There Are No “Boots,” Only Men and Women

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

 

No one who serves is a “boot on the ground.” That is a phrase for politicians and bean counters. Each is a man or woman, someone’s child, spouse, sibling, lover, and friend. Each lives, loves, bleeds, and dies. Each commits his or her life to the service of our great nation, risking all.

 

Poppies

 

Our profound thanks to all who serve in the military and clandestine services, allowing our nation to enjoy peace and prosperity at home.

You are, each of you, a blessing. Our prayers and gratitude are with you on this

Veterans Day and always.

 

 

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The Cold War and That Damned Berlin Wall

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On a cold, January day in 1961, in a world chilled by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, I sat near a radio with my family and listened intently to the words of a man that my very young mind idolized.

Even as a small child, it was not my nature to easily trust. I would listen to anyone, believe most of what they said, and count on very little of it. I liked nearly everyone and trusted few. I trusted this man and I believed his words. I had inherited the caution that my father and so many of my uncles exhibited. They and my aunts and my older cousins and siblings held great hope for this man. The new president of my country, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, told me that day my freedom did not come from government, but from God.

 

American tanks face East Berlin, Oct 25, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

I was too young to attend school with my older siblings, but I knew who God was. I was certain of His presence, and I understood him completely. A half a century later, I understand far less of God than I did then, but I have never stopped believing what that man told me, and I still hear some of his words in my memory. I can still feel the great excitement and the feeling that I was witness to a monumental occasion.

The new president told me that every nation, whether they wish us well or wish us ill, should know, “. . . that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” I hear those words still.

Few words have influenced my life as those words did. Few words have influenced the world as those words did. Millions of people around the world heard those words. Some found hope and assurance, and some heard them as a challenge to their right to take freedom from others.

 

East German masons building up wall, Nov 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

Seven months later, the Soviet Union erected a wall between the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, and the Western-controlled sector of Berlin. Situated deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany, West Berlin was a beacon of hope surrounded by a sea of Soviet oppression.

By 1961, nearly four million Germans living under Soviet occupation decided to abandon their homes and seek freedom in West Germany. The easiest place to cross from East Germany to West Germany was Berlin.

 

East German mother cries after handing son over border to father in West Berlin, Aug 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

One night in August of 1961, the Soviet and East German troops formed a cordon along the dividing line between East and West Berlin. On August 13, 1961, they began to erect a concrete wall. Streets and buildings were removed from the east side of the wall to create a killing zone–the Death Strip.

 

Razing houses along wall to provide clear line of fire on anyone trying to escape East Berlin
Image by CIA, public domain

 

East Germans, under the control of the Soviet Union, built barbed wire-topped fences and guard towers equipped with machine guns. Like a monster from some cheap science fiction movie, the Wall grew taller and wider over time, as if it were growing fat on the flesh of the nearly two hundred East Germans who were murdered while trying to cross it.

 

East Berliners escaping to West
Image UK Imperial War Museum, public domain

 

The Soviets congratulated themselves for the effectiveness of the Wall in stemming the tide of escapees from the Soviet police state. I saw it as a shameful monument and an open admission by the Soviets that, given the opportunity, any sane man or woman would seek freedom over oppression.

 

West Berliners wave to loved ones in East Berlin on Xmas Eve, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

During the Cold War, the great central debate between the Soviet- and Maoist-controlled East and the West centered, in theory, on the struggle between communism and capitalism.

While some of my generation debated the appeal of “Marxism” vs. “Capitalism,” I avoided those debates. Whatever Marx might have said didn’t matter to me. He was long gone, and his ideas weren’t deciding policy in Moscow. How the Soviets divided their land or ran their economy was of little concern to me. That Damned Wall and the men, women, and children who were murdered trying to cross it were all I needed to know about which side of the Wall I preferred to live on.

In the East, the Warsaw Pact had over 3.6 million troops facing the West and the South. In Western and Southern Europe, NATO countered that with 3.7 million troops.

 

East Berlin sign saying “Whoever attacks us will be destroyed.”
Image by CIA, public domain.

 

Surrounded as it was by East Germany, the view east from West Berlin was much less comforting. In West Berlin, approximately 10,000 allied troops, known in the USA as the Berlin Brigade, were surrounded by 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops. Outnumbered or not, the Berlin Brigade did not intend to ever surrender if war returned to Berlin.

 

East Germans erect tank barriers to reinforce Berlin Wall
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the political dynamic between East and West for 28 years.

In June of 1987, Ronald Reagan visited the Brandenburg Gate, and at the same place that John Kennedy had delivered his famous Berlin speech within sight of the Wall, Reagan now delivered a speech. In response to reformist Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s claims that the Soviet Union sought peace and prosperity he challenged Gorbachev to, “Tear down this wall!”

 

Pres. Reagan at Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987
Image by US State Dept., public domain

 

In August of 1989, the unwilling Soviet “ally” Hungary opened its border between Hungary and Austria.

Thousands of East Germans and other Eastern Europeans escaped to the West via Hungary. The Soviets pressured Hungary to stop the escaping Eastern Europeans. Hungary pretended to comply, but looked for opportunities to defy their KGB taskmasters.

Protests sprang up in East Germany. East Germans began to chant, “We want to leave.” Each week, the protests grew in strength.

In October, the long-time East German president and Soviet boot licker Erik Honecker resigned and was replaced by a slightly less homicidal maniac named Egon Krenz. On the occasion of his retirement, Hoenecker announced to the world that the Berlin Wall would remain for at least another 50 years.

East and West Berliners began to congregate at the Wall as the protests continued to grow. Krenz had been offered up as a reformist, but East Germans recognized him for what he was–a ruthless, self-promoting politician who was, in fact, attempting to crack down on reformers in his own government.

 

Checkpoint Charlie, Dec 4, 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

The East German military began to show signs of mutiny. Krenz was quickly becoming a puppet king without a kingdom, and East Germany had over $100 billion in debt with no way to make payments.

Buried under deep layers of its own cynicism and impaired by factional maneuvering, the Soviet Politburo was busy with its own internal struggles and felt little inclination to reinforce East Germany with cash or Soviet troops. Krenz was making fast progress on the road to nowhere. His Polish and Czechoslovak allies to the east had slipped the Soviet leash, and he was beginning to understand what the Berlin Brigade must have felt like for so long.

East German protesters changed their chant. “We want to leave,” was replaced with, “We want to stay. YOU leave!”

By November, it was becoming obvious that most of the East German border guards were sympathetic to the protestors. With a possible collapse of the government looming, nobody in the East German government wanted to have to answer for ordering a slaughter of the increasingly brazen protestors.

 

Children maintaining friendships across the pre-Wall border in 1961
Image by CIA, public domain

 

On November 9, 1989, in an attempt to relieve the social pressure that was threatening to rupture the East German state, the East German government announced that the gates would be opened in the Wall, and that anyone who wished could pass from East to West.

Until late October, I had been in Europe. On my flight back to Washington D.C., I wondered if my dream of seeing a free Eastern Europe was about to materialize. The Soviet steamroller that had kept Eastern Europe’s puppet communist regimes in power for four decades had run out of steam.

On November 9, I returned home from a martial arts class. When I entered the living room, my wife was smiling in a way that I had not seen her smile before. She said, “You got your wish,” and she pointed to the TV.

 

Germans Reunited
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov 1989
Image by Senate of Berlin, public domain

 

I felt compelled to get close to the screen, as though I could hug the Berliners who were dancing on top of that Damned Wall. I wished I had gone back to Berlin. I missed the biggest party in the history of the Cold War.

I was stunned and relieved, and simultaneously filled with joy and sadness. I felt joy for the people of Eastern Europe and for us. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wish that a few people who mattered greatly to me could have remained among us long enough to see that night. They had paid that price. They had borne that burden. It had not been in vain. I never for a second thought that it would be.

Tonight, from the distant, warm, comfortable safety of my home, I offer my humble gratitude to them for never losing their faith, and to the people of Berlin and Eastern Europe for finding their faith and their freedom.

What did the Berlin Wall mean to you?

Note:  Many of the CIA images in this article are from the CIA publication “A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall.” Click on the link, and it will take you to a page where you can download the publication free of charge.

HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

With or Without the Archduke

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Conventional history widely attributes the cause of WWI to be the assassination of Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian Gavrilo Princip. While the Archduke’s murder was the excuse for WWI, it was not the reason. Whether or not the Archduke had been targeted, the relevant parts of history would still read the same.

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo
public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

 

At the time of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary were poised, waiting for the right moment to strike.

They had already calculated that they could invade, capture, and annex Serbia before its ally, Russia, could mobilize a response. They assumed that, when presented with a fait accompli, Western Europe would protest loudly, but not mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary. They only needed an excuse. That excuse came in the form of Gavrilo Princip, a member of the anti-Austria-Hungary Serbian group Black Hand.

Princip has often been described as an anarchist. However, he was part of a popular movement that sought the formation of a new nation-state that would arise from the joining of Serbia, Herzegovina, and Bosnia. The nine-member conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke appears to have been arranged by the head of Serbian Army Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitijevik, without the knowledge or approval of the Serbian government.

Princip fired on the Archduke at close range, striking him in the neck and hitting the Archduke’s wife in the abdomen. Princip then turned his pistol on himself, but police and spectators took him under control before he could fire. According to Serbian law, he could not be sentenced to death because he had not quite reached his 20th birthday. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence. Princip died in prison of tuberculosis four years later.

 

Gavrilo Princip public domain, wikimedia commons

Gavrilo Princip
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

One of the terrible ironies of WWI is that the Austria-Hungarian royal family and its government might have eventually assassinated Archduke Ferdinand themselves.

He had become a source of consternation to his Hapsburg family by insisting on marrying Sophie Chotek. Chotek was a member of a royal family, but not a direct descendant of a European ruler, and, therefore, was not eligible to marry Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. His royal relations and the leaders in Vienna were not pleased.

After the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary made one of the worst diplomatic moves in the history of mankind.

On July 23, 1914, Austrian diplomat Baron Giesl von Gieslingen delivered an ultimatum to the government of Serbia – a demand that it outlaw anti-Austria-Hungary statements and activity and arrest of groups that Austria-Hungary believed to be involved in the assassination, including the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary also demanded control of the Serbian investigation, and a reply within 48 hours. The Austrians and their German allies had carefully crafted this ultimatum to ensure a negative response.

 

Library at Louvain public domain, wikimedia commons

Library at Louvain
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The next day, in response to Serbian pleas for help, Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its large, but poorly-equipped army. On July 25, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic ordered the Serbian Army to mobilize, and he personally delivered Serbia’s response to the Austria-Hungarian embassy. Serbia agreed to all terms but one – while it would allow international observers to participate in the investigation of the Archduke’s assassination, it would not violate its constitution by allowing Austria-Hungary to take full control of the investigation.

On the flimsy excuse that Serbia would not turn over the investigation, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations and, on July 28, initiated WWI by declaring war on Serbia. With visions of what it thought would be a cheap victory that would expand the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Austria-Hungary launched what it was sure would be a fast and successful military campaign.

The leaders of Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity that did not exist, and they outsmarted themselves, bringing a hitherto unimaginable tragedy to Europe. Four years and 16,500,000 dead people later, the Austria-Hungarian empire had vanished. Most of Europe was left in ruin, and the conditions for World War Two were in place.

 

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat'l Cemetery Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery
Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

 

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “Unknown Soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I – the Great War. Thereafter, November 11 became known internationally as Armistice Day.

America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America, and in 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

 

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Our profound gratitude to all veterans, past, present, and future, on this Veterans Day.

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Never Forget

image by Gerrit, wikimedia commons

image by Gerrit, wikimedia commons

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A profound thank you to all who serve our nation in the armed forces. May we at home honor you with integrity and decency, that your sacrifice my never be in vain.

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The End is Near (and we deserve it) . . . Whisky Advent Calendar

Whisky Advent Calendar by Master of Malt

Whisky Advent Calendar Lets You Booze in the Days Leading Up to Christmas

Perfect for that ‘one in every family’. Click the title for full story.

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order 

Check out this awesome cover for Historical Fiction Author Susan Spann’s debut novel!

CLAWS OF THE CAT is the first of The Shinobi Mystery series about a ninja detective in medieval Japan, due out next July. To help Susan celebrate her unveiling, drop by her blog and leave a comment for a chance to win a $20 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble. CLAWS OF THE CAT cover reveal and contest!

Apparently, Amazon has been removing reviews. Best Selling Author Joe Konrath tells us about his experience in Amazon Removes Reviews.

High Concept Blogging: Achieving Bloggy Goodness in Record Time by Jenny Hansen at More Cowbell.

Best Selling Author, Social Media Jedi, and Founder of WANA Int’l Kristen Lamb is offering a blogging course. As her original guinea pig, I can’t recommend her classes highly enough. Blogging to Build an Author Brand

Two of my favorites in the same place, Donna Newton and Julie Glover. British Invasion: Donna Newton Chats about English

November isn’t just a month to honor the mustache, it’s a month to raise Prostate Cancer Awareness. Join Nigel Blackwell for Movember and keep yourself or your guy healthy.

Sunday is Veterans Day, a time to remember and thank the people who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe. Today, my hat is off to Admiral Willard. Admiral Willard’s Above and Beyond Performance in the face of interrogation from Congress reminds us of the many and varied duties and responsibilities of our service men and women around the world. How this guy didn’t crack up laughing is just beyond me. Now that is some serious training and discipline.

My profound thanks to all of our Armed Forces and your families for your service. Whether you are a clerk in a stateside supply office or you are on SEAL Team Six, you are an important part of making our country strong.

Seems the only thing people universally want to keep from the election season is the Campaign Poll Daddy Question of the Week. 🙂

All the best to all of you for a week of not tipping Guam.

Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Sandwich Day:The Day Between Berlin Wall Day and Veterans Day

By Piper Bayard

I call today Sandwich Day because it’s the day that is sandwiched between November 9, the day the Berlin Wall came down, and Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I.

Fall of the Berlin Wall wikimedia commons, public domain

Fall of the Berlin Wall
wikimedia commons, public domain

One slice of bread is Veterans Day. On November 11th, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “unknown soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I. Thereafter, November 11th became known internationally as Armistice Day. America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetary. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

The other slice of bread is the day the Berlin Wall came down, signifying the beginning of the end of the Cold War. English author and journalist George Orwell first coined the term Cold War in his essay, “You and the Atomic Bomb,” to describe a world that is at “peace that is no peace.” It was an ideological confrontation between mostly the Soviet Union and its satellite states against Western powers. It shaped our times and our nation more surely than Islamic terrorists are doing now.

Though the USSR and the USA never officially met on the field, we clashed unofficially through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. We also battled through military coalitions, extensive aid to states fighting Soviet-backed terrorists,    espionage, propaganda, the Arms Race, sports rivalry, and the Space Race.

As a kid during that time, I can tell you that the Cold War colored everything in life. Our conversations, our breakfast drinks, our cartoons, our college classes, you name it. Communism was a threat we took too seriously to be concerned about offending communists by calling them the enemy, and we lived 24/7 with the widespread belief that Earth would, inevitably, end in a mushroom cloud. A fated apocalypse. A post-apocalyptic movie with no hope of a “post.”

The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate communist East Berlin from Western Ally-administered West Berlin, was the symbol of the Cold War and the Cold War state of mind. When it came down, it didn’t just represent our Western victory over communism, it represented the limitless possibilities of the human race to control its destiny. Nothing seemed inevitable any more.

I know I’m unusually serious today — apocalypse can be that way at times — so I’ll lighten up with a bit of info about that most beautiful apocalyptic flower, the red poppy, which has come to symbolize World War I. Long before the Great War, the red poppy was a symbol of death, renewal, and life. That’s because its seeds can lie dormant in the earth for years, and then grow and blossom when the soil is turned over.

With the widespread digging of graves in the fields of Northern France and Flanders, beginning in 1914, poppies began to grow, inspiring Canadian Lt. Col. John McCrae to write the following poem, the most famous of World War I. Click here for a beautiful song inspired by this poem, performed by the boys’ choir, Libera.

My profound thanks to our veterans on this Sandwich Day.  

In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.