“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” – Merriam Webster
A former special operator has remarked that his generation suffers from a kind of moral relativism that assumes all purported “truths” are equally valid. He pointed out that it matters little that someone disagrees with the proposition that “2 + 2 = 4.” Mathematicians don’t waste time listening to arguments otherwise. And neither does the military, he explained.
Calculating and acting on the correct answer to complex mathematical equations was the job of, among others, World War II bombardiers. And tens of thousands of Allied navigators and radiomen and pilots and gunners died getting bombardiers to their job sites, so they could do what they’d been trained and tasked to do. More people than anticipated died 20,000 feet below when a bombardier got the math wrong.
Of course, the mathematics of calculating the correct and desired damage to a target – computer assist or not – has never been the only part of the military’s mission that’s nothing more than a car on blocks if alternative, or preferred, truths are given the time of day.
Facts no one in our family ever talked about, truths about where and why and how my grandad was critically wounded in combat, have made me reflect on another non-negotiable fact of military service that is both unknown and unfelt by most of the 92.7% of us in this country who have never served under arms: the fact of being government property to be used as the nation deems necessary.
What I’ve learned by researching the Korean combat experiences of other soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division has told me much I never knew about what grandad was made of. It’s given me a narrow space in a fence through which I can see part of why this World War II drill instructor I called “grandad” was never the same after Korea. And what I’ve seen has forever axed the thought that I might one day change my hard-to-spell surname from that of a soldier from Queens with an 8th grade education who adopted two Tennessee boys and then raised my dad and his kid brother as best he knew how.
In a September 13, 2017 Brookings’ blogpost, “Catastrophe on the Yalu: America’s Intelligence Failure in Korea,” Bruce Riedel, the Director of Brookings’ Intelligence Project, suggests that the bloodletting at Unsan – during which U.S. Army Master Sergeant Charles Bloeser was forever wounded – didn’t have to happen. Three days of fighting legions of battle – hardened Communist Chinese troops who weren’t supposed to be there was due to “a catastrophic intelligence failure. . .. the result of terrible intelligence management, not the poor collection or analysis of information.”
Casualty records at the National Archives report that grandad was “[s]eriously wounded in action by missile” on November 2, 1950. In an excerpt in Vanity Fair from The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, David Halberstam explains what happened one day earlier, when the two-star general commanding grandad’s division asked for permission to pull back:
On the afternoon of November 1, Major General Hobart R. “Hap” Gay, the First Cav division commander, was in his command post with General Charles Palmer, his artillery commander, when a radio report from an observer in an L-5 spotter plane caught their attention: “This is the strangest sight I have ever seen. There are two large columns of enemy infantry moving southeast over the trails in the vicinity of Myongdang-dong and Yonghung-dong. Our shells are landing right in their columns and they keep coming.” Those were two tiny villages five or six air miles from Unsan. Palmer immediately ordered additional artillery units to start firing, and Gay nervously called First Corps, requesting permission to pull the entire Eighth Cav several miles south of Unsan. His request was denied.
The Army’s Military History Center describes what happened next:
“Thousands of Chinese  attacked from the north, northwest, and west against scattered U.S. and South Korean units moving deep into North Korea. The Chinese seemed to come out of nowhere as they swarmed around the flanks and over the defensive positions of the surprised  troops.” As the lead to the Halberstam excerpt puts it, “hundreds of Americans got slaughtered at Unsan, one of the worst defeats of the Korean War.”
In “one of the most shameful and little-known incidents in U.S. military history,” writes Charles J. Hanley (quoting Korean War historian Jack J. Gifford), some 600 of the 3rd Battalion’s 800 men” were “[t]rapped by two Chinese divisions,” and “left to die in far northern Korea.”
“The Yalu disaster was completely predictable,” writes Riedel in his Brookings blogpost. “The intelligence failure was the result of a policy maker’s determination that intelligence support his preconceived views, not challenge them. It is a timeless lesson.”
Knowing that men my grandad trained with and fought to keep alive – men from what Sebastian Junger would call his “tribe” – died in or after a battle that looks like it never had to go down the way it did, infuriates me. And I regret that I didn’t know these things when grandma was alive and might have found in this history at least some solace after living through some very dark years with her husband after he came home.
To my way of thinking, the men who fell at Unsan died with honor. But the likelihood that their lives were wasted is disturbing.
And knowing that many of these men would have died on other battlefields on the Korean peninsula before two years of peace talks would bring an armistice is no comfort. Quite the opposite.
The warriors ordered into a Chinese hornets’ nest with grandad were sons and brothers and husbands and fathers – all soldiers who deserved to fight where they could do the most good. Not here. Not this way.
Ms. Elizabeth M. Collins writes in a November 2016 retrospective at Army.Mil that “[a] 1954 Congressional report termed the Korean War “one of the most heinous and barbaric” periods in history, citing some 1,800 cases of war crimes involving thousands of victims: “Virtually every provision of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of war prisoners was purposely violated or ignored by the North Korean or Chinese forces.”
But here’s where grandad has a lesson for those of us who have never served. Had he known earlier what the intel really showed – that Communist China cared a great deal about what happened the other side of the Yalu river – it wouldn’t have mattered. It must not be allowed to matter.
Like all who serve, grandad was owned by the United States lock, stock, and barrel, to be used as his nation deemed necessary. Even if ordered to march into Hell itself.
The thing about that is this. We who are civilians might see such an order as time for a career change without giving notice. U.S. Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, and members of the U.S. Coast Guard who refuse to obey lawful orders breach the law and threaten the order, discipline, and unit cohesiveness without which the nation can neither defend itself nor otherwise pursue its interests.
That was true for grandad, who had solemnly sworn, among other duties, that he would “observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over [him].”
It was true for grandad’s commanding general whose request to pull the Army back had been denied.
ENDNOTE content supplied in sequence. Links to numbers to be updated.
 Author: Charles L.K. Bloeser, M.A., J.D. Member, Bar of the State of Tennessee; member, Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
 (“. . . what if we told you that 2 +2 = ? has stumped even some of the smartest mathematicians because it doesn’t necessarily have to equal 4?”) Elena Holodny. “Here’s How Your Watch Can Prove that 2 + 2 Doesn’t Equal 4.” Businessinsider.com (June 24, 2014).
 Mona Chalabi. “What Percentage of Americans Have Served in the Military?” Fivethirtyeight.com (March 19, 2015).
 “Sixty years later those fallen soldiers, the lost battalion of Unsan, are stranded anew.
“North Korea is offering fresh clues to their remains. American teams are ready to re-enter the north to dig for them. But for five years the U.S. government has refused to work with North Korea to recover the men of Unsan and others among more than 8,000 U.S. missing in action from the 1950-53 war.
“Now, under pressure from MIA family groups, the Obama administration is said to be moving slowly to reverse the Bush administration’s suspension of the joint recovery program, a step taken in 2005 as the North Korean nuclear crisis dragged on.
“If I had a direct line in to the president, I would say, `Please reinstitute this program. There are families that need closure,'” said Ruth Davis, 61, of Palestine, Texas, whose uncle, Sgt. 1st Class Benny Don Rogers, has been listed as MIA since Chinese attackers overran his company — I Company, 8th Cavalry — at Unsan in late 1950.
“It was one of Rogers’ I Company comrades, Pfc. Philip W. Ackley of Hillsboro, New Hampshire, whose identifying dog tag appeared in a photo the North Koreans handed over at Korea’s Panmunjom truce village in January of this 60th year since the war started. The North Koreans also delivered photos of remains, a stark reminder that Unsan’s dead still wait to come home.” Charles J. Hanley, “Lost Korean War battalion awaits US MIA decision,” Associated Press (July 18, 2010).
 Sebastian Junger. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (London: 4th Estate 2017).
 Another soldier from the “First Cav” whose honorable service at Unsan was recognized publicly was Tibor Rubin. Mr. Rubin had survived the Holocaust while his family did not. He thanked the United States for his rescue by enlisting in the Army shortly after he arrived in the States and when he could barely speak English. Mr. Rubin was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor in combat at Unsan, but his official citation describes in detail how the soldier single-handedly kept alive as many as 40 of his fellow POWs during 2 years he spent in a Chinese prison camp.
 “The first oath under the Constitution was approved by Act of Congress 29 September 1789 (Sec. 3, Ch. 25, 1st Congress). It applied to all commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers and privates in the service of the United States.” Information courtesy history.army.mil, accessed May 28, 2018.
Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that.
Collateral Consequences: Protecting Public Safety or Encouraging Recidivism
“Since most ex-offenders—millions of them—at some point will be released from custody and return to our communities, it is important that we do everything we can to encourage them to become productive, law-abiding members of society and that we not put too many impediments, in the form of excessive collateral consequences, in their way that will hinder their efforts.
“More attention must be paid to this issue to avoid these dangerous and counterproductive results. In a time of intense polarization, this is one of the few issues people can rally around and find common ground. If people are pushed into the corner and denied opportunities for gainful employment and a stable environment for too long, they will have little choice but to recidivate. It is not in anybody’s best interest to relegate the formally incarcerated to a backwater of second-class citizenship status.”
John Malcolm. Vice President, Institute for Constitutional Government, Heritage Foundation.
*TITLE OF POST includes “48,000” in an effort to keep the message clear. Far too many of those 48,000 can shatter a family and thrust moms and dads and kids into homelessness but certainly not all of them.
“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” – Merriam Webster
- Too many of the niche plates are hard to read from just ten feet away;
- The types of diversity among the names suggests that the ethnic, historical, and linguistic heritage among the veterans who share the columbarium with dad is broad, a reminder that those who fight America’s wars come from far and near;
- These niche plates and others adjacent to them reveal a near, if not total, absence of any identifier that would draw distinctions among veterans based on race;
- That the decedent be personally identified with, or perhaps insured by, religion or spirituality appears to be, at the very least, important to the good folks he or she came from;
- As would be expected, most of these men and women who’ve died in the last few years served this nation’s military as enlisted personnel, rather than as officers;
- Among these niche plates and others adjacent to them, there is a near, if not total, absence of any markings by which one might distinguish among combat warriors and other military veterans based on whether that veteran was gay, straight, or otherwise;
- Many of the service men and women on these and other columbaria would have experienced the existential threats that this Nation faced during World War II, while they were still children; others came of age and perhaps served, when the U.S. and its allies fought the Communist scourge on and around the Korean Peninsula and around and above an island just 90 miles from the continental U.S.; during more than ten years of the Vietnam War and in the decades that followed, most, if not all of these veterans time and again saw those who mattered to them most die in whole or in part, regardless of which political party held power in Washington; and like every other person on the planet, each of them woke every day with a promise from the nuclear age: mutually assured destruction if any of us screws up; and
- Among those niche plates that contain additional remarks in the space below the veteran’s official lifespan, almost all forego terms like “hero” and “warrior” in favor of terms that speak to the human connection that those left behind feel and will continue to feel for the veteran they’ve lost.
Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that. http://www.strifeblog.org/2018/08/02/henry-a-wounded-soldier-forgotten-by-all-in-an-american-jail-by-all-except-his-brothers-who-fell-beside-him-in-vietnam
IMAGE UPDATE RE: EPISCOPAL CHURCH PRESIDING BISHOP’S RESPONSE TO REQUEST THAT GAY MARTYR NOT BE INTERRED IN THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
The following paragraph is excerpted from researcher’s 20 October 2018 notice of formal withdrawal from the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.), as directed to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
“Bishop, as polarized as this nation is right now – with good and decent people demonizing other good and decent people – I can’t help but fear that this church I love so much is about to drive a stake into the heart of maybe the one place where, despite our differences, we’ve been able to come together as Americans in time of war and time of peace. And that worries me, Bishop, because I don’t know where else my Nation’s supposed to go if it’s to have a chance of coming together for common purpose. Yes, there may be a time in this nation’s history when Mr. Shepard should reside at the National Cathedral. But I can think of few times worse than this.”
It was during the dark hours, more than a few winters ago, that a friend who works on Capitol Hill took me to the National Cathedral. The air was crisp with a bit of a bite.Against a blood-red sky, pale light shrouded the Gothic church atop Mount Saint Albans in Northwest D.C. Its spires reached toward Heaven while the cruciform house of prayer slumbered a little less than two football fields deep.
Because the grand doors that front Wisconsin Avenue were locked, my Tennessee friend and I went looking for another way in.
In the cloaking darkness, we met a sculptor-in-residence who told us arcane facts about the nation’s cathedral, his craft, and how he’d landed one of the coolest jobs a modern sculptor can get. Anywhere.
We also found an unlocked door to a plain and simple chapel just large enough for 4 or 5 pilgrims. A lone hubcap from a car that had been new decades earlier rested against the front wall below a Judeo-Christian themed relief. We rested our cigars outside and went in to pray.
It was the very first American president who envisaged a house of worship in the new nation’s capital city. The National Park Service explains that descriptions of President Washington’s disclosed plans for the “City of Washington, in the district of Columbia,” published January 4, 1792, included land for “[a] church intended for national purposes, …, assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all.”
The Cathedral’s “foundation stone was set on Sept. 29, 1907 by president Theodore Roosevelt,” reports cathedral.org. And “[e]ighty-three years later, on Sept. 29, 1990, President George H.W. Bush was present to witness the final stone on the cathedral set in place.” Washingtonian noted in 2007 that the cross-shaped structure stretches “more than 500 feet long from west to east and rising to a height of 301 feet, it’s the world’s sixth-largest cathedral.”
As the timeline at the Cathedral’s website explains, “[t]he dream of a national cathedral dates to the earliest days of the United States, when President George Washington and architect Pierre L’Enfant imagined a ‘great church for national purposes.’”
The Cathedral was established by authority of an 1893 Congressional charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia. Congress has designated the shrine a “National House of Prayer.”
In times of war and times of peace, the Cathedral has fulfilled its purpose.
“It’s the site of memorial services for presidents and other prominent figures,” notes Washingtonian, “most recently Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. It hosted interfaith services after September 11, 2001, after Hurricane Katrina, and for the hostages in Iran in 1980.”
U.S. Marine Cpl aboard Medevac helicopter in Afghanistan. Multi-source image courtesy The Guardian
During World War II, Americans gathered at the Cathedral to offer prayers. And during a 2004 tribute that drew 150,000 to the National Mall and saw the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, an interfaith service was held at the Cathedral to remember “those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.” President George H.W. Bush, retired U.S. Army General John W. Vessey, and retired U.S. Marine Corps General P.X. Kelley were among those who honored the dead.
We’ve gathered at the corner of Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues to mourn those we lost to the Vietnam War. And three months ago we honored the life and service of an American warrior whose nation’s life was forever changed by the captivity and torture that he endured during more than five years of captivity in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Times such as these are important for a nation. And Dr. Edward Madigan, a former resident historian at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Lecturer in history at the University of London, explains that these moments don’t have to be about politics or “glorifying” war: “As an act of community remembrance, or a simple expression of solidarity with our ancestors, the commemoration of war is not necessarily political. The millions of British people who wear poppies every year in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday are not making political statements by so doing. Nor are they retrospectively endorsing or honouring the First World War, or any war since. What they are doing – at least on the face of it – is honouring the dead. . . .”
Cathedral leadership’s decision in 2016 to remove two flag images from windows sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their removal last year of stained-glass windows that honored Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson leave them open to the charge that they’re playing favorites among Americans who’ve fought and died in America’s wars. As NPR reported, “[t]he facility’s leadership says the decision came after long deliberations on an important question: “Are these windows, installed in 1953, an appropriate part of the sacred fabric of a spiritual home for the nation?”
A roll-of-honor for service members, a war memorial chapel, and a Veterans Day service and concert next month, are among ways the Cathedral still honors current and past military service members.
Bringing the Nation Together
Presidents both Republican and Democrat have chosen the National Cathedral as the place to offer prayers that the nation come together after victories earned in political cage fights: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Combat-wounded veterans and U.S. senators John McCain and Daniel Inouye, Navy combat veteran and first man on the moon Neil Armstrong; and former first ladies Edith Bolling Galt Wilson and Eleanor Roosevelt are among those paid homage at the Cathedral by a nation whose independence General George Washington knew would forever exact a high price.
The last time that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a Sunday sermon, it was at the Cathedral. Four days later, he would be gunned down in Memphis.
Graham Meyer writes that, “The cathedral welcomes 700,000 to 800,000 visitors each year, many of them tourists who come not entirely for a religious experience but also to see the gargoyles and the moon rock. They often wander up and down the aisles while services are being held.”
Officially, Washington National Cathedral is the “Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington”. And it’s the seat of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. It’s also the seat of the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington.
To the extent that the American part of the Anglican Communion holds the National Cathedral in trust for the American People, it’s good thing. But it’s also a humbling thing. Washington National Cathedral is, after all, a national treasure.
The feature image is one of 13 that appear, along with diagrams, tables, map and text detailing all aspects of official activities related to honoring Dwight David Eisenhower, General of the Army and thirty-fourth President of the United States. The chapter is one of 29 in B.C. Mossman and M.W. Stark. The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals 1921 – 1969. Department of the Army. Washington 1991. The link below is to the full volume, which contains similar details following the passing of, among others, President John F. Kennedy, Former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Army General George C. Marshall, and Former Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted, Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that.
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
“Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
“When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
This version of a warrior’s reflections on pursuing a life unencumbered by a fear of death, as well as the following remarks and featured image are pulled from http://nativeheritageproject.com. I’m indebted to a great American and great friend, who posted the foregoing guiding principles on social media.
“This beautiful passage is attributed to Tecumseh, although it is disputed and also attributed to some of the Wapasha Chiefs, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Wovoka.
“Tecumseh did indeed die as a hero. Mortally wounded, as shown in the carving above, Tecumseh gave the orders, “One of my legs is shot off! But leave me one or two guns loaded — I am going to have a last shot. Be quick and go!”
The following background quote re Shawnee warrior Tecumseh is taken from a 1995 Smithsonian Magazine article by Bil Gibson and accessed at smithsonianmag.com:
“Tecumseh was a warrior at 15; later he became a renowned field commander and a charismatic orator. By the early 1800s he had conceived of a Pan-Indian federation. In this union he hoped old tribal rivalries would be set aside so that the indigenous people of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley could act as one in resisting the advancing whites. From a base on the Tippecanoe River in northern Indiana, he traveled from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico promoting this federation. His ambition was probably an impossible one; the Indian population of this territory was then less than 100,000 and that of the United States nearly seven million. Still, rumors of what he was up to greatly alarmed many frontier whites, including William Henry Harrison, the federal governor of the Indiana Territory. Formerly a Regular Army officer, Harrison negotiated with Tecumseh face-to-face on two occasions and assessed him as “one of those uncommon geniuses who spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.”
FEATURE IMAGE, summary description, and linked-to add’l information courtesy office of the Architect of the Capitol: