Seventy-five years ago, people began seeing and having an interest in seeing Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). A place called Roswell, New Mexico became famous for UFO sightings, and the Air Force found itself denying any sightings. People who saw the UFOs maintained that they “know what they saw!” Roswell, New Mexico is located near the Pecos River in the southeastern part of the state. Roswell became a magnet for UFO believers due to the strange events of early July 1947, when ranch foreman W.W. Brazel found a strange, shiny material scattered over some of his land. It was like nothing he or anyone else had ever seen before.
I’m not one to believe in UFOs, but I must admit that these were unusual sightings. Public interest in Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs, began to flourish in the 1940s, when developments in space travel and the dawn of the atomic age caused many Americans to turn their attention to the skies. Brazel turned the material over to the sheriff, who passed it on to authorities at the nearby Air Force base. Not unexpectedly, the Air Force officials announced they had recovered the wreckage of a “flying disk.” A local newspaper put the story on its front page, launching Roswell into the spotlight of the public’s UFO fascination. I’m sure the newspaper was beyond excited to get the story, because a good story is great for selling newspapers…especially when it is unbelievable.
Of course, in typical government style, the Air Force took back their story, saying the debris had been merely a downed weather balloon. After that, the general public lost interest in the UFO, except for the die-hard UFO believers, nicknamed “ufologists.” With that, the “Roswell Incident” faded into oblivion…until the late 1970s. Then, claims surfaced that the military had invented the weather balloon story as a cover-up. Of course, these would be considered the conspiracy theorists of their day. Believers in this theory insisted that officials had retrieved several alien bodies from the crashed spacecraft, which were now stored in the mysterious Area 51 installation in Nevada. Now, the Air Force had clean-up to do. Seeking to dispel these suspicions, the Air Force issued a 1,000-page report in 1994 stating that “the crashed object was actually a high-altitude weather balloon launched from a nearby missile test-site as part of a classified experiment aimed at monitoring the atmosphere in order to detect Soviet nuclear tests.” Then on June 24, 1997, US Air Force officials release a 231-page report dismissing long-standing claims of an alien spacecraft crash in Roswell, New Mexico, almost exactly 50 years earlier.
Many people have heard this story, of course, and Area 51 remains a mystery to many people to this day. Most think that the whole thing was a hoax or a weather balloon, but now…suddenly, NASA has decided to take up the study of UFOs…seriously!! See, that, to me, seems more like a conspiracy theory or at the very least a way to take our minds off of other events going on in our world today, than it is a legitimate search for UFOs or anything else. According to a story by The Sun, on May 27, 2022, “NASA has reportedly confirmed it will officially join the hunt for UFOs after a groundbreaking UAP Congress hearing earlier this month. Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) and official sightings were recently discussed at a public US Congress hearing on May 17. Nasa had previously said it “does not actively search for” or research UAPs.” What a way to spend our money…and why now, after all these years.
Originally, in the United States, each branch of the service had their own day to celebrate their service, but on August 31, 1949, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Days. There was a good reason for it. The combination coincided with the unification of the three branches of the service under one agency…the Department of Defense. Man countries have an Armed Forces Day, and they are all done a little differently. In the United States, Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May, which is near the end of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May, or the fourth Saturday if the month begins on a Sunday, such as in 2016. Following the creation of Armed Forces Day in 1949, the holiday was first observed on May 20, 1950.
In his speech proclaiming the day as Armed Forces Day, on February 27, 1950, President Truman stated, “Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, toward the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.” Of course, there is more to planning a holiday that a day and a speech. The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions, and air shows. The longest continuously running Armed Forces Day Parade in the United States is held in Bremerton, Washington.
There were a few glitches, however. The unique training schedules of the National Guard and Reserve units make the specific Saturday celebration difficult for these branches, so they have adapted to celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in the month of May. Every nation needs to celebrate the military forces. Where would we be without a strong military. As President Truman said, “It is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.”
Each year, Armed Forces Day theme is different, because of course, each year more and more has changed. The very first theme was “Teamed for Defense.” Over the years, other themes have included Appreciation of a Nation; Arsenal of Freedom and Democracy; Dedication and Devotion; Deter if Possible, Fight if Necessary; Freedom; Freedom Through Unity; Guardians of Peace; Lasting Peace; Liberty; and Patriotism. In Washington DC, 10,000 troops of all branches of the military, cadets, and veterans marched past the president and his party. In New York City, an estimated 33,000 participants initiated Armed Forces Day “under an air cover of 250 military planes of all types.” Today, Armed Forces Day is celebrated in American communities and on military bases throughout the world with parades, picnics, shopping discounts, festivals, and parties. On May 19, 2017, President Donald Trump reaffirmed the Armed Forces Day holiday, marking the 70th anniversary since the creation of the Department of Defense.
In a war, there are many heroes…some whose acts of courage and selflessness were so amazing that many felt they needed to receive a different medal…one that paid homage to the incredible things they did. Often these medals were even given posthumously because the brave act of the hero, cost the recipients their lives. Before 1861, no such medal existed. President Abraham Lincoln didn’t think that was right. There were many brave soldiers, and while not all brave acts would qualify for the medal of honor, the most self sacrificing of them would…the ones who set aside their own safety to protect the lives of others.
For that reason, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law a measure calling for the awarding of a US Army Medal of Honor, in the name of Congress, “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities during the present insurrection.” The previous December, Lincoln had approved a provision creating a US Navy Medal of Valor, which was the basis of the Army Medal of Honor created by Congress on July 12, 1862. War puts men and women into situations whereby the only choices are kill or be killed. That can be a scary proposition. These soldiers do not do what they do in order to receive a medal. In fact, a medal rarely crosses their minds at all. The first US Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1863, the Medal of Honor was made a permanent military decoration available to all members, including commissioned officers, of the US military. It is conferred upon those who have distinguished themselves in actual combat at risk of life beyond the call of duty. Since its creation, during the Civil War, more than 3,400 men and one woman, Dr Mary Walker, have received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions in US military conflict. These people gave whatever it took to perform their duties. They were the best of the best, and the medal of honor was the best honor we could bestow on them. Of course, in Lincoln’s time, there was no air force, so that medal came later, as did the medals from the other branches of service, including the Coast Guard.
During the Vietnam War, as in any war, children can become displaced because of the loss of their parents. The country has already lost so many people, and often there is no one to take these little orphans, so they often end up in an orphanage, waiting for someone to come along and adopt them. Many times, they live their entire childhood in that orphanage. For a country that has already be devastated by war, the cost of raising these children is detrimental. Such was the case for orphaned children from the Vietnam War. Then the United States made the decision to airlift these children to the United States to be adopted by American families who were waiting for children. The plan was dubbed Operation Baby Lift, and while it would end up being successful, it got of the a sad and rocky start on April 4, 1975, when the first plane crashed shortly after taking off from Tan Son Nhut airbase in Saigon. On board were more than 300 passengers. Of those, 138 passengers, mostly children were killed.
Captain Dennis “Bud” Traynor was the captain on the plane. Many of the 138 passengers were children, and many of them were under age 2 and so small, they had to be carried onto the plane. “We bucket-brigade-loaded the children right up the stairs into the airplane,” Traynor remembers. The flight began normally, but shortly into the flight, when the plane’s cargo doors malfunctioned they blew out, taking with them a chunk of the tail. There was a rapid decompression inside the aircraft, causing the pilot, Traynor, to crash land the C-5 cargo plane into a nearby rice paddy. Traynor managed to stabilize the plane and turn it back toward Vietnam. After that, his only option was a crash landing. The impact was fierce. “It cut all control cables to the tail,” explains Traynor. “So I’m pulling and pulling and pulling, and my nose is going down further and further and we’re going faster and faster and faster, and I can’t figure this out. We came to a stop and I thought to myself ‘I’m alive,'” he says. “And so I undid my lap belt, fell to the ceiling, rolled open the side window, and stepped out and saw the wings burning. And I thought, ‘Oh no, that’s the rest of the airplane.'” Out of the more than 300 people on board, the death toll included 78 children and about 50 adults, including Air Force personnel. More than 170 survived.
While it was an unusual plan, hatched in the midst of the political fallout, the United States government announced the plan to get thousands of displaced Vietnamese children out of the country. President Ford directed that money from a special foreign aid children’s fund be made available to fly 2,000 South Vietnamese orphans to the United States. Operation Baby Lift lasted for just ten days. Baby Lift was carried out during the final, desperate phase of the war, as North Vietnamese forces closed in on Saigon. Although this first flight ended in tragedy, the rest of the flights were completed safely, and Baby Lift aircraft brought orphans across the Pacific until the mission’s conclusion on April 14, just 16 days before the fall of Saigon and the end of the war.
In any wartime situation, there always seem to be those who think the United States should not get involved…mostly because they think that if we just stay out of it, the enemy will leave us alone. Of course, history does not prove that theory. When we look at the wars that the United States has been drawn into, only after we were attacked too, we find that the enemy always intended to take on the United States too, and we were only delaying the inevitable. It seems like every wartime president has had to deal with the naysayers, and President Eisenhower was no different. During the Cold War years when the Communists were trying to take over the world, Eisenhower chose a strong United States defense against it, but his view of a strong defense was much different that General Hoyt Vandenberg’s view. Vandenberg wanted a massive increase in conventional land, air, and sea forces, while Eisenhower said that a cheaper and more efficient defense could be built around the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Senator Robert Taft argued that if efforts to reach a peace agreement in Korea failed, the United States should withdraw from the United Nations forces and make its own policy for dealing with North Korea, basically a completely independent foreign policy, or what one “might call the ‘fortress’ theory of defense.” While both of these suggestions might seem like the best course of action, history tells us that Senator Taft’s suggestion would make us look weak, and possibility bring about attacks on the United States, and while I would tend to agree with General Vandenberg, that we need a strong defense system, I also understand that as technology changes, nations must change with it. Having hundreds of fighter planes is not necessary, if a few can drop a bomb that will settle the matter once and for all. It is similar to the use of pen and paper when we live in a computer age.
President Eisenhower was no stranger to sending the military might of the United States out to attack the enemy, and in his days as a general, he made those decisions every day, but as every one should realize, the more men you have to send, the more possibility of losing them. The decision to send soldiers to their deaths was not one that Eisenhower ever took lightly. With a strong nuclear arsenal, the enemy nation knew that they had better think twice before taking on the United States.
Without naming either man, President Eisenhower responded to both during a speech at the National Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting in Minneapolis. His forceful speech struck back at critics of his Cold War foreign policy. He insisted that the United States was committed to the worldwide battle against communism and that he would maintain a strong United States defense. It was just a few months into his presidency, and the Korean War still raging, but Eisenhower laid out his basic approach to foreign policy with this speech. He began by characterizing the Cold War as a battle “for the soul of man himself.” He rejected Taft’s idea that the United States should pursue isolationism, and instead he insisted that all free nations had to stand together saying, “There is no such thing as partial unity.” To Vandenberg’s criticisms of the new Air Force budget, in which the president proposed a $5 billion cut from the Air Force budget, Eisenhower explained that vast numbers of aircraft were not needed in the new atomic age. Just a few planes armed with nuclear weapons could “visit on an enemy as much explosive violence as was hurled against Germany by our entire air effort throughout four years of World War II.” With this speech, Eisenhower thus pointed out the two major points of what came to be known at the time as his “New Look” foreign policy. First was his advocacy of multi-nation responses to communist aggression in preference to unilateral action by the United States. Second was the idea that came to be known as the “bigger bang for the buck” defense strategy.
Anytime a nation is facing war, it is a stressful time for its people, but no nation will do well using the isolation strategy, because a nation that appears to be weak in its own defense, will ultimately become a target for attack. I am not an advocate for the United Nations, and in fact, I believe we need to disband the United Nations, but I do believe that a nation must have allies…nations with like values, who are willing to go to war to back up their allies, and that we must not allow bully nations to take over smaller nations, because that only strengthens their resolve to expand further. I also believe that when technology becomes available, it must be properly combined with human forces to achieve the best result in the most efficient way.