June 6, 1944 — the day the war changed directions in Europe. We will celebrate the 75th anniversary of that historic landing this week as I write. Where were we on that day? I was a mere 15 months old. Wally Pieszka, my Polish friend, celebrated his 96th birthday last week. I was reminded he was in an Allied uniform fighting against the Nazis that day. The late Sam Azzarelli was on board a ship in the English Channel waiting to make his third amphibian landing of the war on D-2.
In the summer of 2000, we visited the north of France and went to Normandy. Some pill boxes were still there hanging over the beach with a perfect position to kill our troops storming in that day. How anyone survived landing on that beach amazes one peering down from those hills occupied by the German troops with machine guns.
Later, we visited the cemetery of Bayeux at Normandy with its thousands of gravestones. Some were topped with a cross or a Star of David. Some, however, had no name but the simple wording, “Known but to God.” No one can walk away without a total appreciation for what those men accomplished there with minimal hope of survival. All these men were there for us. They changed the direction of the war and made victory in Europe not only a reality but a complete victory, not some compromise that would have allowed Hitler to stay in power.
This past week, we celebrated Memorial Day, a day of remembrance of those who had passed, but with special attention to our military. On May 25, David Giuliani wrote an article about a veteran who had no family, yet 100 people attended his burial. When I heard of the request for attendance, I went and was asked to be one of the pall bearers. As a veteran myself, I was honored to assist. I listened and watched what was a true honoring of a man who had served his country during WWII. While I did not know the man, I was proud to be present.
On the other hand, there have been some happenings that make me ashamed of a part of our military. When Lt. Calley murdered innocent woman and children in South Vietnam, I was embarrassed for my country and my military. While the troops always have stayed together and supported each other, the act was so vile and so horrible his own men reported his criminal acts. He was convicted of his crimes and spent many years in prison. Certainly, when in the middle of a war, conditions change and the loss of your buddy might fill you with hate, but of the enemy, not the bystanders. During war, we still have to respect the rules of engagement. He did not.
As most know, I am not much of a fan of our current president. I believe that his actions lately toward the military brings shame on those who admirably serve. As I write this article, in spite of the actions of the president “honoring “our troops,’’ he is considering pardoning a man accused of killing unarmed Iraqis. One was a teenager stabbed by Special Ops Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy Seal, who then photographed his body and used it for re-enlistment propaganda.
He also is accused of firing his weapon into a crowd of unarmed civilians and was to face a court-martial last Tuesday. The president requested the expedited paperwork needed to pardon Gallagher before his trial. What, is he now usurping the power of the military from determining who has violated the military code of war?
And this is not the first time he stepped in where presidents have never gone. He has already pardoned Lt. Michael Behenna who was convicted and sentenced to five years for ordering the stripping of an Iraqi prisoner and then shooting him to death.
Another potential pardon in the works is that of Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a former Green Beret, who is charged with executing an Arab suspected of manufacturing bombs for the Taliban. Golsteyn shot the man to death even though the suspect had been ordered to be released. His own fellow soldiers will testify against him. And yet these men who have committed these crimes and are to be tried by the military courts of law may well be pardoned by our president. Is it because in each of these cases of consideration of a pardon the victims were Muslim?
The president was quoted as saying in the Gallagher case that “You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get treated very unfairly.” Really, Mr. President? Isn’t this the reason we have trials, so that each person is treated fairly? Isn’t your abuse of executive power what undoes the system of justice? These men stand accused of vicious crimes by their fellow soldiers who are horrified and ashamed of the actions of their fellow soldier.
So, with the passing of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the celebrations of Memorial Day, can we let the courts of law of our country determine, as they did in Lt. Calley’s case, what true justice demands? We want to be proud of our troops and not ashamed by the way a non-military man hands out free passes.