To the Editor:
I recall some memorable birthdays while in service to Uncle Sam. I began my 20th birthday perched upon the ramp of an armored personnel carrier during field maneuvers, contemplating the end of my teens while watching the morning sun dapple rays upon 13th century castle ruins near Hohenfels, (then) West Germany. My 21st birthday found me prepping for guard duty, also in Hohenfels.
Captain Elmer Wilson hosted me for my 19th birthday at a Ft. Polk, Louisiana, rifle range. He was not aware of that, however, while chewing my backside for disobeying an order. Rest assured, it was unintentional. Following a rash of barracks theft, Capt. Wilson had issued a blanket order that all personal lockers would be secured while not in use. Following a mad scramble to make formation one morning, the report of my open, dangling lock represented a challenge to the captain’s authority.
He chose to impose “nonjudicial” punishment, including a small fine. I thought of the incident in the kerfuffle over President Trump’s interference into the military judicial matter of CPO, and Navy SEAL, Eddie Gallagher. Where was my intervention from the president?
A peek at the president’s daily schedule from the time revealed that Gerald Ford had a much different approach to his job than our current chief executive. As he navigated the end of America’s long involvement in a far off war in early 1975, President Ford searched for sound advice from knowledgeable folks. So secure in his leadership ability, in fact, it’s astonishing, now, to note that Republican president’s approval of a bi-partisan, fact-finding congressional delegation visit to southeast Asia, which included more members of the opposing party than of his own. (Among them, liberal Congresswoman Bella Abzug, a noted critic of Mr. Ford and of Vietnam policy.)
President Ford was busy, as well, preparing for nuclear arms negotiations (SALT) with the Soviet Union, so he had no time to nose into the lower levels of military justice. It should disturb us when a former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Lt. General David Barno, observed about the Gallagher matter: “This undermines chain-of-command in the military, and efforts to hold troops accountable …” Barno continued: “It’s worrisome that the president seems disproportionately influenced not by senior military leadership, but by Fox TV.”
There was no Fox televised cheering section for poor Ford. It was once reported that Ford’s young golden retriever, Liberty, left a mess on the Oval Office carpet soon after his master became president. When a Navy steward moved to clean up, the president intervened, telling the young sailor, “No man should have to clean up after another man’s dog!”
That was about as friendly as the media got for the 38th president.