Veterans Day 2013

Ronald was a quiet, pleasant farm kid. He was active in Future Farmers of America.

Ronald Coker in his FFA jacket. [1965 Alliance High School annual]

Ronald Coker in his FFA jacket. [1965 Alliance High School annual]

He sat ahead of me in study hall one year when we were in high school.

I don’t remember much about him because he was a year ahead of me in school, but nothing about Ronald suggested to me his future path as a United States Marine in Vietnam.

Ronald’s senior photo:

Ronald Coker [1965 Alliance High School annual]

Ronald Coker [1965 Alliance High School annual]

He had under four years to live.

Originally broadcast in advance of Memorial Day 2009, this KCSR (Chadron, NE) radio audio tells the story of Ronald Coker and how he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor:

When I was at boot camp in Fort Lewis, Washington, I remember the drill sergeant telling us “Don’t be a hero. A hero isn’t the guy who dies for his country, he’s the guy you make die for his country.”

Bullshit. History sometimes proves otherwise.

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13 thoughts on “Veterans Day 2013

  1. Very enjoyable reading though!

    Wow, I just looked it up and there are over TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND castles in Germany. Many of them are massive and make ours look like boring toy castles.

    I must have spent too much of my younger life watching c**p TV and always thought there was Colditz and around four or five others and Germany was full of boring two up and two downs that all looked the same and even the countryside was full of smoke from factories. It just shows how misguided a person can be. Was I brainwashed or something?

    Apparently many of the castles are lived in. Now that means there must be a lot of people with a potload of money there. The unspoilt countryside is so beautiful. I could be wrong but it looks like they don’t allow too much pollution as it seems to be very pure.

    So what if the people who are organising all the chemtrails and genetic engineering in the US and the Gulf oil clean up (all Americans ought to watch the Jesse Ventura gulf oil spill programme as it is a massive scandal what has happened and they think it’s because they want to clear the whole of the Gulf of human habitation for oil exploration and there is one company that has made billions out of the cleanup).

    FEMA trains, guillotines, vaccinations, generally trashing the country, and all the rest of it, don’t even live in the US, but apart from the obvious Barbados and what have you, half of them live in Germany? Or at least they have their places reserved, Germany and elsewhere, and are planning their escape when the time is right. Now, that raises more questions than it answers….

    BTW, where did all the nazis go after the war? That is apart from the token sacrificial lambs such as Rudolph Hess? Better not carry on down this line of thinking, it’s giving me the creeps….

    • They scattered to the winds, and some survived inside Germany and other places in Europe after imprisonment or through stealth. Klaus Barbie, Mengele in South America, Werner von Braun as the German scientist most responsible for putting an American first on the moon…!

      Most are dead, but the madness lives on in new generations.

      As for post traumatic stress syndrome, I recognize how serious it is and how debilitating it and other mental issues can be. I honestly don’t know what someone needs to do in support of people working through PTSD, but I am sympathetic, empathetic to the point I do recognize it or understand someone has it. I’m sorry you have that to deal with, though I suspect you have a benefit over some or most people dealing with it in that you are articulate and seem willing to work through complex issues in general.

  2. He’s a beautiful looking boy. Many of them were. I have 7,000 people on my tree with at least 15 who died in WW1 and then others who died in WW2. It seems pointless, but of course they weren’t pointless wars. The Nazi machine had to be stopped. Or so we were led to believe. I found out the other day not only my father was in WW2 – 1942-1945 in North Africa, but my grandfather was in WW1. I’m still suffering now because of it. My only sister suffered terribly as for the first 2.5 years of her life she didn’t have a daddy, and it couldn’t have been easy when he came back sick either and she told me she felt the absence of her father very deeply and I’m sure it contributed to her early death at only 59.

    From across the pond, without knowing much about why, only that it did cause untold suffering to multitudes of people, it did look like Vietnam should never have happened. I don’t know why it was supposed to have started and what it was about and if I wasn’t up to my ears in other things at the moment, I would go and learn now.

    I know there are a great many vets suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder which is a hellish thing that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and I know because I suffer from it myself. I have suffered from it for 14 years now and I honestly don’t know how I’m still alive. PTSD usually results in total breakdown, often 15 or 20 years later, loss of ALL relationships, – sufferers are known to hang out with down and outs by choice or with alcoholics and drug addicts even when they are not one themselves – and often does result in alcoholism and drug addiction, and suicide.

    Probably the worst part of it being that for the most part you are on your own, no one really understands what it is like to suffer from this, except another sufferer who usually will be too caught up in his own battle for survival to deal with hearing about anyone else’s. One finds a whole range of reactions from “pull yourself together” to “you are making a bit of a fuss about nothing.” In that regard I gave up a long time ago. I don’t believe I’m being over-dramatic when I say In a way, it is a hellish thing, a kind of a living death. Some – maybe even many – of these people would say that it would have better for them if they had perished.

    I think the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD is far higher than we are led to believe. I think even a number of ordinary folk have it, as it is not only war that causes it. It’s not always the extent of seriousness that causes it to be so bad either, although that will be a factor. I absolutely hate people to think I am making a fuss about nothing, but that’s just one of the difficulties that this condition carries with it. I know I’m not though and the psychologist who diagnosed me said that on the scale of things that happen it was very bad.

    I meant to say thank you for letting me know about the American flag. I will mention it but I know it’s only there as a drape over a book of remembrance as right by the Chapel is a beach where many American soldiers lost their lives in friendly fire when they were practising for the Normandy landings. There is a website about it called “Operation Tiger”.

    • I remember seeing something on Operation Tiger, perhaps History Channel. I don’t think it generally is well known today in view of the bigger event on June 6, 1944. That’s unfortunate, considering the huge loss of life. I’m sure it mustn’t have been publicized for the homefolks at the time, given the nature of the event.

    • Thanks. Every week, when I do my Thursday volunteer duties at the local military museum, I see the display showing Ron’s CMH citation, his photos, his grave, and nothing struck me so hard as the radio broadcast above. No glory of war there, just grit, blasted bad luck, and a drive to survive to help one’s mates, oneself if possible. I cried, frankly. The spoken words are more powerful than the dry, written citation with its crisp military matter-of-factness.

  3. Well I certainly think there is a gigantic question mark over whether the US ought to have gone into Vietnam and another huge question mark over whether they ought to have gone into Iraq. It was totally different with the Nazis, as our freedom had to be defended. I came across one marriage yesterday where the document stated only names and date and “Juden und Dissident” and another with just a few words where they were forced to renounce their German citizenship and become stateless. They did not beat about the bush.

    I’m sure the Nazis had and have today many more sympathisers than one is led to believe, even in England and in the US and they weren’t all raging redneck Clan either. They have to be pretty mentally limited to realise that the Jews, the gypsies, the intellectuals, the artists, the homosexuals, and…. and….. and…. and then anyone who disagrees and then it would have been them next.

    As I’m one-quarter solidly Jewish, with Romany gipsy blood and a bit of a Bohemian (although I hasten to add 100% straight) I would have been long gone!

    The shocking thing I have found is that they made no allowance for age, so whether you were 5, 15, 35, 55, or 75 or 80, the treatment was the same. Inhuman is not in it. They had to be stopped.

    By no means did the persecution start with the Nazis either and I have an 1841 document with my 3gg’s name on it sending money from Hamelin to the German government in Hanover which was protection money for the 12 Jews in the town.

    I’ve been amazed to see the might of Germany for the first time, with all its hundreds of huge castles that have been standing for many hundreds of years. I saw somewhere it said Germany is to castles what Venice is to canals. What an amazing place though. The stories of the Brothers Grimm were based on true stories and folklore, there is a real Sleeping Beauty Castle Sababurg, now used for weddings, and the present owner said when he bought it in 1957 it was surrounded by thorny rose briars.

    WD based Disneyland on Germany and having seen the real thing – well on the internet! – which I hadn’t really looked at before, Disneyland is a poor shadow of the real thing and quite yuk.

    I greatly enjoyed this virtual trip to Hamelin on what is called the fairytale route where my 3rd and 4th (Jewish) grandfather came from:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqDnNOCJNRg

    Isn’t Youtube wonderful you can even go on holiday from your own home!

    No, I’m not a fan of Germans either but there are more Americans with German blood than Irish, African or English! Need I say more?!

    • I feel the last war the US had any business in might have been the Korean Conflict (“might have been”), but WWII definitely is one we had to be in because there is no doubt this country had a possibility of losing to totalitarian regimes in Japan and Germany. I’d say it is the last legitimate war we entered.

      My service as a Combat Motion Picture Photographer (job description) in West Germany in 1970-1972 was pleasant. I enjoyed Germany, the people, the culture (I am a big fan of German Baroque music, for example and Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and others), the landscape, the food, the history (not for the glory, but for the reality of actual events just read about, not witnessed). For example, I visited Dachau on a glum, misty day, and there was a musty smell that I didn’t want to identify…!

      Munich was in the process of building up for the 1972 Olympics, and was vibrant, confusing for all the roadblocks and detours in the city, and, yes, the Oktoberfest in THE Bierhalle where Hitler started out, though, by then, it was just oompah bands, hefty beer stein totting Maedchens in Dirndls, and drunken Germans and tourists singing “Ein prosit, ein prosit, der Gemuetlichkeit…!”

      Schloss Neuschwannstein in Bavaria was pictureseque, as were all the castles on the Rhein. The Deutsche Weinstrasse was near to where I was stationed, and the wine was nicely priced, delicious, and the best of the country’s output.

      The whole country felt new, clean, though there were old things scattered about, amazing survivors of every conflict from the 30 Years War to WWII (sometimes even more); some, like West Berlin, were a party in a fishbowl, with the destruction of WWII visible across the wall in East Berlin, in places, and the shell of the Reichstag in a vast, empty field of weeds, in others.

      Many people there then were old enough to remember the war, or, worse, to have participated in the atrocities. That darker side was hidden beneath the reconstruction, the Economic Miracle that hit its stride in that time period: Germans were beginning to prosper again, and didn’t want to remember.

      On the Schloss Heidelberg hill, there was an antique shop. Some friends visiting from Paris and I walked past the shop, looked in the front window, and the shopkeeper stuck some Nazi memorabilia in the window, smiled at us, and hoped for a quick sell to non-Germans – we were that obviously NOT German, because of clothes, my military haircut, and whatever other clues we gave off. We looked at each other, indicated with gestures we weren’t interested to the shopkeeper, who quickly removed the items from the window: It was (and is!) against the law to have such things in Germany! He knew it, I knew it, and my friends visiting from France learned about it then, if they didn’t know.

      I lived in an apartment on Beethovenstrasse for a time. My landlady was a sweet German Hausfrau whose husband (deceased) and daughter both were dentists. The practice was on the first floor of the building where I rented an apartment with two others.

      Because I spoke enough German to get along, it became my lovely chore to visit with Frau H. each month to determine how much we owed for rent. (Turns out we were paying for the utilities for the whole building! That revelation came after we moved out and one of the three of us stayed with his German girlfriend. She was the one who figured this out.)

      Frau H. and I had our little ritual. We had some small talk, she offered me liqueurs and cookies, we established how much we owed in marks, and negotiated how much we could take off by giving her cigarettes (!), which we got for $2.00 a carton of 200 at the base exchange, and she traded to tradesmen for repairs and such. At the time, German cigarettes cost about $2.50 a pack of 20 (as I recall), so, regardless of how close I am to the actual German price, the point being she was able to make out like a bandit on her exchanges with tradesmen, and we got a nice amount chopped of our rent .

      Another thing that worked in our favor: Americans are major waste producers! Three Americans produced lots of paper waste. She burned this paper in a tiled fireplace, and gave us another price break on the rent.

      This same sweet lady was a second cousin to Albert Schweitzer, through her mother. (Schweitzer was one of the foremost authorities on J.S. Bach, and I have a two volume biography and analysis of Bach’s oeuvre, a highly technical piece I can barely read, if understand!) Aside from being well-known for his hospital in Gabon (now called), he was a theologian, a philosopher, a doctor, a renowned organist (hence the expertise and interest in Bach…), and generally well thought of person in the world.

      The Schweitzer connection, while interesting to me, also gave me a false sense of where her political sensibilities rested. Willy Brandt, mayor of West Berlin then Chancellor of West Germany, won the Nobel Peace prize in 1971, which I viewed as really exciting, a significant development in the rehabilitation of Germany. The policy he developed to mend fences between Eastern and Western Europe, to reunify Germany, etc. was significant, and he was one of my heros of the 1970s. Not, it seems, of Frau H.!

      ( Willy Brandt – see more at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Brandt#Early_life.2C_the_war )

      Brandt was the first SPD (Socialist Democratic Party) politician to become Chancellor since 1930 or something like that, was anti-Nazi (since he was on their catch list, as you can imagine!), and seemed worthy of the world recognition he got.

      The day the award was announced was the day I went to negotiate our rent with Frau H. When she opened the door, I congratulated her, as a German, for her government’s leader winning the Nobel Peace Prize. To my amazement, her face screwed up into a terrible scowl. She let out a diatribe I barely could follow because of my lousy German, but understood well enough: He was SPD; she was not, and she regarded him as a traitor or something for his war history.

      Oops! I should have guessed. One time, she spoke about how lovely the Volkspark was before the war (it was lovely when I was there, too), but how the Amis (Americans) really destroyed it when they came through towards the end of the war, not to mention how they bombed the hell out of the town, mostly razing it. (As you know, the Germans caused no harm or destroyed anything in their war…! Geez!)

      Another time she showed me a picture of her husband in 1940 in his SS uniform. He was a dentist in the SS! It brought came to mind again when I saw this scene in “Marathon Man”. Whew! http://youtu.be/kzw1_2b-I7A

      So, after all that, I recall that many Jews didn’t believe the Germans were capable of what they were doing, didn’t leave Germany and occupied countries when they had a chance, because “Germans are too civilized and cultured to [put in an atrocity here].”

      Though I am glad I served my country at a time Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and other well-known persons on the American political scene and in government in high places were avoiding service to the US in the military, “proud” is a word I chose not to use. Of what? “Glad” because it was expected and I didn’t rush off to Canada or Sweden, “glad” because I didn’t hide behind a school or religious exemption when neither necessarily stopped anyone from volunteering, “glad” because it gave me a chance to experience a world outside of a small town in Western Nebraska, “glad” because I discovered even in the intended honorable service to one’s country, there always is the risk of committing crimes against humanity (My Lai, for example…!) when in a war.

      Even the civilized and cultured Germans could commit atrocities, crimes against humanity…. For that reason, I view days like today with caution. People wrap themselves in the flag, do patriotic things in remembrance of fallen sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, etc., now even daughters, sisters, etc., but there’s another bunch who have holiday sales (“Buy this, and we’ll donate so much to Disabled Veterans of AMerica” or whatever.) or puff themselves up in self-righteous chauvinism. “Number 1, Number 1” or “USA! USA!”.

      Today is in remembrance of a quiet, pleasant farm kid whose government sent him to fight in a tragic and bogus war, where he died under horrific circumstances, was proclaimed a hero, given a few medals posthumously, remembered with a road named in his honor and a display in a local military museum. Never forget. Don’t forget the loss of life, and always watch those who want a “good fight” to show those damn “Eye-ranians” who has the big ones: they kill the future.

      Whew! I didn’t know I was going to write so much.

  4. Terrible suffering. Parents lost children, children lost parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, some people lost their whole families. Also I have two elderly sisters who had the family firm taken away from them and persecution from the people of the town, and they took their own lives. I’ve realised that there were many suicides as people knew that things were not going well and some had already lost loved ones, and there was a terrible sense of foreboding.

    There are many suffering even now. The younger generations don’t know what happened to their families, lost track. They make out it’s easy to find information. There are many organisations but the information is very scattered and bitty and one has to trawl through many websites without finding anything, and some things, such as place of birth can’t even be found.

    Instead of giving the British government all that money in reparations, which didn’t do the victims families much good, they could have given a great deal more attention to making sure that full information with family histories was available for the families and future generations. They certainly have not done that.

    Having said that the man I emailed at the German council was very nice and while he could not get me any information, he did send me a photocopy out of a book of my 3rd great grandfather’s gravestone, which had the name of my fourth great grandfather which was wonderful. Many people don’t even get that, as many cemeteries were desecrated.

    Crimes against humanity, yes, but they ought to have been properly right as far as possible, by at least telling us all the names, giving us documents back – as I’m sure they have them stashed away somewhere – but they really haven’t done that.

    • The recent discovery of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition pieces worth over US$1,000,000,000 shows how difficult putting everything back together is. Sadly, most of those directly affected are either deceased or very old. Good luck in you quest to put your part of that horror back together. Though the victims of war never totally recover, it’s important to make that effort, I think, to try. Thanks for sharing your family story. I find the willingness of the US to go to war tragic, especially when the purpose is so poorly thought out, and the “end game” never prepared for till too late. I think we can be sure the country will see chickens coming home to roost over some of our adventures abroad. For that matter, we have seen some of that, eh!?

  5. I’ve recently found several holocaust deaths on my tree, and today a terrible story to go with it. Mathilde Hagemann’s 76 year old husband Max was murdered by the Nazis in 1936. On Kristallnacht, 9 November 1938, when Mathilde was 71 years old, the windows and door of her home were broken and along with the other Jews from that town, she was arrested and taken to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia where she died 4 1/2 years later on 18 April 1943.

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