“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
“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.
“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” – Merriam Webster
“The battle at Combat Outpost Keating remains one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan — and it is the first battle to produce two Medal of Honor recipients since the Battle of Mogadishu almost 20 years ago. . . .
“At least nine other soldiers from B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colo., have been awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor, for their actions at COP Keating.” MilitaryTimes.com 5 August 2013.
(Clinton Romesha is a former Army staff sergeant and author of “Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the defense of Combat Outpost Keating. This excerpt is from Sgt. Romesha’s May 29, 2016 opinion piece in the Washington Post.)
. . .
In October 2009, my cavalry troop was preparing to shut down a remote outpost in Afghanistan when we were assaulted by more than 300 Taliban-led insurgents. In violation of the most basic principles of warfare, our base, Combat Outpost Keating, had been built in a valley surrounded by three mountains. It is almost impossible to hold and defend your ground when the enemy is free to shoot from above while observing every move you make.
Within the first hour of the attack, the insurgents had breached our wire, driving most of Keating’s 50 U.S. guardians into our final defensive formation inside a cluster of three hard-shelled buildings, known as the Alamo position.
It was then that five enlisted men volunteered to join me in a counterattack meant to drive the enemy back beyond the wire, rescue missing comrades and retrieve the bodies of our dead.
During the next several hours, we achieved these goals. But by the time the battle was over, we’d lost eight men. Three days later, we were evacuated, and the outpost was leveled by a series of American Hellfire missiles.
As far as the Army was concerned, that was the end of Keating’s story. But the men who fought saw things differently.
How do you consecrate the memory of your fallen when the place where they lost their lives is off-limits, terrain to which you may never return?
Generally, soldiers don’t like to talk about their most painful experiences. Most combat veterans have shorthand, watered-down versions of what happened to us that we recite, politely and dutifully, when asked. The real stories are almost never shared.
For the most part, we prefer to keep those memories safely locked away.
Why? For one, because language is such an imperfect tool. Anyone who has survived combat knows that words are entirely incapable of conveying the horrors of battle. Soldiers assume that any attempt to communicate such truths will merely underscore the futility of trying. This creates its own kind of defeat, another loss to be added to the balance sheet.
I cannot speak for every soldier. But this has been true for me and the men who fought by my side. And something else I know: Our tour in Afghanistan left a hole in all of us — a hole we weren’t able to identify, much less repair, because the Army had done almost nothing to prepare us for it.
We were given exhaustive training for the tasks set before us as soldiers. But when it came to coping with challenges after we came home, we were provided almost no resources.
This may have been the central insight — dimly realized and barely articulated — that led a group of us to conclude that if there were a path forward through the thickets of grief and loss, we would have to create it ourselves.
And that is how we decided we needed to tell our story.
By “our” story, I don’t simply mean what happened at Keating. The most vital component was building a testament to the men who did not come back. Who they were. How they died. And to the extent possible, measuring whether their deaths held meaning, given that their lives were sacrificed for an outpost that probably never should have been built.
[end of excerpt]
Courage at Keating: Second MoH, 9 Silver Stars for standout B Troop
Army.Mil Medal of Honor Page for US Army SSGT Clinton Romesha:
Army.Mil Medal of Honor Page for US Army SSGT Ty Carter:
Developing list of writing opportunities and resources for current and past military service members at combatresearchandprose.com:
PLEASE NOTE: This website template unacceptably crops the CENTCOM graphic that appears as the “feature image” for this post, resulting in the exclusion of the locations and means by which three more soldiers fell at COP Keating on 3 Oct. 2009. Here’s the complete list: Sgt. Joshua T. Kirk, 30, of South Portland, Maine; Staff Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, 27, of Tucson, Ariz.; Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin, 25, Savannah, Ga.; Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, 24, Applegate, Calif.; Sgt. Michael P. Scusa, 22, Villas, N.J.; Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, 24, Kincheloe, Mich.; Spc. Stephan L. Mace, 21, Lovettsville, Va.; and Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson, 22, Reno, Nev. And here’s the complete graphic:
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.