Hanging in my office is a copy of Charles Waterhouse’s painting “Eternal Band of Brothers,” which so brilliantly captures the tough Marine fight around the Chosin Reservoir during the cruel Korean winter of 1950.
By that Christmas, our forces had just had their butts kicked by a massive surprise communist Chinese attack. A member of my cold, tired, demoralized 25th Division Recon Company Scout Section, Pvt. Ken Shelton, captured our feelings toward Douglas MacArthur’s premature pronouncement about ending the war in early December as only a 17-year-old Hawaiian could: “Hey Bro, what happened to the big kahuna’s promise we go home before Christmas?”
The staff weenies must have bought the big kahuna’s ego-driven words, because they didn’t set in winter supplies. We were critically short of everything, from ammo to petrol to winter clothing to the most important thing teenage grunts in fighting platoons live for: HOT CHOW.
The food problem got solved at the edge of the frozen Han River where our Recon platoon was outposting a 10-mile front. There we liberated a few chickens from an abandoned village and roasted those scrawny suckers over an open fire, probably not unlike our forefathers did at Valley Forge during the bitter Christmas of 1777. And when our Christmas meal, produced by hungry teenagers more qualified for scouting than field-expedient barbecuing, turned out an uncooked mess, we still gobbled up that raw chicken as fast as we could and soon paid the price for our haste with severe stomachaches all around.
As my guys groaned in agony, our section radio lit up, announcing that a jeep from company headquarters had just bounced up filled with hot Christmas dinners. Not that it mattered much to us – we were far too sick to join in.
How MacArthur’s Army – though soundly defeated, under great pressure from the attacking communists and short of virtually everything in the supply system – could manage to get a Christmas meal up to its most forward units was nothing short of a miracle.
The U.S. military logisticians often work wonders. And I have no doubt they’ll perform their yuletide magic once again this year. But with U.S. troops ranging from fire teams to field armies in 132 foreign countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, their plate is more than full.
As we enjoy our holidays in our comfortable homes, our overcommitted defenders are stretched around the globe to the breaking point and beyond. This Christmas, almost half a million U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are defending freedom in places the average American can’t even locate on a map. And, as in 1950 Korea, the GI supply elves will make sure that each and every one of these heroes has a traditional holiday meal with all the trimmings.
It’s a no-brainer that we should all support our warriors, who are paying such a high price on our behalf this year. But with that support comes the responsibility of thinking citizens to ask hard questions, such as: Why are our forces defending other countries’ borders while ours remain vulnerable?
Why, for example, is our own homeland virtually undefended while we have almost 200,000 regular, Guard and Reserve troops securing Japan, South Korea and Germany – strong, prosperous counties that at this point would have no problem protecting themselves? And how long can our badly stretched defense team continue carrying this senseless heavy burden? And what’s going to happen next year in Iraq when 250,000 soldiers and Marines rotate in and out of that tar pit in one of the largest unit swaps in U.S. military history?
Hopefully, our Christmas 2004 stocking will be stuffed with a smarter, more rational redistribution of our most precious assets – our men and women in uniform. A redistribution that focuses more on homeland defenses rather than those of so-called allies whose mobs frequently chant, “Yankee go home,” while their politicians whisper behind closed doors, “Stick around, we like what’s in your wallets.”
And let us not forget our own irresponsible lawmakers who go along with the game as long as it includes the sale of weapons made in their home states. Even though some future Christmas the weapons will probably be used against us.