‘Not something you should ever really see’: Veterans reflect on 9/11

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9/11 2001: International Newspapers headlnes

Spc. Bryan Stern was hungover. It was a sunny near-autumn day, but after a night of partying to bid a friend farewell, he didn’t want to be anywhere but bed.

Stationed in Lower Manhattan with the 227th Military Intelligence Company housed at 7 World Trade Center, he was riding the subway to work from Brooklyn, wishing he had stayed home on September 11, 2001.

“I was having a slow, slow morning,” he told Military Times. “I was just kind of in my own little world.”

Struggling, he continued his daily routine, making a much-needed stop at a street cart where he’d order a bagel and coffee each morning.

“My friend, I’m so happy you’re okay,” the cart owner said. Not feeling particularly fine, Stern asked what he meant.

The cart owner pointed up, at the flaming hole in the side of 1 World Trade Center.

Nearly 3,000 miles away at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, Lt. Amy McGrath was sound asleep when her sister called to tell her to turn on the news. A plane had hit the World Trade Center.

“I hung up and thought to myself that it was probably just a Cessna,” she said.

Unable to reach anyone using his early-era cell phone, Stern made his way to the building, hoping he might be able to assist with whatever had happened. Twenty years after the attack of 9/11, a group of military veterans speak about their experience of that day.

“I figured people needed help,” he said. “I have a lot of medical training, so I made my way down and I was just north of the South Tower, right in between them.”

Then a plane smashed into the second tower.

“I felt it on my face,” he said. “The exit hole of the second tower was right above me. I thought, ‘Holy shit, I’m going to get clobbered with all this debris.”

McGrath turned on her television just in time to see footage of the plane making impact. Her command called and asked her to head to the base.

“I got my flight suit on, put my flight boots on and got in my car,” she said. “Because I lived so close to the gate, I was one of the first air crew on the base that morning.”

Staff Sgt. Stefan Still was stationed at Fort Myer with the Army’s Old Guard, just outside Washington, D.C., and three miles from the Pentagon.

“It was just an absolutely beautiful morning,” he said. “It’s kind of the first morning where the temperature had broken and it first started to feel like fall.”

After PT, while waiting for assignments, he and members of his platoon were listening to the radio when they heard about the crash in New York. They switched a television to CNN.

And then they felt their building shake. Flight 77 had crashed into the Pentagon.

“As I’m opening the door, I can already see the smoke coming up,” he said.

Still instructed his unit to call their loved ones and tell them they were okay. He phoned his wife at the time, who was still sleeping. She screamed as she turned on the TV.

“It’s a very surreal feeling to see F-16s churning and burning above the barracks when you’re underneath combat air patrol for the nation’s capital,” Still said. “It’s not something that you should ever really see.”

Col. Randy Rosin was stationed at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. While he believed the first plane crash into the side of the North Tower was an accident, when the second tower was struck, he quickly began to piece together exactly what was happening.

“We had all this activity that was going on, this chatter — they called it the ‘big wedding,’” he said. “In August, there was an intelligence assessment that came out, that said that something big is going to happen. But they placed it in Africa not New York.”

When the second plane hit the south tower, he began to realize that perhaps the intel about this large-scale al-Qaida event was correct about everything but the location.

Rosin, who had previously worked on plans for a response to the USS Cole bombing — the al-Qaida suicide attack against the guided missile destroyer on Oct. 12, 2000 in Yemen — recognized that the two attacks could be connected.

“I started to think, ‘Holy shit. This is the big wedding.’”

Stern was injured and bleeding from surface cuts. People were screaming, running in every direction. Medics treated him, and he returned to the base of the towers to continue helping. A few workers in the towers even began jumping, hopelessness spread, and panic ensued.

Then the second tower began to fall.

“I ran north,” Stern said. “My big idea was to get onto the West Side Highway kind of and bolt. There are no words to describe it. I remember thinking I’m going to die, I hope that I’m found, and I hope it’s not too painful.”

He found a car to hide under, and as the plume of debris washed over everything in sight, Stern waited to die. Minutes or maybe hours later, he emerged, with a mouth full of soot, and made his way back towards Ground Zero. Along the way, he spotted a friend.

Wreckage from World Trade Center at ground zero on September 11. (FEMA)

Looking for a bathroom, the pair stumbled across the only building with lights on — 340 West Street, a Bloomberg office with a generator. With permission from a lingering employee, the pair worked to set up a mobile command center to direct survivors stuck in lower Manhattan to safety.

Stern stepped out for a cigarette when he noticed something odd.

“There’s a little city bus stop, and all the glass is gone,” he said. “I looked down and there’s this American flag. It’s all crumpled up and messed up, and had probably been hanging over a building somewhere before.”

He picked it up, hung it over the door of the building, and he and the friend called the Army to connect with survivors in the city.

“Just tell them to look for the flag,” they said.

McGrath, had never flown in combat, but was ordered to board a jet and take it to the edge of the runway, leave the engines running, and await further instruction.

“I played scenarios out in my head,” McGrath said. “[I wondered] ‘Could we escort first?’ We didn’t train for this. We were sort of making it up as we went along in the hopes that we would never have to do the unthinkable.”

Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath flew combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The orders she expected were to shoot down any hijacked aircraft on the West Coast headed towards densely populated centers or key buildings — planes that were transporting civilians, American men, women and children.

It never came to that. After several hours, McGrath was relieved, but she knew this assignment was just the beginning of what was to come.

Still’s orders came the next day. His unit was one of several selected for recovery duty at the Pentagon.

“It’s one thing to see that on television,” he said. “But it’s another thing to actually pull up to the site itself. It’s still smoking, it’s still on fire.”

His job was to pull casualties from the wreckage. His unit worked the lower floors. He felt lucky because there the intact bodies were fewer.

“Most of what we were dealing with, we knew was a human at one point,” Still said. “But you could just disassociate yourself from what it was because it was just a foot or a hand you, as opposed to the higher floors. They were dealing with people that died of smoke inhalation.”

For Stern, Sept. 11 was a tipping point in his career and his life. He left the Army and recommissioned with the Navy, working with intelligence and special operations, and dedicated much of the last 20 years to homeland security.

Every day, when he leaves his house, however, he is reminded of that sunny Tuesday. The flag that served as a beacon for survivors at 340 West Street is prominently displayed in his living room. He recently reframed it, and it brought him straight back to lower Manhattan.

“It still smells,” he said. “It smelled like dust and dead people when I took it out of the frame. I had to go take a walk because it still smells like Ground Zero.”

Stern said that for years after 9/11, he was unable to go near construction sites because of the smell of the concrete and the sweat on the workers.

Navy Officer Bryan Stern deployed multiple times after Sept. 11 with Special Operations Forces.

Reminders of the day can be difficult to contextualize for those who served.

“How do you transition back from seeing all of that to going home and seeing your family and seeing your wife and seeing the dog?” Still said. “There was a lot of anger, I think in my heart.”

Still, whose unit didn’t deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, got out of the Army. He thought about rejoining so that he could be part of a combat unit, but ultimately chose to separate from service after two more years. He keeps in touch with members of the platoon he served with on Sept. 11.

He noted, however, the way that the events that followed the attack altered the fabric of the military changed.

“Everybody that signed up post-9/11, every single one of them knew they were going to war,” Still said. “I don’t know if I would have been the person that would have done that absolutely knowing 100 percent and I’m deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq soon after basic training.”

Reflecting on the last two decades of war, McGrath said the military has made great strides in inclusion and diversity that never would have come if not for 9/11.

“When we deployed to combat, we were the first women to deploy in these roles,” McGrath said. “We were very aware that we were the first, not only from a combat aircrew experience, but also the maintainers and the mechanics that came out. This was really the first time that a combat unit like ours was integrated with women actually doing combat.”

She said the way women stepped up into combat roles during the Global War on Terror is part of the reason why, in 2015, all military occupations across all four branches were opened up to women.

“Our performance in combat was a big part of why no one could make the argument effectively that we should keep these doors closed to women, to all these other jobs,” she said. “I’m not sure that would have happened had it not been for our combat time after 9/11.”

Click here to read the full article on Army Times.

Mitsubishi Motors Introduces Team ‘Record the Journey’ for 2021 Rebelle Rally

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Selena “Mason” Converse and Erin Mason are sisters-in-law, wives, mothers and combat veterans, and they are two-thirds of Mitsubishi Motors’ 2021 Rebelle Rally entry.

They’ll be joined in their 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander on the nine-day, 2000-km, all-women off-road navigational rally by Sammy, Mason’s two-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd, the first service dog ever to compete in the Rebelle.

Altogether, Mason, Erin and Sammy are Team #207, representing Record the Journey (RTJ), a military veterans charity dedicated to helping service members successfully transition to civilian life, and advocating for PTSD awareness.

“Mitsubishi Motors’ participation in the Rebelle Rally is first and foremost about our partnership with Record the Journey and supporting Rachael Ridenour and the charity she founded to help military veterans,” said Mark Chaffin, Chief Operating Officer, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA). “This year, in addition to supporting two veterans who honorably served, we’re breaking ground with Mason and Erin competing with Sammy to raise awareness for PTSD and the potentially life-saving work that trained service dogs do. We couldn’t be more proud to see the three of them in their 2022 Outlander, and celebrating one of Mitsubishi Motors’ most significant Dakar wins.”

MMNA and RTJ have broken new ground at the Rebelle each year and are poised to do it again. Starting in 2019 – when the brand first partnered with RTJ as part of MMNA’s “Small Batch – Big Impact” social-good program – Team RTJ finished second in the Rebelle’s CUV class with the event’s first ever adaptive athlete – U.S. Air Force veteran Karah Behrend – at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

In 2020, MMNA and RTJ marked another first for the Rebelle, competing in a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle ever to complete the grueling multi-day event. This year, MMNA and RTJ will again make history in the wilds of Nevada and Southern California, when Sammy will become the first four-footed Rebelle.

“Record the Journey couldn’t be more grateful for the support that Mitsubishi Motors and our other partners have provided to enable military veterans to have this life-changing – and life-affirming – experience,” said retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major and RTJ Founder Ridenour. “And this year is particularly important, as Sammy joins Mason and Erin to bring focus to PTSD and the important role that service dogs play for our returning heroes.”

MMNA recently shared a rendering of the vehicle that will carry Erin, Mason and Sammy through the 2021 Rebelle Rally October 7-16. The Outlander’s special paint scheme pays tribute to a history-making Dakar Rally win twenty years ago, when Jutta Kleinschmidt drove a Mitsubishi Pajero to victory in 2001, becoming the only woman ever to win the world-famous Dakar. This was only one of Mitsubishi’s 12 overall wins in the world’s most rugged motorsport competition, and the first of seven in a row.

Navigator: Erin Mason

Erin Mason smiling wearing uniform

Military Info:
Branch Served –
United States Navy
Job Title – Aviation Structural Mechanic
Brief Job Description – Maintained aircraft airframe and structural components including flight surfaces and controls. Responsible for inspections, fabrication and repairs.
Years Served – 4
Deployments – 2 – Flight deck, USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, Mediterranean Sea, Suez Canal, Red Sea, as well as the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea
Duty Stations – Naval Air Station Oceana
Last Rank Earned – E-4 Petty Officer

Personal Info:
Hometown –
Wildomar, CA

Current Residence – Quitman, TX

Age – 32
Marital Status – Married, 7 yrs.

Number of Children – 2

Current Job – Owner & Farmer, Mason Wholesale Greenhouses – Plant Nursery Airport; Manager, Collins Field Regional Airport

 

Driver: Selena “Mason” Converse

Selena "Mason" Converse

Military Info:
Branch Served
– United States Air Force

Job Title – Emergency Medical Services Technician – EMT
Brief Job Description – Provided emergency medical care in both combat and non-combat situations. Instructed EMT Certification Courses (NREMT) for incoming Air Force Medics and Navy Corpsman.
Years Served – 12.75 yrs.
Deployments – 1 – Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

Duty Stations – MacDill Air Force Base (Florida), Grand Forks AFB (North Dakota), Mountain Home AFB (Idaho), Fort Sam Houston (Texas)
Last Rank Earned – E-6 Technical Sergeant

Personal Info:

Hometown – Quitman, TX

Current Residence – Hurricane, UT

Age – 37
Marital Status – Married, 17 yrs.

Number of Children – 3

Current Job – Owner of Mason Converse Media. MCM Provides Off-Road / Adventure Photo & Video Content Creation, as well as social media services for off-road, adventure, and travel/tourism companies.

 

Service Dog: Sammy

Sammy the dog smiling

 

Breed – German Shepherd

Color – Black
Age – 2.75 yrs.
Birthplace – Colorado
Service Dog Type – PTSD
Services Provided – Guarding/Protection Alerts, Anxiety Regulation, Night Terror Management, and Social Situation Guide Tasks.

Preferred Pastime When Not Working: Non-stop Frisbee!

Service Dog Info:

https://usserviceanimals.org/blog/ptsd-service-dog-tasks/

In addition to honoring the 20th anniversary of Kleinschmidt’s momentous win, MMNA is also celebrating the brand’s 40th anniversary in the United States this year.

Alongside Mitsubishi Motors North America, Ally Financial, Inc., BFGoodrich Tires, Nextbase Dash Cams and Vision Wheel are partnering with Team RTJ this year, and Skout’s Honor Pet Supply Co. is providing special support to Sammy.

About Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc.
Through a network of approximately 330 dealer partners across the United States, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc., (MMNA) is responsible for the sales, marketing and customer service of Mitsubishi Motors vehicles in the U.S. MMNA was the top-ranked Japanese brand in the J.D. Power 2021 Initial Quality Study. In its Environmental Targets 2030, MMNA’s parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has set a goal of a 40 percent reduction in the CO2 emissions of its new cars by 2030 through leveraging EVs — with PHEVs as the centerpiece — to help create a sustainable society.

With headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, and corporate operations in California, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, Florida and Virginia, MMNA directly and indirectly employs more than 8,000 people across the United States.

For more information on Mitsubishi vehicles, please contact the Mitsubishi Motors News Bureau at 615- 257-2698 or visit media.mitsubishicars.com.

The National WWII Museum Celebrates Oldest Living U.S. Veteran on his 112th Birthday

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LAwrence Brooks stands on porch with balloons

Lawrence Brooks, a New Orleans native and the oldest known U.S. veteran of World War II celebrated his 112th birthday at his home on September12, 2021. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing recovery efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Ida,  The National WWII Museum arranged a small, socially distanced birthday celebration with cake, a performance from the Museum’s vocal trio, The Victory Belles, and a Jeep parade courtesy of Kajun Outcast Jeep Club and Northshore Wrangler Association. Entertainment also included the Lawrence Brooks Birthday Band, a collection of local New Orleans musicians presented by the Bucktown All-Stars. The City of New Orleans also issued an official proclamation recognizing his milestone birthday.

Lawrence Brooks, born Sept. 12, 1909, served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and then the Philippines during World War II. He was married to the late Leona B. Brooks and is the father of five children and five step-children. His oral history, recorded by The National WWII Museum, is available here. Last year, Mr. Brooks received more than 21,000 cards from all over the U.S. and abroad wishing him a happy 111th birthday.

Mr. Brooks’ birthday is a significant reminder of those who have served and continue to dedicate their lives to our freedom. The National WWII Museum’s ongoing educational mission is to tell the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on TripAdvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org.

From Vietnam to Flag Rank – An Asian American Story

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Rear Admiral Huan Nguyen headshot

Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen’s road to an admiral’s star was not a journey for the faint of heart. Arriving in this country as a teenage orphan from Vietnam, he faced an uphill climb. He credits his Asian heritage and community with helping him get to the top.

On Oct. 19, 2019, Nguyen put on a rear admiral’s star, making him the first Vietnamese American to attain flag rank in the U.S. Navy. That October day was a far cry from his roots as a boy in the 1960s, growing up in the South Vietnamese city of Hue at the height of the Vietnam War. His is a story of personal loss and adversity, and the resilience he found in himself through serving his adopted country.

“Growing up in the war zone, it is literally a day-to-day mental attitude,” said Nguyen, who is a Naval Sea Systems Command Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering.

“You never know what is going to happen next. The war is at your doorsteps. Images of gunships firing in the distance, the rumbling of B52 bombings on the countryside, the nightly rocket attacks from the insurgents—it becomes a daily routine. There is so much ugliness in the war and living through a period of intense hatred, I didn’t have any peace of mind.”

Nguyen’s father was an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, making his whole family enemies of the Viet Cong insurgents.

During the 1968 Tet Offensive, his family was attacked in their home. His parents and five brothers and sisters all died at the hands of the Viet Cong.

Nguyen, nine at the time, was shot three times. Though gravely wounded himself, he stayed with his wounded mother, trying to help her. Once she died, Nguyen, despite his wounds, managed to escape.

He would live with his uncle until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, when they fled the country.

MyNavy HR sat down with Nguyen to talk about his journey and the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make to the Navy and the nation. Here are his words:

MyNavy HR: How did the tragic events of your childhood in Vietnam shape who you are and who you became?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is not easy to get over the trauma of losing your entire family. It has been over fifty years, but it is something I will never forget. Every day I asked myself: “Why me?”

I thought of myself as a curse. In my mind, bad news was always around the corner; it was just a matter of time. I was afraid of building relationships just to lose the people I love. I was afraid of losing everything.

I have often thought of the actions of my father the day he died. Why did he make those decisions that ultimately led to not just his death but those of my mother and siblings? Would I have made the same choices?

The message I have come to understand from his example is that it is about service before self and doing what is right, with honor. What I experienced and learned from that event is about honor, courage, and commitment. The same ethos that the Navy I serve pledges today to uphold — honor, courage, and commitment.

MyNavy HR: What did growing up in a time of war teach you about resilience at a young age?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: Having gone through the war in Vietnam and having survived the worst of it, I strongly believe that we all have the inner strength to be resilient.

Having a chance to emigrate here to the U.S. gave me hope. Every day I wake up, looking at my scars every morning; I thank God that I am alive. I learned to take control of my own destiny and overcome the adversities that life throws at me.

To go beyond just surviving, and to thrive through the trauma, the stress, the emotional scars that I carry with me. I needed to have the courage to challenge and conquer adversities rather than allow myself to wallow in self-loathing and victimhood. It also helps when you think about serving something that is greater than yourself. In my case, it is about serving my country.

MyNavy HR: Tell us about your journey to America and how and why you joined the Navy?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: I first set foot on American soil forty-six years ago. Under Operation New Life, more than 111,000 Vietnamese refugees were transported to Guam in the last days of the Vietnam War, and I was one of them.

At 15-years old, I was scared. I was afraid. I didn’t know what to expect. On Guam, I witnessed the young Sailors and Marines go above and beyond their duties to make us feel welcome. They made us feel like a part of their family, a part of this country.

I knew then I wanted to be in the U.S. Navy. Their dedication to service and their commitment to helping us inspired me. I wanted to repay the kindness and my debt to this country and serve our great nation.

In college, I tried to join the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps. But, not being a citizen yet, I could not.

After receiving my citizenship, I applied and was admitted to the Navy Reserve as an Engineering Duty Officer through the Direct Commission Program. One of the best decisions that I’ve made.

MyNavy HR: Returning to war in Iraq as a Sailor. Can you tell us what you did and where and what that experience was like for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It was one of those experiences that I will remember for life. It is the idea of shared risk, of serving the soldiers, Sailors and Marines that keep you going. It is the bond that you developed between each other for life.

I worked on the Counter [Improvised Explosive Device (IED)] mission, first with the Army Warlock Program Office, Task Force Troy and the Joint Crew field office. I was involved in fielding, training, engineering in the early days of the war.

I was the executive officer and chief engineer for an Army O6 when I first got into theater. Since it was the early period of our fight against radio controlled IED, I did everything along with our military and contractors’ personnel.

We collected intel, developed threat loads, route clearance and did mundane administrative control. I am grateful that I have a chance to serve and to do my part in the fight. A few memorable moments that I remembered were the chance to brief then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen when he came into theater. He was surprised to learn that Navy personnel were leading the Counter IED fight.

By then, my CO was Navy Capt. David “Fuzz” Harrison. He and I had a chance to work on a Request For Force that brought in hundreds of officers and enlisted Navy personnel to help with Counter IED fight, leading to the establishment of Joint Crew Composite Squadron 1.

I also attended many memorial events for soldiers who lost their lives in the line of duty in the C-IED fight. It speaks volumes to the toughness and dedication and honor of our service members.

MyNavy HR: What does it mean to be the first Vietnamese American to achieve flag rank? How does that make you feel as a person, as an Asian American?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: It is a great honor to attain the rank of admiral. I am tremendously humbled to become the first Vietnamese American to wear flag rank in the U.S. Navy.

The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country the United States of America.

This is our America. A country built on service, kindness and generosity, opportunity and the freedom to hope and dream. These values are what inspired me to serve. And what a great honor and privilege it is to serve our Navy—to serve our country—to support and defend our Constitution.”

MyNavy HR: Tell us how being an Asian American and specifically a Vietnamese American has shaped you as an American and a Sailor? What is it that your heritage brings to the table for you today?

Rear Adm. Nguyen; I came here as a political refugee in the 1970s. Millions of South Vietnamese refugees left their homeland, risking their lives, seeking freedom on the high seas. Many fall victim to pirates, to weather.

Yet, they were determined to leave, seeking the ideas of freedom and democracy. Refugees have typically suffered severe trauma, lost family members, and languished in refugee camps before coming to the United States.

They leave their homelands without hopes or plans to return again.

Nevertheless, once here, Southeast Asian refugees share many experiences in common with other immigrants and refugees from all over the world.

Things such as a language barrier, culture shock, racial discrimination and the challenge of starting new lives are shared between us all.

A common and a long-standing tradition for Asian Americans is the belief that we are not only individuals but also part of a larger community.

This is also a shared experience and value among Vietnamese Americans and all other minority groups. All Americans believe in the value of hard work, family responsibility, community development, and investment in education for the next generation.

Together we are stronger.

MyNavy HR: What does service mean to you and how does patriotism fit into that for you?

Rear Adm. Nguyen: America was founded on ideas that our founding fathers stated eloquently in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. The history of our country is a struggle to keep these ideas alive.

My desire to serve is to give back and repay the debt to this country and fight for the ideas and values for our children, for our next generation, for the world. It took years, including a civil war, for the United States to be where we are today.

America has always been great. We are the North Star to the world on the ideas of democracy and freedom. As a U.S. citizen and as an American service member, I have the duty and the honor to serve and to ensure that the American Dream is alive, that the ideas that our founding fathers of freedom and equality are preserved.

Source: U.S. Navy

Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark D. Faram

Library of Congress Veterans History Project

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U.S. Navy veteran Keith Sherman embraces Gold Star family members

Mother Teresa once said: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Have you ever considered the impact you have on others?  Without realizing it, you have the power to change someone’s course.

What if I told you that by sharing your story, you can create a ripple effect that could benefit countless individuals? The Veterans History Project (VHP) offers that opportunity. (pictured; U.S. Navy veteran Keith Sherman embraces Gold Star family members)

In 2000, the United States Congress passed legislation to create VHP under the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (Public Law 106-380, 2000). VHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and make accessible the firsthand narratives of our country’s military veterans and families of the fallen, better known as Gold Star family members.

Participating in VHP is simple, meaningful and leaves a lasting legacy. There are many ways to share a story, either through oral history interviews or original items such as photographs, letters, diaries, 2-dimensional artwork and other historical materials.

Whether you served in uniform or simply know someone who has, VHP is your chance to make history through participating as a volunteer contributor. Individuals and organizations across the nation sit down with the veterans or Gold Star family members in their lives and communities to help them gather materials, interview veterans within their communities and establish primary sources for our national library. Interested parties can find online resources through the VHP website at loc.gov/vets. The Field Kit and Field Kit companion video provide step-by-step instructions, required paperwork and sample questions for interviewing veterans.

For veterans, VHP is your opportunity to leave your imprint and to enrich our historical record. As World War II veteran Don Griffin noted, “These aren’t the stories in history books or TV. If we don’t tell our story, then nobody will know what transpired” (Griffin, 2004).

Veteran sitting in chair participates in oral history interview about his service.
Veteran participates in oral history interview about his service. Photo provided by Library of Congress.

VHP is currently home to over 111,000 collections of veteran and Gold Star memories. These collections provide an invaluable cultural resource that informs the historical record and illuminates the times in which our nation’s veterans lived. They are accessible to the public and are used regularly by researchers, family members, historians and students. VHP collections have informed more than 800 different books, publications, films and other artistic productions including Ken Burns’ PBS docuseries “The Vietnam War (2017),” Liza Mundy’s book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of World War II (2017)” and Douglas Taurel’s “The American Soldier (2017)” performance.  As the veteran or next of kin maintains the copyright to their story, permissions need to be obtained before using the interview or other materials in exhibition or publication.

While VHP has come a long way since its inception, there is still a long way to go. With over 17 million veterans in the United States today (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019), we need your help.  All veterans deserve the opportunity to be remembered, so that their service and sacrifice for our country might not fade and be forgotten with the passage of time.  Now is the time for you to cast your stone.  Tell your story and discover the ripples your memories create.

For more information, visit loc.gov/vets/ or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to the VHP RSS to receive periodic updates of VHP news. Follow VHP on Facebook @vetshistoryproject.

USO Statement on 20th Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

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9 11 Patriot Day background, American Flag stripes and stars background. Patriot Day September 11, 2001. We Will Never Forget

The following is a statement from Dr. J.D. Crouch, II – CEO and President of the United Service Organizations (USO) about the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“This week marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – a day that forever changed our country. It is also a time when we think about how military conflicts have shaped much of the USO’s mission over the last two decades.

“Many of us have a personal experience related to the attacks that claimed 2,977 lives that September morning. And the recent events in Afghanistan – where 13 service members were killed in a terrorist attack during a mission to evacuate thousands of American citizens and our allies – highlight the extreme risk our service members have faced over the last 20 years. We honor these and all our fallen heroes who dedicated their lives to serving us all since September 11th.

“Following the 9/11 attacks, the impact of the USO’s operations was significant. Immediately after the attacks, according to the USO’s 2001 annual report, the organization’s ‘operations immediately responded, focusing programmatic initiatives inward to those restricted to their bases and extending hours and a variety of services.’ Thanks to the swiftness of our team, we worked to keep them connected to everything that gave meaning to their service.

“As the U.S. military ramped up operations, the USO was there by the side of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and many others who were engaged in the war on terrorism. USO tour veteran Wayne Newton and others first went to European bases and the carrier USS Enterprise in November 2001 to entertain service members. Then in December 2001, Newton, along with Drew Carey and others went to Afghanistan to perform.

“The USO, according to this vivid account from our Southwest Asia operations, went in to support our military with a suite of services. This included building full-scale centers to support service members deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and strategic neighboring countries like Kuwait and the UAE.

“At one point, there were three large USO centers in Iraq and eight centers in Afghanistan. The first USO facility in Afghanistan was the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center at Bagram Air Base. Fittingly, it was the last of the USO centers to close in the country, just a few short months ago.

“Although we no longer have a physical presence in Afghanistan, we know the USO made an indelible mark in the lives of our troops, their families and the USO staff who served there. We will be forever linked by ‘the mystic chords of memory’ with the thousands of young men and women who spent time in a faraway land to ensure our safety at home.

“On this somber anniversary, we honor those who have served and thank all of those at the USO – staff and volunteers – for all that has been done for the USO and for the men and women of our country’s Armed Forces.

“While their missions change, our unwavering support of our military men and women never will. Because the weight of the world lands on their shoulders, we must be by their side. Because of the good work at the USO, we always will be.”

USO logoFollow the USO on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for updates and join the conversation using #BetheForce and #MoreThanThanks on social media.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort, and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs, services and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, the support of our corporate partners, and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission and learn more about the USO, please visit USO.org or follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

US WWII veteran reunites with Italians he saved as children

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Martin Adler receives kiss on cheek from woman he saved

BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) — For more than seven decades, Martin Adler treasured a black-and-white photo of himself as a young American soldier with a broad smile with three impeccably dressed Italian children he is credited with saving as the Nazis retreated northward in 1944.

Recently the 97-year-old World War II veteran met the three siblings — now octogenarians themselves — in person for the first time since the war.

Adler held out his hand to grasp those of Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana Naldi for the joyful reunion at Bologna’s airport after a 20-hour journey from Boca Raton, Florida.

(AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Then, just as he did as a 20-year-old soldier in their village of Monterenzio, he handed out bars of American chocolate.

“Look at my smile,’’ Adler said of the long-awaited in-person reunion, made possible by the reach of social media.

It was a happy ending to a story that could easily have been a tragedy.

The very first time the soldier and the children saw each other, in 1944, the three faces peeked out of a huge wicker basket where their mother had hidden them as soldiers approached. Adler thought the house was empty, so he trained his machine gun on the basket when he heard a sound, thinking a German soldier was hiding inside.

“The mother, Mamma, came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me (from) shooting,” Adler recalled. “She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest,’’ Adler recalled.

“That was a real hero, the mother, not me. The mother was a real hero. Can you imagine you standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming ‘Children! No!’” he said.

Adler still trembles when he remembers that he was only seconds away from opening fire on the basket. And after all these decades, he still suffers nightmares from the war, said his daughter, Rachelle Donley.

The children, aged 3 to 6 when they met, were a happy memory. His company stayed on in the village for a while and he would come by and play with them.

Giuliana Naldi, the youngest, is the only one of the three with any recollection of the event. She recalls climbing out of the basket and seeing Adler and another U.S. soldier, who has since died.

“They were laughing,’’ Naldi, now 80, remembers. “They were happy they didn’t shoot.”

She, on the other hand, didn’t quite comprehend the close call.

“We weren’t afraid for anything,’’ she said.

She also remembers the soldier’s chocolate, which came in a blue-and-white wrapper.

“We ate so much of that chocolate,’’ she laughed.

Donley decided during the COVID-19 lockdown to use social media to try to track down the children in the old black-and-white photo, starting with veterans’ groups in North America.

Eventually the photo was spotted by Italian journalist Matteo Incerti who had written books on World War II. He was able to track down Adler’s regiment and where it had been stationed from a small detail in another photograph. The smiling photo was then published in a local newspaper, leading to the discovery of the identities of the three children, who by then were grandparents themselves.

They shared a video reunion in December, and waited until the easing of pandemic travel rules made the trans-Atlantic trip possible.

“I am so happy and so proud of him. Because things could have been so different in just a second. Because he hesitated, there have been generations of people,’’ Donley said.

Read the complete article originally posted on Military Times.

The Importance of Listening to Our Veterans

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Group of veterans on a zoom call

Ten years ago, I toured the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, with a group of World War II veterans, including Charles Utz. We stopped at the rear of a B-17 bomber, and Charles began talking.

He told me of being shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. He was a tail gunner, and the plane was in flames. But the trapdoor in the tail was stuck.

“It wouldn’t budge,” he explained. “I could see the flames growing around the engines and knew it was just a matter of minutes until they reached the fuel tank. I said to God, ‘If You let me out of here, I promise to spend my life serving You and man . . . ‘”

Charles’ voice trailed off, and his eyes brimmed with tears. “And that’s what’s always bothered me,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve lived up to that promise.”

Charles is among the tens of thousands of veterans who have shared their stories with us at the Veterans Breakfast Club. As a historian, I thought that holding veteran storytelling events would be a way to learn history from the people who lived it. I didn’t know that simple acts of listening would draw us so close so quickly and hold such therapeutic value . . . for them and me. For older veterans especially, sharing their stories is the last stop on their Hero’s Journeys.

One of the most difficult phases of the Hero’s Journey is the Return. In myth, the Hero often refuses to deliver the Grail, to bring back the knowledge gained on adventure. The Hero remains detached and alienated or enters a “deep forgetting,” unable to integrate extraordinary experiences abroad into ordinary life back home. Think of the veteran who comes back and never talks about it.

Old age provides the last chance to accomplish this integrative task.

Storytelling is the most powerful and public form of integrating past experience and gifting it to younger generations. Our veterans, I discovered, are eager to tell their stories when they know there are listeners prepared to hear them. Helping veterans complete their mission should be our mission as citizens.

Listening is hard in today’s noisy and strident social media culture. It takes a quiet mind and open heart, full attention and reserved judgement. It also takes patience. Veterans’ stories usually don’t unfold neatly in one sitting. Most have an open, searching quality, like Charles Utz’s. Meaning is revealed haltingly over time, often with struggle.

But if you, as a listener, can quiet the noise and coax a veteran through their story, you can receive a life-changing gift in return, something best summed up as wisdom.

Gaining wisdom is like earning a Medal of Honor. No one in their right mind would ever court the circumstances required to receive it. Both are granted through suffering, loss, sacrifice, and service to something greater than yourself. All of us have the capacity for wisdom, but few want to pay the price. Old age will lead us there eventually, if we allow it to.

War has the power to force wisdom upon its fighters all at once. It quickens the process by hurtling young men and women through a premature reckoning with their own mortality. If the warrior can accept the self-transformation wrought by war, then they can bring back to the world exceptional insight, perspective, and a deepened understanding of what really matters.

The veterans I’ve met at the Veterans Breakfast Club are humbler than the rest of us, more grateful for what they have, less distressed by grievance, and more dedicated to serving others. They are people of wonder, awe, and compassion. If you surround yourself with such persons, their qualities can rub off and attach to you like flecks of gold dust.

Charles Utz needed help completing the Journey that began in the tail of that B-17 in 1944. I helped simply by listening and prompting him to finish his story. In doing so, I got to reflect on how I might choose to live if I’d suddenly been granted another shot at life.

I invite everyone to take a moment to listen to our veterans share their stories. You’ll grow from the experience and may even discover your own Hero within, capable of wrestling open your own trapdoor and crossing the threshold into a new world.

By Todd DePastino

Todd DePastino is the founding director of Veterans Breakfast Club (VBC), a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to creating communities of listening around veterans and their stories to ensure that this living history will never be forgotten. As a historian, Todd is author and editor of seven books, including the award-winning Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front (W.W. Norton), a biography of the famed WWII cartoonist. He has a PH.D. in American History from Yale University and has taught at Penn State Beaver and Waynesburg University, where he received the Lucas-Hathaway Award for Teaching Excellence. Learn more about VBC and its mission at www.veteransbreakfastclub.org

Indian Motorcycle And Veterans Charity Ride Mark 7th Annual Motorcycle Therapy Adventure To Sturgis

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Group of motorcycle riders gather around two mororcycles and a disabled veteran with a prosthetic leg

Indian Motorcycle®, America’s First Motorcycle Company, today announced its continued support and sponsorship of the seventh annual Veterans Charity Ride (VCR) to Sturgis. The two have partnered with the initiative of “America Get Out & Ride” while using motorcycle therapy to support combat veterans’ transition to civilian life.

Many of the veterans joining the Veterans Charity Ride for the first time are amputees, paraplegics, or suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress and other issues veterans face after leaving the military. Each new veteran will pair with mentors who have already been through the Veterans Charity Ride program and receive one-on-one support to help their transition back to civilian life. The 2021 ride will include 16 total veterans – eight new, along with eight returning veterans who will serve as mentors.

“Veterans Charity Ride was designed to assist combat veterans who face challenges in their daily living and provide them with a support structure that will get them back outside and living life to the fullest,” said Dave Frey, Veterans Charity Ride Founder. “Many of our veterans used to ride motorcycles before their injuries and thought they never would ride again. Through support from companies like Indian Motorcycle and Champion Sidecar, we are able to get these vets back on bikes and enjoy the freedom of the open road.”

This year’s ride to Sturgis will start on July 28 in Moab, Utah where the group will take the trek through some of the nation’s most scenic backgrounds roads in the western United States. The group will stop and visit local communities along the route, such as Fort Collins, Colorado, where the group will be receiving an official proclamation and welcoming by the Mayor before arriving at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota on August 6. Participants will be riding an assortment of Indian Motorcycle models, outfitted with Rekluse® auto clutch systems and custom-built Champion Sidecars for amputee and paraplegic veterans.

The 14-day adventure allows participating veterans the opportunity to push towards conquering their post-war challenges while out on the open road. Throughout the trip, veterans will also conduct team-building exercises allowing riders to share their service experience during the emotional and mind-detoxing motorcycle ride.

“We’re honored to support our U.S. veterans and contribute to suchGroup of motorcycle riders gather around two mororcycles and spectators on the sidelines noble cause like the Veteran’s Charity Ride,” said Aaron Jax, Vice President for Indian Motorcycle. “Riding can be one of the most therapeutic experiences, as we have seen first-hand the dramatic evolution and incredible growth from vets that have completed the VCR program.”

The Veterans Charity Ride to Sturgis was created by veteran Army Paratrooper Dave Frey and leverages the therapeutic effects of motorcycle riding to create an adventure of a lifetime for wounded and amputee combat veterans adjusting to post-war life.

To support the Veterans Charity Ride, donate, or to learn more visit VeteransCharityRide.org.

Riders can also follow along on Indian Motorcycle’s social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and Veterans Charity Ride’s social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

ABOUT INDIAN MOTORCYCLE®

Indian Motorcycle is America’s first motorcycle company. Founded in 1901, Indian Motorcycle has won the hearts of motorcyclists around the world and earned distinction as one of America’s most legendary and iconic brands through unrivaled racing dominance, engineering prowess and countless innovations and industry firsts. Today that heritage and passion is reignited under brand new stewardship. To learn more, please visit www.indianmotorcycle.com.

REKLUSE® is a registered trademark of REKLUSE RACING, LLC

ABOUT VETERANS CHARITY RIDE

Veterans Charity Ride (VCR), started by veterans for veterans, is a non-profit organization that delivers Motorcycle Therapy and additional life changing, life-saving holistic programs specifically designed to assist wounded and amputee combat veterans with their needs and the issues they deal with on a daily basis. Helping our fellow veterans through outreach, action, activities, education and follow-up is what drives our organization. The end result of our program is a healthier and happier, more capable individual, who is now living life in a much better physical and mental condition, and able to help and support other veterans to do the same. Visit www.veteranscharityride.org to learn more and support this worthy cause.

Macy’s presents ‘United We Celebrate’ on 4th of July

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4th of July concept with Statue of Liberty and fireworks

(Macy’s) It’ll be a blast! Watch the nation’s largest fireworks show Sunday, July 4th at 8PM EST.

The 45th annual Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks will illuminate the Big Apple skyline with an electrifying light show full of bursting colors, jubilant music & feeling of positivity.

This year, we’re honoring America’s everyday heroes from communities across the country & the resilient spirit within us all. It’s our way of looking ahead with renewed hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Get excited for all the eye-popping pyrotechnics & dazzling drama you’ll experience when our show makes its highly anticipated return.

Top vocalists, the United States Army Field Band & Soldiers Choir & an orchestra’s cinematic sounds come together in a special salute to American bravery & optimism.

How do I get tickets to see Macy’s 4th Of July Fireworks?
Macy’s Fireworks is a free public event. Tickets are not for sale. Macy’s works closely with local agencies to provide more than two miles of public viewing space that gives spectators a front-row view. These locations, entry points & security details will be available in our “Where to Watch” section coming soon.

Where can I see the performers?
Macy’s incredible lineup of performers can be enjoyed by tuning in to our one-night-only NBC broadcast special, Macy’s 4th Of July Fireworks Spectacular, on Sunday, July 4, from 8pm-10pm ET/PT, 7pm-9pm CT/MT. Check local listings.

Watch the trailer!

Read more at Macy’s.com.

Normandy Commemorates D-Day With Small Crowds, But A Big Heart

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background with 3d texts, army helmet and remember and honor D-Day text

Article originally posted on NPR

When the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand extending toward distant cliffs, one starts to grasp the immensity of the task faced by Allied soldiers on June 6, 1944, landing on the Nazi-occupied Normandy shore.

Several ceremonies were held Sunday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and western Europe from Nazi control, and honor those who fell.

“These are the men who enabled liberty to regain a foothold on the European continent, and who in the days and weeks that followed lifted the shackles of tyranny, hedgerow by Normandy hedgerow, mile by bloody mile,” Britain’s ambassador to France, Lord Edward Llewelyn, said at the inauguration of a new British monument to D-Day’s heroes.

On D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. This year on June 6, the beaches stood vast and nearly empty as the sun emerged, exactly 77 years since the dawn invasion.

For the second year in a row, anniversary commemorations were marked by virus travel restrictions that prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other Allied countries from making the trip to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.

At the U.K. ceremony near the village of Ver-sur-Mer, bagpipes played memorial tunes and warplanes zipped overhead trailing red-white-and-blue smoke. Socially distanced participants stood in awe at the solemnity and serenity of the site, providing a spectacular and poignant view over Gold Beach and the English Channel.

The new monument pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy. Visitors stood to salute the more than 22,000 men and women, mostly British soldiers, whose names are etched on its stone columns. Giant screens showed D-Day veterans gathered simultaneously at Britain’s National Memorial Aboretum to watch the Normandy event remotely. Prince Charles, speaking via video link, expressed regret that he couldn’t attend in person.

On June 6, 1944, “In the heart of the mist that enveloped the Normandy Coast … was a lightning bolt of freedom,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly told the ceremony. “France does not forget. France is forever grateful.”

Most public events have been canceled, and the official ceremonies are limited to a small number of selected guests and dignitaries.

Denis van den Brink, a WWII expert working for the town of Carentan, site of a strategic battle near Utah Beach, acknowledged the “big loss, the big absence is all the veterans who couldn’t travel.”

“That really hurts us very much because they are all around 95, 100 years old, and we hope they’re going to last forever. But, you know…” he said.

“At least we remain in a certain spirit of commemoration, which is the most important,” he told The Associated Press.

Continue on to read the full article on NPR.

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  1. Women Veterans Alliance 2021 UnConference
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