A CONTRAST: A SOLDIER'S STORY AND A SECRETARY'S PERSPECTIVE
by Andy Weddington
Friday, 29 May 2015
"One of the definitions of sanity is the ability to tell real from unreal. Soon we'll need a new definition." Alvin Toffler
Monday afternoon during the National Memorial Day Parade in downtown Washington, D. C. it was my honor to be seated beside an American citizen I'd never met - Colonel Ed Shames, U. S. Army (Retired).
Some call him a hero.
Self-deprecating with hint of a smile he cynically said to me, "You didn't know? I'm a wheel!"
During the course of our conversation I learned he was the subject of a new book (out only a week or so) and promised to buy and read it - 'Airborne: The Combat Story of Ed Shames of Easy Company' by Ian Gardner.
Monday evening I bought the book, and started reading. Last night I finished it.
As he asked to hear from me, I sent a short email before turning off the computer and lights for the night. I hope to hear back from him - for in my Post Script I asked for his thoughts on women in ground combat especially the infantry (something he knows about). Though I suspect to know his unambiguous answer.
I've read more than a few books about combat through the ages. The more interesting ones being personal accounts not from the generals and admirals but from the man at the bottom of the chain of command carrying a rifle and killing - sometimes hand-to-hand. The most powerful and compelling account remains E. B. Sledge's classic 'With the Old Breed' - a Marine private's experience fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific.
But the story of Colonel Shames is likewise compelling - a man and his buddies of 3rd platoon, Easy Company (2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne), who carried rifles. They fought. They killed - sometimes hand-to-hand. Some were wounded. Some died.
Colonel Shames first enlisted and went to war a noncommissioned officer. He earned a battlefield commission and led his soldiers - with emphasis on "led" - in training and combat.
As Marine officers (leaders) do, he "ate" last. And he ate last.
Out front, he took on hardship and shared in danger. He was wounded more than once. He saw men wounded - oft times wounded beyond hope - and others instantly killed in battle. Many dear friends. And he saw firsthand the unimaginable horrors of human suffering at the hands of the Germans (something that mere mention of during our conversation caused him pause, to choke up and move along).
Understand, somewhat, I do from reading his story and reflecting back on some of my experiences in uniform (which are of no comparison - none). And yet I cannot imagine what he endured, conquered, and has shouldered to this day - seven decades later. Somehow he's managed to keep his sanity and sense of humor (that came out a time or two while we were talking).
The day after the (Memorial Day) parade a general officer sent me an article written about recent remarks offered by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus - to lawmakers; in emails; and to midshipmen at the Naval Academy. A couple of quotes caught my attention and were on my mind while reading about Colonel Shames, his unit, and the battlefields in Europe and the South Pacific.
From the secretary...
"[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force."
His comment in relation to a recruiting effort of 25% women.
"One of the reasons we're having problems is that we do not have enough flexibility in how we manage our force."
No need to analyze the obvious.
And to the midshipmen...
"By the time you reach your second or third tour, your squadron, ship or unit will be much more demographically representative of the nation you serve ... and that is critically important both to the quality of our all-volunteer force, but also important to fulfilling the principles of the democracy we defend."
The history of warfare does not support Secretary Mabus's comment that "...a more diverse force is a stronger force."
And what does career opportunities and diversity and quality necessarily have to do with building and ever-strengthening the most lethal fighting force possible?
Nowhere in the article was there mention of Secretary Mabus emphasizing the need to strengthen national security through (enhanced) combat readiness (the sole purpose of armed forces) - which is arguably mutually exclusive, and under current agendas most certainly so, of a "more demographically representative" force.
I spent about two hours with Colonel Shames. He was a gentleman, sharp and engaging - sometimes reflective; sometimes serious and direct; sometimes funny; sometimes sarcastic; sometimes dismissive; and interesting all the time. He'll be 93 next month. He's seen a lot. Been through hell. Survived. And has had time to think. And think some more. Not once did I question his sanity.
Real is he. A rifleman. A hero, yes. And other than moving a little slower, he looks fit as a fiddle - a decade or more younger than age.
Read his book!
I have never met Secretary Mabus. I have no idea what sort of gent he is. But from what I know complemented with what I have read and heard (from him) his sanity is in question.
Unreal is he. A political appointee, a yes man.
And a fitness for duty evaluation seems in order.
I'll not bother with his (inevitable) book.
After all, we're talking about something near and dear to all of us - national security and combat readiness.
So, rifleman or yes man - whom is more credible?
America On Parade
And testimony from another World War II combat veteran that cannot be pushed in the public arena enough.