Touching History: Why Scars Matter

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He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,

And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

But he'll remember, with advantages,

What feats he did that day.”

William Shakespeare, “Henry V”

Last year I sat with a crusty, 93 year-old Marine from the Battle of Iwo Jima. I asked him frank questions about Iwo. He was Irish. He answered me back frankly. In more ways than one, the battle was still with him.

“I have some of the island still in me.” O’Malley told me in a thick Massachusetts accent. Extending one of his hands to me, aged, but massive and strong, he said, “See those two black spots? That’s sand from the beaches of Iwo Jima.” The Marine allowed me to touch the spots with my fingers. A doctor had once offered to remove them, he told me, but O’Malley had responded with a firm no! “I earned that!” For 73 years he had carried those pieces of black volcanic ash in his hand, a memory of the most defining days of his life. There was no way they would be removed now.

This wasn’t the first time a veteran has showed me his scars. Once, another Marine friend had taken my hand and put it to his temple. “Feel that,” he said. “That’s shrapnel from the jungles Nam.” 

And at a monthly breakfast group one morning, an Army vet stretched both his arms out over the table and pointed out to me the lines he had running up from his wrists to elbows, “June 6th, 1944, on Omaha Beach,” he said matter-of-factly. “I held my arms up to cover my face from the bullets. Good thing I did because otherwise my face wouldn’t look too pretty.”

“It never looked pretty,” kidded another D-Day survivor from across the table.


As most kids are, I think, growing up I was fascinated by scars. My brothers [and sisters] always hoped our scratches from outdoor play would turn into scars, and when they didn’t, we solved that problem by drawing them in with permanent marker. Maybe not the best idea. But it sure looked good.

As adults, we each carry internal scars of battles we’ve fought. Some of them we are proud of, others we are content to keep hidden deep in our hearts.

But why do scars matter?

I think Shakespeare hits the nail on the head in Henry V.

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars / And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day.””

There is nothing like an external scar to show the world that you fought hard and conquered. In the Japanese culture, there is a practice called, kintsugi: A piece of broken pottery is repaired with gold, not only renewing the life in it, but adding value by celebrating and showing pride in it’s “scars.”

I consider it a treasured privilege to be shown a veteran’s battle scars. Something very personal is transferred. And I become custodian to a moment from 75 years in the past.

When I took that crusty Marine’s hand and felt his scars, I could feel a battle that took place 51 years before I was even born. I was touching history.


Dick Cole: A Class Act


On April 18, the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, they laid the last survivor to rest at Arlington Cemetery. Everybody has a story about Dick Cole. And each one is meaningful in its own way.

My story is this: Last winter, when my dear friend and WW2 Veteran, Vince Losada, was killed in the Fredericksburg P-51 crash, Dick Cole came to his funeral. He didn't have to. He was an incredibly busy man, always traveling and speaking at events, and just the fact that he was 103 years old was excuse enough. But he showed up to remember a fellow flyboy, and I think that was a real class act. Thank you Dick Cole.

Lady MacRobert's Reply

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Lady MacRobert and her three sons.

Here is a story of fortitude for you!

Upon the death of her three sons who had served in the RAF, Lady Rachel MacRobert sponsored a Stirling Bomber to be built and named "MacRobert's Reply."

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"It is my wish, as a mother, to reply in a way my sons would applaud - attack with great fire power, head on and hard. The amount of £25,000 is to buy a bomber aircraft to continue my sons' work in the most effective way. This expresses my feelings on receiving notice about my sons … Let the bomber serve where there is the most need of her and may luck be with those who fly her. If I had 10 sons, I know they all would have done service for their country."

But the lady's mission did not finish there. She went on to sponsor Four Hawker Hurricanes, three named after each of her sons, and the fourth entitled: “MacRobert’s Salute to Russia – The Lady”

Lady MacRobert is a magnificent example of the indomitable spirit of the British people during World War Two.

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Bryan Smothers: 101st Airborne


Monday night, we were so shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of our friend, the ever-delightful Bryan Smothers.

During the 3 years Bryan served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, his experiences forever changed him and the innocence of his boyhood was forever lost. It took many, many years for him to overcome the memories and hardships that war had left on him. When he finally began to write his story down (something he did so his daughter could understand her dad better) it was the road to healing.

Through his book and talks, Bryan was able to help countless other Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD move forward and begin to enjoy life again.


Our visits with him each year at the Wings Over Houston Airshow were so looked forward to... chatting about the Airborne, the Civil War, music, White Chickens (the name the Vietnamese gave the Airborne) and everything from the serious to the ridiculous. He will be greatly missed.

The Bombs Bursting in Air: A short story for the 4th of July


Sharing this story from a couple of years ago... a little something to get you in the mood for Independence day.

"Do you remember the lines in the National Anthem? About the 'rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air??

Lt. Col. Tom Kalus is one of those very rare Marines who happened to be a participant in two of the greatest moments in Marine Corps history: the Battle of Iwo Jima (WW2) and the Chosin Reservoir (Korea). Both events are known for their intensity of the fighting and the bravery of the Marines against unbelievable odds.

Shortly after I met Col. Kalus, he related a story to me which remains one of my favorite ones I can remember a veteran telling me... 


One evening of the Marine reunion we both attended a few years ago, Col. Kalus asked me, "Do you remember the lines in the National Anthem? About the 'rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air?"

Of course! Who can forget those inspiring lines written by Francis Scott Key and sung so often at sports events and holidays.

"When I was on Iwo," he went on, "About the 3rd or 4th night, the Japs gave us a real hard shelling. One of the wisecracks in my foxhole said, 'Hey look, it's like in the song, the bombs bursting in air.' I didn't pay much attention to him at the time, until one night at Chosin. The 7th Marines were bravely taking a hill and the Chinese were giving them everything they'd got. The sky was filled with explosions and fireworks. I remembered what the Marine had said on Iwo, 'and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.' At that moment I realized that I was seeing what Francis Scott Key had seen when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner."

Oh goodness, if there was ever a story to put the chills on your arms. Mr. Kalus got teary-eyed as he finished by saying that he could never listen to the American Anthem again without thinking of those fearful nights at Iwo Jima and Chosin. I know I never will listen to it again the same.

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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Tribute to a Marine

We recently lost a great Marine, Al Pagoaga. In many ways, he personified the Marine Corps. A rough exterior, a tough persona, completely indefatigable, and yet, lurking there in the shadows behind all that, was a true heart of gold. Al lost his leg on Iwo Jima to a Japanese mortar, but you would never know it. His posture was always perfect, and at 91 years of age, his military bearing was impeccable.

Just last November he lost his wartime buddy and our dear friend Bill Madden. Having known the two of them is simply unforgettable. Bill was a sweet and tender English professor; Al was still the tough Marine, able to hold more beer than most young guys today. Put them together and they were something to be reckoned with. It's hard losing both of them within just a few months, but it's not surprising. Al saved Bill's life on Iwo, and friends like that are never far apart. Semper Fi Marine.

Welcome Home Soldier

Last year we witnessed something very special and unique at the WW2 Memorial in DC. While waiting for the next HF to arrive, the daughter of the veteran pictured came up to us and asked if we would give her father a rose. Of course we were delighted to. After talking with them a few minutes we learned he had come to the memorial with his entire extended family for a very special reason: 

Master Sergeant James William Holt was a son, husband, brother, and father, all in one when he went Missing in Action during the Vietnam war in 1968. Over the years his family never knew what happened to him. His children grew up and had children of their own and life went on. Then one day his remain were recovered. We spoke with his widow briefly, and she was a lovely lady. It was very moving to hear this story. After all those years, she finally had closure and peace. Sergeant James Holt's family had now come from all across the country for a special burial service at Arlington National Cemetery, 47 years after his death. Welcome home soldier.

Korean War Armistice Day

63 years ago today, Armistice was declared and the Korean War came to an end. Our friend, Mr. Thomas, was sent over to Korea in 52' and spent a long six months on the front lines directing artillery fire. Triangle Hill, Old Baldy, and Pork Chop Hill are a few names he'll never forget.

We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Thomas during our October Honor Flight. We spent many hours on that trip talking with him about Korea, the combat, the cold, and his favorite old-time radio programs. Mr. Thomas was the first Korean War vet we'd really had the chance to talk to at length. At one point he said, "You ask a lot of questions. And you've made me think about things I haven't thought of in 50 years... But that's all right." It was evident with Mr. Thomas that he loved his country, the men he served with, and was happy to fight if it would prevent communism in the world. At the Korean War Memorial in DC, he choked up looking at the life-size statues. "It's so real." He said. "They look so much like the guys I knew." It was a short war that many of us have forgotten. But for soldiers like Mr. Thomas, they'll always remember days like July 27, 1953 when peace was finally declared to war-torn Korean.

Dinner with Fred


Yesterday, Jubilee and I were invited to attend a special dinner put on by the Nimitz Foundation with our dear friend and Iwo Jima veteran, Fred Harvey. Mr. Harvey's stories from Iwo are among the most descriptive and remarkable that I have ever heard, and when hearing them, there is no doubt as to his bravery. 

On February 20th "His three man patrol (which was sent out to establish contact with the adjoining company) was ambushed by heavy fire from an enemy machine gun and one of the men was seriously wounded." Mr. Harvey, "dragged the fallen Marine under heavy fire to the shelter of a nearby hole. Remaining with the wounded man while his companion went for aid, he held off the hostile forces with his rifle and hand grenades until the arrival of the rescue party." (The next morning) "Then, exposing himself to enemy fire and directing accurate heavy fire on the Japanese position, he successfully covered the evacuation of the casualty." He received the Silver Star for this remarkable and courageous event. 

About the 7th day of action, he took 3 grenades which gave him a purple heart and put him out of action for the rest of the war. His stories of the post-war are almost as wild as when he was in the Corps, and never ceases to leave all listeners on the edge of their seats and nearly choking with laughter.

Remembering the Forgotten War

This is the 66th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War conflict, a terrible and bitter event in American history... Though I've been nominally aware of the Korean War for some time now, it's only in the last 12 months or so that I've really begun to get a grip on the tragic events of 1950-1953. Last year, knowing that I had interest in this area, my grandmother sent me an excellent little book of first hand accounts, published for the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. You could say that after reading the book, the fire was lit and I was quite anxious to learn more. 

Since then, we've had the pleasure of pleasure of meeting some really charming and remarkable men from this sad war. In honor of the anniversary, we'll be sharing some of their stories the next few days so that their war will no longer be called, "The Forgotten War".

Korean War Veterans Memorial. Photo Credit: Shaun Moss Photography 

June 6, 1944

On this day every year our thoughts and hearts are full as we think of the brave lads who took part in the invasion of Normandy. We have many friends who landed on the beaches, scaled the cliffs, or were dropped in by C-47 all in the early hours of June 6, 1944 and are now here to tell the tales of bravery and sacrifice of their comrades. 

But we also have many friends who did not make it. Some of them went through months of hard training only to be killed moments after landing. They are now buried in the beautiful yet somber cemetery off of Omaha Beach. This may seem strange to say since we are separated by 72 years, a full lifetime. But reading of their stories, learning about their lives growing up on the farms out west or in the emigrant-crammed cities of the east we feel like we know them; that they are our friends. When we talk to the men that were right beside them as they took the bullet that would put a gold star in a mother's window, we feel like we have lost a childhood friend. 

Tears come to our eyes as we realize the only son of an emigrant family won't come back to carry on the family name in the land of opportunity that his parents dreamed about all their lives. Handsome Frank Draper, brothers Bedford and Raymond Hoback, and 17 other friends from the same small town in Virginia, all killed in the early hours of DDay. They never knew us, but we know them. They were our friends, and we will never forget them because their names are etched in our minds. 

D-DAY is a solemn day, but also a joyous day. Because of the sacrifices made that day, giving the allies a foothold in France, the hope and freedom of all of Europe was secured.

Connections to my Uncle Israel Goldberg

The other day I made two happy discoveries related to my great-great uncle Israel Goldberg. As Memorial Day approaches, his death at Camp Cabanatuan in 1942 has been much on my mind. This afternoon at a monthly WW2 veteran's luncheon, I spoke with a veteran who was stationed at Clark Airfield in the Philippines right before Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I told him that my uncle Israel was stationed at Clark at the same time. Though with a different group, my friend was quite familiar with my uncle's squadron group and could tell me about a bit of what they went through before the Philippines fell into the hands of the Japanese.

The same day, and shortly after, I spoke with another veteran who said that while he was stationed in the Philippines in 1945 he was called up for a very special duty. For an entire day he participated in the honor guard's final salute for every single man buried at the American War Cemetery in Manila. My uncle's remains would not be transferred to Manila until sometime in 1947, but I felt a bit like this final salute would have included him as well.

I have known both these veterans for a while, but had never yet made the connection to my family in this sense. Especially with the first one, it is probably one of the closest linkages I've been able to make to my uncle before the Bataan Death March. How appropriate to make this connection in honor of my uncle just in time for Memorial Day.

A Gold Star Meant for Me

When you visit the National World War II Memorial in D.C., you will see a wall covered in gold stars. There are 4,048 stars on this wall; each representing 100 men who sacrificed their lives for us in WWII. Last year we met Mr. Lee (pictured) at this memorial. Mr. Lee doesn't like to talk about the war at all. He was part of the 11th Airborne and made four jumps in the Pacific, taking part in some of the fiercest battles. But he did tell us something that was beautiful, sad, and poignant. In a thoughtful voice he said, "There is a star on that wall that was supposed to be for me. But it is for my friend instead. He took my place." The memory of the moment when his buddy took a grenade for him is still as clear as when it happened 70 years ago.

Stationed in Texas: Jake Kesatie

In 2014 at the Conneaut D-Day, we met the lovely Mr. Jake Kesiatie, an Army Staff Sergeant who served at the San Marcos Military Hospital in Texas during the war. A first generation American, Mr. K was born in 1918 just as the war was wrapping up. “When I was born they had to end the war... But then they had to start a war for me”.

Near the hospital where he was stationed in San Marcos during the war, was an Army Air Corps training base. One day two trainer planes, with five occupants each, had a head-on crash. Nobody survived, and he was detailed with others to clean up the mess. "There weren’t any bodies, just pieces here and there -arms, legs..." He had to fill ten bags with pieces of the remains of the trainees bodies. It was a terrible memory that made him shudder as he told it to us.

Several times throughout the war Mr K. tried to get shipped to overseas service, but they told him his help at the hospital was too valuable. And it must have been because he spent four years stationed in Texas. He was happy to hear we were from Texas because, besides the war going on, he had happy memories of Texas and the Bluebonnets, and of course the people. Mr. Kesatie may never have seen combat, but his role back home was vital. And for that we are very grateful to him.

"They were good Marines, the finest."

"What sticks with me now is not so much the pain and terror and sorrow of the war, though I remember that well enough. What really sticks with me is the honor I had of defending my country, and serving in the company of these men. They were good Marines, the finest, every one of them. You can't say anything better about a man." 

R. V. Burgin, 5th Marines, 1st Division, survived over a month of brutal combat during battle of Peleliu Island in 1944. It was supposed to be a "quickie" in and out. But it wasn't. The battle lasted from September 15 to November 27, with nearly 20,000 casualties. Today, you can go to this haunting island and see what is left from that terrible battle in the remains of military equipment, blown out pillboxes, and sometimes even unburied bodies. It is a tragic picture of the reality of war. But is was an island where boys became men and leaders. 

An Afternoon with Porter and Porter

This is the dashing Mr. Carl Porter. I first met him a few months ago when the 508th PIR Reunion was held in San Antonio.

Though Mr. Porter was a Normandy D-Day veteran, had a dramatic experience surrounding his capture and escape from the Germans, received the Purple Heart for attempting to disarm a "jerry-rigged piece of enemy ordinance," and many other paratrooper-esque events which happened to him in WWII, in retrospect I realized that little of our conversations at the reunion surrounded his war experiences. Instead, we talked about the beautiful 67-year marriage he had with his wife "Marly," their life together in Alaska, -and one of my favorite musical artists (and his "namesake" as we joked), Cole Porter.

Walking back to the hotel the last afternoon, we threw around our favorite Porter songs: Begin the Beguine, Rosalie, Night and Day, being just a few. His favorite though was, "I get a kick out of you." Upon telling me this, he proceeded to sing a few lines -quite nicely indeed. Now, as a rule, I NEVER sing. Never. But this afternoon it was too much, and I joined in. How often does one get to sing a favorite song, with a charming 94-year old paratrooper, on a lovely day by the Riverwalk in San Antonio? Next time we'll probably manage to talk more about serious stuff. Mr. Porter was greatly affected by the war, and did tell us many poignant and beautiful stories. But this once, our delightful little conversations about "Cousin Cole," will stand as one of my favorite memories. - See more at:

Bert Stolier - USMC

"Bert Stolier was stranded in the placid waters of the Pacific Ocean for three days and three nights in December 1942 after his ship, the U.S.S. Northampton, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Tassafaronga. With no food, no water, and little hope, all Stolier could do is reminisce about his family and home in New Orleans and sing every song he could remember. Then, Stolier said, a miracle happened. "The tide pushed me between two islands and I saw a ship," he said. "As I got a little closer, I saw, with apologies to my future wife, the most beautiful sight of my life." What Stolier saw that cold December morning was the Stars and Stripes flying on the deck of an American ship. Unable to move, Stolier cried out "Any of you sailors want to give a marine a hand?" A few minutes later, Stolier was rescued... Stolier, now in his 90s, served in the Marine Corps during the Pacific theatre and fought in battles such as Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, [Tarawa] and Iwo Jima. (Excerpts from the Sea Coast Echo)

When I asked Mr. Stolier about the Battle of Tarawa (a three day battle on a scrap of land hardly half a mile square, with over 9,000 American and Japanese casualties), he said to me, "It wasn't a battle. You can't call something that horrible a battle.... But it had to be done." Mr. Stolier is a truly remarkable man. At 97 years of age now, he spends his time at the WWII Museum in New Orleans sharing his incredible stories.

"You can't tell a man's bravery by just looking at him"

"You cannot look at someone and decide if they are brave or not. You can only find out if someone is brave by looking backwards, seeing how they have responded."

This is something Lt. Lynden Benshoof often thought about when he was aboard his LST in WWII. He told us he was concerned and worried about his own actions. Would he be brave? Or would he be like his Captain, who after fierce fighting during the Africa and Italy Campaigns, finally couldn't handle any more. One day, Mr. Benshoof had found the Captain of the ship, curled up like a child, grasping tightly to a radio and pretending to be talk into it. Benshoof suggested he go to his cabin for rest. The Captain did, locking himself in and not coming out again.

But if Africa, Sicily, and Salerno were tough, it wasn't the end. On June 6, 1944, Lt. Benshoof's LST took part in the D-Day Operations landing troops onto Omaha Beach. It was horrible work. "We saw all the guys stacked like cardboard on the beach and we could see all the trouble happening... There was so many bodies in the water they couldn't dodge them all." His LST would make 57 trips between England and France carrying causalities and prisoners. "One thing I learned is you can't tell a man's bravery by just looking at him." Only by looking backwards. Looking back on his life, Lt. Benshoof's greatest fear, the fear of failure to do his duty, never became a reality. He served his country well and proudly. But it is a good lesson for all of us to consider: how will *we* respond, when the trouble in our lives becomes too difficult to bear. Quit, like the poor Captain? Or persevere a little longer. Only the future will tell us how we responded to the present crisis. So let's take the example of Lt. Benshoof, and fight a little harder and stick in there a little longer. 

A Korean War Veteran's Story

A few months ago, at a Victory Japan Remembrance day event, we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Creswell (right), a combat veteran of the Korean War. He was in tears as he thanked Mr. Slief (left), for his service in WWII. "I'm wearing my uncle's hat," he said. "He was on a bombing mission and never came back. They found this hat in his locker. I wear it to all events like this. I'll never forget him. Really, you guys are my heroes. I just missed the war. I went in in 1950 and all my trainers and were WWII veterans. They called me "kid" like I was their younger brother and they taught me how to fight. If it hadn't been for you guys, I would have been killed." Pointing to his ear he said, "See this ear? In Korea, a Chinese soldier came at me with his bayonet and was going to stab me. I ducked and he sliced my cheek and cut that piece off my ear. I had to have 222 stitches on my face. My girlfriend called me scarface. If the WWII guys hadn't taught me how to fight, I wouldn't have made it. I owe everything to you all. You're my heroes. Thank you."

Growing up Mr. Creswell sold newspapers on the streets of Burbank, California (just down the road from his good friend Debbie Reynolds). "You guys were out there making the headlines and I was selling them." When we asked what his biggest headline was, he told us, "the Invasion of France. I was in school and the paper man came and told me to come sell papers. He gave me these huge stacks. All afternoon I sold them [for a nickle] a penny profit for me, making $30 the end of the day." 

Paratroopers are a Special Lot

Sainte Mere Eglise, Normandy, this past June for the D-Day anniversary events. 

Paratroopers are a special lot. They are known for an unusual delight in death defying antics and absurd feats. Mr. Dan McBride is no exception. Just surviving jump school (the first time he jumped his chute didn't open and he pulled the emergency as he reached tree level. A little stunned, he assumed that was normal), his first combat jump was into Normandy, on June 6, 1944. 

“I was loaded down with eight grenades, two antitank mines, ammunition, a full field pack, four blocks of TNT, an entrenching tool, a bayonet and a carbine. I weighed 300 to 400 pounds. We had to have someone help us climb into the plane. The formation began to break apart as pilots tried to avoid the AA fire. They were banking and diving and turning. Well, on one particularly steep banking turn, being closest to the open door waiting to get the signal to jump, I fell out the door."

Tangling himself in the parachute lines, he landed on his head, which knocked him out for a good while. The adventures that followed were numerous; and told in his dry-wit style, become quite hilarious. Not too long after D-Day, on a night patrol, a soldier came up and spoke to him. It was a German."I pulled up my rifle, and he pulled up his. We both shot, and we both hit — but I hit more." Wounded in his arm, it would be the first of 3 purple hearts he would receive in 1944. The next one would be in Holland after he was blown off a dyke by mortar shells, crushing his ankle. "The medic stuck a needle through my boot. I had to walk out of there, and I could hear the bones grinding." His third Purple Heart came in Bastogne when he was hit in the knees from tank shrapnel. He would take part in four of the major battles in Europe: Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and Southern Germany. Today, at 91 Mr. McBride is still one tough hombre with plenty of chutzpah. "I live in New Mexico close to the border. One time I was in the parking lot of Walmart and this guy came up to me with a pocket knife and said, 'give me your money'. I pulled out my [handgun] and told him, 'you can either leave now, or in a body bag. I don't care which.' Boy did that guy go running... (he laughs) yup, that was about two months ago."