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Photography by John Michael

"Preserving the memories so others will remember"™

Veterans Day 2017

WW II Pacific

What the Veteran Sees

Live as brave men, the gaunt gray man said with sunken eyes.
Go in the direction of thunder at whatever cost. As if describing some deadly game.
At daybreak, we charged together, through the trees. Side-by-side–into a hive of angry bees.
A sudden taste of baptismal fire. Visceral images of friends in elegant repose.
Flowing like mist over muddy fields of red. Below a dark, empty sky.
The symphony of guns fades away. And we the living are left to see what we cannot yet conceive.
The memories of comrades, and their acts of bravery. Hopelessly conflict with all that we have lost.
Incongruous, familiar faces, seen through granite, grey, and black. Fade away like smoke, in the trees–where eagles lay.
— John Fenzel, Veterans Day 2017
 Green Beret with Distinctive Unit Insignia and Flash

About John Fenzel

John Fenzel is a retired senior Army Special Forces officer who has served on battlefields throughout the world. He has served on the personal staff of the Secretary of Defense, as a Special Assistant to the Vice President, as a strategic planner for the Chief of Staff of the Army, and as a White House Fellow during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

He commanded a Special Forces Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and an Army brigade at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  In the wake of the 9-11 attacks, he served as Staff Director for Tom Ridge in the Homeland Security Council. He was the principal architect of The Homeland Security Advisory System, our nation’s first public warning system for terrorist threats. He is the author of the critically acclaimed thriller, The Lazarus Covenant.

In his 30 years of military service, John has served in numerous command and staff positions around the world.  During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he commanded a Special Forces “A-Team,” training, equipping and advising a Kuwaiti Battalion and accompanying them during the liberation of Kuwait. He has commanded three Special Forces companies, leading the first Army deployments to Pakistan and the Baltic States. In Bosnia, he commanded the special operations teams in the U.S. and British sectors, working closely with the United Nations to secure the indictments and convictions of those responsible for war crimes in Srebrenica.  He is the only active duty American military officer to testify at The Hague in support of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

John is a graduate of the Naval War College and the National War College*. Born in Iowa and raised outside Chicago, John lives with his wife and three children in Annapolis, Maryland.  The Sterling Forest is his second novel.


 

My Connection to COL John Fenzel

When two paths cross, one never can anticipate the outcome of the encounter. That was the case when I met COL John Fenzel. Our first face-to-face meeting occurred downtown Washington DC near the Army Navy Club. I had brought with me one of the recent ANC Memorial books that I had prepared from a final honors ceremony of a Special Forces Soldier. The reaction was unexpected, but in the next moment, I was the proud recipient of a US Army Accessions Command challenge coin. What later followed was a series of events at Fort Bragg, NC, Andrews Air Force Base and Patuxent Naval Air Station with the US Army’s ambassadors from the skies – The Golden Knights.

Another one of those events was the Army Strong Experience in 2009 held at Fort Meade, Maryland where over several days I was made “Army Stronger” as then the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren described the results of the exposure on the participants. In addition to another exposure to the Golden Knights, I soon learned about and got involved with the US Army Marksmanship Unit, which is headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was established by President Dwight D, Eisenhower in 1956 to highlight the proficiency of marksmanship in the Army.

COL Fenzel opened some doors that let me see a part of the US Army that is truly special.

Thank you, COL Fenzel!


 

*The National War College is headquartered at Roosevelt Hall and one of the colleges of the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted 1 month ago at 12:06 pm.

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Remember … Why We Celebrate Memorial Day

National Medal Honor Day Wreath Laying Ceremony

Wreath Laying Ceremony

REMEMBER…

ALMIGHTY GOD, WE GATHER TODAY ACROSS AMERICA, VERY MINDFUL OF THE COST PAID FOR THE FREEDOM WE ENJOY. WE GATHER ON THESE HALLOWED GROUNDS PARTICULARLY TO REMEMBER AND TO HONOR, WITH SINGULAR DEVOTION, MEN AND WOMEN OF IGNOBLE CLAYLIKE LIKE OURS WHO ROSE ABOVE THEIR HUMAN CONDITION WITH NOBLE HEARTS AND STEADFAST WILL. DESPITE THE BREVITY OR OF SECURITY OF THEIR LIVES, DIGNIFIED OUR HUMANITY AND THE PROFESSION OF ARMS, BY CHOOSING TO STAND FOR SOMETHING. WHO DECLARED WITH THEIR ACTIONS, THAT PRESERVING FREEDOM WAS A CAUSE TO LIVE FOR, TO SERVE FOR, AND EVEN TO DIE FOR. BLESS OUR COMMEMORATION HERE AND ALL OF ITS PARTICIPANTS, MAINTENANCE OF SERVANTS RENDER HONOR TO THOSE WHO REMEMBER — WE REMEMBER. FOR WHAT THEY GAIN, THEY DESERVE MORE THAN WE CAN GIVE. WE ASK YOU LORD, TO BESTOW UPON THEM THE GIFT THAT THIS WORLD CANNOT GIVE. GRANT OF THE PEACE THAT THEY FELT SO ELUSIVE IN THIS LIFE, AND LET THAT PEACE BE FULL AND EVERLASTING. AMEN.

— Chaplain Gary R. Studniewski

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Posted 6 months, 2 weeks ago at 10:49 am.

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The Eve of Decoration Day

First Decoration Day at

Arlington National Cemetery

Established in 1864 at the height of the US Civil War,  Arlington National Cemetery was

Major General John Alexander Logan - Decoration Day

Major General John Alexander Logan

carved out of the 1,100 acres of what was the Custis-Lee estate – the land owned by Mary Parke Custis, even after her marriage to Robert E. Lee.  The land was seized when she didn’t show up in-person to pay the taxes.   General Montgomery Meigs then ordered that fallen soldiers be buried on the grounds.

It was after the war that Major General John A. Logan, who was commander-in-chief of the Army, on 05 MAY 1868 issued General Order #11 which created Decoration Day on  May 30, 1868 (it later became Memorial Day) and the first Decoration Day was then observed at Arlington National Cemetery.

Following Decoration Days inspired patriotic expressions in many ways.  Samuel Francis Smith, who was known for the poem set to music “America” (more well known by its first few words: “My country ’tis of thee.“) wrote the following poem in honor of Decoration Day.

 

The Eve of Decoration Day

Samuel Francis SmithSweet in the innocence of youth,
Born of the brave and free,
They wove fair garlands while they sang,
” My country, ‘t is of thee; ”
How every bosom swelled with joy,
And thrilled with grateful pride,
As, fond, the whispering cadence breathed,
” Land where my fathers died. “

Fair flowers in sweet bouquets they tied, —
Breaths from the vales and hills, —
While childish voices poured the strain,
” I love thy rocks and rills; ”
Each face grew radiant with the thought,
” Land of the noble free; ”
Each voice seemed reverent, as it trilled
” Sweet land of liberty. “

And bud, and bloom, and leaf they bound,
And bade the living keep,
Unharmed and pure, the cherished graves
Where brave men calmly sleep
And thus while infant lips begin
To lisp ” sweet Freedom’s song, ”
Manhood’s deep tones, from age to age,
Shall still ” the sound prolong. “

I hailed the promise of the scene;
Gladness was in the strain;
The glorious land is safe, while love
Still swells the fond refrain.
And what shall be our sure defence,
Who guards our liberty?
Not men, not arms alone, — we look,
” Our fathers’ God, to Thee. “

by Samuel Francis SmithTomb of the Unknowns

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Posted 6 months, 2 weeks ago at 3:27 pm.

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Farrier’s Daughters Return to Fort Myer

15 APR 2017 – Fort Myer, Caisson Stables

The past history of the US Army has a deep reliance upon the horse. That past was celebrated when Fort Myer was designated in 1887 through general order to become the showcase for the cavalry.  General Philip H Sheridan had the vision and the US Army had the horses among the cavalry and field artillery.  And the post became that showcase with the numerous cavalry and field artillery units. They were occupying the historic acres which once was part of the Custis-Lee estate.  Fort Myer still celebrates that legacy with the Caisson Platoon of the 3d Infantry – The Old Guard.

Caretakers of Some Equine Celebrities

The Caisson Platoon, besides having the distinction of being the only remaining US Army platoon with horses, has another. Over time it has cared for some major celebrity horses.

When the Army Moved by Horse

From 1908 until 1948 the US Army Remount Service was activated to provide the horses and mules needed by various parts of the army, mostly the cavalry and field artillery. Several “remount depots” were activated across the United States.  Among them were:

The last one and largest at 22,000 acres is where “Blackjack” was foaled.  He was the last of the remount horses.  Named after General John J “Blackjack” Pershing, he wore the brand of his Army serial number 2V56 on the left side of his neck.  His role was as a caparisoned (riderless) horse. His celebrity came from among the more than 1,000 full honor funerals, the most visible of them was the state funeral for President John F Kennedy.   Blackjack is buried in a special grave on the east side of Summerall Field on Fort Myer, VA

A Man on a White Horse

On 19 MAY 1964, Warrant Officer McKinney mounted Conversano Beja and rode out of Madison Garden in New York City.  The Spanish Riding School of Vienna Austria had just donated this white stallion to the US Army.  It was in appreciation of saving of the horses toward the end of WW II.   General George S Patton, Jr. authorized a mission to rescue the Lipizzaner horses from the Nazis. Over the next years, Conversano Beja participated in events with the Caisson Platoon.  Upon the horse’s passing, it was also buried on Fort Myer.

It’s More Than Ketchup

For many years, the H. J. Heinz Company utilized a team of eight Percheron horses combined with an antique wagon as part of their ongoing marketing campaign.  On 16 AUG 2007 that all changed when the company donated the horses to the US Army with the Caisson Platoon of the Old Guard as the caretakers   Since then, the horses have provided service during the many funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.  One of them, named Klinger has even been honored with his own book.

 


 

3d Infantry Caisson Platoon – An Open House

The Old Guard’s Caisson Platoon had their “Spring Open House” with over 1,400 people attending throughout the event.  The day, however, began with a strong look back in history thanks to the daughters of a 3rd Cavalryman while George S. Patton, Jr was commander of both Fort Myer and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

Historic Revisit to Fort Myer

The last time they were on the post is when they were young girls and the MPs chased them away from the apple trees. Elaine Weber and her sister Joan returned to Fort Myer to make a donation of memorabilia and an album of their father’s photos from that era – including among them was the 16th Field Artillery which shared Fort Myer with the “Brave Rifles “ of the 3rd Cavalry  Their father was a farrier.  In February 1942 when the 3rd Cavalry was sent to Fort Oglethorpe to get mechanized, the farrier and his family headed south with the regiment.

CPT Austin Hatch awards Elaine Weber a Caisson Challenge Coin

 

PAGES AND PAGES of PHOTOS

Part of the time spent included a look back of decades ago showing glimpses of when the horse was a main “resident” of Fort Myer.  The Old Guard Soldiers of the Caisson Platoon enjoyed examining another chapter of their history – those that preceded them.

 

CPT Austin Hatch awarded Elaine Weber the Caisson Platoon’s challenge coin in appreciation of her selfless gift and her father’s service to the United States.

The Farrier’s Daughters with some members of the Caisson Platoon

John Michael Sees Stars – 48 of them!

During the Caisson Open House, John Michael was awarded the 48-star American colors by Elaine Weber.

 

More about the Military Horse

An excellent book about the horse Blackjack

 

Rescue of the Lipizzaner Stallions

 

Klinger – A Caisson Platoon Horse

 

 

Mounting the Cavalry with America’s Finest Horses

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Posted 8 months ago at 1:28 pm.

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ARMY MAGAZINE JANUARY 2017

ARMY MAGAZINE JANUARY 2017

Starting 2017 – ARMY Magazine January 2017

It is an honor to announce a recent profile in this wonderful magazine of the Association of the US Army written by Chuck Vinch which highlights some of my current projects.  I look back at the last 16 plus years and cherish the time I’ve been allowed to spend

I look back at the last 16 plus years and cherish the time I’ve been allowed to spend among the US military –  from the US Army’s Special Forces, the 3d Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard” and its fine soldiers along with the specialty platoons – Presidential Salute Battery,  Caisson Platoon.  Then there’s the Golden Knights – The US Army’s Ambassadors from the Sky – several rides in their airplane and BLUE, BLUE SKIES!   The US Army Band – TUSAB – “Pershing’s Own” and so much more.

I’ve highlighted two gems of the US Army’s crown in the books I’ve written:

and this website continues to deliver some of the unique items I find along the way

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Posted 11 months, 1 week ago at 3:47 pm.

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Senator Cotton Speaks to the Society of the Honor Guard

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tom Cotton It was COL Neale Crosby who wrote some very touching words about “Why We Guard the Tomb” Recently Senator Tom Cotton shared the following words with the Sentinels who have and are guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns:

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Posted 1 year ago at 2:37 pm.

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Special Forces Honors President John F Kennedy

A SPECIAL Special Forces Invite

invite to JFK honor by Special Forces

 

Earlier in October 2016, I received an email from the US Army Special Forces for the annual honoring of JFK at Arlington National Cemetery.  Something that reflects the strong bond even until now between the “silent professionals” and the President.

SF invite to JFK event

Wednesday 19 October 2016 – JFK is Honored

Surrounded by a cordon of US Army Special Forces Soldiers in commemoration of how they honored the fallen President in 1963, the Deputy Commander of the 1st Special Forces Regiment,  Brigadier General E. John Deedrick, Jr., Deputy Commanding General, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) and invited guests placed a wreath at JFK’s grave and final resting place within Arlington National Cemetery.  As in 1963 Soldiers from the 3d Infantry Regiment – “The Old Guard” and the US Army Band – “Pershing’s Own” complemented the military contingent – also reminisce of  the 1963 final honors of the President.

 

Tradition Began in 1963

The origins of the connection of JFK and the US Army Special Forces began on 12  OCTOBER 1961 when the President met then BG William P Yarborough, who was at that time Commander of the 1st Special Forces Regiment at a ceremony held at McKellar’s Pond on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  JFK was exposed to a comprehensive display of the Special Forces capabilities that afternoon after a morning spent among the 82d Airborne Division and their soldiers.

The arrangements for JFK to see the Special Forces was arranged through a back channel plan by then MG Chester Clifton and then BG William P Yarborough.  Since the President had back issues, the Soldiers with their specialties were paraded in front of him while they were on flatbed trucks.  At the end, the Special Forces Soldiers assembled in formation, removed their duty caps and donned their green berets.  General Yarborough went up to the President with his headgear – the green beret.   It was later that a Presidential Order came out that authorized that the Special Forces were offered the distinction of wearing the green beret.

When JFK was assassinated in November 1963, Robert Kennedy, brother of JFK called down to Fort Bragg requesting that a funeral detail of Special Forces Soldiers be included in the President’s final honors.  Among the 46 men chosen for the final honors, was SGM Francis J. Ruddy.  After the final honors were concluded, SGM Ruddy approached the casket of the President, removed his green beret and placed it on the casket rendering honors to his fallen Commander-in-Chief.

That strong connection between the 1st Special Forces and JFK is maintained with an annual wreath laying in Arlington National Cemetery at JFK’s grave.

 

Honoring JFK

P.S.   Yes, that is my latest challenge coin awarded by Brigadier General E. John Deedrick, Jr.

 

Special Forces Honors President John F Kennedy

 PART 2

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Posted 1 year, 1 month ago at 11:12 pm.

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An Interview with COL Roger Donlon USA (Ret.)

US Army Special Forces Distinctive Unit Insignia

Special Forces
Distinctive Unit Insignia

COL Roger Donlon USA (Ret.) is a Medal of Honor recipient, but a unique one. He is the first Special Forces Soldier to receive the medal and the first during the Vietnam war.

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Posted 1 year, 8 months ago at 11:10 am.

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National Medal of Honor Day 2016

National Medal of Honor Day

National Medal of Honor Day

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Posted 1 year, 8 months ago at 6:09 am.

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Stanton Declares 200 Acres Arlington National Cemetery

A National Cemetery is Declared

On 15 JUNE 1864 Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton designated 200 acres of the Custis-Lee estate as a national cemetery. The 1,100 acres were owned by Mary Custis who married Robert E. Lee.  And on this day a portion of the estate welcomed those who have served in the United States military.  The rolling hills would soon be the final resting place for the many who were fighting in the United States Civil War.  Who knew what the future would hold for these acres.

The first burials began just a month earlier when PVT William Christman was laid to rest on May 13th. His final resting place is now in Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery. The location is quite far from where Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs initially wanted the burials to occur – right around Mary Custis’ rose garden, just south of the mansion.  On June 15, 1864 Meigs officially gave the orders to continue his mission to bury the dead near the mansion.  Though the burials would continue among the newly designated acres.  James Parks dug the first graves for these burials to occur.

The First Tomb of the Unknowns

Civil War Tomb of the Unknowns

Civil War
Tomb of the Unknowns

It was dedicated in September 1866 and sits between the rose garden of Mary Custis Lee and the original amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.   The Tomb to the Civil War Unknowns was constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers at the direction of  General Meigs.  A pit was dug that was about 20 feet deep and 20 feet around.  The walls and bottom were brick-lined and compartments were made with mortared brick walls.  Each compartment was to hold different body parts.   Unknowns were collected from the battlefield of Bull Run and route along the way as the troops retreated to the Rappahannock.  The remains of 2,111 Union and Confederate dead were collected and enclosed inside before it was sealed with concrete and dirt.  Meigs designed a centagraph to sit on top of the tomb.    On one side of the tomb are inscribed the words below:

BENEATH THIS STONE
REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS
GATHERED AFTER THE WAR
FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN, AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANNOCK,
THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED. BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE
RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY, AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS
HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866.

 

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Posted 3 years, 6 months ago at 11:15 pm.

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