Lieutenant Colonel Joe Jackson, Medal of Honor Winner

May 12, 2019

On 12 May 1968, Lt. Col. Joe Jackson and his crew were flying a routine resupply mission when the Special Forces base at Kham Duc had to be evacuated. Eight aircraft had been destroyed during the evacuation and one blocked part of the runway. The US and Vietnamese irregular Soldiers had been evacuated but a three-man Air Force combat control team had been left behind in the confusion. Lt. Col. Jackson’s routine mission suddenly became much more. This is the story of his heroics in rhyme.

The Ballad of Joe Jackson

On 12 May nineteen sixty-eight
The Air Force made an awful mistake.
They evacuated the Kham Duc base
But three Airmen they didn’t take.

Somehow three men were left behind.
The enemy was dug in all around,
And set up positions on the strip.
The Airmen feared they’d be left on the ground.

Eight of our planes had been shot down,
Ablaze on the field where they were slain.
The mile-long strip was blocked by one.
Just twenty-two hundred feet remained.

Ammunition dumps were blowing up,
Spewing flame everywhere.
Aimless blasts of abandoned rounds
Hurled debris high in the air.

The call for volunteers went out
For brave men to rescue
The Airmen left behind.
Joe Jackson knew what he must do.

He and his crew were already there.
A C-123 was what he drove.
He had to come in deadly steep,
Eight times faster than normal he dove.

An enemy rocket hit in front
Of the landing plane.
Miraculously, it didn’t explode.
They would be able to fly again.

The Airmen ran as fast as they could
Toward the defenseless craft.
The men now safely aboard,
Joe could take off at last.

As the aircraft pulled away
Rounds began to impact
Where the plane had briefly been,
But they never made contact.

The Medal of Honor was earned by Joe
For the deed that he had done.
When asked why later on,
He said, “I was the closest one.”

Sources: “Vietnam-era Medal of Honor Recipient Joe Jackson Dead at 95” by Chad Garland, Stars and Stripes. January 15, 2019; “Col. Joe Jackson, Medal of Honor hero, dies in Washington State” by Winston Skinner, The Newnan Times-Herald, January 15 2019; Medal of Honor Citation for Lt. Col. Joe Jackson, 01/16/1969.

Note: For more stories in rhyme about America’s heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.


Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole, the Last of the Doolittle Raiders, Dies.

April 18, 2019

On this date in 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a raid of 16 B-25 bombers on Tokyo, Japan, launched from the USS Hornet. The raid was in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor some four months earlier. It was the first time B-25s had been launched from an aircraft carrier and many thought it couldn’t be done. Japan thought they were immune to attacks from far-away America and the raid devastated Japanese moral and boosted that of the United States. (See “The Doolittle Raid 70 Years Ago Today” posted on 18 April 2012 at Lieutenant Dick Cole was Doolittle’s copilot during that raid and the last of the raiders to die on 9 April 2019. This is his story.

The Ballad of Richard “Dick” Cole

Wind was blasting the open hatch.
China was dark below.
The B-25 was out of fuel.
The lieutenant had to go
Out that open bay.

Nine thousand feet above the sod
Buffeted by a gale,
The battered beast was going down.
No choice now but to bail
And, I guess, hope and pray.

Lieutenant Cole was one of those
Brave and selfless men
Who volunteered to risk his life,
And, yes, would do again,
To avenge that cowardly deed,
Just over four months before,
Of a brutal surprise attack.
The President said to find a way
To hit the Japanese back
With all deliberate speed.

Jimmy Doolittle led the raid,
That no one thought could be,
Of sixteen land-based B-25s
Launched from a ship at sea;
A US aircraft carrier.

B-25s take a lot
Of runway space, you know,
To lift their heft into the air
So they can fly and go
Surmount that airspeed barrier.

The Hornet had a short runway,
Five hundred feet was all
There was for them to gain the air
Or into the water fall,
And fail at their vital task.
So Doolittle asked for volunteers
To risk their lives this way.
Eighty heroes raised their hands
To fly the appointed day
And give whatever was asked.

They were seen the day before
They were to mount and go,
By some sailors of Japan.
Discovered then, and so
They had to launch too fast.

Two hundred miles farther away
Than was the battle plan.
That meant they could not reach
The Chinese fields to land.
Once again Doolittle asked
If any wanted to quit.
No one raised a hand.
With seas crashing o’re the deck
The bombers all were manned
And were ready to go.

Doolittle and Cole were the first
To launch into the storm.
Fifteen more followed then
To link up with them and form
The raid on Tokyo.

Four hours it took before they reached
The target of desire.
Revenge for Pearl was the goal
Of every fearless flyer.
Their mission on their mind.

After the raid and running out
Of time and out of gas,
Doolittle ordered to bail out.
The crew jumped out en masse.
Wondering what they would find.

Lieutenant Cole had never jumped
From a plane before,
Nor had he been even trained
By the Army Air Corps.
He was terrified.

He leaped out of the falling plane
Into the stormy night
And yanked on the ripcord hard.
He must have done it right
Because he hadn’t died.

He didn’t land on the ground
But landed in a tree.
At dawn he climbed down
To see what he could see.
He saw a Nationalist Chinese banner.

A Chinese soldier led him to
A hut with Doolittle there.
But they weren’t out of danger yet.
Japanese were everywhere.
They escaped in a covert manner.

The raid had shocked Japan,
Which changed its battle view
To focus on Midway Atoll
To do what they must do
To try to keep our Troops away.

The US won the battle there
And began to win the war.
The men of the Doolittle Raid
Opened up the door
That led to VJ Day.

At each Raider reunion
Eighty goblets were there,
One for every airman
Who that day launched in air.
Each man had a stein.

They’d drink a toast to those who died
During the previous year.
Then overturn the goblet
Of the ones who were not here.
One less on the line.

The last goblet will soon be turned
For Lieutenant Colonel Cole.
The last of those hero men,
Whose story I just told.
Who had the courage long ago
To accomplish heroic tasks
On a stormy sea.
A task some said could not be done
That changed our history.
And now we know it’s so.

Note: Based on The Wall Street Journal article “The Last of the Doolittle Raiders Is Gone” by Laura Hillenbrand, 12 April 2019. Thanks to Phil Park for bringing it to my attention. Thanks also to Partnering With Eagles ( for its contribution.

For more stories in rhyme about American Heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II, Medal of Honor Winner

April 6, 2019

On this date in 2008 Staff Sergeant Ronald Shurer performed multiple acts of courage during a battle in Afghanistan, saving the lives of many U.S. Special Forces Soldiers and Afghan allies. On 1 October 2018 President Trump awarded him the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. This poem describes them.

The Ballad of Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II

He wasn’t quite good enough
The first time he applied.
The Army agreed to let him in
The second time he tried.

Staff Sergeant Ronald Shurer
Was a Special Forces troop;
A Senior Medical Sergeant,
Third Special Forces Group.

In Afghanistan it was,
Six April of oh-eight,
Task Force Thirty-Three
Was about to meet its fate.

They went in by chopper
To eliminate bad guys
When two hundred enemy
Gave them a stark surprise.

RPGs, machine guns
And deadly sniper fire
Quickly put the unit
In a battlefield quagmire.

The Soldiers in the front
And up the mountain side
Had suffered some wounded
But none, as yet, had died.

Through insurgent fusillade
Shurer climbed the slope.
For the wounded Soldiers,
He was their only hope.

He stopped to help a Soldier
Who in the neck was shot.
He had to do his duty
Should he be killed or not.

He then fought up the mount
An hour that grim day,
Killing all the enemy
Engaged along the way.

He finally reached the unit
That was desperately pinned down.
A bunch of wounded Soldiers
Up there was what he found.

He treated four Americans
And ten Afghan comrade.
The Special Ops Team Sergeant
Was also wounded bad.

He braved the enemy bullets
To reach the wounded man.
He must pull him to cover
Any way he can.

As he was doing so,
Shurer suffered harm.
A bullet hit his helmet,
Another pierced his arm.

Undeterred, he rendered aid
To his leader there,
Despite rounds and shrapnel
Flying through the air.

Yet another Soldier
Was wounded in the fight.
He rendered aid to him also.
Bound his bandage tight.

For more than six long hours
He gave his comrades aid.
Fought to keep the foe away,
And he also prayed.

To evacuate disabled
They had to navigate
A sixty-foot precipice
Whose face was nearly straight.

He devised a harness
To lower wounded down,
Shielding with his body
‘Til they were on the ground.

After they were med-evaced
He then rejoined the fray
‘Til it was safe for all to leave.
At last, call it a day.

No one died that day,
No one was left behind.
Today there’re Soldiers very glad
The Army changed its mind.

Sources: “Medal of Honor Citation, Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II, Oct. 2018”; The Washington Times, 2 Oct. 2018, “Trump awards former Army medic with Medal of Honor”; On Point: The Journal of Army History, Winter 2019, Vol. 24, No. 3, “Medal of Honor Presented to Former Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Shurer II”; Army, Nov. 2018, “An Uphill Battle; Medic’s Silver Star Upgraded to Medal of Honor”.

Note: For more stories in rhyme about the heroics of Medal of Honor winners see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2019

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the accomplishments of women world-wide. This poem is dedicated to a special class of women who achieve significant accomplishments and make selfless sacrifices every day—The American Military Wife.

The American Military Wife

Up in the morning at oh-dark thirty,
Cooking bacon and eggs,
I have my bath, wash my hair and also shave my legs.
I’m up to feed my warrior
Before he goes to do
His daily work and passion of defending me and you.

After he walks out the door,
Before my second cup,
I walk myself down the hall to get the children up.
Feed the kids and get ‘em dressed
And bundle ‘em off to school.
They promise not to cause a fuss or violate a rule.

I am an American military wife
Doing the best I can.
Spending each day of my life
Serving my country and my man.
I’m an American military wife
Serving every day,
Every day of my life
In my loving way.

Next come the chores and shopping
And volunteering, too
And about a half a hundred other things to do.
There’s community work and PTA
And helping those in need,
Getting the car to the shop, and the church group that I lead.

My life is full and meaningful
It is the life for me.
But it’s not a piece of cake, it’s not like on TV.
My focus is the family
And to keep it safe and strong.
It’s not the easiest life on earth but it’s where I belong.

I am an American military wife
Doing the best I can.
Spending every day of my life
Serving my country and my man.
I’m an American military wife
Serving every day,
Every day of my life
In my loving way.

When he’s home the days are best
Though he’s rarely here,
It’s better than his being sent off to war somewhere.
We do the things when he’s home
That regular families do.
Just like regular people, just like folks like you.

But while he’s here there always is
A thought deep in my mind
That he is only here for such a little time.
When he’s gone the days are long.
I’ll go through thick and thin
To keep the home fires burning until he’s home again.

I am an American military wife
Doing the best I can.
Spending every day of my life
Serving my country and my man.
I’m an American military wife
Serving every day,
Every day of my life
In my loving way.

I’m so lonely when he’s gone
Though there’s so much to do.
Contentments are far between and happy times are few.
So I look to the day
When he comes back to me.
That’s the day we’ll reunite as a family.

It’s so hard to think of him
And the danger that he’s in.
And to know that there’s a chance he won’t come home again.
And if he should give his all
For the country that he loves,
I’ll still be here to do my best, with assistance from above.

I’ll be an American widowed wife
Doing the best I can.
Spending every day of my life
Serving the memory of my man.
I’ll be an American widowed wife
Serving every day,
Every day of my life
In my loving way.

Note: For more stories in rhyme about Patriotic Americans see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

The American Flag Raised Over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima

February 23, 2019

On this date in 1945, six Marines raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. That moment was captured by Joe Rosenthal, an AP photographer whose photograph became an American icon. What many people don’t know is that the photo taken by Rosenthal was actually of the 2d flag raised over Mount Suribachi. When the 1st flag was raised, Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, watching from a Navy ship, wanted to claim it as a souvenir. When the battalion commander heard of this he said, “To hell with that!”, rightly proclaiming that it belonged to his men. He sent up a 2d, larger flag that could be seen more easily by his Marines.

Rosenthal, upon seeing the 1st flag being raised, sensed that he had missed an historic moment. Dejected, he decided to trudge up the mountain to salvage what he could with a photograph of the flag flying over Mount Suribachi. When he got to the top he saw the second flag about to be raised and captured the famous image.

For 71 years one of the flag raisers, Harold Schultz, had been misidentified as John Bradley, a corpsman, who helped raise the 1st flag. The error was finally corrected but Bradley is not to be discredited because he did help raise the 1st flag and went on to win the Navy Cross for bravery.

Of the 40 men who assaulted the 554 foot Suribachi summit, 36 would be killed on Iwo Jima. In all, 6,800 Americans were killed during the 36 days it took to secure the island. Approximately 20,000 Japanese also died on the eight square miles of Iwo Jima.

The Iwo Jima Flag Raisers

Six Marines raised the flag
On Suribachi Mount that day.
Captured in a photograph;
Our flag above the fray.

The highest point all around
Must be in our control.
Forty men sent up its slopes.
Plant our flag, their solemn goal.

They had fought for bloody days
Across the black sand beach
At a deadly, crawling pace.
Slopes, now, within their reach.

At the top six brave men
Raised Old Glory high
To the horns of Navy ships
That saw the banner fly.
But the flag atop the mount
Was not so easy seen
To be observed down on the sand
By each fighting Marine.

The battalion commander
Dispatched some men
Up the slope of the peak
To raise a larger flag again.

This was the time Joe Rosenthal
Made that famous shot
That brought on some confusion
‘Bout who did and who did not.

These were the men who raised the flag,
In that shot renowned,
That accomplished the historic task
To plant the pole in the ground.

Sergeant Mike Strank
Was the one in command
To plant the flag at the top
And ensure that it would stand.

His captain tried to promote him
But he had turned him down.
He died on Iwo later on,
Hit by a mortar round.
He said that he had trained them
Through sweat, peril and noise,
So he told the captain
He would battle with his boys.

Harlon Block was a jock
And second in command.
He took over when Mike was killed,
In the sequence that was planned.

But that grizzly island
Cruel to the last,
Also took Harlon Block
With a mortar blast.

Franklin Sousley
Was freckled with red hair.
When they raised that banner,
Frank was also there.

They found when it was over,
With records to compile,
Frank was the last flag raiser
Claimed by that deadly isle.

Ira Hayes, a warrior
Of the Pima Nation,
Rejected hero status
And hated acclamation.

He felt a lot of guilt
That somehow he survived
When so many of his friends
On Iwo, there, had died.

When the dismal demons
Wouldn’t leave his head,
He couldn’t take it anymore
And turned to drink instead.

The alcohol consumed him;
Finally did him in.
As he died, they said he cried
About his slaughtered friends.

Rene Gagnon, the youngest
Of the men up there,
Carried up the final flag
That adorned the Iwo air.

Rene was always modest
About his Iwo feat.
Buried now in Arlington,
Monument across the street.

Harold Schultz, a modest man,
Was misidentified
For two long decades
After he had died.

For seventy plus years
It was John Bradley.
In the photograph,
Rene was left out, sadly.
But that was finally rectified
After a technician
Noticed in the photograph
A uniform condition
That did not fit the gear
That a corpsman wore.
That’s what Bradley was
During that World War.

The slight has been corrected.
Schultz, now recognized.
But John Bradley’s not a man
That should ever be chastised.
For Bradley helped to raise
The first erected there.
Went on to win the Navy Cross
For heroes brave and rare.

So now you know the story
Of who raised our flag on high
To proclaim that we were there
To have victory, or die.

Sources: “The Six Iwo Jima Flag Raisers”,; “Legendary Letter Carriers: Harold Schultz, The ‘Real’ Flag Raiser of Iwo Jima”,; “Battle of Iwo Jima”,

Note: For more stories in rhyme about historic military events and American Heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available on Amazon.

An Award Seventy-Three Years in the Making

January 24, 2019

On 29 March 2018, President Trump presented the Medal of Honor for First Lieutenant Garlin M. Conner to his widow for Lt. Conner’s actions on 24 January 1945. This poem tells the story of how it came to be.

The Ballad of First Lieutenant Garlin M. Conner

“We’ve got no commo with the guns,”
The commander urgently said.
“The Krauts are coming hard and strong.
Without that fire we’ll all be dead.”

Lieutenant Conner, Battalion S2,
Said “I’ll go string some wire.”
He accepted, full, the task
To brave the deadly fire.

He grabbed a spool of commo line
And headed for the sound
Of machine gun and mortar fire,
With shrapnel falling ‘round.

Four-hundred yards he sprinted
Through enemy artillery fire
And plunged into a shallow ditch
Of frozen muck and mire.

Thirty meters out in front
Of the friendly line,
He hooked his phone to the wire
And found it worked just fine.

He called in artillery
To stop the fierce assault.
Soon the force of US rounds
Caused the foe to halt.

But that didn’t last for long.
They charged and charged again
‘Til, finally, they were all around
Where Conner lay, and that is when
His commander told him to withdraw.
But he called, “Blanket my position!”
He knew that his suicide
Might be required by the mission.

But he survived the friendly fire
Exploding all around.
Although it damn near deafened him,
It mowed the Germans down.

The attack was finally shattered.
Fifty Germans lay dead on the field.
His battalion that day was saved
Because the lieutenant wouldn’t yield.

The Medal of Honor, the right award,
His battalion commander knew,
But Conner was heading home,
His combat nearly through.
A quicker award could be had
To wear when he returned,
Even though his commander knew
The higher award was earned.

Conner was awarded the second best,
The Distinguished Service Cross.
But the highest degree of heroism
Of Conner would not be lost.

A vet searching someone else
Came upon Conner’s deeds
And felt his case should be reviewed,
Clear in the way the record reads.
So Conner’s wife, then widow,
His commander and fellow men,
Joined a seventeen year push
To have the award considered again.

On twenty-six June, twenty-eighteen,
The award of the Medal of Honor
Was presented to the widow
Of Lieutenant Garlin Conner.

Richard Chilton was the man
Who discovered, in records of war,
The Medal of Honor caliber
Of all those years before.

Lieutenant Conner didn’t live
To see his full recognition,
But what mattered most to him
Was accomplishment of the mission.

A new name on the Honor Wall,
Lieutenant Garlin Conner,
To join the other heroes there
Who have won the Medal of Honor.

Sources: Army, August 2018; Soldier of Fortune, January 17, 2019; “Medal of Honor Citation for First Lieutenant Garlin M. Conner, United States Army”; and Wikipedia.

Note: For more poems about Medal of Honor Heroes, see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

A Tribute to LTC Michael C. Vasey Sr., U.S. Army, Retired

January 10, 2019

My good friend and fellow soldier, Mike Vasey, unexpectedly and quickly passed away three weeks ago today. Mike was a combat veteran of Vietnam who, among other times, saw action as a Military Police advisor to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in Saigon during the Tet Offensive of 1968. After retiring from the Army, Mike earned a Ph.D in Counseling Psychology from the University of Oregon. My wife, Sue, and I met Mike and Alice in 1976 at the Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS. Upon graduation, we were both posted to Fort Bragg, NC where we continued our friendship and have remained friends since. Mike was an intelligent, caring man who was devoted to his family and loved America. Sue and I were shocked and saddened by his untimely death, while thankful that he died the way he would have wanted: at home in the loving arms of Alice, and quickly. We will miss Mike’s intellect, humor and friendship. Our sympathies go to Alice, Mike’s children and his many friends. This poem is for Mike.

Farewell to a Fellow Soldier and Friend

It’s time to respond to “Assembly”,
Like no other one before.
The notes today summon you
To join that phantom Soldier Corps.

Your fellow Warriors beckon you,
As they await at muster there,
To sound off as your name is called
And join them as they prepare
For the mission now at hand,
To execute that last OPORD,
And go where you’ve not gone before
To objectives unexplored.

As you approach the departure line,
Cross there knowing this:
You were loved by family and friends;
Your presence sorely missed.

So as you make your final march
To that inevitable bivouac,
Know that those you leave behind
Are secure in knowledge of the fact
That you were true to yourself,
And served your family, friend and Nation
To the best of your ability,
For love, not acclamation.

As the clear, sad notes of “Taps”
Echo through the air
And linger o’er the hallowed field
And rest on markers there,
I’ll celebrate your service,
Your friendship and your life,
And devotion to you friends,
Your family and your wife.

I’ll render then my last salute,
But will not shed a tear.
I’ll remember fondly who you are
And rejoice that you were here.

Notable Deaths in 2018

January 6, 2019

Here are some of the well-known folks who departed in 2018. (Please forgive the generational bias.)

They Left Us in 2018

Edwin Hawkins sang “Oh Happy Day”.
Keith Jackson, Nanette Fabray,
Bradford Dillman of stage and screen.
Nancy Wilson sure could sing.

Stansfield Turner of the CIA.
Eddie Shaw really could play.
Marty Allen, Zell Miller,
Burt Reynolds, lady killer.

John Gavin played lots of roles.
Billy Graham, savior of souls.
Roger Bannister ran really fast.
George and Barbara Bush have passed.

Linda Brown integrated schools.
Charles Krauthammer suffered no fools.
Mort Walker, Vic Damone,
Stephen Hawking, Dorothy Malone.

Tom Wolfe, Winnie Mandela,
R. Lee Ermey, a Marine Corps fella.
Margo Kidder played Lois Lane.
Whitey Bulger of mobster fame.

Tom Wolfe wrote lots of books.
Tab Hunter had exceeding good looks.
Frank Carlucci, Defense Secretary,
Clint Walker, also Ken Berry.

Philip Roth, Kate Spade.
Country music, Roy Clark made.
Adrian Cronauer, Anthony Bourdain,
Aretha Franklin, John McCain.

Kofi Annan, UN Chief,
Neil Simon, Robin Leach.
Stan Lee of comic book fame.
Lock was Sondra’s movie stage name.

Penny Marshall, Jerry Van Dyke.
Most people here I really like.
There is only one that’s not like the rest.
Most of them here gave their very best
To do what they could to better our lot.
Most of them did, like ‘em or not.

Merry Christmas 2018

December 24, 2018

On Christmas Eve 2011, I attended a church service at my daughter’s church where the preacher delivered a sermon on the improbability of the miracle of the birth and life of Jesus Christ. After I got home I immediately wrote this poem.

Who Would Have Thought?

Who would have thought a cosmic event
In the evening sky,
Would have caused three wealthy men
To leave home and try
To follow that rare and mystic star
To wherever it may lead;
To see if it was the sign
The scriptures had decreed?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought one poor man
And one pregnant girl
Would have to travel ‘cross the land
For census of the Jewish world?
Who would have thought when her time came
He was only able
To find a place for her to rest
In a livestock stable?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought that shepherds there,
On that peaceful night,
Would hear an angelic chorus
And see a heavenly sight?
And when their fears were calmed
And they went into town,
Who would have thought they’d see three kings
Kneeling on the ground?
Who would have thought?

Who would have thought in that barn,
Lying there that night,
Was a child who would grow up
To counsel peace and light
And bring hope into the world
And begin religion new
That would live in hearts forever more?
I’m sure nobody knew.
Who would have thought?

A Visit from an Old Friend

November 1, 2018

Last month my wife and I had a visit from a dear, old friend whom we have known for over 54 years. After she left, I began to think of the irreplaceable value of friendships maintained over the years and those renewed after years of neglect. She is, fortunately, in the former category. This poem reflects some of my thoughts.

An Old Friend

There is nothing like an old friend.
One who knew you long ago,
One who loved you then,
And one who, selfless, helped you grow.
One who knew you as a teen,
When frontal lobes were immature,
Or came much later on the scene
To help you realize and secure
Your you; who you really are.
Who had faith in you
And helped you pass some hinder bar
Because they knew what you could do.

How many old friends from long ago
Have you not seen for some years now?
Old friends that you used to know
But have lost contact with somehow?

They may have a need for you,
Like you for them so long ago.
So do what I implore you to
And contact them and let them know
You’ve not forgotten, even today,
What they meant to you back then,
And thank them, in your own way,
For being such a fine, old friend.