From the Washington Times
Memorial Day: So many men and women
WASHINGTON — It is amazing how much a simple timeline of U.S. war history, and a chart of war casualty statistics can reveal. In a short time you are reminded of things forgotten, or learn a few things you never knew.
Since 1675, U.S. colonists or citizens have participated in 26 wars. Six of the wars took place before the American Revolution. Two involved the English Colonies against France. Another two were between the French Colonies and Great Britain, and two more involved English colonists and Native Americans.
Starting with the American Revolution, we have had a war every 11 to 12 years of our history.
The longest period of peace was between the Civil War (1865) and the Spanish American War (1898): 33 years without a bona-fide, declared-by-Congress war with countries outside U.S. borders. Still, violence continued in the land of the free as Native American peoples were dislocated from their homes.
Most of our history we fought one declared war at a time. An exception is the War of 1812 (to 1815) that overlapped with the Creek War of 1813 to 1814. There was also some trouble on the Barbary Coast in 1815, and we invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 while we were building up to war in Vietnam.
The shortest wars were The Creek War, War of Texas, Spanish American War, Persian Gulf War, and the invasions of Cuba (Bay of Pigs), Grenada, and Panama. The U.S. was also part of a NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995-1996). More recently we were involved in Somalia and Libya.
The longest U.S. involvement was the Vietnam War, from 1960 to 1975, although the first American soldiers to die in Vietnam were Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sargent Chester M. Ovnand, in 1959. A cease-fire agreement was signed in 1973, and President Ford declared the Vietnam War “finished” in 1975.
Perhaps the longest-running conflict is occurring now? Because we have been actively engaged in Afghanistan for about 11 years, many consider it to be our longest conflict. Take your pick.
Though all life lost in war is equally significant, the worst casualties for U.S. soldiers were in the Mexican and Civil Wars. In those two conflicts 16.87% and 16.47% percent of those serving lost their lives, many from disease, malnutrition, and infection. In both World Wars, about 2.49% of U.S. soldiers were killed.
The toll, as we know, doesn't end with those that perish. Disabilities and the invisible wounds of mind and emotion have always continued for some beyond the dates of peace treaties, pull outs, or duty served.
So many men and women to remember.
“Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth;
Rest to each faithful eye that weepeth...”
~ Thomas Moore ~
Vets, supporters find solace, camaraderie in Rolling Thunder's roar
Motorcycle rally marks 25th year of taking D.C. by storm
by Ben Wolfgang
For Walt Koren, it would be easier to know that his old friend is dead. Instead, he's lived with uncertainty for 41 years. Whether William Patrick Millner , an Army Air Cavalry pilot in Vietnam and high school classmate of Mr. Koren‘s, survived a crash landing in Laos in 1971, and whether he remains in captivity somewhere in Southeast Asia, are questions that haunt him to this day.
“I thought he'd been killed. Later, I learned he was missing in action, and it was easier to accept that he'd been killed,” said Mr. Koren , a 63-year-old construction manager now living in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“I still sit there constantly and think about him every Sunday at church. I think about him still being a prisoner of war, and hear rumors he's being held in Laos. I hope that's not the case. How would you feel about 41 years being held captive? Wouldn't you rather be dead?” he said.
Mr. Koren found some solace four years ago when he joined Rolling Thunder Inc., a 90-chapter organization launched in 1995 as an offshoot of the now-famous Rolling Thunder Washington, D.C., motorcycle rally held each Memorial Day weekend.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the rally began with a simple mission that remains unfulfilled: account for Mr. Millner and the thousands of other veterans still missing.
Quarter-century of Thunder
The brainchild of Ray Manzo , John Holland and other Vietnam vets, the rally drew fewer than 1,000 bikes its first year. Organizers expect more than 500,000 motorcycles this year, with events kicking off Friday and lasting through Monday's Memorial Day observances. It begins with Friday night's candlelight vigil, includes the signature motorcycle ride on Sunday and concludes on Memorial Day with a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns, the national Memorial Day Parade and other events.
Mr. Manzo is credited with giving the rally its moniker, having told his fellow organizers that it would sound like thunder when the bikes rolled into the nation's capital. A reclusive figure who spent two years in Vietnam, Mr. Manzo stepped away from the Rolling Thunder rally in 1992.
“It wasn't something for me to do forever,” the Marine veteran told Vietnam magazine in a rare interview earlier this month.
Coming out of retirement this year, Mr. Manzo will return to witness an event that's grown beyond its founders' wildest dreams. But beyond the sheer size and cachet that the Rolling Thunder rally now carries, there remains at the heart of the gathering a tight-knit community of veterans, family and friends of former POWs and those still missing.
“It's always a very rewarding weekend, not only because of what we do, but because of all the people that we meet,” said 76-year-old Billy Parker, former state director of New Jersey's Rolling Thunder Inc. chapters and a Korean War veteran.
Mr. Parker, whose Army unit still has several members listed as missing, said he threw himself into Rolling Thunder after his wife passed away several years ago.
“The camaraderie between all of the members is fantastic,” he said. “You know just about every person by name. That's how familiar you become with all of them.”
Since its inaugural run in 1987, the Rolling Thunder rally has driven the effort to focus attention on the nation's missing heroes and prisoners of war. Its founders have successfully pushed legislation to keep missing soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen from being declared dead without concrete evidence.
The Rolling Thunder Inc. chapters, in more than 30 states across the nation, regularly hold fundraisers to aid veterans' groups, visit war survivors in nursing homes and hospitals, help maintain memorial sites and do a variety of other charitable work.
The POW/MIA issue is most commonly tied to the Vietnam War, but it's also a part of ongoing conflicts. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been held in Afghanistan since June 2009 as a prisoner of the Haqqani terrorist network, an insurgent group with ties to the Taliban. With the U.S. still negotiating for his release, Sgt. Bergdahl's imprisonment serves as a stark reminder of the costs of war.
“These kids volunteer to go to war, and we're not supposed to abandon them. We left people behind in World War II, in Korea, in Vietnam, and now we've left one behind in Afghanistan,” said Vietnam veteran Ted Shpak, president of the Rolling Thunder D.C.'s board of directors.
Nearly 1,670 men and women who fought in Vietnam are still listed as missing. An additional 7,957 Korean War veterans remain unaccounted for, as are a staggering 73,681 veterans of World War II.
Thanks in large part to the work of Rolling Thunder , the National League of POW/MIA Families and other organizations, federal efforts to identify and recover the remains of missing servicemen have intensified over the past 20 years.
Just this year, the Defense Department announced the identification of 25 military personnel, ranging from an airman who went missing during World War II to Staff Sgt. Ahmed K. Altaie, the final missing soldier and casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom to be recovered and identified.
Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars were also identified this year.
Family members and friends of the missing often assume the worst, but any trace of doubt — or spark of hope — can lead to many sleepless nights, said Ann Mills Griffith, chairman of the board at the League of POW/MIA Families.
“It's been the core motivation since our league was formed, the uncertainty,” she said. “Uncertainty is always the worst thing to deal with. It's the strongest motivation to get clarity, to get closure. What it really means is, you need to find answers.”
The public outcry to retrieve living POWs such as Sgt. Bergdahl, Ms. Mills Griffith said, usually remains strong as long as there is proof they're alive. But the desire to recover veterans of World War II or Korea, most of whom are almost certainly dead, wanes with time, she said.
“There's just not that sense of urgency to rescue. Once you find out that the little kid who fell down the well is dead, the nation's attention starts to turn away,” she said.
A chance to give back
While Rolling Thunder's prime focus has been and continues to be the missing or known POWs, its members also relish the chance to interact and learn from veterans who made it home.
“It's given me an opportunity to meet a lot of Vietnam veterans. You meet vets who are homeless, some who aren't getting the care and support that they should,” said Wendell Wilson Jr., an Army veteran and member of Rolling Thunder Inc.'s Maryland Chapter 1. He and fellow members washed and rinsed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at 6:30 a.m. on May 13, one of the ways participants seek to honor America's heroes.
“You need to care about soldiers to be in Rolling Thunder,” Mr. Wilson said, as colleagues scrubbed the wall behind him. “You listen to conversations between husbands and wives, or you meet guys who have gotten ‘Dear John' letters. … When you're in Rolling Thunder , you have the opportunity to give back to them, just a little bit.”
Maryland Chapter 1 is also one of the few chapters to include junior members, often teenagers. Its leaders are also quick to point out that riding a motorcycle isn't a prerequisite to join. Neither is being a veteran.
It's that cross-section of people, brought together by their gratitude and concern for veterans, that gives Rolling Thunder an appeal that now extends beyond the borders of the U.S.
“It brings people from all walks of life together to honor America's heroes. You have lawyers, diplomats, poor people, rich people, and it was Rolling Thunder that has brought them all together,” said Euripides L. Evriviades, Cyprus' former ambassador to the U.S., who rode in the annual rallies during his time in Washington from 2003 to 2006.
“The moving part for me is that [ Rolling Thunder members] don't always necessarily agree with the policies that got them into the wars in the first place, but they distinguish that and still support the troops. I find that very moving,” he said.
As riders from across the country descend on D.C., the Rolling Thunder rally's charter members aren't basking in the glory of what they've built. Instead, they're focused on using the influence they've built, along with their vast network of veterans, motorcycle lovers and others, for another 25 years.
“As Vietnam vets, we've stuck together over the years. It's because we didn't want what happened to us to ever happen again. We're here, and we want people on Capitol Hill to know that we're not going away,” said Mr. Shpak.
German doctors apologize for Nazi-era crimes
BERLIN — Germany 's medical association has adopted a declaration apologizing for sadistic experiments and other actions of doctors under the Nazis.
In the statement adopted earlier this week in Nuremberg, the association said many doctors under the Nazis were “guilty, contrary to their mission to heal, of scores of human rights violations and we ask the forgiveness of their victims, living and deceased, and of their descendants.”
In addition to performing pseudo-scientific experiments on concentration camp inmates, German doctors also were key to the Nazi's program of forced sterilization or euthanasia of the mentally ill or others deemed “unworthy of life.”
The medical association says “these crimes were not the actions of individual doctors but involved leading members of the medical community” and should be taken as a warning for the future.
From the L.A. Daily News
Former Long Beach football player exonerated of rape will sue state
(Video on site)
LONG BEACH — A former high school football star whose rape conviction was thrown out last week plans to file a compensation claim with the state, but will not sue the woman who recanted the rape and kidnapping charge she made a decade ago.
An attorney for Brian Banks, 26, said in news reports that his client will seek $100 from the state for every day he was wrongfully incarcerated.
"Brian Banks spent several years of his young life in prison when he should have been in college getting a degree and playing football," Justin Brooks, an attorney representing Banks and director of the California Innocence Project, said Saturday. "No amount of money can get that time back, but he certainly should be compensated."
Banks walked free on Thursday in a dramatic, 30-second hearing in Long Beach Superior Court during which Judge Mark Kim vacated his conviction. Banks spent five years and two months in prison after pleading no contest to forcible rape in 2003.
His accuser, Wanetta Gibson, was a high school sophomore when she accused Banks, then 17, of raping her in 2002 on the campus of Poly High School.
She received a $1.5 million payment from a civil suit brought by her mother against the Long Beach Unified School District for failing to provide a safe environment.
School district officials wouldn't comment on whether they would seek repayment of the settlement.
Prosecutors have said they have no plans to charge Gibson, now 24, with making false accusations, saying it would be a tough case to prove. She could not be reached for comment.
Brooks said that Banks is entitled to $100 a day for every day he was falsely imprisoned under State Law 4900.
If successful, the lawsuit against the state of California would net Banks about $188,500.
Banks, a football standout at Poly, had been heavily recruited by colleges, and had a verbal offer for a scholarship at USC.
He told police he had a consensual sexual encounter with Gibson, a classmate - but always maintained that he did not rape her. He pleaded no contest to forcible rape charges to avoid a possible 41-year-to-life sentence in prison if convicted on all the charges, he said.
After accepting a plea deal, he served more than five years in prison, and was required to register for life as a sex offender.
Gibson recanted her story a little more than a year ago after "friending" Banks on Facebook and asked to meet with him.
"I got on my knees and prayed," Banks said last week after his court hearing. "I asked God to help me play my cards right."
Gibson refused to tell prosecutors the truth, for fear of having to repay the settlement. But attorneys with the California Innocence Project were eventually able to record her recanting the accusation.
On Thursday, prosecutors conceded the matter, and the judge immediately vacated Banks' conviction. His record is now wiped clean.
Banks is training six days a week at a gym in Long Beach, and hopes to revive his chance for a football career.
Banks said he has no animosity toward Gibson, only that he wants to move forward with his life.
"I'm unbroken," he said Thursday. "I'm still here."
From the L.A. Times
About 30 children among more than 90 killed in Houla, Syria
Horrific images of the young victims bring international condemnation and may become a turning point in the rebellion.
by Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch
May 26, 2012 , 7:13 p.m.
BEIRUT — The blood-spattered children lay on a patterned rug, their wounds graphic proof that youth offers no protection from the dark forces unleashed in Syria.
An unidentified man picks up the limp corpse of one boy, displaying the battered remains for the camera. He puts the child down and hoists another lifeless young body aloft.
"Massacre in Houla — all children!" someone is heard shouting amid groans of agony and disbelief.
The grisly scenes posted online Saturday from Houla, a township in Homs province, drew international condemnation and in the view of some, have the potential to become a turning point in the 14-month rebellion against the government of President Bashar Assad.
The United Nations said that more than 90 people, more than one-third of them children, had been killed in what appeared to be the worst violence against civilians in Syria since a U.N.-backed cease-fire went into effect last month.
The U.N. confirmed the use of artillery and tank shells, strongly suggesting the involvement of Syrian government forces. The killings occurred during a government offensive Friday and early Saturday, opposition activists said. Ground forces entered the town after the shelling to finish off the victims, the opposition alleged.
The official government news agency blamed "armed terrorists" linked to Al Qaeda for the killings in an area that long has been at the epicenter of the revolt against Assad.
U.N. monitors have been unable to quell the violence in Syria, but their presence in the aftermath of the killings in Houla left no doubt that something horrible had happened.
In another video, blue-helmeted observers were shown viewing corpses wrapped in sheets and laid out on the floor of what appeared to be a mosque. One observer could be seen photographing the remains as people pulled the covers from the faces of the dead.
The killings in Houla were "indiscriminate," Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, chief of the U.N. team in Syria, declared in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
"The deaths of 32 young children, the future of Syria, is something that is absolutely … unforgivable," a somber Mood said.
A subsequent statement from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, hinted strongly at Syrian government culpability. An investigation found that "artillery and tank shells were fired at a residential neighborhood," the statement said. Such heavy weaponry is regularly employed by the Syrian military, but not widely available to rebels.
"This appalling and brutal crime involving indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force is a flagrant violation of international law and of the commitments of the Syrian government to cease the use of heavy weapons in population centers and violence in all its forms," the two officials said. "Those responsible for perpetrating this crime must be held to account."
Outrage over the deaths of so many children may drive demands for more international action. The opposition called for an emergency U.N. meeting, even as Annan was scheduled to visit Damascus this week.
Juan Cole, a University of Michigan historian and prominent commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, suggested in a blog post that Houla could become a decisive event in Syria comparable to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
"Just as the U.S. public began turning against the Vietnam War because of events like the My Lai massacre, so Houla could be a turning point," Cole wrote.
However, Assad is widely thought to maintain considerable support in Syria, especially among Christians and other minorities, notably members of his own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, who hold important posts in the security services and the military. Many fear that Assad's fall could usher in a Muslim fundamentalist government and the kind of instability that grips neighboring Iraq.
Assad also enjoys the backing of Russia and China, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Both support the peace initiative headed by Annan, but have vetoed Security Council resolutions critical of Assad.
The state-controlled Syrian news media also broadcast graphic images of the children's corpses, but blamed "Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups" for the killings. The official Syrian Arab News Agency said "terrorist" groups had burned houses and crops in a bid to put the blame on the army.
Each side regularly accuses the other of committing massacres of civilians in a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead. The government has limited access to foreign observers and journalists, making it difficult to determine who is behind most of the killings.