Stolen Valor

F4 Phantom II

There has been a lot in the news lately about celebrities and politicians who inflated their participation in combat.  Others, who were never in the military,  passed themselves off as veterans. This has been called “Stolen Valor.”

But in a way, that is not true. Real valor can’t be stolen.

The so-called purveyors of “Stolen Valor,” it seems, live somewhat vicariously. This is the reality show phenomenon translated to life. Do you want a more exciting life? Well tune in and see someone wrestle an alligator.  Do you want to be a hero?  Well simply tell a bogus combat story or buy some medals to wear.

Who will know the difference?

Well many is the answer. For being a hero is more than telling a story or wearing medals.

In his classic novel about the U.S. Space Program, The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe speaks to this but never clearly defines it. Those with the Right Stuff are the best of the best. They do amazing things. They exhibit qualities that many would wish to have.   They are larger than life, yet they simply act as one among others doing the job that needs to be done.

I flew with such men: Col Chuck DeBellevue, the leading ace of the Vietnam War; Col Roger Locher, who evaded capture on the ground in North Vietnam for 23 days before rescue; the late Lt Gen Edward Tixier, my former commander in Alaska; Brig Gen Keith Connolly, a highly decorated pilot who was featured on the History Channel program, “Vietnam in HD;” Brig Gen Jon Reynolds, a POW in North Vietnam for 8 years, who taught with me at the Air Force Academy, and closer to home, my late uncle who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.  All are good examples of men of valor, which by any standard is the Right Stuff.

These men share many things, but the most important is this: You would never know what they had done; they did not flaunt their experiences.  They led by example not with faux bravado or embroidery to their resumes.   Their focus was outward not on themselves.   I have seen men in authority who treated those in lesser positions as if they were of lesser value.   To me that was always a key marker of great leaders, how they treated others not just those above them, but those below.   The exceptional leaders all exhibited highest personal standards that could not help but influence all who knew them.   They were the men you would follow into Hell if they asked you to do it.

Real valor flows out of duty, sacrifice, and commitment to something bigger than self.  These men moved out of the comfort zone of home, family and community, subjected themselves to trials and dangers that few today can imagine, and in the end simply did their duty to the best of their abilities.

Those who weave stories of combat dangers or wear medals not earned, do not steal valor. They invent it.

Real valor belongs only to the men who have earned it.

Rather, instead of ‘Stolen Valor” what we are seeing is “purloined praise.” It is praise only for the sake of praise to feed the egos of those who lap it up like cream. Valor doesn’t demand praise; it is of itself its own reward.

And those of us who have shared experiences with real men of valor, are far richer for having known them.

Posted in Air Force, Alaska, American History, F-4 Phantom II, Family History, Fighter Aircraft, Military history, Stolen Valor, Veterans, Vietnam War, World War Ii | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thoughts on the letters From Thailand – Combat 40 years later


500 pound Mark 82 bomb load on F4

500 pound Mark 82 bomb load on F4

Ground troops face a great deal of stress in combat, no doubt about that.  Air crews have it much easier.  It is all very impersonal. It is as if one gets into a “flying office” goes to work and then comes home.  There are only a few moments of excitement, stress, and tension.  And one never personally experiences the extent of what happened. You make a pass and drop your bombs and see the explosions. If there is no returned fire or missiles shot, it’s as if there were no other people involved.

I flew 42 combat missions during the war, most of them  flying an F4 Phantom II fighter loaded with about 6-9,000 pounds of bombs and several guided missiles, which is in itself inherently dangerous.   That itself is something I never thought about when I was a much  younger man.  Flying is dangerous, perhaps that is why we are shocked so much when a commercial airliner has an accident.  We have become complacent and complaceny is not a good thing in the air.  I learned that on many occasions.

In looking back at the letters it seems that there were only a few instances when I almost bought the farm due to ground fire or mechanical problems.   But when you are in the midst of it, you simply don’t think about it.

The World War I British poet Siegfried Sassoon has described combat this way:  “Soldiers are citizens of death’s gray land, Drawing no dividend from time’s to-morrows.”   When I flew combat missions over Vietnam, as I sat in the cockpit, I entered a place that, for me, was where time ceased to exist.  In combat there is only the moment at hand to focus on.  For me that is what the poet meant.

I think back on it now, 40 years ago. In those days, we fighter jocks would never have even begun to have exercised any sort of introspection about this. We knew we were the elite of the Air Force. How else could we get up each day and strap on an F4 and go into combat. I was a warrior.   I was lucky in that I came back, many were not.

When I taught history at the Air Force Academy I would take at the end of the term 8 mm movies into my classes that I had taken from the back seat of the F-4 and show them to my students. I wanted the cadets to understand that they had taken a special path. That they too might be called upon to give up themselves and be placed in harms way. Perhaps that was my way of dealing with combat at the time. To make them more aware of what they might face.

Military men and women, whether serving in the Mexican and Civil Wars, or with Washington securing the independence of our nation, or being in Vietnam or Afghanistan set themselves apart.  They move out of the comfort zone of home, family and community, subject themselves to trials and dangers that few who have not been there can imagine or understand.   It is a calling and it is a sacrifice.

When I flew combat I never thought about this; now I know it to be the truth.


Posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, Cambodia bombing 1973, F-4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Military history, Norvell Family History, Social History, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, USAFA, Veterans, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snow, Snow, Snow

Living in upstate New York other people, who don’t live here,  are always fascinated with the weather here in the winter.  Since we grew up in this area it really is no big deal to us.  In fact, the area that my wife and I lived as children was far worse.

Snow inthe streets

Snow inthe streets

We lived in a small town about seven miles from Oswego, New York.  Oswego is the snow capital of New York.  It was not uncommon for storms off of Lake Ontario to dump – and that is the correct word – dump 9 feet of snow in one weekend.

One year, about 1957, our school was closed for two weeks as the roads were impassable.  There was a drift across the road in front of our house that defied plowing.  My mother and I sat fascinated as a large winged snow plow raced at it and literally bounced off the drift.  Later they would bring in a large rotary plow that chewed its way through the drift leaving snow banks about 6-8 feet high.

Still this has been a hard winter and we take this into consideration when we plan anything.  When we lived in Sacramento, we had season tickets to the theater and symphony.  But not here as we really cannot be sure from day to  day whether we will be able to attend a scheduled performance.

Of course when we lived in  the Washington D.C. area snow brought additional trials to traffic there.  At the time I was still in the Air Force and had about an 18 mile commute into the District of Columbia where Bolling AFB was located.   On a good day it would take 45 minutes; on a bad one- as much as 2 hours.  One never knew what the D.C. Beltway would be like until it was too late.  And that was in good weather mostly.  Add snow into the equation and literally chaos ensued.

Snow threw the whole metro D.C. area into panic.  In December 1986, one day it began to snow at noon and was beginning to really come down.  At this point, about 1 p.m., a decision was made by “Someone in Authority” to send the entire federal government home.  Now think about this:  several hundred thousand government employees hit the snowy roads all at the same time.

I wisely, so I thought, decided to wait it out until the traffic had dissipated and did not leave work until 3:30 p.m.  I got on the interstate to go home and as I approached the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, always a bottleneck even at good times, the traffic ground to a halt.  After 2 hours of crawling about 5 miles I was able to turn around and returned to the base.  So there was no option but to wait.  On 7 p.m. I hit the road again.  This time traffic was light, that’s because people had abandoned their cars on the bridge and along the road way.  Still it took me until 10:30 p.m to finally get home.  It was not a fun day.

View of the yard

View of the yard

This year we have had the most snow in about 20 years in the Finger Lakes where we live.  We jokingly call this Shangri-La as in most years the storms pass to the north or south of us.   As I write this we have about two feet of snow on the ground with more forecast in the upcoming days.

So we will grin and bear it,  as we truly know it could be worse.

Posted in Air Force, American History, Bolling AFB, Canandaigua NY, Family History, New York, Norvell Family History, NY History, Ontario Co, Social History | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

With the Sioux 5


Alexander H. Redfield portrait, abt 1840

Alexander H. Redfield portrait, abt 1840

From 1857-1860 Alexander Hamilton Redfield, my great great grandfather served as the Indian agent for the Sioux nation at a time of great change.

Yancton Agency, Dacotah Territory

Redfield, commenting on violations of the treaty, noted in his report to the Indian Commissioner:

I found , however, that several squatters were already on their [Indian]lands eagerly endeavoring to seize some of the most desirable points. One company of intruders had actually located in the midst of their village and erected a sort of fortress for their protection.

Redfield assured the displeased chief that he would ask military authorities at Fort Randall to have the interlopers evicted.

October 17, 1859: The weather was intensely hot during the greater part of July and August; the thermometer frequently rising to 104` in the shade and once as high as 110.
At night the mosquitos were most tormenting, preventing sleep to a great extent. Some cattle belonging to white settlers having been killed and eaten near the Vermillion River in July, by a small party of Indians of the band of “Mad Bull”….

The Yancton Agency is one hundred and ten miles above Sioux City, Iowa. On the 23rd of June, we left St. Louis, the river was found unusually high, and we arrived at the point on the reservation on 13th of July.

Long Fox-To-Can-Has-Ka. Tachana, Sioux, 1872 - NARA

Long Fox-To-Can-Has-Ka. Tachana, Sioux, 1872 – NARA

When the Yankton Indians moved from their lands in Dakota that they ceded to the United States in 1859, he became their first agent and the first Indian agent in Dakota.

One last story was handed down in the family

Although he was alone on his early trips By 1860 he and his family were living at the Yankon Reservation in South Dakota.

As the story in the family went He found himself involved in an Indian uprising caused by his daughter Mary.

While taking a bath, she discovered to her surprise an Indian brave watching her; this so upset her that she scalded him with the bath water.

Unfortunately he was the son of the Chief and despite Alexander’s explanations the Indians could see nothing wrong with the boy watching the young woman bathe.

Warning Alexander that they would kill him and his family if they did not flee, Redfield stood his ground and it was only through his courage and capable actions, and all the presents from Washington that he was able to prevent the massacre and placate the Indians.

It was in 1860 that Mary met my great grandfather Col Freeman Norvell, when he became secretary of Alexand H. Redfield and they married in 1862. My grandfather Hamilton R. Norvell was born in June 1863.

Mary Dean Redfield Norvell Daughter of Alexander H. Redfield

Mary Dean Redfield Norvell
Daughter of Alexander H. Redfield

Alexander Hamilton Redfield died at his home in Detroit (516 Jefferson Ave) of quick consumption (pneumonia) at the age of 64.

Posted in American History, Detroit, Family History, Famous Alden Descendants, Genealogy, Native Americans, Sioux, Western History, Yanktons | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

With the Sioux 4


From 1857-1860 Alexander Hamilton Redfield, my great great grandfather served as the Indian agent for the Sioux nation at a time of great change.

On July 4, 1858, Redfield celebrated the 82nd anniversary of the Nation’s independence at Fort Union. In the assembled group were some of the most famous members of the fur trade, and they listened to Redfield speak about the “bravery, greatness, wealth, and inluence of the Americans upon the entire world and about the importance of the American government by the people.”

On July 6, two mackinaw boats were loaded with fur company goods and government annuties for the Indians. They left Ft Union and on the 7th began the trip up the mouth of the Yellowstone River. One of the boats was commanded by Redfield and included Carl Wimar, the artist. Redfield noted that the trip was more difficult this time of year as the “large and rapid stream was at this time unusually full.”

On July 26, almost two weeks after they began, the boats halted somewhere below the mouth of the powder river. Thunderstorms and cold weather had plagued the trip from the start. Redfield was not well and his boat turned around and began the trip back to Ft. Union.  Redfield increasing reported to his superiors that he was frustrated by the unchecked power of the fur companies.

In July 1858, hewrote:

“The rivalry between the fur companies is very sharp and bitter and has I know a very unfavorable effect upon the Indians. The influence and example and conduct of the employees of these companies is almost most pernicious – Liquor is being introduced into the country secretly I think by other parties. To detect or arrest these abusers the Agent has little opportunity or power and I wish the trade was stopped entirely and every man expelled from the country except the Indian agents. ”

On the first day of September, Redfield dispatched a letter asking for a leave of absence as he was sick. He wrote:

Upper Missouri Agency, Fort Union

September 1, 1858: My observation and inquiry during the two years in which I have been among the Indians of this Agency fully convince me:

1. That the Indian trade in buffalo robes annually decreases, and that it is not over one-half what it was ten or fifteen years ago, and consequently, that the buffalo in the whole country are decreasing at an alarming rate.

2. That the Indians, by war, insufficient food, and contagious and other diseases, are also fast decreasing. Their diseases are chiefly inflammation, rheumatism, consumption, small pox, and I regret to add, venereal diseases are now said to be quite frequent among them.

3. That they now, generally, almost entirely disregard their treaty obligations, are involved in continual predatory wars upon each other and that, indeed, they frequently steal from and rob, and not infrequently kill, white people also. . . .

4. That whiskey is being secretly and more introduced into the country.

To be continued in With the  Sioux 5


Posted in American History, Norvell Family History, Redfield Family History, Sioux, Social History, South Dakota History, Western History, Yanktons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

With the Sioux 3

Alexander H. Redfield portrait, abt 1840

Alexander H. Redfield portrait, abt 1840

From 1857-1860  Alexander Hamilton Redfield, my great great grandfather served as the Indian agent for the Sioux nation at a time of great change.

His story continues:

On  June 16 Redfield  halted on the west bank of the river to meet the Yancton’s most famous chief, Big Head. Wimar captured the moment in his journal, “We had scarcely reached the shore when some three hundred savages galloped toward us in a furious manner, until they were within about one hundred paces of our party when they suddenly came to a halt and fired their flintlocks over our heads.” Writing later, Henry Boller, another member of the party, remembered it this way: “Along, dark line of warriors, riding abreast, emerged from the intervening roll of the prairie and with full pomp and panoply advanced to meet us, headed by the famous chieftain, Big Head.”

Big Head and his party advanced to Redfield and shook hands with him in a solemn ceremony. Redfield later wrote in his report: “It will be recollected that this chief and his followers have for some years been rather conspicuous for their unfriendly and refectory disposition.”

Redfield later noted in his report:

Mandan House abt 1858 NARA

Mandan House abt 1858

At Fort Randall, Nebraska Territory in June 1858. On the 19th arrived at the Arickaree village and spent the greater part of the day – the Arickarees are at open war with part of the Sioux, They are very excited and angry. While walking from the boat to the Fort I was met by a mob of young braves, one of whom placed the muzzle of his gun between my feet and discharged it — The gun I suppose was not shotted and was discharged only as insults and bravado.
The gun caused only powder burns on Redfield’s clothing. Undeterred, he convinced 12 of the warriors to come aboard the Twilight for additional discussions. After an initial discussion, the Indians asked to see the soldiers that were accompanying the party. Redfield noted that the escort was so large that the Indians did not dare to cause any problems or make a demonstration.
The Twilight continued up river, and on June 20 came to Forts Berthold and Atkinson. Wimar made sketches of the area and the methods of drying the buffalo meat. When the steamboat arrived many of the Indians were away on a buffalo hunt.

Redfield noted,” These poor, feeble, subdued people [remnants of the Mandan, Hidatsa or Gros Ventre tribes] I found, as usual, quiet and friendly , and thankful to received their small presents.”

He also found that they were wasting away and unless soon protected and assisted by the government, the Sioux would undoubtedly annihilate them. It was at this point the Wimar party left Redfield and continued upriver on the Twilight.

On July 1, they came back and the party rejoined at Fort Stuart, where Redfield asked some missionaries to lead a service for an Indian woman who had died. To his astonishment, the missionary refused because she had not been baptized. Redfield became very angry and warned them, “If you want to be that way, you will not get very far in this country.”

To be continued in With the Sioux 4

Posted in American History, Family History, Genealogy, Internet genealogy, Michigan History, Michigan History, Redfield Family History, Sioux, South Dakota History, Yanktons | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

With the Sioux 2

Alexander H Redfield abt 1865

Alexander H Redfield abt 1865

From 1857-1860  Alexander Hamilton Redfield, my great great grandfather served as the Indian agent for the Sioux nation at a time of great change.

His story continues:

February 3, 1858: He wrote concerning affairs of agency and necessity for making new treaty with Sioux, and stressed that agency was too large and one agent should handle Sioux only. Clothing promised should be delivered. Nearly all Indians at war with each other and kill whites occasionally. At least 2,500 Indians in agency speaking 6 languages.

February 6, 1858: He reported that he had made an expedition to Upper Missouri Country to most trading posts. While there he learned of the death of a white man, Le Blond, by an Arickaree Indian by the name of “The man that don’t run on the male cow.” The Indian told him that he had lost his family by disease and blamed it on the whites.
Situated as I then was in the heart of the Indian Country without any support and surrounded by five thousand of the worst of the Sioux, I could not make any further investigation.


Struck by the Ree A Yankton Smithsonian

Struck by the Ree A Yankton

April 10, 1858: Ranchers destroy and frighten off the Buffalo and other game upon which nearly all the Indians depend for sustenance and soon they will lack food. This is well calculated to excite and does excite their hostility.

April 24, 1858: Received . . . medals for distribution to the Indians. Appointed agent for Yankton Sioux April 19, 1858, paid $1500/year. The Indians in the Upper Missouri and its headwaters were not visited with small pox in 1858 – number about 30,400 and have been somewhat discontented. A large and warlike portion of them are near the frontiers and have it in their power to inflict much injury on advanced settlements.

The Arickarees, Gusentic, and Maudans are small weak Nations –they would be glad to keep their treaty and be at peace but as long as the powerful Sioux are permitted to rob and murder them, how can they be expected to do so or feel friendly to the government or to white people.

On the morning of May 23, 1858, the steamboat Twilight began its second voyage to the Yellowstone carrying 120 tons of Indian annuities that Redfield and his fellow agent had sent for under the government treaties, the German artist Wimar was on that voyage. At this time, Redfield noted that relations between the U.S. and the native Americans were at an all time low. He wrote the Indians had ceded: Eleven million acres of land, much of which is very fine for cultivation and grazing, and over which our bold and enterprising emigrants are resolved to spread. Unfortunately,while the lower portion of the tribe is well pleased with the treaty and the sale of their country, but as I proceeded up the river I found much dissatisfaction on account of it among the upper portion of the Yanctons and all the other seven tribes of the Sioux.

On June 10, Redfield’s party arrived at a large village of the Yanctons, one hundred miles above Fort Randall. Here he called a Council of the tribe and found the Indians to be in a foul temper. Furious at what they believed to be the sale of their lands, the Indians would not allow Redfield and his party safe passage beyond Fort Pierre. A chief named Medicine Cow did most of the threatening. Redfield later noted that he would not have been able to complete his business with the Indians were it not for the large number of troops that accompanied them.

Leaving Ft. Pierre, The Twilight steamed upriver. — To be continued in With the Sioux 3

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