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Veterans Day

We will always remember

We will always remember

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. There will be parades held across the country to honor those who have and do make the sacrifice of service. There will be visits to monuments, and for many there will be quiet reflections and tears for the price that has been paid for our freedom. There is a common bond that binds these soldiers and their families who share this journey, and it is one that is deserving of more than just one day of recognition, but on this day, we say with a grateful heart, Thank you.

The following story cannot be verified, and the author to the best of our knowledge is unknown, but something about this story makes you want to believe deep down that it’s true. Either way, it’s a touching story and a reminder to all of us as to the costs and burdens borne by those who rise up to the “call of duty”. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and fully appreciate what it means to pay the price.

Cemetery Escort Duty

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever — the heat and humidity at the same level — both too high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, ‘69 or ‘70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace.

An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”

But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the “In” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour at Smokey’s

I broke Post Attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint. “Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”

She took long enough to answer. “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”

“My pleasure Ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.

She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”

Vietnam, Ma’am. Ground-pounder. ‘69 to ‘71.”

She looked at me closer. “Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

I lied a little bigger “No hurry, Ma’am.”

She smiled, and winked at me. “Son, I’m 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”

“Yes, Ma’am. At your service.”

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek.

She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman USMC , 1944.

She paused for a second, “Two more, son, and we’ll be done.”

I almost didn’t say anything, but, “Yes, Ma’am. Take your time.”

She looked confused. “Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.” I pointed with my chin. “That way, Ma’am.” “Oh!” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970.

She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out. “OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?”

She paused. “Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephen was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines.” She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. “Get to the ‘Out’-gate quick. I have something I’ve got to do.”

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

“Kevin, stand at attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead.” I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: “TehenHut! Present Haaaarms!”

I have to hand it to Kevin, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Instead of “The End”….just think of “Taps”.

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Captain Calvin Maxwell Remembered

October 10, 1969 – October 10, 2009

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Capt. Calvin Maxwell, MIA

Today marks 40 years that Captain Calvin Maxwell went missing in Vietnam.  I was 21 when I ordered a POW/MIA bracelet to wear for a soldier who needed prayer for a safe return.  That was 37 years ago, and today I sit here wearing that same bracelet acknowledging what this day means and, offering a pray for his family who for the past 40 years have been denied closure or knowing with any certainty the final fate of their loved one.

Over the years when I have cleaned things out or given items away, I could never part with the bracelet.  I felt that if I threw it away, it would be like giving up hope that he did make it home or worse if there was no one to remember this soldier, he would be forgotten. I wear the bracelet randomly, but always on days that are acknowledgments of the freedoms we are afforded in this country and for those who pay the price by their sacrifice to defend us.

By stark contrast this time last week, I was in Miami attending my 40th HS reunion reconnecting with friends and classmates I have known for most of my life.  It was an amazing weekend full of laughter and reminiscing of our youth and the adventures of growing up in a much simpler time.

It struck me the difference between two 40th year events separated by only a weekend and how dramatically different they are from one another.

In honor of my soldier who in fact did not make it home – you have not been forgotten for your name is etched into this bracelet and for all the years I have hoped and prayed for you, it has been etched into my heart.

Name:

Calvin Walter Maxwell

Rank/Branch:

Major/US Army

Unit: Headquarters and Headquarters Battery
6th Battalion, 14th Artillery
52nd Artillery Group,
1st Field Force Vietnam Artillery

DOB: 06 November 1943 (Atlantic City, NJ)

Eddy, NM

10 October 1969

South Vietnam

Missing in Action

2

O1G “Bird Dog”

Franklin L. Weisner (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Cessna O1 Bird Dog was primarily used by the Army as a liaison and observation aircraft. It brought not only an aerial method of locating targets, but the rudiments of a system of strike coordination between different types of aircraft used in the air war as well as with the different branches of the service who were operating in the same area. The Bird Dog was also used very successfully as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) since it could fly low and slow carrying marker rounds of ammunition to identify enemy positions for the attack aircraft.

On 10 October 1969, 1st Lt. Franklin L. Weisner, pilot assigned to the 219th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade; and then Capt. Calvin W. Maxwell, observer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 6th Battalion, 14th Artillery; comprised the crew of an O1G Bird Dog (serial #51-11942). Their assignment was to fly as the “high aircraft” in a flight of two Bird Dogs on a high/low search mission. A high/low search involved a “low” aircraft moving slower and closer to the ground looking for targets while the “high” aircraft confirmed the location and identification of the target.

The low aircraft made radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner as they were proceeding down a valley about 6 miles northeast of the city of Dak Pek and 30 miles north of Dak To, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. About 10 or 15 seconds after this radio contact with 1st Lt. Weisner, the crew of the low aircraft received a radio transmission in which they heard screams and moans. No further contact could be established with the crew of the high aircraft. Immediately a search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated.

On 13 October, search aircraft found the wreckage of the Bird Dog lying inverted in a fast-flowing river running through the hotly contested and extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles south of a primary east/west road and 5 miles east of a primary north/south road that branched off of the first road northwest of the crashsite. Roughly 6 miles east of the crashsite, the east/west road made a 90-degree turn to the south. This location was also 12 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and 33 miles northeast of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia joined.

Ground search teams were brought into the area by helicopter the next day and confirmed the tail number as being that of 1st Lt. Weisner’s and Capt. Maxwell’s aircraft. By examining the crash site, the search team established the aircraft hit a cliff above the river and slid into its present position. They also found barefoot tracks of four people in the area, but no bodies of the missing crew were located in or around the crashsite or downstream.

Military scuba divers were brought in to examine the wreckage for remains.

The team reported that both seat belts and shoulder harnesses were still hooked together in the cockpit, but no seat pads remained in the aircraft. One seat pad and an aviator’s helmet were located approximately 100 meters downstream of the crash. Further, two 30-caliber holes were found in the aircraft, but because of their location, neither one would have caused the aircraft to go down nor would the bullets have hit either crewman. For unknown reasons those individuals who visited the crash site before the Americans arrived carried an 8-inch thick tree to the site and left it there.

All searches were terminated on 18 October. At the time the military believed there was a reasonable chance both men could have been swept out of their seats and the aircraft by the swift current without unbuckling their straps, Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell were listed Missing in Action.

If Franklin Weisner and Calvin Maxwell died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is little question that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

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How to Fix the Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA versus The IRS

As the backlogged number of unprocessed VA claims is knocking on the door of 1 Million, one has to wonder is anybody really at home.  Is anyone really trying to find “the” solution of how to fix and bring this broken agency up to the standards our veterans and their families deserve?

I had high hopes for the new VA administration, but to date, have not been impressed.  Every day there is yet another story about a Regional Office that has been caught shredding and changing dates on applications, or boxes of unopened applications are being discovered.  There are not enough fingers to cover the holes in this dam.

If the IRS was having this issue with collecting taxes from “We the People”, I can promise you that this would have been resolved and systems put into place to make certain it would never happen again.  Of this you can be certain, the IRS would not stand by and have 1 million tax returns waiting to be processed.

So here is my take on all this and a couple of questions that I believe bear asking.

I think the VA needs to take a crash course in how the IRS does things.  These folks don’t lose tax returns, they keep up with every dime you make.  You can file on-line, they know if you haven’t filed, and if you are owed a refund, you can expect it in 30-45 days.  If you owe money and don’t pay, you are assessed a penalty and will pay dearly for that.  It’s a big incentive for making sure you allot the right amount of deductions. Most of us hope to never know what an audit notification looks like.

If your taxes are complicated or more than you want to deal with, you can make an appointment with the fine folks at H&R Block or your personal accountant and pay someone to prepare them for you.

Now here is where I take issue:  How is it that you can legally seek the expertise of someone who understands complicated tax laws, forms, and all the legitimate deductions and credits you are entitled to just to make certain that the IRS gets a full accounting of your finances and their piece of your pie, but veterans and their families legally are restricted from any assistance attached with a fee and are left to figure it out on their own?

Two government agencies, two different approaches, two different agendas.

It is legal to make sure you pay your taxes, but illegal to make certain your claim for benefits is correct and complete in order to “receive” your entitlements. Interesting that there should be such a stark contrast between the two and who actually benefits from this arrangement.

Decades ago the VA instituted a law that an attorney could not charge a veteran more than $10.00 for representing him.  This was done to “protect” the veteran from being taken advantage of by those who would be so inclined to do so.

So one might have to ask, who is truthfully exploiting and taking advantage of our veterans and their families? Considering some recent actions on the part of the VA, the answer to this question may not be what you’d expect.

The application for Improved Pension was originally a 4-page, simple straight forward application.  Due to the benefit being highlighted and the rise in the number of applications being submitted, the VA decided it was time to increase it to a 26-page application, and write it so that you probably won’t figure it out increasing the odds they won’t have to pay or at the very least delay having to pay.

While the benefit sat idle and unused, 4 pages seemed to make perfect sense.  Now that Baby Boomers are our largest demographic and the VA is being flooded with applications for Aid and Attendance, whose best interest is it in that the process should suddenly become so much more complicated?  The veteran is not who first comes to mind as to who stands to gain the most from this change. It seems a little suspect as to the true motivation for having done so.  Is the VA once again “protecting” the veteran?

If you don’t get it right the first time, you should not feel too badly about it as the national rate of applications being returned to the originating VA regional and local offices as being incomplete or missing documentation is 46%.

I wonder if these same employees who failed VA “Open Book” tests could find permanent employment with the IRS.  I suspect that performance standards are probably just a “little” higher. Millions of taxpayer’s monies going uncollected – not going to happen, but it is ok for a million veterans to be waiting on the VA to get it right. There is something incredibly wrong with this scenario.

The VA continues to operate off an antiquated “Fiduciary” process refusing to acknowledge POA or DPOA. The IRS acknowledges POA. Your mom or dad might have some investments that pay dividends, so there may be some monies to be collected, so for the sake of efficiency they will gladly work with you to assure a proper return has been filed.

The VA’s refusal to respond to the demands of accepting POA and doing away with the fiduciary process is once again done in the name of “protecting” the veteran.  According to the VA they have to make certain that the family member or other interested party who holds POA can’t take advantage of the veteran or widow and have access to the pension money to spend at their discretion such as purchasing Depends or Ensure.

I’m sure that somewhere there is someone who absconded with funds they were not entitled to and did in fact take advantage of a veteran, but I’m willing to wager a guess that most who are providing care for a loved one have spent the check out of their own pocket long before it is received.

It is the lesser of two evils.  On one hand you have the family member who is taking advantage of the veteran or widow by writing a check every month to the ALF or caregiver hoping they will have enough to pay it as credit cards are maxed out and all funds have been depleted while waiting to be approved as a fiduciary.

On the other hand you have the VA who wants to take months to arrange for a fiduciary to be appointed without much care as to how you will pay for everything pending their approval.  In the meantime if you have to move your loved one to a lesser quality facility due to costs, or arrange to bring them in-home and provide the care yourself, keep in mind the VA is only doing their job and “protecting” the veteran or widow.

So if the veteran is doing without basic essentials and is living in conditions that are not healthy or services being provided are not adequate even though they are entitled to the pension which would allow for better care and services, who is really taking advantage of the veteran?

All of this “protecting” has created an “opportunity for many individuals and companies to “Carpe Diem”  – Seize the Moment and many of these folks, but not all, have found a way to use filing for this pension as a revenue generator, and doing so under the guise of reaching out to veterans and their families at no cost for their assistance to make application, but it sure helps if mom and dad need someone to manage their investments and move them around so they will qualify for the pension from a financial standpoint.

Seminars are being held daily nationwide at $500.00 a session to learn how you too can use this pension to recruit new business and increase your sales. Don’t overlook the kids who are taking care of mom and dad, they will be so grateful for your assistance they will want you to manage their assets as well.  While you are at it, sell some annuities.

What most don’t realize is that by moving things around to a trust or annuity can often mean that when mom or dad need that money to continue paying for their care, they won’t have access to it.  It will sit in that trust until they die and the beneficiaries get it.

For those who are fortunate enough to have assets that need protecting, these services are valid, but for those who go into this situation strictly based on wanting to file for this pension, you need to educate yourself on whether this is truly in your best interest in the long run.

Again this frenzy of businesses using this pension to get in the hen house is largely due to the fact that the VA has created a need for these services due to the lack of information, the lack of trained employees well versed in Improved Pension, taking a simple application and turning it into more than it needs to be.  If it was as originally designed – a simple 4- page application based on meeting the need for assistance and financial guidelines, there would not be a need nor an opportunity for those who use this as a calling card.

As a result, the VA has responded by now sending out an additional form to those who submit an application that they have to sign stating that neither they nor the veteran have paid anyone for any type of assistance in completing the application.  The application will not be processed until this form has been returned.

So in the name of “protecting” the veteran, which in my opinion translates to denying the veteran, there is yet another hurdle to jump through.

Rather an unfair dynamic that the VA has its attorneys and council, but a veteran is not entitled to any representation upon making an initial application for any benefit or compensation.  They are only entitled to representation if they are appealing a decision on their claim while the IRS wants to make sure you get it right the first time.

Of the two, which do you think is more efficient?

There are more of us that file income tax returns than there are veterans/widows filing for benefits, so how is it that the IRS can receive and process a higher volume of paper so seamlessly while the VA claims they never received the application even though you have a signed “Registered Return Receipt” proving that they did?

If you posed the question of why the IRS created the EZ form while the VA took an easy form and turned it into 26 pages, it really is self explanatory.  One wants your money and the other hedges their bets they can keep their money.

This mindset is nothing new.  For insight as to how long this treatment and mentality has been permitted and promoted, one need look no further than what was done to the “Bonus Army” when our veterans marched into Washington in 1932 demanding what had been promised.  Not much has changed in 77 years.  Do yourself a favor and Google “Bonus Army”. You’ll be enlightened for having done so.

I know there are a lot of good hardworking people at the VA and local offices who have the right intent, but they are only acting under the directives they have been given. What I want to know is who signs the memo authorizing these practices.

When bonuses hinge on giving a veteran the lowest possible disability rating rather than the rating they deserve, I’m hard pressed to believe that this qualifies as acting in the veteran’s best interest.  Make no mistake here, there is a vested interest, but somewhere along the way the interest got shifted to self serving.

Like solving any other mystery – follow the money.

Until such time that the VA can get its house in order, I think the individuals who do nothing but help file for Improved Pension and have no hidden agenda or want to sell you anything, should have the right to provide the same assistance as your accountant does. Most of these well intended folks have to stay behind closed doors for fear of retribution by the VA for actually helping a veteran make a correct application.

The VA will argue that the veteran is entitled to assistance with filing for free, but when the SO of the office you walk into knows nothing about the pension, or says you don’t qualify, when actually you do, “free” comes at a pretty hefty price.

Yes these folks (the good ones) who work secretly behind the scenes helping veterans and their families should be able to charge a modest fee for their expertise and assistance, but the VA will never sanction anything of the likes, they have too much to lose.

There would be too many applications to approve with no reason to deny them.  There are budgets to be justified, bonuses to be earned, and credits for getting a Service Organization assigned as Claimant’s Representative rather than the family member so that you can’t call and inquire about the status of the claim.  The SO isn’t paying the monthly bill so they won’t have much motivation to follow up and press for a ruling or approval. And lastly they are busy making sure that no one other than them can “take advantage” of a veteran or widow.

The IRS has a few free months before it is tax season again. Maybe they can step in and show the VA how to get the job done.Better yet, instead of employees getting bonuses for the highest number of denied applications or lowest disability ratings given, how about an imposed penalty with incurring interest for any application that takes longer than 90 days to process!

Now there’s an idea that has merit.

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I Am the Flag

Today I attended the funeral of a very dear family friend who will be greatly missed by family and friends alike.

Hal was quite a character. A little rough around the edges with eyes that reflected a life that had been challenging at times. He had a deep, warm and rich laugh that was infectious, and he never met a stranger.

Always telling the same jokes over and over to anyone who would listen. He was a little ornery and loved to pull pranks. A “gotcha” kind of guy.

He was unpretentious and just about as down to earth as anyone could be – just your basic guy with an average life who just also happened to be a proud Marine in his prime, and gave all he had to his country.

I had never attended a funeral service with Military Honors before today. The backdrop was something scripted out of a movie. It was a chilly, rainy day with dark skies shielded by black umbrellas all lending to the heaviness to this day of sorrow.

I stood riveted as the Honor Guard performed the ceremony of removing the casket from the hearse and carried Hal’s flagged draped coffin into the sanctuary with the dignity and honor reserved for our service men and women, our veterans. The French doors to the left of where the casket was to be placed revealed a lone Guard member standing at the edge of the field at full salute as Hal proceeded on his journey to his final resting place.

The folding of the flag was the definition of “precision” with crisp snaps that echoed in the sanctuary, and when the young man bent to present the folded flag to Hal’s oldest son, it was a moment I won’t forget.

The remaining Guard members formed procession and joined the lone Guard in the field to perform the 3-volley riffle salute. In the sanctuary, one young, proud Marine stood alone at full salute in military dress as Taps was played for the grandfather whose footsteps he had chosen to follow in. The grandfather who was a simple man who did an extraordinary thing to all the lives he touched, and on this day was given the recognition for being a soldier and for a job well done.

Before being dismissed from services, the Pastor read a poem I had not heard before entitled “I Am the Flag” by Ruth Apperson-Rous. This pride, this sentiment written many decades ago represents what I witnessed today in the final salute to Hal Everett.

I am the Flag
by Ruth Apperson Rous

I am the flag of the United States of America.

I was born on June 14, 1777, in Philadelphia.

There the Continental Congress adopted my stars and stripes as the national flag.

My thirteen stripes alternating red and white, with a union of thirteen white stars in a field of blue, represented a new constellation, a new nation dedicated to the personal and religious liberty of mankind.

Today fifty stars signal from my union, one for each of the fifty sovereign states in the greatest constitutional republic the world has ever known.

My colors symbolize the patriotic ideals and spiritual qualities of the citizens of my country.

My red stripes proclaim the fearless courage and integrity of American men and boys and the self-sacrifice and devotion of American mothers and daughters.

My white stripes stand for liberty and equality for all.

My blue is the blue of heaven, loyalty, and faith.

I represent these eternal principles: liberty, justice, and humanity.

I embody American freedom: freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press, and the sanctity of the home.

I typify that indomitable spirit of determination brought to my land by Christopher Columbus and by all my forefathers – the Pilgrims, Puritans, settlers at James town and Plymouth.

I am as old as my nation.

I am a living symbol of my nation’s law: the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

I voice Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy: “A government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

I stand guard over my nation’s schools, the seedbed of good citizenship and true patriotism.

I am displayed in every schoolroom throughout my nation; every school yard has a flag pole for my
display.

Daily thousands upon thousands of boys and girls pledge their allegiance to me and my country.

I have my own law—Public Law 829, “The Flag Code” – which definitely states my correct use and display for all occasions and situations.

I have my special day, Flag Day. June 14 is set aside to honor my birth.

Americans, I am the sacred emblem of your country. I symbolize your birthright, your heritage of liberty purchased with blood and sorrow.

I am your title deed of freedom, which is yours to enjoy and hold in trust for posterity.

If you fail to keep this sacred trust inviolate, if I am nullified and destroyed, you and your children will become slaves to dictators and despots.

Eternal vigilance is your price of freedom.

As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country, remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are – no more, no less.

Guard me well, lest your freedom perish from the earth.

Dedicate your lives to those principles for which I stand: “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I was created in freedom. I made my first appearance in a battle for human liberty.

God grant that I may spend eternity in my “land of the free and the home of the brave” and that I shall ever be known as “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America.

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