We need heroes

While other bases are being renamed for Black soldiers, U.S. presidents and “Trailblazing Women”, Bragg is the only post not renamed after a person. The new name was chosen because “liberty remains the greatest American value,” according to one commission member. (Or could be the candidate pool? American combat deaths in World War II: 16 American Women, 708 African American Men, 406,576 White American Men.)

If we might waive the melanin and genitalia rule for the home of the “All American” 82d Airborne, I can suggest no better candidate than Lieutenant General James M. “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin. Hard to find any traces of White Privilege in his career. Born in a Brooklyn tenement and orphaned at age two, at 9 he was adopted by a coal miner and his wife. At 12 he quit school to work full time to support his foster family, but continued to read every book he could find in his spare time.

He joined the Army at 17, he studied nights and weekends to pass a competitive exam for admission to West Point. As a cadet he got up every morning before reveille to catch up on the required reading and graduated 185th out of a class of 299.

By 1939 he was back at the Point studying the new German Blitzkrieg tactics. Of these the most dramatic was the use of paratroopers. Several other nations were experimenting with the concept, but their focus was on small scale guerrilla raids and harassing tactics. Gavin’s vision was of airborne armies as a major component of a combined arms assault. His first task was writing FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of Air-Borne Troops. Later, when asked what made his career take off so fast, he would answer, “I wrote the book,”

In 1942 he joined the 82d as commander of one of the division’s parachute regiments. He led his troops on long marches and realistic training sessions, creating the traini’ng missions himself and leading the marches personally. He also placed great value on having his officers “the first out of the airplane door and the last in the chow line.”

His first combat jump was into Sicily, True to his word, he was the first man out the door. He suffered a sprained ankle but pressed on with the fight. His second combat jump was Salerno; his third a night drop into Normandy on D-Day. As 82d commander he led his men into Montgomery’s Market Garden assault on the Bridge Too Far. He suffered two fractured discs on that landing but went on fighting.

The “All Americans” next big fight was in the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. On 21–22 December 1944, the 82nd Airborne faced counterattacks from two Waffen SS divisions which included the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen. The Waffen SS efforts to relieve Kampfgruppe Peiper failed due to the stubborn defense of the 82nd Airborne, the 30th ID, 2nd ID, and other units.

That spring he and his men drove toward the Rhine, collecting hundreds of thousands of prisoners along the way. He ended the war a 37-year old Lt. General.


it’s been good to know ya

So long, it's been good to know ya
So long, it's been good to know ya
So long, it's been good to know ya
So long, it's been good to know ya
What a long time since I've been home
And I've gotta be driftin' along.

Fort Bragg Blues

I have my own memories of Fort Bragg. Spent 8 of the toughest weeks of my life there in the winter of 1969. But I learned more about myself and the world around me in a semester at Bragg than I did in four years of college. My little band of brothers, shivering under thin blankets in World War II barracks, would have laughed at the name change to “Fort Liberty.” The company was probably 80 percent dispirited draftees.

Bragg’s Retreat

They’ve sounded retreat and lowered the flag over old Fort Bragg, sundowning the memory of a man who may rightfully claim his place along with with the bumbling Burnside, “Beast” Butler and Jubilation T. “Cornpone ” among the Civil War’s worst generals. A ferocious disciplinarian who survived two assassination attempts by his own men, a man so quarrelsome that it was said in the Army that if he could not find someone else to argue with he would pick a fight with himself, Braxton Bragg arguably contributed more to losing the Lost Cause than any other man wearing gray.

At Shiloh, he wasted hours in repeated frontal attacks on the Hornet’s Nest when he might have flanked the position and pressed on to break the union center and drive the federals back into the Tennessee River, ending U.S. Grant’s career before it had scarcely begun. His greatest victory, at Chickamauga, cost him 18,000 casualties the Confederacy could not afford to lose and was ultimately pointless because Bragg failed to follow up and entrap the retreating federals. Instead he went on to lose the supposedly impregnable Missionary Ridge and so Chattanooga, thus opening the way for Sherman’s March on Georgia. As Flashman says in the epitaph of another general, “We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.”

Taken altogether it’s surprising we’re not erecting monuments to the man rather than ejecting him from the public square. Not that any of that would have mattered to or was likely even known to the “Naming Commission” that defenestrated him. Naming the North Carolina post after a Tar Heel native son was an attempt to unite a still divided nation as we marched into World War. “It was kind of a gesture of, ‘Yes, we acknowledge your patriotism,’ which is kind of absurd to acknowledge the patriotism of people who rebelled against a country,” according to Nina Silber, a historian at Boston University.

The professor is certainly aware Bragg and his men fought for their families, their homes and not least for the State’s Rights they had embedded in the Constitution. They believed with Lee that, “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.” Robert E. Lee

None of that matters to those busily tearing down statues and renaming not just military bases but the mountains themselves; the only thing worth talking about is slavery. In that respect, I believe Bragg paid his full share in reparations. The Union Army freed his slaves and confiscated his plantation for use as the Bragg Home Colony under the control of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Most of the rest of his wealth was in worthless Confederate currency and bonds. So he exited the war worse than even his former slaves, who at least were left with a roof over their heads.

The Secret of Hidden Mountain

Rummaging through old files as they move into the waste basket on the other side of my chair I unearthed an old manuscript unread in forty years. I worked hard on unearthing The Secret of Hidden Mountain, met some interesting people along the way and enjoyed writing it, so I was very sorry to abandon the project mid-stride to grab for the security of a steady paycheck.

No date on this draft but I remember it well. September, 1987.

An Irish Wake

“To be truly human is to bear the burden of our own mortality and to strive, in grace, to help others carry theirs; sometimes lightly, sometimes courageously. In communally accepting death into our lives through the Irish wake we are all able to relearn the first and oldest lessons of humanity. How to be brave in irreversible sorrow. How to reach out to the dying, the dead and the bereaved. How to go on living no matter how great the rupture or loss. How to face your own.” https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/09/why-the-irish-get-death-right

In Memory of

Sgt Michael Jerrard “Mike” Kotulla {RA16809415}, was killed in action from multiple fragmentation wounds on 4-12-1967 while serving as a Light Weapons Infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was 21 years old.

lonesome traveler

Well I’m just a lonesome traveler, a great historical bum
Highly educated, through history I have come
I built the Rock of Ages, it was in the year of One
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I was born about ten thousand years ago*
There ain’t nothin’ in this world I don’t know
I saw Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring-around-the-roses
And I’ll whup the guy what says it isn’t so

I saw Adam and Eve a-driven from the door
I’m the guy that pick the fig leaves that they wore
And from behind the bushes peeping, saw the apple they were eating
And I’ll swear that I’m the one that et the core

Now, I built the Garden of Eden, it was in the year of Two
Joined the Apple Pickers Union, and I always paid my due
I’m the man that signed the contract to raise the Rising Sun
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I taught Samson how to use his mighty hand
I showed Columbus to this happy land
And for Pharaoh’s little kiddies I built all the pyramiddies
And to the Sahara carried all the sand

I was straw boss on the pyramids, and the Tower of Babel too
I opened up the ocean, let the migrant children through
I fought a million battles and I never lost a one
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I taught Solomon his little A-B-C’s
I’m the first one that ate Limburger cheese
And while floating down the bay with Methuselah one day
I saw his whiskers floating in the breeze

I fought the Revolution that set this country free
It was me and a couple of Indians that dumped the Boston tea
I won the battle of Valley Forge and the battle of Bully Run
And that’s about the biggest thing that men has ever done

Well, Queen Elizabeth, she fell in love with me
We were married in Milwaukee secretly
But I got tired and shook her and ran off with General Hooker
To go shooting skeeters down in Tennessee


This is the posture of fortune’s slave:

One foot in the gravy, one foot in the grave

All men should strive

To learn before they die

What they are running from.

And to, and why

James Thurber