A Memorial Day Reminder About Honor And Integrity

By Donald A. Collins | 29 May 2024
Church and State

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

At the beginning of his 2016 campaign, which brought Donald Trump to the presidency, he was asked about the late Senator John McCain, a fighter pilot downed and imprisoned during the Vietnam War.

Trump’s statement which molded my entire opinion of the man which he has subsequently more than fulfilled as the most despicable president in the history of our republic.

Trump said “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured.”

To me Trump’s subsequent lies and his remark about the ease of grabbing women by the genitals pales by comparison to the implications of his unfeeling dismissal of patriotism and the integrity needed to serve one’s country!

Despite having no shred of either of these qualities, Trump’s excellent chance to serve a 2nd term as President should make all Americans wince in deeply disturbed disbelief!

Ken Burns’s May 29th address to the 2024 Graduating class at Brandeis University relates precisely to this moment in our history and deserves special attention. Read his speech here.

Watching the May 26th presentation on tv of the annual WETA Memorial Day celebration program with the US Capitol standing majestically over the whole scene behind the performers one could feel sharply the sacrifices so many have made to protect and preserve the freedoms many of our citizens seem to be taking for granted!

This year’s event featured horrific films of WWII, Korean and Vietnam battle scenes followed by inspiring stories of the many wounded whose lives were so altered by their injuries. Those who recovered from incredibly serious wounds gave us all a sense of pride at their resilience and courage, so needed today.

I couldn’t help remembering my friend Jim Stockdale who experienced six years of solitary incarceration in a Hanoi prison he called the Hanoi Hilton after being shot down during in that ill-advised Vietnam war.

I was introduced to Jim through my friend Richard Burress a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Dick was so modest. In our frequent times together over many years, he never once mentioned he had led a platoon in the historic WWII battle of Iwo Jima. After WWII he got a law degree and began a distinguished career which you can read about here.

Not mentioned in this Hoover Institution account of Burress’ career was the series of one act plays he brought to the San Francisco Bohemian Club. They all included fellow club member Stockdale, also a Senior Fellow at Hoover. Dick’s plays used a small cast of four Club members who would sit on stools facing the audience to read their lines. In plays about key moments in American history, Jim from injuries in Vietnam couldn’t bend one leg which struck straight out as he performed.

In February 1993 the day before leaving with an expert group I had assembled to study a Vietnamese family planning program, I had dinner with Dick and Jim at the Bohemian Club. Jim had just returned from a trip to Hanoi. He told me he could not visit his place of incarceration as the Hanoi prison in which he and his fellow prisoners, one of them John McCain, as the Hanoi Hilton had been turned into a museum. On our trip to Hanoi my group visited the museum which featured its plaster manikins of tortured looking Vietnamese soldiers who had been imprisoned there under the French occupation whose “salvation” from communism America foolishly attempted.

In 1984 Jim and his wife Sybil wrote a book entitled “In Love and War”, a history of their experiences as she tried without success to gain his early release and he led his imprisoned mates by communicating messages of strength, endurance and even humor by tapping pipes which somehow connected their cells.

Startling news was was about his flight above the Tonkin Gulf when he told me at that SF dinner that America fired the first shots that started the Vietnam war, which President Johnson initially denied but later it was admitted.

Here is his statement from In Love and War, Chapter 5, page 90–on August 5, 1965 when he wrote, “I led the (Air War) strike that started it. ….A year ago I’d seen myself as a shield of protection between my pilots and the North Vietnamese: Now I saw myself a shield of protection between my pilots and McNamara’s Pentagon whiz kids.”

As I reread my inscribed copy, in my admiration for her and Jim and his mates, I realize I would never have been able to survive that kind of incarceration!!

Their book is still available on Amazon and continues to get 5-star reviews nearly 40 years after its publication in 1985.

I feel so honored to have known as friends these two distinguished American heroes (one of whom was captured, Mr. Trump, the other surviving the most celebrated battle of WWll in the Pacific)! They symbolize the quality of Americans who represented what is often called our greatest generation!

We can only hope as we approach November 5th that enough voters can differentiate the vast gap of character between Trump and those described above.

As I just wrote in my last op ed “If Trump wins Putin Wins”, our country will continue its slide toward mediocrity, violence, hate and corruption. Note how Putin and his cronies stole freedom and diverted wealth intended for public welfare into an impregnable oligarchy.

With Trump there is now really only one question. Will he lose on November 5th and likely go to jail or will he be our next President.

Take heed, Folks!!!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC, has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of “From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013”, “Trump Becoming Macbeth: Will our democracy survive?”, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion by 2100?”, “What Can Be Done Now to Save Habitable Life on Planet Earth?”, “Vote”, “Can Homo Sapiens Survive?”, “Will Choice and Democracy Win?”, “Can Our U.S. Survive 8 Plus Billion of Us”, “Economic Growth: A Cancer on all Earthly Life”, “On the Precipice of Political Disaster in 2024” and “Democracy at Red State Risk”.

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Trump: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured” (C-SPAN)

The Incredible Stoicism of Admiral James Stockdale

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