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May 26, 2016

This Weekend for Heroes

Harry M. Covert

The coming weekend will be bright and fair, perfect for the fun and sun beach enthusiasts and those enjoying backyard grilling or other restful pursuits.


Purpose of the time off is the nationwide honoring of those who serve and have served in the military of all times. I received my draft card classified as 1-A, which meant I was available to learn the intricacies of service. Somehow, the draft board forgot my name. I’ve been able to serve vicariously in the efforts of family members and friends and neighbors who were called upon in World War I, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada and other peace producing endeavors.


A couple of Frederick’s own, and there are many, didn’t hesitate and participated in the European theater. I’ll proudly name drop here about the late Maury Hassett. A gentle man who died in January at 96. He was a tail gunner and saw lots of action out of England and North Africa with the 358th Bomber Squadron and the 303rd Bomb Group (H) of the Army Air Corps.


Another hero is 90-year-old Norman E. Waltz, better known as Bob Waltz, a distinguished businessman, churchman and also a gentle man.


Another is 85-year-old Russell Delauter of Thurmont. A marine and veteran of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, not a police action even though some like to describe it that way. Mr. Delauter was a 19-year-old during that 17-day siege from November 27 to December 13, 1950. Some 120,000 troops encircled the Americans, but the 30,000 fought back inflicting massive crippling losses on the enemy. There’s no simpler adjective to use than calling Mr. Delauter and his comrades champions.


My family members have distinguished themselves. A Merchant Marine uncle survived two Deutschland U-boat attacks in the North Atlantic; another lived through the despicable Bataan death march; another in the navy; a brother in the Vietnam-era army; a son on the scene in Iraq in the Army. One childhood friend became an Air Force wartime jet pilot and another used his talents in the Army and then the Marines.


I want to avoid any platitudes or clichés paying homage to those veterans. It’s grand to recall them all for their service.


One of the sad things to remember today is the shabby treatment vets receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The day will come – and I hope not too far away – that will be solved. Somehow VA bureaucrats deserve big kicks in the tochus and lessons on how to eliminate red tape. I knew a four-star general whose nameplate was “Do It Now.” Yes, instead of his name it was “Do it Now.” He meant it and accomplished it.


During my world-wide travels in the 80s and 90s, I visited Zaire, the former Belgian Congo, and today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I was there so often I was familiar with President Mobutu Sese Seko. He died from cancer in 1997. He also treated me and colleagues well, enabling relief supplies to arrive without difficulty.


A year before his death I was invited to breakfast at his home in Gbadolite, his gargantuan palatial home. Breakfast was provided by Mobutu’s French chef, not southern style. During our small talk they asked if I needed anything to make efforts easy. Feeling a bit comfortable and at ease, I said I’d like to be an admiral in the Zairian navy, figuring a chuckle. Discussions then turned to distribution of food, flour, corn and various other needs.


Back in Kinshasa in mid-afternoon, Mobutu’s ambassador/brother-in-law arrived to report the president agreed to my promotion to admiral without portfolio, but there was a problem. There was only a presidential yacht on the River Zaire and no Navy and no remuneration. I appreciated the effort. I managed to explain I was being a bit cute.


I missed out on the joys of boot camps, jumping out of airplanes, swimming in the oceans, flying in rigid dirigibles, storming the beaches and possibly allowed into the military academies. I never forget though those millions who suffered and died. The world is a fortunate place and Americans should never forget the costs of the past and present.


Serving in the U.S. military is not a joke by any means. On this weekend, while everybody enjoys time in the slow lane, think about all the heroes still alive and those heroes forever.


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