Martin C. Evans

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Americans Increasingly Weary of Afghanistan War

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm

President Obama, honoring the Oct. 29, 2009 return of 18 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, including SSgt. Keith Bishop, of Medford (AP)

A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The grim assessment of what has become America’s longest war comes as the Obama administration prepares its one-year review of its revised strategy.

Overall,  only 34 percent of people canvassed in the ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month said the war has been worth fighting. Already, U.S. taxpayers have spent $370 billion on the 9-year war with no clear path to victory in sight.

Public dissatisfaction over the war could provide a drag on the already dreary 48.4 percent job approval rating saddling President Obama.

When President George W. Bush was in office, his job approval numbers declined along with public approval of the Iraq War. Support for the Iraq war sagged to below 40 percent between 2005 and early 2009, and Bush’s popularity sagged along with it.

Opposition to the war in Afghanistan is high even among Republicans, half of whom say it has not been worth the cost in blood and treasure.  Only one in three Independents say the war has been worth fighting, and only one in four Democrats.

Advertisements

Lost, But Not Forgotten: Twenty Indigent Vets Buried at Calverton

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

BY MARTIN C. EVANS, NEWSDAY – Amid the sound of bagpipes and the rattle of drums, ushered by kilted pipers past the solemn salutes of hundreds of well-wishers, the remains of 20 indigent U.S. military veterans were carried to their final resting places at Calverton National Cemetery Saturday.

The burial, attended by Reps. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) and Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), was the largest interment of unclaimed remains at any local veterans cemetery in the nation’s history, according to U.S. Veterans Affairs spokesman Jim Blue. Had they not been identified as veterans, who are entitled to burial in military cemeteries, the dead likely would have been sent to the city’s Potters Field.

The burial of indigent vets drew hundreds of veterans who paid their respects, including L.W. Murphy, a Vietnam veteran from Blue Point.

“These are virtually forgotten veterans who were literally left on the shelf,” said Lawrence Murphy, of Blue Point, who served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1971. Murphy, 62, was one of scores of flag-bearing veterans who formed a human colonnade at the cemetery’s snowbound entrance, as hearses bearing the 20 veterans eased past.

“To have the chance to recognize guys who have been forgotten is an honor.”

Burials done at no cost

The interments were arranged by Dignity Memorial, a nationwide network of funeral homes, after the City of New York asked for help with the burial of indigent veterans who had died there and had gone unclaimed at city morgues, some for as long as three years. Dignity Memorial provided the burials at no cost, said spokesman Chris Marsh.

Only the tiniest bits of these men’s lives are known, gleaned from a variety of decades-old records rendered incomplete or partly illegible by inattentive typists, poor photocopying or the yellowing of time. Records that might have given full military biographies to some of the men were lost in a 1973 fire at the U.S. Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which destroyed 16 million files.

But what records did show was that these 20 men had served their country from the 1940s through the 1970s in a variety of ranks, from private first class and medical field service technician to master sergeant.

Clifford Henry, 58, a former Navy petty officer 2nd class, had been a medical field service technician and a small-arms marksman. His place of enlistment was recorded as Jacksonville, N.C. The record is silent about where he was born, whether he ever married or where any of his relatives might be today.

James Rose was born in 1926 and died July 31. Nothing else – not his hometown, nor where he served, not even his Army rank – could be learned.

Terrance Holliday of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs said the men had gone unburied for so long because it is often difficult to confirm the veteran status of people who die poor and alone. The city, which by law may not transport remains of the dead beyond the city limits, depends on third-party organizations to bring indigent veterans to nearby veterans cemeteries.

Word quickly spread

Despite the anonymity in which the men died, word of their planned burial raced through area patriotic groups in the past week, spurring a larger than expected turnout of well wishers, organizers said.

Along the route the funeral procession took from the Queens border to the cemetery, volunteer fire companies strung huge American flags, and onlookers saluted from highway overpasses. Members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion Riders, Patriot Guard Riders, Nam Knights MC, US Veterans MC and Patriot Knights MC came out in force.

At the cemetery, several people who stood in the snow, including Bill and Rosetta Araujo, of Glen Oaks, Queens, wondered whether difficulty coping with post-military life had isolated the men.

“They just get lost,” said Rosetta Araujo. She said her husband still struggles with nightmares and bouts of rage related to his Vietnam War experience.

The ceremony drew several parents of Long Islanders killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. As the ceremony ended, members of a military honor guard folded American flags that had draped some of the coffins and presented them to these parents.

Chrystyna Kestler, whose son, Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, of Sag Harbor, was killed June 4 in Afghanistan, said she felt compelled to attend.

“I can hold this flag as a mother for a veteran who did not have family here,” said Kestler, who received a flag that had covered the coffin of Pfc. Miguel Lugo, an artilleryman who served in the 1950s and who died last year. “That is a privilege and an honor.”

101st Airborne Division Casualties Jump, As War Drags On

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2011 at 6:39 am

101st Airborne soldiers have suffered higher casualties amid the surge in Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo in 2009 by Sgt. Prentice C. Martin-Bowen/Released)

In early December, members of the 101th Airborne Division moved into a new outpost west of Kandahar, part of a joint effort to train Afghan forces. They headquartered in a mud-walled building by a narrow road near the village of Sangsar.

Within days, the building was rubble. A suicide bomber driving a van packed with explosives managed to pull alongside the building and detonate his deadly load. Six U.S. GIs were killed, and four more were wounded.

The surge announced last year by President Barack Obama has come at a heavy price for members of the 101st Airborne. The storied infantry division saw its Afghanistan war casualty count nearly triple last year, reaching 103 dead, according to the Louisville Courier Journal, which covers the 101st Airborne’s headquarters at Ft. Campbell, Ky..

Many of the casualties are the result of IEDs, as soldiers are performing more foot patrols in an effort to pacify Afghanistan’s Taliban-ridden south. Injuries can be grievous. Two double leg amputees were being worked on in adjacent operating rooms at a U.S. military hospital in Germany during a recent visit there by Newsday.

“Counterinsurgency is a tough fight,” the division’s commander, Maj. Gen. John Campbell, told The Courier-Journal in an e-mail from Afghanistan. He said Afghanistan’s complexities make it “much more difficult than what I faced in Baghdad during the surge.”

Please help Inside The Wire report on Long Island’s ties to the 101st Airborne by letting us know if you have family or friends based at Ft. Campbell. Write to me at martin.evans@newsday.com

Did Burn Pits Claim Life of West Babylon Man?

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Did a former West Babylon soldier contract the cancer that killed him from a routine military practice that has exposed hundreds of thousands of U.S. GIs to toxic gasses while they served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Newsday is reporting that the soldier, former Sgt. Bill McKenna, died at a Florida hospice Dec. 27 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
His wife Dina, a Lindenhurst native now living in Florida, insists that the rare cancer was the result of his daily inhalation of smoke from military burn pits during his wartime service.
McKenna, who in his free time during the 1980s and early 1990s played bass guitar with local metal bands Chemical Warfare and Skull Rot, was only 41.
McKenna enlisted in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and served two tours in Iraq.
While there, he was constantly exposed to smoke from the burn pits that Balad and virtually all US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan used daily to incinerate tons of plastic, medical waste, spent equipment and other trash.
The practice produced irritating chemical aerosols that many soldiers say left them with asthma and other respiratory problems.

 

Recent concerns about the possible link between burn pits and health troubles echo earlier anxieties of many Vietnam veterans, who believe their exposure to Agent Orange a generation earlier has led to a rash of premature deaths among them.

Newsday first reported on concerns related to burn pits a year ago.

That article cited the chief of the allergy section at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Anthony Szema, who told a congressional committee that the pits were exposing soldiers to mercury, arsenic, dioxins and other toxic combustion products released by the constantly smoldering pits.

 

Earlier this year, a federal judge allowed a class-action lawsuit to proceed against contractors who operated burn pits for the U.S. military, according to the Tampa Tribune. The lawsuit already has 300 plaintiffs in 43 states.