By Don Mathis
Austin–Bergstrom International Airport was alive April 21 with an assortment of 40 military veterans gathered for a flight to Washington, D.C. Austin Honor Flight 81 was assigned to tour our nation’s war memorials the next day.
Old Korea veterans from the Army and Air Force rolled about in wheelchairs. Wise-cracking Cold War Marines mingled with spry veterans from the Vietnam era. I was one of the last Americans to be drafted in May 1971, so was eligible to attend.
After the TSA checkpoint, it was more of the old Army axiom, “Hurry up and wait.” Then an Honor Guard troop arrived and the Austin Police Department Pipe and Drum Corps got in formation.
Aides with wheelchairs led our company of veterans down the concourse to the beat of drums, whistles of flutes, and the haunting sounds of bagpipes. Civilian travelers clapped and cheered. Mothers wiped tears from their eyes and young men saluted. A hundred passengers stopped on their way to their gates and filmed our parade.
Speeches and a blessing followed an acapella rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Nyle Maxwell owns several car dealerships in Texas and his family sponsored this Honor Flight. Transportation, lodging, meals, and personal guides were given to those who served. *
The ramp to the aircraft was festooned with red, white, and blue. A water cannon saluted our takeoff. The reception at Reagan National Airport was even more grand. A thousand tourists and businessmen applauded our arrival. This is the welcome that servicemen from Korea and Vietnam never received when they returned home.
The band of veterans, uniformed in matching shirts and caps with service insignia, boarded the bus for a short trip to a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, to prepare for a banquet. Guardians and guests sat by the side of dozens of veterans as they were feted for their service.
A poem was offered:
Children become soldiers; there are a thousand reasons why.
Some will die in combat, others will survive.
I won’t forget their sacrifices, their families who had to wait,
and their careers they put on hold. So, if it’s not too late,
I want to thank the veteran. What he had to do, he did.
Soldiers grow old too fast. It seems yesterday he was just a kid.
We can flower and flag the cemetery. We can shed a little tear.
We can offer our thanks to the living veterans who are still here.
Speeches and blessings were rendered. But one tribute was unique – The Missing Man Table:
The table is round, to show everlasting concern for our missing men. The white linen symbolizes the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve. A single rose reminds us of the love of their friends and family. A ribbon symbolizes our continued determination to account for our missing. A slice of lemon reminds us of their bitter fate; captured and missing in a foreign land. A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of our missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty. The lighted candle reflects our hope for their return, alive or dead. The goblet is inverted, symbolizing their inability to share a toast. The chair is empty, the seat that remains unclaimed at the table.
The next day, a cigar-chomping character, dressed up like a five-star general, greeted the veterans at the WWII Memorial. Inside the columns, an Honor Guard composed of service men and women from the five branches of military showed respect for the symbols of our country.
The Star-Spangled Banner was sung by one of the Honor Flight guardians. It was impeccable – until she stumbled. Truth be told, I thought it was a recording until her miss; I thanked her for keeping it real. Some funerals at the National Cemetery in San Antonio feature a recording of “Taps,” played by an electronic bugle. The rendition of “Taps” at the World War II Memorial was real.
As if on cue, the fountains at the Rainbow Pool sprang to life amid our salute to the Greatest Generation. During WWII, my dad was a sailor in the Pacific; my step-father was a GI in Germany. I carried a dozen American banners in my backpack – and I left a flag for my fathers.
Each veteran was assigned a guardian to explain the sites and keep us punctual for the next tour bus departure. Our itinerary was tight, but I convinced my guardian to go AWOL with me to see some war memorials on our own.
The names of the men and women from the District of Columbia who gave their lives in the First World War are inscribed in an open-air Doric structure near the Reflecting Pool. My guardian’s grandfather served in the Great War for Civilization. I left a flag for his service.
One summer morning 60 years ago, my grandmother rustled me from sleep. “Son, wake up,” she said. “We’re at war.” Instantly, all the images of the war movies I was raised on flashed through my head. So, I left a flag for those early causalities at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A nearby statue depicts three American servicemen and the things they carried. An empty wheelchair sat next to the sculpture the day of our visit – a reminder that some veterans came home in a wheelchair; some didn’t come home at all.
One of my Honor Flight friends recalled his companion who died in Vietnam – and made a rubbing of his name. We looked at a cell phone image of James Wells and gave him a silent salute.
Down the hill from the United States Institute of Peace, a new memorial is going up. There was a groundbreaking on Constitution Avenue last year for the Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial. Organizers hope to have a dedication next year. And across 23rd Street, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation is planning an edifice to remember those who have served in that struggle.
2023 is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. In April, D.C.’s streets were festooned with the flag of South Korea to welcome President Yoon of the Republic of Korea. He and President Biden left a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial a few days after my visit.
1953 is the first memory I have of my dad when he returned to his two-year-old son after the war in Korea. I left another flag for my father.
Arlington National Cemetery is a place of solemn beauty, with headstone after headstone in a row. It is a peaceful place befitting those who have seen the horrors of war. The sound of a flag ruffling in the breeze causes the heart to beat a little faster.
The guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier scuffs his shoe to acknowledge the audience. The Changing of the Guard is a moving ceremony. The presentation of a wreath from Austin Honor Flight 81 was equally overwhelming.
Although the Potomac River is at the bottom of the hill, a ship’s mast rises above the horizon. The USS Maine Memorial overlooks the graves of 230 service members who died when the battleship exploded off the coast of Havana in 1898. The sinking of this vessel was the impetus for the Spanish-American War. But it was that war that joined America again to be United States.
A riff between North and South had existed since the Civil War. And it was the victories of Admiral Dewey’s Navy and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders that unified the nation. The Arlington Memorial Bridge connects the Lincoln Memorial on the north side of the Potomac River with the Robert E. Lee Memorial in the heart of the National Cemetery.
This country is experiencing a division like nothing since the Vietnam War. We need that unity once again.
While at Arlington, I left a flag for an Army major and a Navy captain. The service I receive at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in San Antonio merited a memorial for its namesake. And the father of my best friend is buried nearby; so I left a Salute to Captain Arellano.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the flag rising over Iwo Jima was the model for the US Marine Corps War Memorial. The base of the monument lists the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since their founding in 1775. The list of wars and battles is long – more than 40 engagements – and there is plenty of room for future wars.
The guide brought to our attention an optical illusion. The flag at the Marine Corps Memorial seems to rise as you drive around it. There is no such thing as an ex-Marine. I left a flag for those who served.
The Air Force Memorial honors the service and heritage of the men and women of military aviation. It’s located on federal property adjacent to a new section of Arlington National Cemetery. Three memorial spires appear to be soaring; its array of stainless-steel arcs against the sky evokes the image of contrails of Air Force jets.
My service in the Air Force Reserve brought me to Washington, D.C. several times in the 1970s. I left a flag for my mother’s brothers. Staff Sargent Hollis Walker and Lt. Col. Dick Walker both served in the Air Force in WWII and Korea. Salute to my uncles!
The Air Force Memorial overlooks the Pentagon. A 9/11 Memorial there commemorates the family members and friends who died in the 2001 terrorist attack. From our vantage point on the river levee, we could see the different colored stone used to repair the damage from American Airlines Flight 77. A nation is held together by its history, by a collective understanding of what has come before us, and what it has meant. This is how we are united together.
A short stop for sailors only was planned for the United States Navy Memorial. The fountain there is filled annually with waters from the seven seas. Again, my guardian helped me go AWOL to leave a flag for my father’s service in the Pacific during WWII.
Wars are fought for a variety of reasons. It may pitch hunter-gatherers against farmers or it may be the agrarian vs. the industrial age. Wars may be fought for land or liberty, resources or racism, ethics or to end ethnic violence.
But if you ask the combatant why he’s fighting, he may tell you it’s for his fellow man. On Memorial Day, we remember those who have fought and fallen. We can flower and flag the cemetery or we can give a silent salute. But we remember. And in Washington, D.C., there are many memorials to aid our memory.
*Honor Flight is a national organization that transports American veterans to Washington, D.C., to celebrate them for their service and sacrifices. If you know of a veteran from 1975 or earlier, ask them to consider looking into the Honor Flight Network – Honoring American Veterans.
The Real History of Thanksgiving
The history of Thanksgiving cannot be discussed without recognizing the reality of genocide committed against Native Indigenous people. Free land was the enticement for European settlers to come to the Americas. The Native populations on these lands would have to be removed or conquered to accomplish their goals.
Many foreigners were already slave owners who wanted to plant cash crops using Black slave labor. The history of the United States cannot be fully understood unless one examines “settler colonialism.” Settler colonialism was founded on the ideology of land theft, genocide, and slavery. Those who have written American history with an eraser of bias have found it easy to perpetuate the Thanksgiving myth of Europeans sitting down with Native Americans and enjoying a food feast together—nothing could be further from the truth.
What came before this so-called “Thanksgiving” was murder, genocide, and slavery of Native people before and after the mythical thank you dinner. Puritan settlers came up with the idea of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a racist law enacted by the Pope of that time and brought to America by the less-than-honorable Christopher Columbus. This is the part of the American origin myth that professors and teachers still ignore to be accepted in the world of historical falsehoods. Settler colonialism is a genocidal policy of murder and land theft to satisfy a false religious belief in racial destiny (also called Manifest Destiny). Settlers required violence to realize their dreams of wealth. No community will willingly give up their land, children, resources, and dignity without a fight, and Indigenous people did not go down without a fight against these ideals that were rooted in a colonial agenda that had a religious spin on it. When European settlers were crossing the ocean and illegally crossing borders, it was something supposedly legal and sanctioned by God.
America was not a virgin land or wilderness filled with wild animals but a land tame to Native people. It was a network of native communities that linked people through roads and trails they carved themselves, which they built long before Europeans arrived. Native people cultivated farmland and crops to survive the harsh winters in the northern parts of America. The Native people knew where the oyster beds were, the water routes, and what plants had medicinal value. Settlers came to America with a culture of conquest and killing that they experienced in hundreds of years of religious savagery between Catholics and Protestants, especially the killing and exploitation of the Irish by the English and Scottish. White supremacy can be traced to the Christian Crusades against Muslims and not to capitalism, though capitalism exploited the idea to the fullest later.
These Europeans did not tame the wilderness. They invaded and murdered the original inhabitants. There are many fake origin stories from one country to the next, as apartheid South Africa once claimed and is now claimed by Israel using similar tactics for decades in a systematic way to force Palestinians from their homes, according to Amnesty International.
The fake Captain John Smith story never mentions his threat to kill all Native women and children if the Native people would not help feed and clothe the settlers from England and provide free labor for the English settlement. When Native people refused, the settlers burned their crops in an attempt to starve out the so-called “Indians.” This would result in the Pequot War, in which settlers would slaughter the Pequot tribe in the 1600s. Unknown to many, this was the first “Thanksgiving,” according to research by historians, in which settlers had a celebration thanking God for their murderous exploits. Scalp hunting was brought to America’s shores by the Scottish Protestants, who also invented the term “Redskin” to describe the bleeding head of one of their victims. Mutilated bloody corpses, which Puritans scalped, were the origin of the term “Redskin.” It was not developed as an indication of “race.” Later in history, the practice of scalping and gutting pregnant Native women would be carried out by the Scotsman Andrew Jackson, whom many now call the “Hitler of America.”
The Thanksgiving Myth is that of smiling “Indians” welcoming the European explorers to America, showing them how to reside in this ‘wilderness,” and sitting down to dinner with them. They supposedly hand their lands off to “frontiersmen,” so these invaders can create an incredible country committed to freedom, opportunity, and Christianity until the end of the world. That is the story — it’s about Native People yielding to settler colonialism. The myth is bloodless and, in numerous ways, an argument for the racist idea of Manifest Racial Destiny. Thus, the Thanksgiving myth was created to present a false history to deny the horrors of American origins and later to invent a fake ideology coined “American Exceptionalism.” American Exceptionalism was derived from these false ideas, created by criminal or ignorant historians, which claim that America is an “Innocent Nation” while other nations may have blood on their hands. Nothing could be further from the real history of America and the truth about Thanksgiving. Today, many of us celebrate family and friends and want nothing to do with the invented narrative. We can always choose to provide our own meanings and, at the same time, educate our community about the lies.
Downtown SA Lights Up for the Holidays
Downtown San Antonio will sparkle this holiday season with an array of lights and holiday events.
Set against the backdrop of one of the city’s most historic and charming walkways, five blocks of Houston Street will buzz with twinkling lights, decorations, entertainers, and vendors from Nov. 24 and runs through January 2.
Additionally, on Nov. 24, kick off the holiday festivities with the Annual H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Travis Park. Festivities begin at 4 p.m. and include live entertainment, food trucks, letters to Santa, giveaways, holiday crafts, a special visit from Santa, and a movie screening of “The Grinch.” The tree-lighting ceremony begins at 6 p.m., followed by the movie at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.
Get front-row seats to the 42nd Annual Ford Holiday River Parade, which offers a spectacular one-hour parade along the San Antonio River Walk starting at 6 pm at the Tobin Center. This year’s theme, “Holiday Stories,” will kick off the San Antonio tradition. Always held the day after Thanksgiving, the parade and river lighting ceremony will feature 28 illuminated floats and over 100,000 lights (2,250 strands) illuminating the River Walk. The lights turn on from sundown to sunrise every day until the weekend following New Year’s Day. Seating ranges from $15 to $40. It is broadcast live at 7 p.m. at the Arneson River Theatre.
The Rotary Ice Rink, presented by Valero, will also return this fall at Travis Park in downtown San Antonio. Since 2019, nearly 200,000 people have enjoyed the rink and surrounding festivities. For more information, including hours of operation, pricing, and specials, visit (rotaryicerink.com).
For more events, go to (VisitSanAntonio.com).
Black Soldiers’ Convictions Overturned – A Century Later!
More than 100 years later, the U.S. Army recently overturned the convictions of the 110 Black soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (also known as the Buffalo Soldiers), who were falsely found guilty following the World War I-era Houston Riots.
The records of these soldiers will be corrected, to the extent possible, to characterize their military service as honorable. Seventeen of these men are buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a sign telling the story of these men to educate visitors about what happened.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said, “After a thorough review, the Board has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials. By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight.”
The Houston Riots took place on Aug. 23, 1917, following months of racial provocations against members of the 24th — including the violent arrest and assault of two Black soldiers. Following the assaults and amid rumors of additional threats to soldiers, a group of more than 100 Black soldiers seized weapons and marched into the city, where clashes erupted. The violence left 19 people dead.
In the months that followed, the Army convicted 110 soldiers in a process that was, according to historians, characterized by numerous irregularities. Ultimately, 19 men were executed in the largest mass execution of American soldiers by the U.S. Army. The first set of executions occurred in secrecy and within a day of sentencing, leading the Army to implement an immediate regulatory change that prohibited future executions without review by the War Department and the President.
In 2020 and 2021, the South Texas College of Law petitioned the Army to review the convictions. Shortly after, the Army received petitions from retired general officers requesting clemency for all 110 soldiers.
“As a Texas native, I was grateful to participate in this process early in my tenure at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, and I am proud that the Army has now formally restored honor to soldiers of the 3-24 and their families,” said Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo. “We cannot change the past; however, this decision provides the Army and the American people an opportunity to learn from this difficult moment in our history.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been deeply involved as this case has unfolded and is prepared to assist any family members upon receipt of the corrected records. Relatives of the soldiers may be entitled to benefits. Family members or other interested parties may request a copy of the corrected records from the National Archives and Records Administration, in accordance with NARA Archival Records Request procedures found at (archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records).
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Downtown SA Lights Up for the Holidays
Black Soldiers’ Convictions Overturned – A Century Later!
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