Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and has been for 3,000 years.
I may have been the only American Catholic wearing the uniform of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, during the summer of 1989. It is quite a story, especially since I also once wore the uniform of the US Army and was integrated into the German army (Bundeswehr) at another time. I am the only person I know who was in all three.
With the IDF, I was a civilian contractor working for a US company to flat-proof tires for combat vehicles. The Synair Corporation of Chattanooga, Tennessee, had the technology and my company was a dealer in the US. I tried to sell it to the US military but they would only put the concept into testing. I met with the Israeli defense mission in New York and presented my offer, explaining that their brothers were dying when their tires would be shot out in Gaza and another vehicle would have to go there to rescue—and get their tires shot out in turn. My counterpart was skeptical of my small company competing with big corporations for the deal. When they asked me how long it would take to put into operation, I answered “a thousand years” using the only Hebrew word I had learned for the presentation, meaning a thousand years…If you do not sign the deal. He asked me who would go to Israel and supervise the turn-key operation, and when I said I would do it personally, he paused, went to discuss with someone, returned and said, “We will open the letter of credit to start the transfer of the technology.”
I arranged for Synair to ship the equipment and materials to Haifa and bought a one way ticket on El Al from Montreal to Tel Aviv departing a few weeks later, allowing time for the shipment to arrive by air from Newark. I had some business to do in Canada and did not know how long I would stay in Israel. I could always buy a return ticket there, maybe Swiss Air, and spend some time in Europe before going back to Reno where I then lived.
I had trouble with the El Al security team in Montreal. I was suspiciously travelling on a one-way ticket, and when they inspected my baggage and found pressure gauges, rubber hoses and strange, sharp metal tools they put me through a detailed screening several times by different agents until I said, “I am going to Israel to work with the IDF! If you do not believe me, call the Israeli Defense Mission to the USA in New York!”
I arrived in Tel Aviv in the late evening and was greeted by the Captain in the IDF who would be my point of contact. He took me downtown for dinner and a bottle of wine. We talked about the mission and the equipment involved, which he informed me had arrived and was secured in a nearby air force base. He had inspected it and as we talked, I became confused—what he was describing did not meet the description of what I had shipped. The next day, now a few hours away, I was supposed to set up the equipment. I asked that we go immediately to inspect.
The Air Force base was locked down for the night, but my escort officer explained I was an American here on a special project and we had to get into a warehouse. The warehouse was locked; we broke in through a back window assisted by the armed guard after we explained the situation.
The equipment was not what I expected. In an error in logistics, a competing Goodyear system had been shipped. Goodyear had also bid on the job, won it at first, but then lost it when I agreed to fly immediately to Tel Aviv to set up my equipment. But somebody had shipped the wrong container.
We opened the container and laid out the equipment. The Goodyear flat-proofing process was similar in theory to Synair’s, but different enough to confuse me. I made calls to Chattanooga, made notes and decided to teach classes on safety the first day to the technicians who were now arriving in from their field units. After this day of procrastination, I got help from chemists and engineers in the IDF.
In the next days some things went wrong. There was a high pressure burst and alcohol was sprayed into the eyes of some technicians. I tackled one soldier jumping around in pain and poured water into his eyes. It was a big mess.
Over the course of the week, we figured out the Goodyear equipment and used our materials to bullet- proof tires. Dusty jeeps drove in from combat in Gaza for emergency installations.
Over the next few weeks I connected with my comrades. I recalled with them the history of Mickey Marcus, another West Pointer (like me), who left New York to establish the IDF in 1948 under Ben-Gurion. He had died there, accidentally shot by one of his own men. I was taught to say “Jews” and not “Jewish” and met Jews from several countries who were in Israel to serve. On the air base, aircraft had their engines running all the time because they had only seven minutes to take off and intercept an enemy bomber coming in from Syria.
Toward the end of my stay the IDF General who was in charge of logistics in the 1967 war did a walk through. He knew the story of my problems with setting up the flat-proofing equipment—it was his engineers who helped me. He asked me what my rank had been in the US Army; I told him “Captain” and he said, ”Well, I guess that makes you a Captain in the IDF!” He handed me an IDF uniform with Captain’s insignia that I still have and although I have no documents for a battlefield commission and know I was not really an IDF officer, I feel like one.
I did not have much trouble with Israeli airport security on the return flight when they opened my bags and saw my uniform.
When I arrived at West Point in June 1960 I was issued a footlocker made by Long Manufacturing Company in Petersburg, Virginia. The footlocker, placed at the foot of my bed, was to store certain items of clothing, toiletries and specific military equipment.
It was also used as a tool of harassment. We plebes were sometimes ordered to pick up and handle the footlocker like a rifle and orders of “Right shoulder, Footlocker!” were shouted out and we had to comply. If it dropped onto the floor from shoulder height, locked footlockers would sometimes pop open and spill their contents.
Over the summers while we were on temporary assignments overseas or around the country, the footlockers stored personal items in the basements under the stoops until we returned to start the new academic year.
Upon graduation, my footlocker was shipped ahead to my first assignment with my personal stuff to Germany while I attended Ranger School in Fort Benning.
The footlocker was waiting for me when I reported to my unit in Kitzingen and I moved it in with me to my apartment in Mainstockheimer Schloss and I moved it with me when I moved to a new apartment on the Ringstrasse.
When I was re-assigned to Ft. Campbell in 1966, I left the footlocker with my friend, Wolfgang Raith. I had stored in it reams of paper, boxes of pencils, carbon paper, a typewriter with extra typewriter ribbons and other supplies for the business I knew I would someday start in Germany. Wolf kept it for me in his mother’s home in Wurzburg. Also stored in it was an empty Iphoefer Kalb Sylvaner, 1959 Bocksbeutel wine bottle, a tool for making Spaetzle, (an “Oestalgaeuischenspeatzlehobl”) and a cookbook in German for dishes like Hasenpfeffer.
All the time I was on this journey a song resonated with me: "Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin" the 1954 Marlene Dietrich song, “I still have a trunk in Berlin” meaning she was still connected to that place.
The footlocker remained in Wolfgang’s mother’s basement in Wurzburg while I was reassigned to Ft. Campbell, Viet Nam, Ft. Sill, and got my first job with Firestone in Akron. I still had a Koffer in Wurzburg and was connected to that place.
I returned to Germany in 1971 and picked up “Meinen Koffer” from Wolfgang and we renewed our friendship which continues to this day.
As President Trump meets President Duterte this week for the first time, it has me thinking. Trump and Duterte agree! Although the President of the United States and the President of the Philippines have both been attacked by Leftist minorities in their countries, they agree that is it good to protect their nations, indeed it is their solemn duty and the essence of their office.
Opposing them “On the Left” are factions that accuse their presidents of Nationalism and Protectionism. But that is what the people want: a leader who will protect their Nation!
What is “The Left”? In the old traditions of democracies, Houses of Representatives were defined from the left, pure Communist, then Socialist, Social Democrats, Centrists, Republicans and finally Capitalists on the far right.
The far left believes all citizens should have the same income, whether they add value to society or not. As Karl Marx said, “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.”
The Right believes that investments are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods determined by competition in a free market.
What are the implications of what Trump and Duterte agree upon? They agree that global partnerships are important but must be fair. Trade agreements are important but must be followed by all countries who have agreed.
Emily and I went to mass at Sts. Simon and Jude on a Sunday evening. She stayed for faith formation class after mass and I went home to take care of Mailyn who was ill. Before I went back to pick up Emily, I had some time with nothing to do. It was raining and for no reason whatsoever, I drove by my garden on California Street. I just wanted to look at it. On top of some trash outside the garden I saw two pieces of wood carved into strange shapes. It looked like English letters in cursive but I could not read it in the dark rainy night. I took the pieces with me and drove to get Emily.
Waiting in the car in the rain for Emily, I turned on the interior light, picked up the two pieces and tried to fit them together, fumbled and flipped them until “JOSEPH” appeared in the dim light.
I got out of the car to get Emily but before I slammed the door shut, I noticed my wallet lying tucked between the seat and the door frame. It had fallen out of the front pocket of my jogging pants. That had never happened before. I was so thankful. I had almost lost my wallet in the rain and would have had no idea where to look.
It was pouring down now so I decided to carry my “Raiders” hoodie over to the door and surprise Emily -- she was wearing warm weather California fashion—and escort her to the car.
With her in the car, I told her the story about JOSEPH and showed her the two pieces of carved wood script and how they fit together. She said “wow” and turned on the radio. From the radio immediately came one word, a loud “JOSEPH.” We looked at each other amazed. Then the announcer continued his report on someone with that name.
Emily and I sat in amazement and then I told her about my losing and finding my wallet, I reached for my wallet to show her and it was gone. I opened the car door and there it was, again tucked in exactly the same place where it had appeared the first time I lost it.
Riding home I told her about Joseph who died last week. Joe had lived for ten years on California Street in the apartment where I have my garden. I knew Joe; he knew Mailyn and me. We were not close friends, but I was someone he could talk to, two old wounded vets under treatment by the VA Hospital in Long Beach. Joe told me was dying of cancer. He was a smoker who never drank and had lung cancer. I am a drinker who never smoked and have a benign cyst on a lung. He did not tell his family he was dying because he did not want to bother them. The last time I saw Joe, he told me his story and we prayed together. A few days later, Joseph died.
A few weeks later I walked by the garden and found a small silver cross.
More time passed and once again I drove by in the rain to check on my garden. I found a cardboard box in the street and picked it up to throw it away. It might have been Joseph’s. In it was a soaking wet stuffed black monkey, three pennies, and various trash. I hung up the monkey inside the garage to dry and threw the box with the trash into the dumpster. When I got home, I found three pennies on the floor of my car.
A few weeks later I walked by the garden and found a second small silver cross in the street.
During the inspection of Joseph’s apartment before renovation I found two pool cues abandoned. I took them home, Mailyn said she wanted to try to play billiards. At Tumbleweeds she started to play the game. Last night she beat an experienced team of older guys four games straight. They were amazed. The next time we were there, Mailyn won 11 out of 12 games against experience players.
Yesterday, three pennies by my garden exactly where I had found one penny the week before.
All were clear signs my friend JOSEPH was keeping an eye on me.
Yesterday my wife and our two daughters and I attended mass at Saints Simon and Jude. After today, Father Dan will start his new assignment at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara. We wanted to tell him “Pax vobiscum” as he continues his journey.
Father Dan inspired me as I brought my daughters forward on their journeys through baptism and confirmation. I had to share with him some stories of my own.
Our family has moved back and forth to the Philippines over the last 20 years and when we returned to California, Father Dan was here for us.
Once I flew in from the Philippines by myself on a business trip, with the girls still in school back in Davao City. I was alone. I went for a long, fast jog ending in a small park where I used to bring my baby girls, push them in the swings and watch them climb and slide. Sitting at a picnic table, I folded my hands and prayed for their safety. Sitting quietly, the cross on the chain around my neck fell off the chain and landed in my folded hands. Wow, I thought, what a coincidence. I had worn it for about thirty years since I bought it in Switzerland and I guess that was the moment the cross wore through the chain. But I was not moving! Why did it not fall off while I was running?
I flew back to the Philippines a few days later and with my wife and my daughters went for a hike into the country, into the “boondock”. Along a trail, Mailyn and I sat down in the grass while the girls ran ahead to play in an open area, and sitting there, I told her the story about the cross falling into my hand. As she listened, her hand felt something in the weeds. Surprised, she picked up an ornate silver cross with red jewels made in Italy and handed it to me. Coincidence.
I told the story to Father Dan and he blessed the cross. I also told him my story “Joseph” ..but that is a story for another time.
We continued on our journeys.
To stand for the flag or not to stand, that is the question.
I am a West Point graduate, combat wounded veteran, my wife is an American citizen of Philippine ethnicity. She was offended, as an American, that a citizen would intentionally insult the nation by kneeling when the national anthem is played—pointing out that in the Philippines kneeling would not be tolerated when their national anthem is played.
I was offended when that guy kneeled last year. It was an insult to our nation, to all who served their nation, to his team and to himself.
What was his issue? I guess to say that blacks and whites should be treated equally. I agree with him, but not his method of protest. He is famous, he could make his case other ways, media—write a book. But he insulted ALL Americans, black or white, by using the flag and anthem as his symbol.
I returned from Viet Nam and worked with Firestone in Akron, Ohio, and was sitting with senior executives at lunch when the Kent State riots occurred. The Ohio National Guard was called out; students were shot as they protested. I was asked, “As a combat vet, aren’t you insulted by those students rioting?” I answered, “I do not agree with their opinions, but I fought for their right to express them.”
By his statements, President Trump has changed the issues being debated. The issue of whether you are a member of the nation been replaced by whether whites and blacks should be treated equally.
Thus I will stand for the anthem and salute the flag, but will not be disparaged by those who kneel, because they have the right to their opinion, as long as they are not declaring to be enemies of the nation. Those who kneel must accept the consequences. They may be perceived as opposing the nation and in so doing hurt their own cause.
The only issue at hand when the anthem is played and the flag is saluted is to ask: Are you a member of this nation? No nation is perfect and issues of difference are to be expected in a democracy and are to be discussed and debated.
There is a better place for the debate than when the flag is saluted.
Life imitates art in the chilling reality of today in Mindanao, Philippines.
NBC Nightly News has reported attacks by Philippine forces with US Air Force and Special Operations forces support on the ISIS stronghold in Marawi, Mindanao, southern Philippines. ISIS may be failing in the Middle East but splinter groups trained in Afghanistan return to homelands to revolt.
The premise of the novel in fiction Rebels of Mindanao is that splintered factions unite and, funded by foreign sources, demand a “democratic” election. United States foreign policy supports “democracy” in the world so how could they object? However the foreign money in this case is to be used to bribe the electorate to vote for an Islamism caliphate that will declare independence from the Philippines, an outcome that would never be accepted by the central government of the Philippines, nor would the United States permit the Philippines to become an Islamic state. Thus there will be war.
The US Secretary of State Tillerson met with Philippine President Duterte in Manila and they agreed to join forces to fight ISIS efforts to use the Philippines as a springboard to fuel Islamic States in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, hostage beheadings continue and rebel snipers kill hundreds of citizens while over 3,000 Philippine Army regulars try to take back the territory.
The rebels want to keep their land and they believe they must keep their guns to succeed. The central government believes if the rebels have guns they have the power to overthrow the government. Thus the conflict will continue until one side states a firm objective and dedicates itself to achieving that objective. Simplistic? Then why has it never happened? The central government in Manila is far removed from the rebels of Mindanao and is reluctant to attack in force and destroy the enemy—it would take a strong commitment, be expensive and lives would be lost, many more than in the few attacks that made the news—last week’s news is already forgotten. The rebels do not have the power to overthrow the government without outside help; the Philippine forces do not have the power and the government does not have the will to wipe out the rebels.
So it will continue, an endless struggle with brother fighting brother, until an outside influence enters the conflict and helps one overpower the other.
Read the book Rebels of Mindanao
The New York Yankees in the ‘60s would take a day off after Spring training and make a bus trip up the Hudson River Valley to play the Army baseball team at West Point in an exhibition game. This event was much anticipated by the Corps of Cadets and it was obvious the Yankees had fun too as there was no pressure and they could relax for that one day.
In 1962 I was in my second year at West Point and was on the wrestling team. I could not go to the baseball game. After wrestling practice I was running laps around the indoor gym when two guys came onto the basketball court and started shooting hoops one-on-one. I recognized them immediately as Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the Yankee stars. The baseball game was over and they were having some fun before they would be guests of the Corps for dinner in the mess hall.
Growing up in Canton, Ohio, of course I was a Cleveland Indians fan from birth. In the early ‘50s I listened to baseball on our RCA tube-type radio in the living room and scored the games—every pitch. Roger Maris started his career in Cleveland but deserted the Indians to become a Yankee and we all hated him for it. Now I was shagging balls and throwing them back to him and Mantle as they played. They joked around with me—we were the only three people in the gym—and I got to like them.
Later in the mess hall, the Yankees were scattered around the corps squad tables where I was also assigned, passing out signed baseballs. I asked Mickey to sign one, he did and passed it to Roger. They told their teammates our “basketball story” and passed the ball around to be signed by almost all the Yankees on the 1962 team, except a big start, Yogi Berra.
Two years passed. I was now a “Firstie”, my senior year at West Point. It was again time for the exhibition baseball game, which once again I could not attend. I was now the rider of the Army Mule, Hannibal III, and had sprained my ankle when he flipped over on me while I was riding him at a fast trot on an asphalt road. His shoes slipped; it was dumb of me. Hannibal could have been hurt.
While I was sitting in the locker room having my left ankle wrapped, Yogi Berra jumped up on the table beside me and asked what had happened. Yogi was a very personable guy and just wanted to talk to a cadet. He was now the manager of the Yankees and up here for the annual game. I asked him if he would mind signing a baseball that had been signed two years before by most of the Yankees, but not by him. He was surprised and happily agreed; I grabbed the ball from my locker where I had stored it hoping something like this would happen today. Now I had a baseball signed by almost all the most famous Yankees of all time!
I carried that precious souvenir with me to Fort Benning, then Germany, back to Fort Campbell. When I got assigned to Viet Nam I had to sell my Corvette Sting Ray for almost nothing and dump everything I could not carry with me. I did not know where I would go or what I would do—if I came back. As I was packing up my gear to go to war, I did not know what to do with the baseball, and flipped to a young boy I had just met. I hope he still has it. I was off to Viet Nam.
Viet Nam was a mess when I arrived there in 1967 and I knew it would stay that way. I believed then, and still do, the USA had no objective and hence no strategy would matter. Our country had gotten involved in a war there because one of the sides claimed to favor “democracy” so we had to help them fight their neighbors. It would have been much better if we had let them unite, and then become friends with their nation.
I was assigned to the First Air Cavalry Division, Field Artillery. My only artillery experience had been with nuclear weapons in Germany, and I was not qualified to command a howitzer battery in combat. Therefore, I was assigned to command the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, 77th Artillery and also to serve as the S-1, the Personnel Officer. I was responsible for administrative functions rather than combat capabilities. This HQ assignment probably saved my life, although I was wounded in the Tet Offensive of 1968 when my bunker was hit by a mortar round.
For the first six months in Viet Nam I was in An Khe where there was an officers’ club. In early January 1968 I was having a beer there with my West Point classmate Kirby Wilcox, an officer with great potential for becoming a General. Kirby told me he had volunteered for front line duty rather than admin assignments at HQ because he felt is was his duty to see front line action. He was killed shortly after he took the job. I kept my admin assignment.
Part of my responsibilities was to coordinate celebrity visits to our troops in the field. I assigned myself to be the escort officer for Joe DiMaggio when he came to spend a few days with us in early 1968 before the baseball season started. Joltin’ Joe was perhaps THE most famous New York Yankee of all time. We flew around in one of the First Cav helicopters to visit the troops on the front lines. Sitting together and talking, I told him my story about Mantle, Maris and Berra. He had to chuckle. Before his departure back to the US, he asked me if there was anyone he could call on my behalf to let them know I was doing okay. Joe was starting in a new position in executive management with the Oakland Athletics then, and I happened to have an uncle in Oakland who had invited me to stay with his family for a few days while I was on my way to Viet Nam. I learned later from my uncle that when he had received the call from Joe DiMaggio, he had answered, “Yeah, right, Joe DiMaggio,” and hung up, not believing such an icon would call him. He did believe it when few days later he received in the mail an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, signed by Joe.
The rest of my time in Viet Nam was either very boring or way too exciting, like during attacks by the enemy or Bob Hope tour.
Mindanao is under martial law. Headlines shout the possible evolution of local militia into radicalized fanatics who seek global affiliations based on religion and economics.
Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippine Archipelago, has the resources and population to stand alone as a nation, with no contiguous countries to dispute the natural boundaries of ocean waters. Will Mindanao remain a part of the Philippines, or be absorbed into China—or Indonesia? Will it become an independent Islamic caliphate?
“Mindanao” by Freddie Aguilar, resonates with reality.
Listening to that song while sitting in a gazebo outside our home in Davao ten years ago inspired me to write “Rebels of Mindanao.”
Listen to “Mindanao.”
Sir Freddie became a friend. We met while he was on tour in the USA and later I hung out with him at his Ka Freddie night club in Manila. He sang the song on stage directly in front of me. I gave him a copy of my book, the last hard copy I had in the Philippines and told him “This must be in your hands.”
I showed Freddie a newspaper story about his marriage to his love, made controversial because she was Muslim and he had converted. Coincidentally next to their photo was a story about me and the movie I had written which had recently been released. He introduced me to his lovely wife and they both autographed the newspaper. I felt everything had come full circle.
Also with us at Ka Freddie that night were an actress attached to the next movie and a General of the Philippine Army—around the table we were a mix of religions, politics and nationalities that had found a way to coexist and to create.
I have written stories in fiction. I have been asked, indeed challenged, why, how dare an American write about Mindanao? I must. Who has heard of “Mindanao”? Where is it? Who cares? History has been forgotten. It is time to wake up.
Why cannot the world coexist without war; why does war, brother against brother, continue for five hundred years in the Philippines? What will be?
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.