Lone Survivor–Real SEALs and Unanswered Questions

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Lone Survivor Movie Poster

Lone Survivor is a movie about the 2005 Afghanistan mission, Operation Red Wings, in which a four-man team of Navy SEALs was tasked with scouting out Ahmad Shah—a terrorist leader aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border. The SEALs were compromised when local goat herders stumbled over them, and they were ambushed shortly thereafter. Three of the SEALs were eventually killed, along with sixteen more special operations operatives who were coming to their rescue. Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor, and the movie is based on his book about the mission.

image by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons

image by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0
wikimedia commons

The four SEALs were played by Mark Wahlberg (Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell), Taylor Kitsch (Lt. Michael Murphy), Emile Hirsch (Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Deitz), and Ben Foster (Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson). The movie was written by Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell, and Patrick Robinson, and directed by Peter Berg.

Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz image from U.S. Navy

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz
image from U.S. Navy

Bayard:

The acting and production were excellent, and by all reports from veterans, the look, feel, spirit, and heart of the movie were accurate right down to the varying sounds of the rifles and the brass. Only a short portion of the movie was purely contrived to satisfy the demands of storytelling structure, but it was irrelevant to the main story of these extraordinary men, and it did not detract from the cinematic experience of this very real event in Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror.

Lt. Michael Murphy and STG2 Matthew Axelson image by U.S. Navy

Lt. Michael Murphy and STG2 Matthew Axelson
image by U.S. Navy

Holmes:

In my opinion, minors or those who have a low tolerance for vivid combat scenes should not see Lone Survivor. The movie is very detailed in its violence. However, in this case, we cannot call that violence gratuitous because it really happened. Excluding it would have made the movie a pure fantasy.

The production values were high. Even the fast-moving combat scenes were filmed with attention to detail. The film crew, lighting crew, and sound editing crew earned their paychecks.

Actors Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, and  Emile Hirsch image from Lone Survivor movie

Actors Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch
image from Lone Survivor movie

My one technical criticism would be that the music was overdone at times for my taste. When fighting the Taliban in the mountains, there was no music to help shape the emotions and responses of the four Navy SEALS involved in the main mission. I suppose that when moviegoers pay $13.00 to see a war movie, the folks in Hollywood know that nobody will leave satisfied if they get a “realistic” piece of war without some emotional music thrown in.

image from Lone Survivor movie

image from Lone Survivor movie

The acting and directing were excellent. I have the impression that the entire crew worked hard to produce Lone Survivor. I am glad that they did. The men that the story is about deserved that.

The movie gives a brief view of the dull routine of living in the noisy, tedious reality of life for troops in a plywood-and-canvas base in Afghanistan, followed by the hell that awaits them when they step out of that life in Plywoodville. The troops don’t complain about Plywoodville. It’s a serious upgrade from the unsanitary conditions in Dustville, that town outside their base. Since Lone Survivor is a (mostly) true story about real people experiencing a real hell, giving them a warmer and more cheerful “normal” day would have been dishonest. It is best that we see their reality for what it is.

Bagram Air Base image from U.S. Air Force

Bagram Air Base
image from U.S. Air Force

However, the obvious, very real, billion-dollar-a-week questions are not even hinted at in this movie. Why did these men lack airborne communications support? Why were they fighting with so little available back up? What the hell is going on when we send men on such dangerous deep missions with so little resources? And where the hell are all those billions going in Afghanistan?

Lone Survivor was clearly not intended to touch on those vital public policy issues, but the movie did do a good job of hinting at what those four Navy SEALs went through in that brief portion of their service to the United States of America. For that slice of reality, I am grateful.

From left to right, Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, Calif; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, N.H.; Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nev.; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wings.

From left to right, Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, Calif; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, N.H.; Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nev.; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wings.

Bayard & Holmes Rating: .44 Magnum

For those that want a glance at the war in Afghanistan from a warrior’s point of view, this movie deserves a .44 Magnum rating—our highest. It was fully worth the $13.00. For those who don’t wish to glance at that dark reality of operations in Afghanistan, stay home and watch the usual half-assed reporting about it on your television.

Kim Jong Un and the Uncle Who Didn’t Clap

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On December 8, 2013, Jang Sung-taek, the uncle of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un (a.k.a. Kim 3.0), was arrested at a meeting of the North Korean politburo, removed from all of his official posts, and expelled from the ruling Workers’ Party. He was accused of mismanaging the state financial system, abusing drugs, and womanizing. His closest associates had already been executed in November for supposedly plotting to dethrone Kim Jong Un. On Friday, December 13, the North Korean News Agency (“NKNA”) announced that Jang was executed on the 12th after a special military tribunal found him guilty of treason.

Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju image by N.K. government

Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju
image by N.K. government

According to the NKNA, “The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crimes as attempting to overthrow the state.” They cited one of Jang’s most outrageous crimes as clapping with less than full enthusiasm when his nephew took the podium to deliver one of his frequent speeches to military officials.

So who was this uncle that Kim 3.0 had executed? Jang Sung-taek was born in Kangwon, North Korea, on February 2, 1946. He was an avid young communist, and after graduating from Kim Il Sung High School, he studied in Moscow from 1968 – 1972. When he returned to North Korea, he married Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il (a.k.a. Kim 2.0). In 1977, Kyong Hui gave birth to a daughter, Jang Keum Song. Keum Song was living in Paris in 2006 when she received an order to return to North Korea. Rather than return, she committed suicide.

In early 2010, Kim 2.0 appointed his brother-in-law Jang to serve as a mentor to his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un. Kim Un’s political tutelage under his aunt and uncle lasted less than two years. After Kim 2.0’s sudden death in December, 2011, it was not clear if the then 28-year-old Kim Un would be able to hold on to his inherited power.

Not everyone in North Korea was looking forward to another half a century of cold winters and near-starvation diet under yet another ineffective Kim dictator. Some of the top NK military leaders likely smelled an opportunity for capturing the throne of North Korea for themselves. It was only with the very visible support of Kim Un’s aunt and uncle that Kim 3.0 was able to claim his deceased father’s position as Dictator of North Korea.

So why did Kim 3.0 kill off Uncle Jang after he and Aunty Kyong played a critical role in helping him to power? The answer depends on which analyst you listen to.

The most popular theories revolve around the likelihood that the spoiled and insecure Kim Un was anxious to get rid of the man who had exercised authority over him as his regent while his father was still alive, and as his guarantor while he was trying to consolidate his authority. History is replete with examples of royal regents having sudden fatal accidents when their charge has his or her head placed securely under the crown of state. This theory is the most popular one and makes sense based on what we know about North Korea.

But therein is our problem. The hermit kingdom of North Korea remains so opaque from Western view and so filled with propaganda and misinformation that events in North Korea can be difficult to understand. In any police state, uncertainty in the minds of its citizens and its neighbors is a useful thing. It helps avoid being overthrown. The first step in planning a smooth coup is to accurately assess the status quo. If you can’t get a clear picture of what is occurring, it remains difficult to plan a takeover.

Canstock - Maze of confusion

Constant confusion can hinder social progress and economic development, but it also helps protect the dictator from his people. Since the dictator and his closest supporters live in an insulated, gilded kingdom, safe from the hunger and discomfort of the bad economy that constant confusion generates, it is tolerable to the dictator and his pals. That same constant confused state of affairs in North Korea leaves room for other possible factors in Jang’s execution.

Jang’s world view extended beyond North Korea. He was well received in China, and had become China’s preferred contact in North Korea. Jang was also a fan of Chinese economic reform. Reform in China has not brought prosperity to everyone, but it has all but eliminated starvation in that country and has allowed improved Chinese technological and scientific foundations. Maoist dogma could not feed China and was not going to get a Chinese rocket to the moon. It took capitalist methods to improve the sciences and the standard of living there. Jang was partial to this “Chinese” model.

But not everyone in North Korea wanted those reforms. The hard liners in the military live with the assumption that, given the opportunity, no North Korean would tolerate the continued abuse that the privileged few are able to heap upon them. In their minds, Chinese style reforms would open the floodgates of change, and they would be the first to drown in the resultant deluge of social upheaval.

Jang’s demise may have been prompted by unforgiveable sin in particular. Jang and his pals got the Economics Ministry to announce that foreign trade was the responsibility of the Economics Ministry, and not the responsibility of North Korean generals.  This meant that the top generals could no longer conduct private foreign trade deals with N.K. assets for their own profit.

A recent decline in relations between China and North Korea further exacerbated Jang’s attempts to reform foreign trade in North Korea. China has nuclear weapons. The idea that Kim—any Kim—would dream of threatening N.K.’s neighbors in the region and in the Western World by acquiring an effective arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles is in itself understandable to Chinese political theorists. What communist ideologue worth his salt doesn’t threaten to annihilate the capitalist dogs?

The problem for China came when North Korea moved from the usual fun Armageddon propaganda to actual fission detonations. After all, pretending to like and trust their beloved fraternal comrades in the North Korean leadership is a lot easier for China when China has the only nukes on the block. Further, North Korea’s quest for its share of Armageddon resulted in something worse than the potential incineration of millions of innocents—it negatively impacted Chinese export business. The entire new China is built on the strong trade balance that is in its favor. Nobody in the Chinese leadership wants to see what the carnival that is modern China might look like if the cash flow stops.

Kim 2.0 had become increasingly more inconvenient for China, and Kim 3.0 is even worse. North Korea’s last missile test was a huge propaganda success in North Korea. National celebration was encouraged. There was no cheering in Beijing.  While continuing to publicly claim that North Korea was their most beloved ally, the missile test infuriated Beijing, and China decided to cut off cash infusions to the feeble N.K. treasury and stop high-level meetings with the North Koreans. However, they were still willing to receive Uncle Jang–something that did not go over well with the N.K. generals.

Kim Jong Un Meme

Kim Jong Un Meme

To Westerners, it might seem strange that North Korea would shoot itself in the foot by aggravating their one almost-friend, the Chinese. From Kim’s point of view, it looks a little different. Before Kim can enjoy a friendship with Beijing or anyone else, he needs to stay alive in North Korea. In large measure, Kim’s decision to execute Jang may have come down to placating his own hard-liners and trusting that China would be too busy promoting its new We Own the Entire Ocean and All That’s In It and Under It agenda. Kim may be betting that Beijing will not turn on its one almost-ally and will back down from its newer economic sanctions.

Many observers believe that Kim 3.0 has not effectively consolidated his power and was not strong enough to ditch his annoying old reformist uncle on his own. But maybe he was. It could be that he simply decided it was easier to kill his Uncle Jang than to back down the N.K. military leaders.

So what does this all mean to those of us who are fortunate enough to not live in North Korea? To the Chinese and the rest of North Korea’s neighbors, it means that they are dreading that Kim 3.0 may now use the standard North Korean propaganda tool of executing another round of brinksmanship. From the Chinese point of view, if anyone is going to play brinksmanship in Asia, it’s going to be China, and North Korea needs to stay out of the way while China struggles to extend its kingdom over the Pacific seabed.

For the West, Jang’s execution is more evidence of what we already knew. North Korea remains unstable and troublesome. Western leadership might feel an urgent need to return focus to North Korea and get it back to a non-proliferation bargaining table.  Kim and his handlers are waiting for the call, and they undoubtedly have a Christmas wish list handy for when it comes.

Breaking Badly

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Breaking Bad—five seasons of weekly opportunities for the average, law-abiding citizen to ride in the fast lane with chemistry teacher/family man/meth dealer Walter White has finally come to an end. The Albuquerque Journal even ran Walter White’s obituary, and Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse is giving Walter White a funeral in Albuquerque this Saturday, October 19.

Breaking Bad

As Holmes and I look around, we find that we are surrounded by Breaking Bad fans in various stages of the Kubler-Ross grief process . . .

Denial – No. This can’t be happening . . . Oh, wait! I can still watch the first 54 episodes on Netflix. Maybe the movie will be out by the time I’m finished.

Anger – What do you mean there’s no more Breaking Bad? How can they do this to me? *gives collection of Walter White action figures and Breaking Bad Chemistry Set to neighbor and says never wants to see them again*

Bargaining – Let’s kidnap Vince Gilligan like in Misery and tell him he can’t have his freedom until he comes up with five more seasons. *slips in through neighbor’s window to steal back action figures and chemistry set; finds out neighbor sold them to buy weed.*

Depression – Dear God, why live? *curls up in fetal position around TV remote*

Acceptance – It’s real. It’s happening. Breaking Bad is over. I must find healthy ways to fill the void and move on. *pays $2,000 to have name engraved on Walter White’s memorial tombstone at Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse*

Fear not, Breaking Bad fans! Here at Bayard & Holmes, we see your suffering, and we stand ready to help. We have the following suggestions to assist you moving beyond Walter White’s world to begin to live again:

  • Buy our books and obsess over them, instead.
  • Develop a taste for brandy.
  • Set up a telescope in your window and get to know your neighbors.
image from Rear Window

image from Rear Window

  • Stop playing with your household chemicals and donate your gas mask to a local Alcohol Recovery Center thrift store.
  • List all of the blue items you see in your house that have nothing to do with meth.
  • Use Google and find out who the real Heisenberg was.
  • Buy out the Funyons from your local grocery store and throw a party for your friends.
  • Attempt to technically define the word “yo.”

For those of you who simply aren’t ready for closure, for the mere sum of $1999—a real deal next to that tombstone engraving—you can secure your seat on the Breaking Bad Albuquerque Meth Tour.* Enjoy three days of sightseeing while being escorted by hardened ex-cons and “criminal” attorneys through the seediest corners of Albuquerque. Tour activities will include Nerf gun combat in the New Mexico desert and stops in chicken restaurants and law enforcement outposts where people really are selling meth out of the back room. To complete our tour, vacationers will receive one free trip to the University of New Mexico Hospital emergency room where they can see and talk to actual meth heads in their natural migratory habitat while waiting for treatment.

Call now and be one of our first ten customers, who will each receive an autographed photo from a random local high school chemistry professor. Let Bayard & Holmes give you the assistance you need to break out of your fast lane fantasies. Operators standing by.

*Airfare, accommodations, meals, and transportation not included in price of package; however, each vacationer will receive one complimentary piece of fake meth candy made of sugar on a stick and the number to the Drug Abuse Hotline in the state of their choosing.

Where are you at in your Breaking Bad grief cycle?

Which One Are You?

By Piper Bayard

Do you ever get ticked off at the strangers around you for doing things you think are thoughtless, rude, or stupid? Yep, I do it, too.

So today I’m going to fess up.

  • I’m the one who spends three minutes balancing the grocery cart in just the right crack so that it won’t roll into a parking space or hit another car, when I could actually take 30 seconds and return it to the cart corral. In my own defense, I do that on purpose. People with infants in car seats or old people who need to lean on those carts and can’t get into stores if they don’t find one in the parking lot that’s closer to the door than the cart corral.
image by Stilfehler, wikimedia commons

image by Stilfehler, wikimedia commons

  • I’m the one who does not keep an answering machine, but leaves a five minute message on yours. I have no defense for that.
  • I’m the one who orders the California bacon avocado burger, “But could you please leave off the lettuce and tomato, and sauté that onion? Oh, yes, and could you please make it with chicken instead of beef? And can you put it on a gluten free bun? . . . No, wait. I’ll have the crispy chicken salad, instead. Ranch on the side.” I tip very well if the waitress is polite about it.
  • I’m the one who slows down when you tailgate me. Hey, if you’re going to crash into me, I would prefer it be at a lower speed, thank you.
  • I’m the one who will be late to her own funeral.

So now it’s your turn. Which one are you?

Please tell me so that the next time I see someone doing what you confess to, I will remember you, and I will be patient. Thank you for making me a better person.

All the best to all of you for surviving your own pet peeves.

The Hail Mary Hoo-Hah

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Celebrity “wardrobe malfunctions” are appearing in the media with increasing regularity. We’ve noticed these malfunctions seem to occur when a celebrity’s ratings are slipping, and they don’t just involve the accidental torn dress, broken heel, or ripped pants that the rest of us deal with now and then. Oh, no! They’re all about the privates. Veritable Hail Mary Hoo-Hahs.

Would put picture here,

but we are PG-13.

Use your imagination

or Google Images.

It’s amazing how a perfectly good dress or pair of pants manages to reveal booties, nipples, or genitalia when a camera crew is at just the right angle to capture the moment. Naturally, none of these photographers happen to work for editors with the slightest bit of class, and the illicit shots quickly end up online and in the scandal sheets. With a little luck for the celebrities, their personals even get mentioned on major news outlets. And voilá! One breast in the wind gets more publicity than anything these declining celebrities (Anne Hathaway excepted) could pay for.

We would hate to accuse these celebrities of feigning wardrobe malfunctions for well-prepared camera crews. After all, it’s not our style to try to bring attention to ourselves at the expense of those who are no longer what they used to be. Nonetheless, in the interest of fair and honest commentary, a few obvious questions come to mind.

Do these wardrobe malfunctions work? Does the extra publicity translate to financial rewards? And, more critically, how can we profit from this?

As our regular readers are well aware, we here at Bayard & Holmes like to live up to our motto, “Your Problems are Our Opportunities.” In keeping with our ongoing efforts to save society from itself—or at least profit by it while failing—we are proud to announce the Bayard & Holmes Premium Wardrobe Malfunction Concierge Service.

Celebrities In Need of Career Rehab, our message here today is for you. You no longer need to struggle with transparently staged “accidents” which only serve to highlight your staggering careers. By taking advantage of the Bayard & Holmes Premium Wardrobe Malfunction Concierge Service, you will get that ever critical upsurge in attention without having what’s left of your reputation dragged through unfashionable media gutters.

For a remarkably small fee, our highly trained Celebrity Assistance Team (CAT) will arrange a malfunction that will have your fans raving. Producers will be banging at your door again, begging you to read for the best parts. While other stars are making themselves look pathetic with some low-budget “panty shot,” you’ll be grabbing headlines without even having to bribe the networks!

Here’s how it works. CAT will show up at your home and rehearse your custom-designed celebrity misfortune with you. At the appointed time in front of major media news crews, CAT agents will spring forward and tear your clothing from your body while shrieking al-Qaeda slogans. You and the twenty girl scouts that we hired for the event will all scream in shock and indignation. After pretending to slap you to the ground—you’ll need to act out the fall so start practicing—our CAT agents will beat a quick escape.

Our contracted physician actor, who once played a janitor on Scrubs, will loudly document that you suffered injuries in the assault, and that you are “under a doctor’s care.”  A professional CAT rental family will then hold a press conference and ask the public for its prayers for your full recovery.

Rather than wasting time in medical treatment, you’ll actually be enjoying a few days under the care of your favorite sex consultant. Then, at just the right moment, our staff will transport you to the back door of a hospital where your agent and a well-trained faux family will escort you out the front door to be cheered by adoring and relieved fans.

What’s that you say? You have no fans left? They all abandoned you after your last DUI or domestic violence incident? Not a problem. For a modest additional fee, we can pack that hospital parking lot with adoring fans from the most fervent European soccer riots. An image of you shyly (and unsuccessfully) covering your face with a white veil to defend your privacy from those savage paparazzi will be plastered all over news outlets. A Pope, a British Prime Minister, and Justin Bieber could all die in a flaming train wreck the same day, and they STILL wouldn’t steal the limelight from your precious parts. Imagine the raging jealousy that less fashionable celebrities will feel when they see their cheap wardrobe malfunctions shoved off the stage by your public near-rape and pillage.

YOUR FANS

YOUR FANS

Don’t humiliate yourself with some poorly staged Hail Mary Hoo-Hah. After all, nothing says “has been” louder than a low-grade mishap. Don’t waste any more valuable minutes as the clock ticks down on your fading glory. Call Bayard & Holmes and ask for a quote from our very busy customer service representatives at our Premium Wardrobe Malfunction Concierge Service.

Call now and receive an extra ten screaming girl scouts at no extra charge. You deserve to be the center of the world’s attention. Don’t be left out. This offer is for a limited time only.

Get that career revived before it’s too late. Operators are standing by.

The Smallest Eagle–Remembering Eduardo Peniche on Memorial Day

By Jay Holmes

On this Memorial Day, I offer my humble gratitude to my fellow veterans. To the young men and women who walk the patrols, fight through convoys to distant bases, fly missions, man ships, and actuate our president’s orders in all the myriad ways necessary to effect our nation’s foreign policy and assure our domestic security—I salute every one of you.

On those occasions when I have not been overseas, Memorial Day has always been a time of reflection for me. This Memorial Day, I would like to focus on one particular veteran who has been on my mind lately, Eduardo Peniche.

Eduardo Peniche

Eduardo Peniche

Go Home and Grow

In 1942, a scrawny, 17-year-old Mexican boy showed up at the US Army recruiting station in Paducah, Kentucky and announced that he was there to join the 101st Airborne Division. He explained that he had heard a talk given by members of the division and wanted to become a “Screaming Eagle.” The recruiter suppressed a laugh and explained that he was a bit too young and a bit too small to be a paratrooper.

Disappointed, the boy told the recruiter that he had his heart set on learning to use a bazooka to knock out German tanks. The recruiter measured the boy and said that, indeed, at 5’5″ tall, he was still too small to be a paratrooper, and that he would never be able to heft a bazooka unless he did some more growing. The boy remained polite and insisted that they should take him. A young officer observed the conversation and decided that the boy had “something” about him, and that they should let him try. They repeated the measurements, and the boy had miraculously grown an inch. Little Eduardo Alberto Peniche Y Carvajal of Yucatan, Mexico, a.k.a. “Ed,” was going to get his chance.

Hell’s Highway

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the US 101st Airborne division conducted their famous night assault on Normandy, France in hopes of securing the forward stretch of the allied armies south flank. The transport planes had the standard navigation equipment of the time, and they quickly became lost. Most of the troops were dropped out of sequence and far from their jump zones. In Ed’s case, thanks to the massive confusion in the huge Normandy operation, he did not enter combat until June 9, on the French Carentin Peninsula, three days after most of his fellow Screaming Eagles had begun to engage the German army.

Paratroopers land in Holland image from U.S. Army

Paratroopers land in Holland
image from U.S. Army

In September, 1944, during British General Bernard Montgomery’s ill-conceived Operation Market Garden, American and British paratroopers were dropped across Holland, deep behind German lines. Their mission was to capture key bridges across the rivers and canals of Holland to facilitate an armored assault into Germany before the Germans could place divisions that would stop a run on Berlin.

The idea was every bit as bad as it sounds. British and American paratroopers took the required bridges against heavy resistance, but the Germans failed to panic as Montgomery had predicted they would. Instead, they fought a skillful defensive action all along “Hell’s Highway.” The armored column could not move fast enough to consolidate the bridgeheads, and the operation was a bloody disaster. The Germans had no intention of giving up Holland, and the Screaming Eagles had no intention of giving up. The result was 73 consecutive days of combat in Holland for the 101st Airborne. The Germans left; the Eagles stayed. Too many Eagles stayed forever.

Battle of the Bulge

Ed survived the fighting in Holland, and, in late November, he and the remainder of the division were withdrawn from combat for rest and recuperation. They were to receive replacement paratroopers and new equipment. Allied command expected to have the division ready for combat for the spring offensive against Germany. Spring came early.

On December 16, from well-concealed positions on a quiet sector of Ardougne, the German army launched its last great offensive. It would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. The German goal was to drive a line between the American and British positions and take the port of Antwerp. Without the critical port facilities of Antwerp, the allied offensive would quickly starve.

The road from Trier, Germany to Antwerp runs through a small town that few people had ever heard of, and fewer still had cared to remember. By Christmas, the Allied peoples across the world would know its name. Bastogne. They would come to know the name as not just a town in Belgium, but as a synonym for courage and sacrifice.

The Allies had the 10th Armored Division at the road-junction town of Bastogne. The Germans achieved complete surprise, and the offensive quickly rolled forward. The 10th Armored was ordered to hold Bastogne as long as possible to allow for a retreat to Namur, where the Allies could blow the bridges, and then fight a defensive action across the river.

A glance at a map of Belgium will quickly reveal why the Germans wanted Bastogne, and why the Allies didn’t want them to have it. It’s all about the road junction. There are no easily defensible positions between where the hills end at Bastogne and the city of Namur.

Battle of the Bulge Map from U.S. Military Source

Battle of the Bulge
Map from U.S. Military Source

The fight was on, and things looked pretty good for the Germans that December. In desperation, the Allies scraped together enough trucks to move the 101st to Bastogne. Short of men, equipment, and supplies, they arrived on December 18, sans their commanding general, who was on a trip to Washington, D.C. to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff about air assault operations for the spring.

The executive officer, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, was in command. McAuliffe made a critical decision. In the face of an enemy with vast local superiority in men, tanks, guns, and material, he decided on a forward defense. He would fight the Battle of Bastogne as far from Bastogne as he could.

Normally, no general would spread his men out so thinly when so vastly outnumbered, but McAuliffe had two extra weapons that day. First, he had the miserable weather. That weather was a godsend to the Germans, because it grounded the superior air forces of the Allies. But there was another side to that particular coin. The blizzard was falling on still unfrozen ground, and if you are an off-road enthusiast or a heavy tank driver, that matters. The massive German assault was “carnavalized.” That means that, because of deep mud, they could not use the open ground, wide sweeping tactics refined on the steppes of Russia by their great armored genius, Hans Guderian. They had to take the roads from the Americans—from the Americans and one Mexican.

On the maps in Berlin, it was clear that German SS General Sepp Dietrich would quickly sweep around the annoying Americans at Bastogne and take Namur. But the battle was not fought on the maps. It was fought on every yard of passable road within ten miles of Bastogne.

McAuliffe’s second extra weapon that day was that he knew his paratroopers could and would fight in isolated positions, far from any support, without panicking. He knew they might die. In fact, he expected that they would, and that he would die with them. He also knew that they would fight to the last with the skill they had acquired through years of hard training and months of hard combat. McAuliffe was buying time for the Allies to build a defensive position at Namur.

There is another reason why McAuliffe was willing to stay and die at Bastogne. German SS troops had made sure that no American would want to surrender. Part of Hitler’s plan for the offensive was to cause as much slaughter of prisoners and civilians as possible. His goal was to make the battle so horrible and bloody that the Allies would be coerced into agreeing to halt their armies at Germany’s border. Hitler expected half a million French and Belgian civilians to be killed.

In the early days of the battle, German SS commandos dressed as Americans infiltrated American positions and murdered wounded soldiers and staff in a field hospital. Two of the wounded Americans managed to escape, and outrage spread throughout the 101st Airborne. After the battle, we learned that German SS units systematically murdered captured Allied prisoners. During the Battle of the Bulge, when the Germans offered McAuliffe the opportunity to surrender, the legend indicates that he sent a one word response, “Nuts.” I have always suspected that it was actually a two-word response, and did not include the word “nuts.” Suffice to say he refused to surrender.

General Bernard Montgomery declined to reinforce Bastogne. He had his hands full further north. General George Patton had his 3rd army poised for an assault on Metz, too far from Bastogne to help. No reasonable man would have attempted to move the US 3rd army sideways, two hundred miles along the German front, in the middle of a blizzard, to try to reach Bastogne. George Patton was a lot of things. “Reasonable” was never one of them. The Germans were shocked when they realized what Patton was attempting. They knew he would fail. He knew he wouldn’t. The race was on.

Surviving One More Day

The blizzard continued, and the Germans kept using their massive firepower to shell Bastogne into submission and to inch their way up the roads with their tanks and armored personnel carriers. On one of those roads, at one of those roadblocks that scrawny Mexican kid had grown sick and hungry. His feet had frozen, and frostbite set in. (His feet would hurt the rest of his life but he would always swear they were fine.) Private Edward Peniche and his small band of paratroopers held their position day after day. At night, they crawled forward and set traps for the tanks with land mines or infiltrated German positions to do what damage they could. But their luck was running out.

Battle of the Bulge image from U.S. Army

Battle of the Bulge
image from U.S. Army

The Germans managed a close hit on Ed’s anti-tank gun position. Some were killed, and the rest were badly wounded.  Bleeding severely, they loaded their last anti-tank gun and hit another German tank, which blocked the road again.

The Germans then managed a direct hit on Ed’s anti-tank gun emplacement, badly wounding Edward and his two remaining comrades. The Germans could not maneuver their heavy Panzer 4 Mk 3 tanks in the snow-covered wheat field to get around their disabled tank. They had to perform the slow process of dragging the crippled tank back up the road it had come down. The three paratroopers kept the German infantry under enough fire to prevent their advance.

Ammunition was running low. Nobody was well enough to make it back to the command post to bring up a medic and perhaps a few more Eagles. Ed was wounded in his left leg and arm. He suffered from concussion, bleeding from both ears, and was nearly deaf. In spite of all that, he used his good arm to drag himself several hundred yards through the snow to the command post for help, and a medic and another handful of paratroopers went forward to the man the position. A guy who was supposed to be in Mexico, who was too small to be a paratrooper, and too sick and wounded to fight, and his two buddies who were also too sick and too wounded to fight any more, used an anti-tank gun that was too small to stop a heavily armored Panzer 4 Mk 3 tank.

Ed’s friends knew he would not survive another day. They were pretty sure they wouldn’t, either. They knew they would not live to see Christmas. Hitler, on the other hand, thought he might enjoy a Christmas celebration in Antwerp.

On December 23, the skies cleared. The fields were still impassable to heavy armored units, but planes could fly. The Germans attempted to bomb Bastogne off the map, but Allied air forces overwhelmed them and stalled the German offensive along the entire “Bulge” in the Allied lines.

Globetrotting Missions and Education

Eduardo Peniche was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about living to see Christmas. He saw a lot of them. Ed died of a stroke about seven years ago in Texas. Between Bastogne and his stroke, he returned to Mexico and founded the Mexican paratrooper forces. Then he returned to the USA, became an American citizen, and rejoined the US Army. He spent three years in Vietnam. Ed helped found the School of the Americas, and was well known for his insistence on teaching students the importance of respect for the men under their command, and compassion for the civilians who they were supposed to be protecting. Ed’s role in Central America was more significant than most people realize, and his influence was far-reaching throughout the US intelligence community. Ed was never about the paycheck or the recognition. He was always about helping the mission and the people in a mission in any way that he could.

Between globetrotting assignments, Ed continued his education. He eventually became a highly respected professor of foreign languages. In 1998, a beloved and highly respected man who was too old to teach any more received the Teacher of the Year Award from First Lady Laura Bush. He thanked her, then he went back to his class and kept teaching. Of his days in Bastogne, Ed said that he felt privileged to have served with the greatest Americans and men of such honor.

Bastogne Remembers

About ten years ago, when on a trip to Brussels, I finally took the time to visit Bastogne, Belgium. It was the perfect day for visiting a battlefield. It was cold. The rain and sleet were blowing sideways. When the wind tore our silly umbrellas to shreds, my friend cursed. I was relieved. God must have heard my prayers.

I dispatched my blue-cold friend to the visitor center and walked to the circular wall of honor to be alone with my thoughts. I knew that I owed something greater than I could pay to the men who remained under the ground that I walked across. I could at least pay them my respect.

I was grateful to be alone with them, but I wasn’t quite alone. At the lowered center of the memorial, a middle-aged woman struggled to secure fresh flowers to bronze vases near an eternal flame. Nobody would come there that cold and forbidding day, but she was there with her fresh flowers.

She saw me and timidly greeted me. She recognized my poor French as being American made. She asked if I had lost an ancestor there, or if perhaps my father had fought there. I explained that my father and uncles had all served in the Pacific, but that I did have a friend who had fought there. I told her about the man who was too small to be a paratrooper. She smiled and said “but big enough to stop the Nazis.” Yes, he was big enough to stop the Nazis.

I knew the answer, but I had to ask her. “Why did you bring flowers on a day like this when nobody will come?”

She answered, “You are here, and if you weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. They are here. We remember what they did.” I thanked her. She thanked me.

A toast to The Smallest Eagle. He had the biggest heart.

Bastogne Memorial

Bastogne Memorial

To read Ed’s story in his own words, see White Christmas, Red Snow: A Journal by Prof. Eduardo A. Peniche, Combat Veteran, 101st Abn. Div.

Bayard & Holmes Youth Achievement Cyber-Hug 2013

By Jay Holmes

In order to give my tired brain a break from the often painful world of foreign policy, I did some recreational reading today. The vacation from our world’s wars and genocides did me good. I found some great information about a couple of young people who deserve recognition and national cyber-hugs.

Unlike real-time hugs, cyber-hugs avoid the danger of exposing these fine youngsters to that odd sadistic creep relative who finds every chance to squeeze the breath out of children. The awardees will be thrilled to know that neither this dangerous old crank nor anyone else will actually be showing up at their house expecting to touch them.

The truth is that I haven’t yet discussed the particulars of how we would handle such an award with my writing partner, Piper Bayard. But have no fear. Piper is busy tonight doing more of that “work” stuff that our “working relationship” requires.

Piper is a bright and judicious attorney. She managed to get through law school without asking me to help any of her fellow students or her professors stumble upon any unfortunate accidents, so I know she is good at thinking like a lawyer. Furthermore, she had the good sense to enlist the aid of our world class publishing attorney and historical mystery author, Ms. Susan Spann. Susan knows her stuff. Between Susan and Piper, I am confident that details of this award will be well managed.

Sara Volz, image from Facebook

Sara Volz, image from Facebook

This year, we have a two-way tie for our first Bayard and Holmes Youth Achievement Award. The first amazing young person is a 17-year-old scientist by the name of Sara Volz from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Sarah converted a space in her bedroom into a science lab. She is using that lab to research algae as biofuel.

Thus far, algae have proven to be stingy in the amount of oil they give us in exchange for the polluted waters that we so generously share with them. Sara uses artificial selection to find algae with a better work ethic that produce more oil. The implications of this 17-year-old’s work seem very significant. Intel also thinks it’s significant. Her research won the Intel Science Talent Search and was awarded $100,000, which she indicated she will use for her education.

Note to oil executives. Leave her alone. My bad guys are better than your bad guys, and I know where you and your surplus significant others all live. Do not disturb this child.

Note to DOE. We give you folks vast sums of cash, and you burn it faster than a gaggle of drunken Secret Service agents in a Colombian house of ill repute. Pay attention. Ill-conceived DOE Director Bill Richardson is long gone, and you people should be producing more science again. If you were operating at this girl’s level of efficiency, I would already have a safe-to-use, pocket-sized fusion generator fueled by toxic waste and surplus body fat. If you haven’t hired this young lady yet, you need to come to your senses and do so ASAP.

Jonah Kallenbach, image from Intel.com

Jonah Kallenbach, image from Intel.com

Our other awardee is a 17-year-old named Jonah Kallenbach of Ambler, Pennsylvania. Jonah won second place in the Intel Science Talent Search for his groundbreaking work with proteins along with $75,000. Unfortunately, I don’t understand Jonah’s work well enough to explain it you. Fortunately, Jonah does understand it. The upshot is that he is discovering how to get proteins to react better with medications. The long term implications for the health of cranky old guys like me are very significant.

Wow, if fifteen of our world’s adults were getting half as much done as these two fine young people, imagine the results.

We congratulate both of you fine young scientists for getting so much done with so little funding. Thank you, Sara and Jonah, for your remarkable work. Because of you two, I’ll still be healthy enough to drive my wife and myself to a shuffleboard competition when I get a little older, and I will still have the fuel to get there.

I cringe when I hear my fellow old cranks complaining about “kids today.” It’s nonsense. There are a lot of great young people doing great things. Instead of looking down our wrinkled noses at today’s youth, we would better serve our own interests by helping youngsters find the opportunities to develop their talents. In a world with so much tragedy and human suffering, young people like Sara and Jonah give us all cause for hope.