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This Old Hat: A Veterans Day Story, Part Three

Posted on November 21, 2018 at 4:39 PM Comments comments (369)
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last of three parts written by local author and Vietnam veteran Warren Robinson of Lenox in observance of Veterans Day this month.

Special to the Tifton Grapevine

John 15:13 in our bible says, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends.”

Fast forward to the present day.  My boys are not whiners or mired in self-pity. They are, however, proud of their service when they were willing to lay down their lives for their country, and many did just that, even when it was popular not to do so.

I overheard one of my boys recently telling his friend bout his experience with the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam. He was only 18 years old at the time. He jumped out of a Huey helicopter into what seemed like a quiet landing zone. His platoon moved out toward a tree line about 300 yards away and proceeded cautiously into the jungle. 

A short time later, the boy was hit in the head and immediately fell to the ground, seemingly dead. He said he could not move or speak but he was aware of what was happening around him, and he could hear his buddies talking to each other. His buddies thought he was dead, but they refused to leave him there in the jungle and carried his body to a dust-off chopper for extraction.The medics thought he was dead and focused their attention on other wounded boys.

Arriving at the aid station, medical personnel thought he was dead, also, but one young nurse recognized a sign of life in him, and because of that, he survived his wounds.  

Today, he wears a black patch over his eye, the right side of his head is mangled, and he has gone through constant pain and suffering as a result of his wounds. I was struck with amazement and admiration as he said, “If I were put in the same circumstances again, I would make the same decision to serve my country, even knowing what the outcome would be.”

Time has healed many of the wounds suffered 50 years ago, and America has indeed come to recognize the bravery, suffering and patriotism of these young men as they shared this life-changing experience. They ate together, slept together, laughed and cried together, fought together and sometimes died together.

I wish they all could have received the honor and respect they should have received when they returned home, but for those still living, it is truly sometimes overwhelming. My brave boys have finally been given the respect and honor they deserve.

I often wonder if America learned any lessons from this tragedy. I also wonder why God allowed it to happen, but I know He worked His will in the lives of my boys. Many were brought to Christ and learned to trust in Him, even in the midst of terrible evil.  

Now, as I look around America, I see hats of a new generation of warrior. They represent different wars and battlegrounds, Iraq and Afghanistan, but the young men wearing them haven’t changed. They are all young, strong and include the finest men America can produce.  

America has been blessed by God in order to represent Him in the world by being a force for good and freedom. There will always be another foe to face, another battle to fight, and thank God, there will be another American soldier to fight it.

Yes, I’m just an old hat, but I will never be separated from my boys. Whenever you hear someone complain about America or disrespect the flag or our national anthem, remind them of my boys and what they did to give another generation of Americans the freedom we often just take for granted.
See you around town!


This Old Hat

This Old Hat: A Veterans Day Story, Part Two

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 2:32 PM Comments comments (1276)
EDITOR'S NOTE:This is the second of three parts written by local author and Vietnam veteran Warren Robinson of Lenox in observance of Veterans Day this month.

Part Two

Special to the Tifton Grapevine

II first met my boys in the 1960s as they entered military service. They came from New York, San Diego, Hawaii, from the Aleutian Islands, Miami and all parts in between.

I met them as they entered basic training. It was really something to see how different they were after that first day. Some had long hair, some wore nice clothes and some looked ragged. I heard accents from all over the United States. It didn’t take long after getting a GI haircut, a set of fatigues, GI green down to the boxer shorts they wore, and everybody started looking the same.

Starting the second day of boot camp, all that individuality was gone and the process of molding these raw recruits into a homogeneous fighting team that would respond to orders without question began. They were young, just kids really, not long out of grade school, full of life with worlds of vim and vigor. Most were 18 or 19 years old, but a few were 17 and needed their parent’s permission to join. A few lied about their age and were only 16. 

It was fun just to see these kids laughing and joking, innocently thinking they had their whole life in front of them and were about to embark on a grand adventure. Little did they know their lives would change forever as more than 58,000 would never return home alive. They would soon become battle-hardened veterans with their boyish innocence gone forever.

Today, I watch the old survivors return to visit the long, black granite wall in Washington, D.C., with the names of all their fallen buddies etched forever in stone. I see them as their eyes tear over and they wonder why their own names are not on that wall. All my boys suffered from something as a result of their service in that war so far from home. Many were forever maimed with missing arms or legs, and most would carry the mental scars to their grave. Untold hundreds of thousands more would die later from Agent Orange or other complications of service or from suicide, not able to cope with the memories.

My boys were not perfect, but they were the finest America had, equal to any fighting force America has ever sent into combat. Many of their schoolmates fled to Canada, some hid in some graduate school, some joined the National Guard or used political influence to avoid service. They disgraced themselves and their country and don’t deserve to walk the same streets with my boys. When America called, my boys stood up proudly and said, “Send me.” They were the epitome of the motto, “Duty, Honor, Courage.”

Looking back, historians debate whether this war was a monumental mistake of judgment or the result of some evil conspiracy by arms manufacturers to make a fortune selling the weapons and ammunition of war, but I don’t believe there was any one clear answer. Success is always everybody’s creation, while failure always has an unknown author.

America’s leaders were convinced the free world had to stop the spread of communism, and they feared, as outlined in the “Domino Theory,” that if communism was allowed to control Vietnam, all of Southeast Asia would soon fall next. However, as in all our wars of the past, America fought for freedom, not for conquest.

My boys served proudly from every military branch. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard performed with pride and honor. I was with the Naval aviators as they launched from the decks of aircraft carriers such as the USS Oriskany, USS Enterprise, USS Midway and others. They attacked the North Vietnamese factories, roads, bridges and mined the Haiphong Harbor to cut off as much support of North Vietnamese ground forces as possible. 

I watched as many of our planes were shot down with the aid of Russian- and Chinese-supplied anti-aircraft missile systems. The pilots who were able to eject were soon captured and forced to endure years of horrible torture and abuse as they rotted in jail while Jane Fonda visited nearby to deliver aid and support to the enemy. Some were captured in Laos or Cambodia and were held in small bamboo cages, as if they were animals. Many were never heard from again.

My Marines in the I Corps area around the strategic cities of Hue and Danang fought a fierce North Vietnamese enemy that was determined, well-trained, well-armed and relentless in their attacks. The valor of these young men was equal to any ever displayed by an American fighting force.

In the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, my boys patrolled the rivers and waterways of the rice belt in their sleek attack boats that were heavily armed, trying to deny the enemy their food staple, rice. They would patrol for days with no enemy contact, then when they least expected it, a fierce battle would occur as they sailed into an ambush.  Later, the enemy would vanish into the thick jungle as if they were never there.

Further north, elements of the 101st Infantry Division made contact with the enemy on May 10, 1969, at Hill 937 while conducting a sweep of the A Shau Valley. The size and strength of the enemy force was at first unknown. The battle that followed became known as the “Battle at Hamburger Hill.”  My boys were ordered to attack and drive the enemy off that hill. Their first attack was met with overwhelming resistance and they were driven down the hill. Reinforcements were called in and the battle raged for the next 10 days as they attempted one attack after another, only to be repelled time after time, taking more casualties on each attempt. 

Some days they fought in relentless monsoon rains that were followed by intense heat and humidity. Boys with only minor wounds were ordered to continue attacking while their buddies fell around them, dead or dying from the constant machine gun and small arms fire from above. Air Force Phantom jets roared overhead, dropping their bomb loads and Napalm canisters. The concussions often caused eardrums to rupture and blood drained down their necks while the searing heat from the Napalm seemed to destroy everything in its path, literally sucking the air out of their lungs.  

Dozens of my boys died there, and hundreds more suffered arms or legs being torn from their body as they screamed for help. They cried out to their buddies, to God, and begged for their mothers and the mercy of morphine to help ease the almost unbearable pain. Eventually, the hill was captured by the 101st at the price of several hundred dead or wounded. After occupying the position for several days and destroying any food, weapons or ammunition, the 101st was ordered to abandon the hill and proceed on a new mission.  

Shortly after the 101st departed, the hill was again occupied by North Vietnamese troops.

Members of the 1st Infantry Division in central Vietnam patrolled the jungles day after day, crossing streams and waterways in pursuit of the enemy, often having to stop and remove the leaches they acquired in the polluted water. Many days were uneventful, then suddenly they were attached in a fierce ambush attack. They had to constantly be searching the path ahead for booby traps or stepping into a punji stick trap where the sticks were sharpened into a weapon with the tips smeared with water buffalo dung to infect the wounds.

The enemy would attack, then vanish into the jungle or an underground tunnel system where they could hide and pop up in the jungle in another area. Weary from the physical exertion and lack of sleep or decent food, they somehow continued to put one foot in front of the other.

I saw the bravery of the helicopter crews as they set down time after time into a hot landing zone to take wounded GIs on board for emergency aid until they reached the hospital. After landing and unloading their cargo, they would often have to spray the inside of the chopper with a stream of water to wash the blood from inside that was streaming out the doors onto the tarmac below.  

Inside the hospital, doctors and nurses worked tirelessly to save as many as possible. Young nurses tried to comfort them with assurances they would not die, then go outside and weep because they knew many would never survive.

I saw the young USO and Red Cross girls give them a gentle female touch and listen patiently as they tried to give comfort to my boys.

This Old Hat: A Veterans Day Story

Posted on November 8, 2018 at 10:28 PM Comments comments (174)
Part One

EDITOR'S NOTE:This is the first of three parts written by local author and Vietnam veteran Warren Robinson of Lenox in observance of Veterans Day this month.

Special to the Tifton Grapevine

I’m just an old hat, but boy do I have some tales to tell! You’ve probably seen me around town somewhere, proudly sitting atop the head of one of my boys. They’ll always be “my boys” to me since I’ve been with them for more than half a century now.

We’ve been together through good times and bad. I know their innermost secrets, the ones that make them scream and wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat as the videotape of Vietnam plays over and over again in their minds. I promised I would never reveal what they hide from you, because you might think less of them if you knew. Most of them are pretty good at pushing the monsters back down into the deep recesses of their mind, but eventually it all comes back to the surface. 

They probably look old, white haired, maybe shuffling along with a cane or riding in a wheelchair, but make no mistake: these men were once strong and mighty warriors, feared by their enemies and loved and respected by their friends. They don’t have much to say anymore, but they are always thrilled when you take the time out of your busy day to stop, give them a smile, a handshake or a hug and thank them for their service. Occasionally, they see one of their old comrades and are instantly drawn to each other as they warmly shake hands and ask the usual questions, “What year were you there, and what outfit were you with?”

They share an unbreakable bond only brothers of combat are ever privileged to know.  The old memories and emotions of long ago begin to bubble to the surface as their eyes start to mist over and they exchange goodbyes, moving on quickly with their day, knowing if they linger together too long, the memories will become unbearable. As they move along, often with heads down and backs bent, they instantly snap to attention whenever they hear the sound of the national anthem or the sight of the red, white and blue flying proudly in the land of freedom. If they hear a jet flying low or the “thump, thump, thump” of a helicopter in the distance, you’ll notice their eyes searching the sky as if they were still halfway around the globe, 50 years ago.

A lot of my boys spend their day down at the VA Office for medical appointments to get treatment for physical injuries sustained during their service or for diseases resulting from it. They also seek emotional help as they struggle to deal with the memories they have lived with for so long. When they went to the jungles of Vietnam, they were promised by our government that their physical and mental needs would be fully met, since they were putting their very lives at risk for America. After trudging through the jungles and coming into contact with a “miraculous” new herbicide, Agent Orange, they were told not to worry, experts had declared it was perfectly safe and it would clear huge blocks of dense jungle, denying the enemy vast sanctuaries. Decades later, after continuing to deny Agent Orange was a deadly chemical, thousands of my boys died each year from horrible cancers, nerve damage and other conditions that have since been proven to have originated from exposure to Agent Orange. 

Fifty years later now, my boys are still required to file endless paperwork with a mindless bureaucracy, staffed by people who were not yet born when they were exposed. It often takes years of wrangling, undergoing test after test and filing a mountain of paperwork for them to be compensated even a modest amount for their suffering. Many have died waiting for an answer. Even today, they do not make close friendships easily, some get angry over seemingly unimportant things, other times having little patience. They try to cope in different ways, sometimes with alcohol or drugs.

I watched every planeload of vets returning to California from Vietnam. They looked nothing like the smiling, fresh-faced boys I saw leaving a year earlier. They looked tired, dirty and depressed with expressionless stares. Their shoulders were slumped over from the burdens they carried in their minds. The Army cleaned them up with a hot shower, a shave, haircut, new khaki uniforms, and an all-you-can-eat steak dinner with all the trimmings. Once they were finished processing, they were paid their meager salary, including money for a plane ride home.

Then my heart would break each time I witnessed what happened to them at the airport, for what should have been a triumphant “Welcome Home.” Instead, crowds greeted them with disgust, insults, disrespect and even spat on them as if they were the lowest of the low. Some of my boys made it to the restrooms and changed into civilian clothes, hiding their medals and military uniforms in their duffle bags, in an attempt to blend back quickly into society. They were ashamed to admit they had served so courageously and honorably for America.  

This period of disrespect for our military will forever be a dark stain in our history, hopefully never to happen again.

GUEST COLUMN: Preserving the Great Outdoors

Posted on December 19, 2017 at 11:57 AM Comments comments (640)
The holiday season is a special time when Georgians can come together to enjoy good food, footballand spend time with family and friends. It’s also a time to enjoy the great outdoors. Growing up in South Georgia instilled in me a passion for the outdoors and a desire to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to share that same feeling.

Many of my fondest memories involve hunting and fishing in our beautiful country.  However, decades of population relocation to urban areas has made it more difficult for many Americans to regularly participate in sportsmen’s activities.  Unfortunately, this decline in outdoor recreation has also had a negative impact on our country’s wildlife conservation funds.

Enacted in 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act provides federal aid to states for management and restoration of wildlife areas. Specifically, through a system of  “user pay/public benefits,” Pittman-Robertson uses proceeds from an existing federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment to fund wildlife conservation and hunter education grants for state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies. 

As the base of hunters and recreational shooters has diminished across the country, so have Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Conservation funds. To address this, I have introduced H.R. 2591, Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017. Without increasing existing user fees or taxes, this bill would give state fish and wildlife agencies more say in how they can use their allotted Pittman-Robertson funds. 

Think about our country in 1937... now think about our country today. In order to reach younger generations and introduce them to the opportunities that sportsman activities provide, we must modernize the ways in which we can use our limited resources to recruit and retain outdoorsmen and women, all while protecting our public lands and waters. 

My bill would remove the existing prohibition on Pittman-Robertson funds being used for “public relations” and permit fish and wildlife agencies to use these funds for the construction, operation, and maintenance of public ranges.  

By expanding the ways in which Pittman-Robertson funds can be used, Georgia sportsmen and women will see their tax dollars at work as state fish and wildlife agencies will be permitted to use modern forms of technology, such as social media and television spots, to recruit and retain both hunters and recreational shooters.  

To ensure that conservation remains the primary focus of Pittman-Robertson, the legislation would also cap the percentage of funds that can be used for public relations and recruitment. 

It is my hope that by passing the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act of 2017, we can bring new generations into the sportsman community and ensure that our wildlife resources in South Georgia are protected for years to come.  

I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

In God We Trust, 
Austin Scott 

Congressman Austin Scott, R-Tifton, represents Georgia’s Eighth Congressional District. He serves as the House vice chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

GUEST COLUMN: A Bold Change for Failing Schools

Posted on November 3, 2016 at 9:32 PM Comments comments (68)

On November 8, voters in Georgia will be asked a question that has the potential to change K-12 education in our state for an entire generation of children.
Question 1 on the ballot will read, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student achievement?”

YES – I am voting for this amendment. I believe it is my obligation to speak up for children whose future does not look bright and stop the “pipeline” to poverty and prison many Georgia students face due to becoming school drop outs.

As an ardent supporter of local control, I believe the elected officials closest to the people govern most effectively and efficiently.  However, this is not a traditional “local government knows best” policy question.  It is about children who will be forced by law to attend a failing school.

As a legislator, I carry a responsibility to all citizens of this state, including children and taxpayers.

My obligation is to spend taxpayer money wisely.  I believe it would be a mistake to continue, year after year, to devote precious taxpayer funds to schools where failure is the norm and accountability is altogether absent for those in charge.  Children are suffering – in some instances for the entire duration of their K-12 education – because of these failing schools.

Many articles in the press regard this as an important issue, but present no specifics.  Please take time to read some of the facts as to why we need Opportunity School District (OSD).
Top Facts on the Opportunity School District 
and Failing Schools in Georgia
  • Based on the state accountability system approved by the State Board of Education, a school earning a rating of “F” for a minimum of three consecutive years is eligible to enter the OSD.  The OSD will oversee no more than 20 schools in any single school year in order for the OSD to direct its full attention and resources to these identified schools.

  • Approximately 68,000 children in six percent of schools (127 of 2,089 schools in the state) are required to attend schools having received a failing score for three consecutive years.

  • On average, 31.4 percent of third graders read on grade level in failing schools, compared to 56.8 percent of students in the borderline “C” schools.

  • Children cannot read, cannot learn and are, therefore, more likely to drop out of school.  The graduation rate for students attending failing schools is an abysmal 55.7 percent.

  • Seventy percent of Georgia inmates do not have a high school diploma.  Improving educational outcomes for students in areas of the state with high incarceration rates will provide young people with bright futures instead of a life behind bars.

  • From January 2011 to the end of the 2015 school year, more than 96,660 students dropped out of school.  This is approximately 8,700 more students than are currently enrolled in the entire Technical College System.

  • If your child already attends a well-performing public school, the Opportunity School District program will not change their school in any way.  Only six percent of all public schools in Georgia qualify for the OSD program.  The Opportunity School District program gives less fortunate children trapped in failing schools the same opportunity to succeed as a child in a successful school.

  • Within the limits of the school budget, staffing will be determined by the principal.  All existing staff members at the qualifying school will be interviewed.  Staff members will be reviewed based upon student growth and performance data before any staffing recommendations are finalized.  Any tenured teacher not given the option shall remain an employee of the local school system.

  • Representatives of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which is part of the labor union AFL-CIO, have traveled across state voicing their opposition to the Opportunity School District amendment.  One such reason they oppose OSD is, “…parents, educators and community members lose their ability to have a voice in what happens in neighborhood schools.”  This is not correct.

  • The legislation states no more than 3 percent of existing funds directed to a school within the OSD shall be withheld for administrative operations.  The money must follow the child.

  • Critics of this amendment omit the most important part:  What is best for the child?  We have a real chance to provide students, families and communities a lifeline.  Voting “Yes” on Question 1, the Opportunity School District amendment, is a vote to ensure future generations of Georgians receive the best education. A quality education can determine one’s path in life regardless of where they were born or where they live in the state.

For more information, please visit www.gaopportunity.org
Representative Penny Houston represents the citizens of District 170, which includes all of Berrien and Cook counties and portions of Tift County. She was elected into the House of Representatives in 1997, and is currently the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Economic Development. She also serves on the Banks & Banking, Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight, Economic Development & Tourism, and Ways & Means committees.