LeRoy Collins Commentary 115

Commentary #115
18 November 2007

Veterans Day Article from
Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr

Leading up to Veterans' Day on 11 November 2007, I got a request for an article [that article is Commentary #109 - Webmaster] on the subject of our Florida Veterans from Joe Crankshaw, Editorial Page Editor of the Scripps-Howard newspaper in Stuart FL. As Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, I get many similar requests during the course of the year, but this request was different for several reasons:

Joe Crankshaw had been in my first interview with Editorial Boards of Florida newspapers during my campaign for the Republican Nomination for the U.S. Senate during the summer of 2006. I remember theirs was thorough, and I came away feeling I had been well-prepared, though I was certain I did not answer some questions the way they wanted to hear them, if I was to get their endorsement,...which I did not. But what I remember most about that interview was the war story I heard from Joe Crankshaw beforehand.

On that hot day in Stuart last summer, Joe and I had some brief moments together while we were waiting for the balance of the Editorial Board to arrive. He told me he had been an Army infantryman the summer of 1950 when the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel to invade South Korea. His battalion was dispatched to help block the advance of the North Koreans southward led by Soviet T34 tanks. The UN forces, including Americans, were ill-equipped to oppose tanks, so the advance was virtually unstoppable. The resulting losses by the South Koreans, their American allies, and other UN re-enforcements were catastrophic for several months until the logistical flow was fortified in the South, the Pusan perimeter held, and some heavier anti-tank weaponry was brought to bear. Joe's battalion of several hundred troops was decimated by over 90%, so Joe was one of the few who survived.

Joe is somewhat typical of many combat warriors; they do not want to talk about their experiences in combat because the recollections are painful, and some retain guilt because they survived while so many of their comrades died. While we need to know their stories for the sake of history and appreciation for their service, we must ultimately respect their insistence of privacy.

On 7 NOV I was back in Stuart to speak at a Tribute to Veterans hosted by the Blake Library. To my pleasant surprise, among those present was a former shipmate from my first ship, one of my favorite classmates from my Naval Academy Class of 1956 (and his wife of 50+ years), a fellow submariner from the 1950-60s, but not Joe. So I decided to tell what I knew about Joe's service in South Korea when the war was not going our way. His reluctant story to me, which I had to dig out (a typical reaction of troops who have been in the midst of chaos when their personal survival was in great doubt), was as heroic as any I have heard. On that day less than two weeks ago, I decided the citizens of Stuart needed to know that an elderly hero was in their neighborhood, and they should thank him for his courageous service to the Nation at a time he would have preferred to be elsewhere.

Up until I took this job as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, I have thought that the three years I served as the Weapons Officer of a Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine (1963-65) had been the most meaningful years of my life; at that time I was the custodian of 49 nuclear warheads on 16 Polaris A3 missiles (plus one MK-49 wire-guided torpedo), standing watch on launch alert patrols submerged somewhere in the North Atlantic, prepared to send the first missile on its way within 15 minutes….up to 3000 miles!....upon word from the President of the United States. While my crew became fully trained to do that job without hesitation, we never had to do it for real. Joe and his comrades were thrown into that meat grinder in Korea, on very short notice, with inadequate weaponry and logistical support, against overwhelming odds, which 90% of his buddies did not survive. Joe Crankshaw should have been their speaker that day, but his humble response to me was simply..."it is not about me."

As I go around Florida with its 1.8 million Veterans, I am constantly amazed to find such stories from Veterans who have "been there and done that." They are content to continue life untouched by fame, albeit they are among the stoics of the Nation's past who have made it possible for the rest of us to live mostly normal lives without fear of political unrest. Our Department has launched an aggressive effort to capture the personal histories of our WWII veterans while they are still with us. I have interviewed several and heard the stories of many more. If I can be instrumental in helping document some of these personal experiences of a significant number of our Veterans, I think that will eclipse my personal experience in the strategic missile submarine fleet during the Cold War of the 1950-60s.

/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.

P.S. Another thrilling incident from my Stuart visit that day...At the end of my talk, a young woman in her 20s came up to me and asked how she could help us document the personal experiences of our WWII veterans. What that means is that her generation is discovering The Greatest Generation, and I am very gratified by that.


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