Grandfather Was on Torpedoed Ship

My grandfather was on board the Tuscania, a troop ship on its way to France in World War I, when it was sunk by a German U-boat on February 5, 1918. Many of the survivors, including my grandfather, were rescued by the people of the island of Islay in Scotland. On the 100th anniversary of the sinking, the people of Islay held a memorial for those lost when the Tuscania sank.

I found out about the Tuscania and my grandfather’s experience through Marilyn Gahm, who has written a book about the sinking because so many men from her home of Spooner, Wisconsin, were on board when it sank. She had posted a remembrance on line for my grandfather, who is buried in Arlington Cemetery. She has written a book about the Tuscania, which is available at There is a short history of the event here.

A Scottish record of the sinking is located here. A posting on the island of Islay’s website is here.

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The memorial service on Islay
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The memorial service on Islay
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The Tuscania

Returning from Vietnam

The media focus on current and former military members’ involvement in the January 6 assault on the Capitol makes me wonder how much longer Americans will honor those who serve in the military. The press reported that the FBI was investigating the backgrounds of the thousands of National Guardsmen who were called to protect the Capitol during Biden’s inauguration, and that several were told to leave because of detrimental information found about them.
It reminds me of the horrible way that Vietnam veterans were treated by their fellow Americans when they returned from Vietnam. I was not actually spit on, and I don’t know anybody who was, but there was a lot of contempt for veterans, even to the point of calling them baby-killing war criminals. On one hand it is good that there is a Vietnam memorial to remember those killed in Vietnam; on the other, the memorial is anything but heroic. It could be interpreted as a dark slash in the ground, a stark recognition of those who tragically wasted their lives by dying in Vietnam.
It is interesting that the Vietnam memorial was built before the World War II memorial. World War II veterans were widely respected for their service, although the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” shows that many WW II veterans faced the same kinds of problems that Vietnam veterans faced. Nevertheless, no one felt when they returned that they needed a memorial. Their service was memorial enough.
The World War II memorial and the various Confederate memorials that are being torn down followed similar paths. Neither set of veterans felt that they needed a memorial, but as they began to die off in greater and greater numbers, the people left behind, often wives and daughters, worked to build them memorials to preserve their memory.
I fear that after a generation of honoring veterans, mainly starting after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, we are moving back to suspicion of veterans. Now, instead of being war criminals returning from Vietnam, they are pictured as traitors, insurrectionists, white supremacists who are dangers to the nation. Now the proportion of the populations serving in the military is even smaller than it was during Vietnam, meaning that less and less of the population has any personal understanding of what military service is like. No recent President has served in the military, and few senior political or other public officials have. How many of the “talking heads” pontificating about American politics on TV have served? Not many. There is a group of veterans in the Congress, mostly because of 9/11, but it will probably shrink as time goes on.
I worry that people will more and more view the military as something subversive, a hotbed of Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists, and thus military service will become less and less respected and more and more suspected.

Family Veterans

For Veterans Day I should recognize my dad, who served in the Army in World War II and Korea, my grandfather, who served in the Army during the Spanish-American War and World War I, and my great-grandfather, who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

I served in the Army in Vietnam.

Heroes or Villains

Today the word “hero” is overused. Heroes do exist, but not everyone who does a good, brave thing is a hero, according to my definition. A hero should be someone extraordinary, so that the phrase “everyday heroes” is an oxymoron.  To call thousands of people heroes debases the term.  In ancient literature heroes were often divine, godlike figures.

In a few days American police have ceased to be heroes helping other types of first responders with the Covid-19 crisis while protecting society from violent crimes. Instead, they have become murderous villians, who kill without compunction. It reminds me, as a Vietnam veteran, of how attitudes toward veterans have changed over the years. When we came back from Vietnam, we were definitely not heroes.  We were called war criminals, baby killers, and other horrible things.  I don’t know of any Vietnam veterans who were actually spit upon, but that was a common way of describing how they felt when they returned.

Until recently, veterans were looked upon as good people who were protecting the nation and should be thanked for doing so.  They may be losing some of this luster as a result of Trump’s calls for them to control domestic demonstrations for the rights of blacks.  Attitudes change rapidly in these days where good and bad are defined by social media.

Most police are good people trying to do their job of maintaining a peaceful society, although there are clearly some bad apples.  Today social media is focusing on the bad apples, and all police are tarred with their failures.  Police have become an object of hatred by the black community.  Blacks are stopped more often than whites, perhaps treated more roughly than whites, but statistics show that the blacks are more likely to be criminals than whites, and police are justified in being more suspicious of blacks than whites.  However, police should not violate the law while enforcing the law.

It is encouraging that recent demonstrations by the black lives matter movement have become more peaceful, with less looting and destruction, but the fact that looting characterized the early days of the demonstrations was a bad sign.

It looks to me like America is changing for the worse.  It is becoming more violent, less civil, less law abiding.  I hope I am wrong.  Maybe the police will return to America’s good graces, as the military did in the years after Vietnam.

Memorial Day

For Memorial Day I want to remember the two men who were killed in my A battery 2/94th artillery at Firebase Barbara in Vietnam – Paul John Kosanke and Willie Austin.

i also want to remember my dad, who served in both the European theater (in France) and the Pacific theater (in the Philippines) in World War II. I still have the teddy bear he brought back to me from the Philippines when the war was over.  He stayed in the National Guard after the war and was called up again for the Korean War.  When he returned from Korea, the National Guard in Mobile could not find a place for him; so, he became a member of a National Guard unit in Camden, Alabama, and commuted to the meetings there for years until he retired.

Here he is in uniform on the left:

And his dad, who served in the Spanish American War (in the Philippines) and in France in World War I, and who is buried in Arlington Cemetery.  His tombstone incorrectly says he served in World War II.  On his way to France, his troopship, the Tuscania, was torpedoes by a German U-boat.  He survived and found refuge on the Scottish island of Islay.  Another survivor’s experience of the sinking of the Tuscania is found here.  A souvenir handkerchief he brought back from France to my grandmother is below. 

M252 81-mm mortar

At LZ Sharon, I pretty much had my own 81-mm mortar that we used to fire illumination rounds for the quad-50 machine gun that was our main ground defense. We didn’t worry much about a ground attack while the battery was firing, which usually lasted until 3 am or 4 am. So, the main concern for firing the mortar was from 3 or 4 until daylight. Here is the Wikipedia article about the mortar.

Our mortar at LZ Sharon:

Some stock pictures of 81-mm mortars currently in use: