months in prison and $5,000 fines.
The FBI and U.S. Defense Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Estes is prosecuting the case.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges. It is the government’s responsibility to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Other similar cases can be found here.

Militarism is ingrained in my psyche. “Duty”, “honor”, “country” — those three hallowed words… have stuck with me since graduating Army Basic Training at seventeen. I served in the Alabama Army National Guard. I have to admit that I sort of cringe when someone thanks me for my service, because I don’t qualify my service as having been on the same level as those who have served on Active Duty, much less combat (I’ve been told by other veterans that I shouldn’t do that…). The closest I came to combat was being military security at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics (more on that here). I have family who have served on Active Duty and in combat. My brother is currently in the Navy. We have a cousin who served in Iraq. You can read about him here and here. We are all proud of our service to our Nation.

That is why I despise Stolen Valor imposters so greatly. Whatever one’s opinion of the conflicts America has engaged in over the past one hundred years, there have been service members who have put their lives on the line in the defense of the ideals of this Country and our allies. To put on a uniform and pretend to have “been there” dishonors their memory and diminishes their sacrifice. This goes beyond a lie that is protected speech. This is fraud and misrepresentation. You can’t put brown water in a Coke can and call it Coca-Cola. You can’t pin on a Combat Infantry Badge and call yourself a war hero.

Were the Hessians mercenaries?

I didn’t gain a real appreciation of the dynamics of the American Revolution until many years after my compulsory service in the American variant of the Prussian Education System. I’ve had a few epiphanies in my quest for independent thought over the years that might deviate from traditional, conservative American views.

One is an appreciation for the absolute excellence in propaganda that is the Declaration of Independence. I mean that in the most positive sense. The ascertation of natural rights , but the hyperbole directed at King George III is the stuff of legend. Modern politicians and tacticians would do well to learn from the master, President Thomas Jefferson.

(Caveat: While I appreciate both sides of a story (hindsight 20/20 and all…) the oath that the Blevinses actually alive during those events was probably the best move for the family at that time. See my previous post on William Blevins, the Long Hunter, under the heading “The Revolution” for more details.)

However, the epiphany that I want to discuss today is that Hessians who fought beside the British Army were not mercenaries.

Here is the basis for that postulation:

  • Motivated solely by a desire for monetary or material gain.
  • Hired for service in a foreign army.
  • The Hanoverian dynasty of British monarchs was by and large an Anglo-Germanic family.
  • The German aristocrats whose units were fighting against the Colonists had family ties to the British crown.
  • I’m sure there are much more learned individuals who have so thoroughly covered this topic as to make a rank amateur such as myself look a fool for even endeavoring to discuss it, but I will nonetheless. It helps me to better understand it to think it out in my own feeble way.
    First, to dispense of the definition. The Hessian soldiers did not enlist in the British army to enrich themselves. They served at the behest of their princes, in their units, with their flags and uniforms. If anything, it was a coalition force, similar to what we have in modern warfare.
    Second, is the fact that the House of Hanover was a German royal line that began with George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and ended (with regards to the British royal branch) with Queen Victoria. Were it not for the onset of WWI, the House of Windor might still refer to itself as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. That is an interesting story in and of itself.
    Third is the fact that the German princes and nobles sending their soldiers to America to fight for the British were in some cases, related to the British royal family. Take for instance, Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. He was the son-in-law of King George II, and thus the uncle of George III. The reason that the Germans fighting in America were known as “Hessians” was because so many of them were subjects of Frederick. There was also Charles Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, a distant cousin of George III. After the war, he and his second wife, Lady Elizabeth Craven, lived in England breeding horses.
    In all cases, the German princes were paid for the services of their military forces, but it’s too complicated to just toss around the designation “mercenary”. Again I default to believing it more accurately to be a coalition. They didn’t have NATO to oblige them to defend their allies, they had something much deeper, kinship.
    So there is my spin on the topic for your entertainment. If you know of a better, more academic analysis of the matter, shoot me an email and I’ll link to it below.

    A victory for restoring/keeping military tradition

    An interesting follow-up post on the Canadian move last year to restore the “Royal” designations to its military branches:

    Turning the military clock back to its proper time: Now that a full year has passed since the federal government boldly returned the main branches of the armed forces to their pre-1968 designations – the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force – a decision that delighted and perplexed many, and appalled some as a retrograde step, an annum of perspective would perhaps be a timely and welcome thing.
    Certainly the unexpected announcement attracted a considerable amount of media attention and debate, and even ignited a few spasms during a traditionally slow news month. Although the restoration was supported by a solid majority of Canadians across all spectra, including a majority of federalist Quebeckers, the shrieks and howls emanating from some quarters lambasting the move, did cause a disproportionate stir.

    For example, opposition defence critic Jack Harris was adamant that the royal name change should be avoided because it would be divisive to the country, a fear that fortunately never materialized. Military historian Jack Granatstein, for his part, disparaged the restoration as “abject colonialism”, which seemed an oddly irrelevant apprehension to hold in contemporary and fully independent Canada. There were a few others, but it was the exquisite irony of former defence minister Paul Hellyer’s criticism that the reinstatement would prove a “monumental blunder of historic proportions”, and one that will have “inevitably costly consequences”, that requires a little further elaboration to properly dispel.
    Mr. Hellyer – surely the most transformative defence minister in Canadian history – was understandably upset that his unification legacy had been – at least symbolically – overturned. After all, it was his single-minded audacity in the 1960s that pushed through the most revolutionary change in the armed forces of any developed country in the last century, effectively abolishing the navy, army and air force and forming a new single service, the unified Canadian Armed Forces.
    Economically the merger was a massive reorganization exercise intended to amalgamate the functions of the military, reduce triplication and create integrated efficiencies – an ostensibly worthy goal in and of itself. What occurred in 1968, however, went far beyond an economic initiative. It was also a regrettable assault on the very identities of the navy, army and air force; their ranks, uniforms, history, traditions, titles. For a country that had always moved cautiously in reforming its institutions, and that had in the previous fifty years fought two world wars and Korea, the shock of this caused enormous pain to over a million Canadian veterans as well as to most of all ranks who were serving at the time. Unification struck at the very heart of esprit-de-corps.
    The self-defeating effort to disenfranchise our sailors, soldiers and air personnel from their traditional loyalties and hard won distinctions – especially the navy, the most embattled and deeply wounded of the three – was politically motivated by a determined desire to “cleanse the forces of their Britishness”, what C.P. Champion, author of The Strange Demise of British Canada, calls “the neo-nationalist attack on [Canada’s] military tradition”. Given the ubiquity of that heritage, Mr. Hellyer was of the mind that the most efficient way to “Canadianize” the services was to scuttle them in one dramatic blow. The proud RCN and RCAF had to go; our sailors and airmen were chastened into the unification straightjacket, and ludicrously forced to don rifle green outfits and adopt army ranks. If the amorphous, brave new Canadian Armed Forces was an impossible vehicle to rally morale, the troops would have to make do with bland bureaucratic distinctions like “Maritime Command” and “Air Command” or even “Land Force Command”. The whole reinvented apparatus was, at root, an uninspiring concoction, and therein laid its eventual fate.
    Some vital traditions in fact were restored before they were even abandoned. In time, nearly all would be organically returned as the unification conformists gradually ceded to reality under successive governments. With the long overdue restoration of Canada’s battle-tried titles, our armed forces can proudly reclaim their inheritance. The reestablishment of these historic identities, as defence minister Peter MacKay announced one year ago today, “is an important way of reconnecting today’s men and women in uniform with the proud history and traditions they carry with them”, which will “once again serve as a timeless link between our veterans and serving soldiers, sailors and air personnel.”
    The Hon. Paul Hellyer can rest easy in the knowledge that the perfectly sensible parts of his legacy remain firmly intact, and that thanks to his historic efforts the rebranded Canadian Forces continue to be one of the most functionally integrated militaries in the world today. But it was a bridge too far, and the country could have done without the temporary defacement of its naval and military heritage. The natural process of “Canadianization” was, after all, inevitable.
    Indeed, the recovery of that heritage is a happy occasion, and one that Canadians rightly support and respect. The names and deeds of the RCN, RCAF and the regiments and corps of the Canadian Army are deepened in loyal and devoted service and distinctly forged in battle. They deserve all the honours that have been bestowed upon them. Glottal stops, notwithstanding.

    The Distinguished Warfare Medal (formerly titled: New decoration for joystick jockeys)

    I’m all for using technological advantage to win wars, but creating a decoration for drone pilots seems a little excessive:

    Drone pilots to get medals?: Pentagon officials have been briefed on the medal’s “unique concept,” Charles V. Mugno, head of the Army Institute of Heraldry, told a recent meeting of the Commission of Fine Arts, according to a report in Coin World by our former colleague Bill
    See all stories on this topic »

    First and foremost, I don’t want to demean anyone’s military service, but piloting a drone from somewhere stateside does not, in my opinion, for whatever that is worth, constitute “Distinguished Warfare” especially at the level that the medal would rank between the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Soldier’s Medal. I believe there does happen to be (to quote from the article) “much difference there is in terms of risk “between 10,000 feet and 10,000 miles.”. There may be no difference in the risk to the machine, but there are orders of magnitude more risk for the pilot up in the air. UAV pilots can already receive the Aerial Achievement Medal, which has a much lower order of precedence, but is still ranked higher than a Commendation or Achievement medal.

    This debate is sort of like the one several years ago for awarding Purple Hearts for service members who develop PTSD. Does it take a physical wound to warrant a Purple Heart, or will a psychological wound suffice? Granted that the effects of PTSD are as real, and the scar it leaves can long outlast the pain of shrapnel or a bullet, awarding Purple Hearts for it is outside the scope of the decoration.

    The same is not true of the Aerial Achievement Medal. Its award for drone piloting seems to be completely within scope, and there is precedent going back to 1997.