Posts Tagged ‘Ft. Benning’

Having a Drink with the Duke

July 14, 2014

As I read the news about John Wayne’s estate engaging in a legal battle with Duke University over the use of  the name Duke, it reminded me of  the time I had a drink with the Duke.

The estate wants to put the name “Duke” on the label of bottles of Kentucky bourbon. Duke University reportedly opposes that idea. From personal experience, I know that Wayne did like bourbon.

He had just finished shooting some scenes for The Green Berets, a film about the Vietnam War at Fort  Benning.   Meeting him on location the night before, I had so upset him when I asked if he was making a propaganda movie that he cut the interview short and stormed off, saying, “You’re just trying to provoke me. I’m  trying to make an entertaining  movie.”

The next morning his publicist called me to say that Duke felt bad about the episode with me, that he had been upset by something else and that he would give me another interview if I wanted it. The publicist and I met him at his apartment after that day’s filming.  He gave me his famous smile and a hardy handshake,  explained that he had been in a bad mood the night before because of problems he was having with one of his actors who had a drinking problem,  said he understood I was just doing my job and I could ask  him anything I wished.  I responded by honestly telling him I was a fan and had really enjoyed his latest movie in the theaters, The War Wagon. He invited me to join him at the apartment’s  kitchen table to do the interview.  He also asked me if I would like to have a bourbon and water with him.  Usually, I didn’t drink on the job, but there was no way I was going to  not have a drink with John Wayne.

I interviewed him for an hour.  He gave me a lot of interesting inside stories about such things as the mafia’s influence in Hollywood. I sent both the short interview from the  night before and the hour interview to  CBS.  They only used the one with the verbal fireworks from the night before.

 

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What the National Debt and Deficit are Costing You

February 8, 2010

 Back when I was working in TV news, being cognizant of the importance that local newscasts should provide local news,  when we decided to use a national story, we would always try to “localize” it.  With that in mind, when I decided that I was beginning to feel so concerned about the national budget mess we are in right now that I wanted to do a blog post on it, I tried to figure out how to “localize” it. 

When we say the national debt is now more than $12 trillion,  that’s the big picture.  Maybe to bring it home to each of us, our share is more than $40 thousand each, according to the U.S. National Debt Clock.

 A large share of that debt is generated by defense spending.  That hits home. The Columbus area economy relies heavily on Fort Benning which pumps millions into the stores,  real estate businesses,  and just about everything else.  The annual payroll at Fort Benning is $1.1 billion.  The monthly payroll is $87 million.  Sure, we have to pay our part of the taxes that go into the Defense Department treasury, but we probably get a lot more back than we pay.  The point is that the defense budget directly impacts on us big time. 

Nationally, the proposed defense budget for Fiscal Year 2011 is $708.2 billion.  The base budget, which does not include overseas “contingency operations,” which I suppose means Afghanistan and Iraq, is $548.9 billion, which is $18 billion more than the 2010 budget.

 According to the National Priorities Project Cost of War  Counters, so far, since 2001,  the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars  have cost America a little more than a trillion dollars.  Bringing  that to the local level, folks in Georgia have paid more than $27.6 billion.  The counters don’t list Columbus, so I’ll have to go to a city of about the same size, Augusta, where the cost of the wars has been more than $512 million

Can we afford that?  That opens up a huge can of worms, but just on the fiscal basis,  let’s just ask, can we pay for itNot with our own money.  Incredibly, we lowered taxes when we went to war 8 years ago.  You spend more than you take in, you have to borrow, which leads us to our next post on the fiscal crisis we face. Stay tuned

The National Infantry Museum Experience

August 26, 2009

As you walk through the displays at the National Infantry Museum adjacent to Fort Benning,  it may seem incongruous, as you look at all of the representations of violence and mayhem, to reflect on love.  But, love is very much a soldier’s motivator.

Revolutionary War Exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Revolutionary War Exhibit, National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

A grandmother told me that she was not sure she should take her ten-year-old grandson to see the museum.  “It is about war and all of the horror that goes with it. I am not sure his parents would like it if I took him to see it.”

A lot of people have no problem at all taking their children to see it. I have seen a lot of them there.  For instance, as I was viewing a case with weapons in it, a  little boy walked up and asked me, “Do you work here?”

“No.  I’m just going through it like you are.”

“Were you in the Army?”  

“Yes I was.” 

 Then,  remembering what the grandmother told me, I asked him, “What do you think of all this?”

“Cool,” he replied.  “When I’m old enough, I am going to join.”

Hermann Goering's baton, a gift from Adolph Hitler. Goering was commander of the German air force during World War II, and was Hitler's designated successor.

Hermann Goering's baton, a gift from Adolph Hitler. Goering was commander of the German air force during World War II, and was Hitler's designated successor.

Obviously, he was not traumatized by anything he saw or heard. Age could be a factor, because quite a few of the combat veterans who go through the museum say they are very moved.  One of  the World War Two veterans told Columbus TV commentator Al Fleming, who works as a volunteer at the museum,  that he couldn’t go through the World War Two section of the musuem.  “It would just make me too nervous,” he said.   He probably had seen some close friends killed in battle.

Dad and son viewing 1930's machine gun carrier called a "Belly-flopper," National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Dad and son viewing 1930's machine gun carrier called a "Belly-flopper," National Infantry Museum, Columbus, GA

Do I recommend a trip to the museum?  Should children see it?  Yes.  It is an impressive way to present the history of the infantry to adults and chidlren.  

If you haven’t been, let me recommend that you watch the short movie at the end.  It is very well done and captures the one thing that,  more than anything else, according to a lot of combat veterans,  motivates soldiers to perform truly courageous acts: the love they have for their fellow soldiers,  people  they have lived and trained with for a long time, their “family,”  “brothers” in battle.   Many Congressional Medals of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for valor,  were earned by soldiers who gave their lives to save their buddies.

When Is an Order Unlawful?

August 23, 2009

You are a young lieutenant. 

You are ordered to take out a machine-gun emplacement on a hill. 

You lead your men up the hill to the emplacement. 

The enemy has lined up women and children in front of the machine gun.  You decide you will not shoot the innocent civilians. 

When you get back to your superior officer, he tells you that you have flunked the test.

That’s a true story, told to me by my friend, retired Lt. Col. John Nix,  who served as an  attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  He was that young lieutenant – well, he was actually an R.O.T.C cadet pretending to be a lieutenant for that exercise.   He was informed by his instructor that it is a lawful order to shoot innocent civilians if they block your target.

Naturally, this conversation was triggered by the story about the  apology for his role in the My Lai massacre by former Army Lt. William Calley.  ” The difference,” he said, “is that you could not say herding innocent civilians into a ditch and killing them was removing shields that were in front of a target.”

Calley’s defense all along has been that he was following orders.  That was denied by his superior officer.  If Calley’s assertion had been determined right,  he would still have had the problem of following an unlawful order.   

John  Nix says whether an order is lawful or not can end up in a courtroom dispute.  He warns that if a soldier decides not to follow one, he had better be right because the consequences can be dire.  However, the consequences of following an illegal order can also be dire.

According to About.com, the Manual for Courts-Martial says, “An order requiring the performance of a military duty or act may be inferred to be lawful and it is disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate. This inference does not apply to a patently illegal order, such as one that directs the commission of a crime.

Who decides whether an order is lawful or not? It’s certainly not the soldier who decided not to follow the order.  About.com puts it this way: “Ultimately, it’s not whether or not the military member thinks the order is illegal or unlawful, it’s whether military superiors (and courts) think the order was illegal or unlawful.”

Wonder how much, if any, training about whether an order is legal or not is given to the average soldier.  I never got any. When I was in basic training I was told just how horrible my life could be if I disobeyed an order.  Nobody ever said, that I can remember,  that I didn’t have to obey an unlawful order.  Maybe it’s different now.  I took basic training fifty-five years ago. 

Basic training graduation ceremony parade, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning/Columbus

Basic training class graduation ceremony parade, June, 2009, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning/Columbus, GA

The Chattahoochee Choo Choo

July 24, 2009

Pardon me,  boy,  is that the Chattahoochee Choo Choo?  That’s what GIs at Fort Benning named the narrow gage railroad trains that served the post from about 1919 to 1946.   Chattahoocheee Choo Choo is, of course, a play on the Glenn Miller 1940s hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” If you want to see the Army’s railroad in action, just click on the clip below, which was saved and put on YouTube by my old friend and fellow broadcaster John Gilbert.  It’s 16mm silent footage, so you might want to play a CD of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”  while you watch it. John writes that he rescued the film from a dumpster.  Whoever threw it away just didn’t understand the historic significance of such things. 

Infantry Museum Now Open

June 19, 2009
Parade Field, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning (The Parade Field is actually on the Ft. Benning Reservation, but the Museum building is in Columbus.)

Parade Field, National Infantry Museum, Ft. Benning (The Parade Field is actually on the Ft. Benning Reservation, but the Museum building is in Columbus.)

Thousands made the long walk from parking their cars on the roadsides to the   parade ground next to the National Infantry Museum to attend the grand opening graduation ceremony for soldiers who completed their basic training at Fort Benning, and the grand opening of the Museum afterwards.

Museum director MG (R) Jerry White left removes coat,  former Sec. of State Colin Powell greets fellow attendee,  Parade Field stands, National Infantry Museum

Museum director MG (R) Jerry White left removes coat, former Sec. of State Colin Powell greets fellow attendee, Parade Field stands, National Infantry Museum

Former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell drew a cheer from the crowd when he arrived.  He is on hand to cut the ribbon to open the museum.  He topped the long list of dignataries on hand.

Silver Wings Sky Diver,  National Infanrty Msueum Parade Field

Silver Wings Sky-diver, National Infanrty Msueum Parade Field

After the Army’s impressive show of an air assault demonstration,  and members of the elete “Silver Wings” parachuting in,  the Infantry Center Band led the graduating troops onto the field from World War Two Company Barracks area. Since I was in a couple of Army bands, I  always enjoy seeing them do their stuff well, and they did, which was good since this was probably the largest audience they’ll ever march and play for. 

Infantry Center Band leading basic training graduates on to Parade Field

Infantry Center Band leading basic training graduates onto Parade Field

Now,  we can actually see the museum’s main exhibits.  Maybe folks will now start patronizing the Imax Theater, the Fife and Drum restaurant, and the museum’s gift shop enough to help with the museum’s operating expenses.  The crowds for those attractions have been disappointing up until now,  but maybe that will change now.  I’ve been to the theater and restaurant and enjoyed both, and I plan to go again and again. See you at the museum.

This is IT!

July 14, 2008

  

  My former WTVM newsroom co-worker and still friend Cyndy Cerbin took me on a fascinating tour of the new National Infantry Museum recently.

 

 

  

CC

Cyndy Cerbin

 

 

 Cyndy is now Director of Communications for the Infantry Foundation. She said, “Dick, this is the ‘It’ they were talking about when they said Columbus needs an ‘It’ to attract lots of tourists.” Since this baby could bring in between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors a year, I think she’s right.

  

 

 

 

 National Infantry Museum Panorama

 National Infantry Museum Under Construction

 

 

   Fort Benning is already supplying 3,000 visitors a week to eat in the city’s restaurants, stay in its hotels and visit tourist attractions.  With the original National Infantry Museum still operating on post, and, in town, add the Coca-Cola Space and Science Center, the National Civil War Naval Museum, the Columbus Museum, and an attractive softball complex at South Commons, and you can see they already have a lot to do.

 

  Those 3,000 visitors come from all over the country to Fort Benning each week to attend a loved one’s graduation ceremony. That ceremony is going to move to the new National Infantry Museum’s “back yard.” The field is ready now, but the stands have to be added.

 

  

 

NIM GRAD FIELD

National Infantry Museum Graduation Field

 

  

 

  Either before or after the ceremony they’ll be able to stroll through the World War II barracks area, which not only boasts real WW II barracks, but General Patton’s headquarters building and the cabin near it where he slept. They’ll also see a WWII Patton tank, and a smaller tank of the type Patton used during Fort Benning exercizes.

 

  

 

WWII Barracks

World War II Barracks

 

 

 

 

Patton Shack and Tanks

Gen. Patton’s Sleeping Quarters and Patton Tank

 

 

  

   Once inside the !00 million dollar museum, they’ll walk along the Last One Hundred Yards Ramp, It’s called that because of the famous saying that, “the infantry owns the last one hundred yards of battle.”  This one hundred yards will contain exhibits that graphically depict, with virtual high-tech aids, seven major battles fought by the infantry, ranging all the way from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan.

  

 

 

NIM Lst. 100 Yrds.

Last 100 Yards Ramp 

 

   A couple of standouts will be a real Bradley Fighting Vehicle that saw action in Iraq and Vietnam era Huey Helicopter. Both will hang over the side of the ramp where they will also be seen from the Grand Hall on the Gallery level. The Bradley is already there. Cyndy said that it’s so heavy it had to brought in during the early stages of construction, that the museum is being built around it. 

 

  

 

NIM Brad Ft. Vehicle

 Bradley Fighting Vehicle

 

 

 

 

BFVOH

Bradley Fighting Vehicle seen from Grand Hall on Gallery Level

 

 

  

  At the end of the ramp is the  Fort Benning area, where they will see and experience how young civilians are transformed into soldiers. There will be a jump tower. Also, a virtual firing range will allow visitors to experience the same virtual firing training that our soldiers receive. There will also be a section dedicated to the relationship with Columbus over the years.

 

  

 

FBA

Fort Benning Section

 

 

 

Because of the Department of the Army’s sanctioning of the museum, it cannot charge admission. However, it can charge admission to the 300 seat IMAX Theater and adventure simulators. Income will also be generated by the full service restaurant and gift shop.

 

 

 

 

IMAX

IMAX Theater Entrance

 

 

The galleries on the lower level will feature large exhibits of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam together, and the desert wars.

 

  

NIMDW

Desert Wars Exhibit

 

 

 

 The Vietnam exhibit will feature another Huey that is already in place. Part of the Vietnam exhibit will recreate the jungle atmosphere of Vietnam, including the tropical weather that soldiers had to endure while fighting in that country. 

 

 

VNHUEY

Covered Huey Helicopter in Vietnam War Exhibit

 

  

 You’ll be able to see the finished product on March 20, 2009.  That’s the target date to open the museum. As the late Arthur Godfrey used to say on CBS Radio, “If the good Lord be willing and the creek don’t rise,” I’ll see you there.