FedEx flight 705 was scheduled for a routine flight from Memphis, Tenn. to San Jose, Calif. on a clear April day in 1994. Its captain, David Sanders, was an experienced ex-Naxy pilot. First Officer James Tucker was an ex-Navy flight combat instructor.
Calloway was flying for free with the shipment, a perk for FedEx employees, so it wasn’t strange when Calloway informed the officers he would be hitching a ride. What was strange was that the official Flight Engineer for 705, Andy Petersen, kept finding the circuit breaker for the plane’s cockpit voice recorder turned off. He kept an eye on it, pre-flight checks were cleared and the plane headed for San Jose.
At 19,000 feet, with a total of four passengers, Calloway pulled a hammer from his guitar case – it was well before the increased security introduced after 9/11 – and attacked Petersen with repeated blows to the head. Next, Calloway assaulted Tucker and readied to attack Captain Sanders.
Calloway and Sanders wrestled before Sanders took a blow to the head himself, but this gave time for the other crewmen to wake up. Calloway retreated to the back to grab a speargun and, with the new weapon in hand, ordered them to sit down.
Tucker pulled on the controls and pulled the DC-10 into a steep climb. The other three men were tossed out of the cockpit. Captain Sanders and Petersen were wrestling over the speargun with the uninjured Calloway. Petersen had a fractured skull, severed temporal artery, and profuse bleeding. Sanders was a little better off, but not by much. They wouldn’t last long.
The First Officer and ex-Naxy flight combat instructor took control of the fight by taking control of the helm. He took the plane on its side, then upside down. As Calloway hit Captain Sanders in the head again, Tucker took the plane into a steep dive. But Tucker’s own fractured skull was starting to cause motor problems in his body. He began to lose movement and sensation as the plane plummeted to Earth.
Back in the galley, Calloway hit the Captain in the head one last time, but the Captain had enough. He caught the hammer, forced it from the attacker’s hands and beat him with his own hammer until Calloway stopped moving. They informed the Memphis air traffic control of the situation, requested an ambulance and a SWAT team and headed back to Tennessee.
As the crew flew with the autopilot on, Tucker kept the speargun on Calloway. But the moment Tucker’s injuries caused the speargun to dip from his hands, Calloway attacked again.
They tried to pin him down, but their injuries restricted their movements. Once Sanders was able to help his fellow crew mates, Tucker beat Calloway with the hammer again.
By the time the captain got back to the cockpit, alarms were blaring. The fully-loaded and fully-fueled plane would not have enough room to stop on the runway provided. Even worse, Calloway was waking up again, so there was no time to do another pass. At the last second, Sanders hit another runway that had more room.
Just 300 feet off the ground, Calloway was struggling for the hammer one more time. The plane landed hard, barely stopping with just 900 feet of runway left. Petersen and Tucker were in critical condition. Luckily all three men survived. Though they received medals for their heroism, they were medically unfit to fly from then on.
It turns out Calloway was a martial arts expert and originally planned to be the official flight engineer. He would have only had to kill two people.
The assailant’s life had taken a turn in the past four years. He lost his wife and children and was on the verge of losing his job for forging flight documents. So after transferring large amounts of cash and securities to his wife, he planned to disable the cockpit recorder then crash a plane so his kids would get his life insurance settlement, ensuring they could go to school.
Instead, he got two life sentences without parole.
Content warning: the following article features an open and frank discussion about suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) There’s not a damn thing wrong with asking for a helping hand when you need it most.
Times are rough right now. We’re at the brink of a global pandemic, schools and places of work are closing and people are panic buying things that aren’t usually in short demand. But the factor that is hitting the closest to home for most folks is, well, everyone staying home.
This is what is known at social distancing. It’s an important step in ensuring that the most vulnerable of our population stays away from anyone who may have contracted the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. It’s a drastic measure that’s annoying to most, but it’s going to save lives in the long term. And that’s not something that should ever be understated.
Yet, there’s also an unseen side effect that could potentially harm another group if it’s not handled properly. The disruption of a daily rhythm, potential loss of work and social isolation could impact a vast number of people already fighting through depression and that ever present thought of suicide: veterans.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions lists two determining categories for depression – biological and psychological. Genetics, hormones and neurotransmitters all play their part in making someone more likely to be genetically predisposed to depression but loss, stress and a sense of unfulfillment can hit anyone. At this moment, there’s plenty of that going around.
Even going back a few months before COVID-19 took the world stage, finding a steady paying job wasn’t that easy. Bills can pile up and somehow it feels we’re always just one paycheck above water. But at least some of us had a handful of buddies we could go out to drink with or to see a movie with. Now, it feels like all of that was swept away and we also have to worry if we’ll have enough toilet paper to get through the week.
Right now, many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut drastically. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably working from home without seeing anyone but the ones you live with. You might be kicking yourself in the butt because you didn’t go to the grocery store before it turned into a scene from The Walking Dead. Thankfully, this isn’t the end times and the internet can still connect us while we’re standing more than six feet from anyone.[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ&ho=https%3A%2F%2Flh3.googleusercontent.com&s=298&h=e86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20&size=980x&c=744452975 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FJZP-ebOe0UsmSOlFfx-ZfSK_kjHJYNlYtsKgqF9pcHBDg-KTQd6WrP7GrC6yOOEmkEOZgfG7-23RF-6K-55opWeLwa3lLvpZjENRl93zQRfL6dyNpY4lkV71IyGukrJg2nKxFxeSCDcXW9fmPQ%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Flh3.googleusercontent.com%26s%3D298%26h%3De86267c4c48c91b3d540173ed586769b65668149f0538cb5eebc136b98f92f20%26size%3D980x%26c%3D744452975%22%7D” expand=1]
Quick sidenote: toilet paper is something that is typically used at a set rate. Unless you’re planning on hiding for months or TPing your neighbor’s place, you don’t need to stockpile TP.
(Photo by Ingrid Cold)
I urge you, please keep in regular touch with anyone you love who’s been hit hard by this social isolation. Chances are they’re not doing so well. Check up on them. Call to see how they’re doing.
Depression is a real disease and the final symptom could be suicide.
This advice goes for everyone but us in the veteran community already had compounding factors before the outbreak. The “22 a day” is still thrown around, albeit those often-cited numbers come from a 2012 study and they’re more accurately at around 17 a day after a much needed cultural shift within our community. That’s still not great; it’s still far above the national average. Often, we’ve been able to find the one ember that kept our flame burning. But for a lot of veterans, that fire could be extinguished with social distancing.
Don’t take this out of its intended context. Social distancing is crucial at this moment. We just need to adjust to the shift in how things are done. Hotlines are still open. The VA Mental Health facilities are still open. And if you’re concerned and feel symptoms of the coronavirus, there are always video conference calls available to connect you with a mental health specialist or doctors.
For health and safety reasons, the hand sanitizer stations are everywhere. For good reason.
(U.S. Navy photo by Diana Burleson)
I say all of this… because I found myself in that dark place. The part where I wrote about how people are feeling is mostly pulled from what’s going on with myself.
I recently attempted to end my own life. I’ve been fighting through my own depression for some time now and it reached its boiling point. It probably wouldn’t be wise to go into details, but I will share the thought that got my feet back on the ground. It was the thought that no one would ever be able to explain to my cat why I’m never coming home. Make of it what you will, but thoughts like that can help pull you out of an irrational moment.
I mean, I love my family and friends. But I wouldn’t ever want to hurt this good boy.
(Picture by Eric Milzarski)
It was through the help of my buddy from the Army and my loving wife that I was able to come back. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m still in that damn tunnel. I’m now seeing a mental health specialist at the VA regularly and I can honestly say that it was the right choice. No judgement. No negative consequences. And I feel silly for hesitating this long. Just open arms –metaphorically speaking, of course. I kept my six feet of distance and sanitized my hands, because the VA also houses elderly and immuno-vulnerable veterans. And if need be, they’re still doing video calls for anyone feeling any symptoms.
If you know anyone who’s in that dark place, reach out to them. Go in person if you have to, but there’s always the phone. There are always online video games. There’s always a meme you can tag them in. Anything will help. It may not feel like it while we’re self-isolating until things go back to normal, but we are never truly alone.
Then-Army Air Forces pilot Warren Halstead flew missions daily out of Coulommiers, France, during World War II. On May 8, 1945, he was at his duty station, on break from dropping supplies and transporting wounded to hospitals in England. The news came in: the war in Europe was over. Seventy-six years later, the retired Air Force colonel still remembers the mixed emotions of Victory in Europe, or V-E, Day.
“My thoughts were just that I did my part to help bring about this day,” Halstead said. “Also, remember, the war was still full on in the Pacific in Japan, so our thoughts were that we were still at war, so V-E Day, although it was important, it was not the end of WWII.”
For the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native, the war had a memorable beginning. His first combat mission came 11 months prior on June 6, 1944, during D-Day.
“Just a few days before D-Day, (Gen. Dwight) Eisenhower visited the Airborne units and pilots designated to drop the paratroopers on D-Day,” Halstead said. “It was very impressive that the commander of all of the Allied Forces wanted to give some words of encouragement before our big mission on D-Day. He knew many of us would not return from our mission. It meant a lot to us to hear words of encouragement from him.”
Halstead’s unit arrived at a training location in Ramsbury, England, in February. They trained constantly from then until June 6. Their training to drop paratroopers consisted of night flying and flying in formation. They also trained on towing gliders stateside before arriving in England.
On D-Day, the 23-year-old piloted his C-47 into the skies in the early hours before daylight. The weather was good upon takeoff, but there were scattered clouds when they arrived in Normandy.
“You could see all of the tracers from the munitions being fired at us from the enemy on the ground,” Halstead said. “They all seemed to be coming right into the cockpit, however, our plane was not hit on that day.”
His mission was to drop the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers no matter what. Flying in groups of three within a larger formation, he safely dropped the paratroopers. The next day, he towed one glider with troops and equipment to Saint Mare Eglise.
He also flew in Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge, getting hit during both operations. Halstead also flew in Operation Varsity in March 1945. This was the largest airborne operation in history to be conducted on a single day in one location. He towed two gliders of the 17th Airborne Division at one time across the Rhine River. The enemy shot the rudder of his plane just after he released the gliders. They safely landed.
Following the war, he used the GI Bill to attend the University of Tulsa where he graduated in 1950 with a B.S. in Zoology. The Air Force recalled him to active duty during Korea, where he received a Distinguished Flying Cross during a mission flying a B-26 bomber. He retired in 1973, but continued to fly civilian aircraft. He has over 15,000 hours of flying time as a pilot.
Visiting years later
Halstead said visiting those countries he fought over decades later brought several emotions.
“I helped them overcome the terrible regimes they were under,” he said. “I am very happy that these countries are thriving today.”
He said thirty years after the war when he was still on active duty, he took his family to visit Germany.
“The country was thriving then,” he said. “The German economy was thriving, and the Germans were all extremely welcoming to the Americans.”
Halstead hopes Americans mark the day honoring Veterans.
“I think the remembrances that the WWII Memorial Foundation conducts at the WWII Memorial are excellent ways to honor our Veterans,” he said. “Additionally, the recognition ceremonies by the various U.S. military services as well as at Arlington Cemetery are very poignant reminders of the sacrifices we as a nation made for world freedom and democracy.”
Halstead’s daughter said listening to stories from the dwindling World War II Veteran population is important.
“Many Veterans, such as my father, do not talk a lot about their experiences,” Gail Capp said. “Just be there for them and be available and ready to listen when they do want to open up. Finally, go to their reunions. You will hear many stories there.”
Help capture history
More than 16 million men and women served during World War II. Today, there’s less than 390,000 still alive.
The National WWII Museum strives to preserve the legacy and lessons of World War II through the stories of those who experienced the war. They accept Oral Histories and memoirs that people have conducted or printed themselves.
Submit written World War II memoirs or stories for the Museum Library by mail to:
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war.
You’d think that employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be spending every bit of their time on the job helping America’s veterans. But that may not be case — some of them may instead be working on “union business.”
Worse, there may be no way to know how much time they have spent on their outside work for federal employee unions.
According to a report by Government Executive, the VA has no standardized method of tracking how much “official time” is spent by government employees on union activities like mediation. The Office of Personnel Management website defines “official time” as “paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.”
The report noted that 350 of those employees are working full-time on union activities, and that almost 1.1 million man-hours were spent on official time in Fiscal Year 2012.
A 2015 Government Accountability Office report done at the request of House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) casts doubt on those reported figures.
The GAO said, “the data VA provided were not sufficiently reliable to determine the amount of official time used by VA employees and the purposes for which it was used for the period of our review.”
The biggest reason for the lack of reliability was due to the fact that the VA had no standardized means to track the amount of “official time” used by employees of that agency.
The report noted that the VA had arrangements with five unions: the National Association of Government Employees; the American Federation of Government Employees; National Nurses United; the National Federation of Federal Employees; and the Service Employees International Union.
Government Executive reported that the VA had agreed to resolve the time-tracking issues.
After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.
Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.
Kaono’s wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.
“You see a look in their eyes that they’re suffering but you don’t know what you can do to help them. It’s a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD,” she said.
Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.
After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)
“I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment,” Kaono said.
After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.
“When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn’t work for me,” the Hawaii-native said, “so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California.”
Dogs had always played a part in Kaono’s life from when, as a toddler, his family’s old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.
“I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better,” he said.
Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.
“The VA does equestrian therapy where they’ll take veterans to horse ranches and they get to ride horses … same premise, animal therapy works wonders,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Kaono, with a wealth of dog training knowledge from his time as a MWD handler, had veterans asking for help to train dogs so they could have their own service animals.
This support was especially important to Kaono since the average wait time for a VA-trained service dog can exceed two to five years.
“By then, we’ve already lost between 9,000 – 20,000 people due to suicide in a five-year period,” he said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)
That’s based on a 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study that showed roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide every day from 1999-2010.
“That’s just way too many,” he said.
During this time, while helping to train dogs for other veterans, Kaono decided to add his name to the list for a VA-issued service dog.
After a two-year wait, he was notified they were ready to pair him with a dog. During the interview process, however, he was denied an animal because he already had a couple of dogs as pets and service dogs can’t be added to a home unless it is pet free.
“I was disheartened,” he said, but he continued to help train animals for other veterans.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no mandated certification for a service dog and it allows people to train their own animals. So three years ago, when Kaono moved to San Antonio, his wife encouraged him to work on training his own service dog.
“I thought I’d just take one of the dogs we had at our house and train it to be a service dog,” Kaono said, until Alessa pointed out a Chihuahua probably wasn’t the best choice for his particular needs.
He then decided to work with San Antonio’s Quillan Animal Rescue to find a potential service dog. The rescue suggested a Doberman at first but Kaono wasn’t interested in such a large animal. One of the workers then recommended a mixed breed animal named Romeo that was in need of rehabilitation after being hit by a car. The only drawback was Romeo had already been promised to another family in California after his recovery.
“I said yes because that would give me the opportunity to work with a dog again,” Kaono said.
That was February 2016 and by May, he and Romeo were inseparable, Kaono said.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)
By June, Romeo had recovered and he was sent to California. Kaono said he was heartbroken.
“I secluded myself. I didn’t want to go to work. I took sick leave … I just didn’t want to be around anybody and make connections with people like I did with him and have them shattered,” he said.
“Romeo was kind of a fluke,” he added, because the California family decided they couldn’t keep him so Romeo returned to San Antonio.
When Romeo arrived back in Texas, Kaono had a trainer from Service Dog Express assess him. The local organization works with veterans to train service animals. Romeo passed the evaluation and was accepted as a service dog in training.
Kaono and the trainer then used techniques from Assistance Dogs International, considered the industry standard for dog training, to ready Romeo. Two months later, Romeo took the organization’s public access test, the minimum requirement for service dog training, and “blew the test away,” Kaono said.
He’s been going to work with the AFIMSC employee every day since passing his assessment on Aug. 1, 2016.
For Kaono, Romeo is much more than a four-legged companion. He’s a lifesaver who is trained in various disability mitigating tasks to help the veteran cope with PTSD.
These include deep pressure therapy where Romeo climbs into Kaono’s lap when he can sense anxiousness, agitation or frustration. He then applies direct pressure to the veteran’s body, considered a grounding technique, to bring focus to him instead of what’s causing the anxiety or agitation.
“Before him, I would have to sit there through it until it essentially went away,” Kaono said. “Now within two minutes I’m back to normal. I’m back to being productive again.”
Romeo also applies blocking techniques when the duo are in a group or crowded space to create a buffer between Kaono and those around him.
“People are cognizant of him being there so they give me the space to actually feel comfortable,” Kaono said.
The service dog also fosters personal interaction, Kaono added.
“I don’t make solid relationships with people,” he explained. “I would prefer to be and work alone. Having Romeo actually forces me to interact with people on a regular basis. He causes people to talk about things that aren’t necessarily work related. He’s a calming factor, not just for me.”
Romeo has completely changed Kaono’s life to allow him to better “live” with PTSD, Alessa said.
“I’m sure many people say this about their dog or service dog but Romeo’s truly a godsend,” she said. “He has changed and impacted our lives in so many ways.
“He’s gotten Ryan out more when it comes to crowds,” Alessa said, and Romeo is Kaono’s “sidekick and stress reliever at work.”
When the duo get home, Alessa added, Romeo “is just like any other dog … he loves to play and loves treats, especially ice cream.”
“A few years ago I heard about the treatment from my friend in Washington state. I went on the computer and I checked a few things out, and I thought, ‘Why not? It’s time that you do something.'”
For Jerry, that time came 48 years after he had returned from Vietnam…
“Bullets are flying everyplace…”
“It was quite an experience coming back from ‘Nam, and I could tell I had changed an awful lot. And I think the biggest thing in my behavior was the fact that I was so jumpy. I would wake up in the middle of the night, and I’m in the middle of Vietnam, and bullets are flying everyplace, and my bed is ringing wet.”
“What they didn’t know is I was scared of myself.”
Something was wrong. He didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. And Jerry didn’t want to jeopardize his career in the military by speaking up. He went on to finish two tours in Korea, then was stationed in Germany where he met his future wife and started a family. “I just felt that if I said there’s something wrong with me the Army wouldn’t need me.”
Instead of asking for help, Jerry buried himself in his work. “I was working around the clock. I was trying to control my mind, and I was trying to block it. I was in control most of the time.”
But he also lost control. Stupid mistakes felt intolerable, and they could easily set him off. “I can talk like a sailor, and in talking like a sailor, I could take your head off and put it in your lap, and you’d never know it.”
These types of outbursts affected his work-life. He later learned that his colleagues didn’t like to be around him because he was too unpredictable, too volatile. One called him a loose cannon, another told him years later that people were afraid of him. “What they didn’t know is I was scared of myself.”
Time passed. Jerry’s two sons grew into men. And more recently, his beloved wife became ill and passed away. For all those years Jerry had wanted to ask for help, but he didn’t know where to go. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Then one day a friend told him about the treatments at the VA. Treatments for PTSD. Eager to get help, but still skeptical, Jerry went in for an appointment.
“She was just that good.”
“I’ll tell you right now, as I sit here, when I walked in that room and saw that petite little thing sitting there, I said there is no way in hell this young lady has any clue about what I’ve been through, what I’ve done, and she can’t help me. I feel like an ass now but it didn’t take long for me to change my mind. It didn’t take long. Within 30 minutes I knew I wanted to come back for my next appointment. I could have probably stayed there the rest of the week and talked to her. She was just that good. She was ready for me. I wasn’t ready for her, but she made me ready. She was good.”
Jerry finished his therapy, an evidence-based therapy called Prolonged Exposure, in nine weeks.
“I felt that the treatment helped me in the fact that I can control myself a lot better. I control my anger. I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before. I still have moments where I don’t know, something snaps or something build’s up or whatever [but] I accept life a lot easier. I’m more tolerant of people.”
“I’ll just say it this way. It takes a lot to piss me off. I’m so proud of that.”
This 200th episode of Borne the Battle features Air Force Veteran Aerial Johnson, better known by her wrestling name “Big Swole,” Aerial shares her time in the military and how she transitioned into civilian life to eventually became a professional wrestler.
Johnson joined the Air Force in 2008 to be a fire truck mechanic. She was stationed at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. On April 3, 2008, on a day she and her family would come to call her “second birthday,” Johnson was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease after being told she had half an hour to live. She survived a round of emergency surgery and was told that she would never be able to have children or engage in high-impact sports. However, Johnson didn’t let her diagnosis stop her from doing what she wanted to do. When her Crohn’s disease worsened, she had to leave Air Force in 2010 but she didn’t stop to pursue other dreams.
Hull returned to her hometown of Clearwater, Florida, where she started interacting with a local community of professional wrestlers. She became an independent wrestler herself, and after a few years she signed with All Elite Wrestling and has appeared on both AEW Dark and AEW Dynamite.
In this episode, Hull discusses how she overcame the struggles of Crohn’s disease and embraced the lessons she learned in the military to develop the “Swole mentality” of giving everything her all. She is a reminder to people everywhere that with discipline, anything is possible.
The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.
Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.
Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.
GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”
The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.
GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.
In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”
Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.
As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.
By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).
Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”
In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”
One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.
As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:
I recommend that . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.
Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.
After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.
Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.
The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.
Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).
One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.
William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.
Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.
Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.
Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.
A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.
Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.
Montel Williams hosts “Military Makeover with Montel” on Lifetime. The show is currently seeking nominations for veterans in need of home makeovers. Photos by Caitlyn Martin, BrandStar, courtesy of the Kristen Rose Agency.
Saying thank you for your service is not enough, according to veteran and talk show icon Montel Williams. But he does have a few ideas on other ways to show gratitude for military service.
He’s teamed up with WWE to find the next veteran for a home makeover that will be featured on Lifetime TV’s “Military Makeover with Montel.”
“We take these veterans and we literally make their home over from top to bottom,” Williams said during a phone interview. “We do, not just a facelift, but everything, from the floors, the ceilings to you name it, to make sure the veteran has what we call a forever home once we get done.”
Since 2015 the show has worked with one veteran family per quarter to makeover their home within 10 days, with 20 homes completed to date. Most episodes, Williams said, have featured families who have been in the midst of transitioning from military to civilian life. A few have featured veterans who have already left the military, but Williams adds any deserving veteran family will be considered as long as they own their own home.
He’s personally been involved in making over six homes, having taken over the show after the death of Military Makeover’s previous host Lee Ermey.
Williams said the reactions on the show have been great, not just from the service members, but from everyone in the community. The show uses volunteers and donations from local vendors to renovate the homes.
“Everybody is uplifted,” Williams said.
Hosting a home makeover show is also a good way to show appreciation for a group Williams describes as underappreciated.
“I think it’s a really good way to do more than say ‘thank you for your service,'” Williams said.
Williams is a 22-year veteran who served in the Marine Corps and Navy before starting his television career. Like many veterans, he’s come to see the phrase ‘thank you for your service’ as hollow and meaningless.
“I’ve been saying this for over a year. When people say ‘thank you for your service’ it’s lip service or a passing phrase, like you say ‘good morning’ to people when you walk by and don’t even wait for a person’s response,” he said.
In addition to his own service, Williams is a longtime veterans’ advocate. He serves on the board of directors for the Fisher House — a charity providing lodging near DOD and VA facilities for the families of those receiving care. He also works with an organization that help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and has an upcoming project designed for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Williams launched a new national campaign to makeover the home of a veteran. (Photo courtesy of Military Families Magazine.)
Williams said he believes the current coronavirus pandemic has put showing genuine gratitude to veterans even further from the forefront of people’s minds.
“Right now, while we’re suffering through this COVID-19 pandemic, every day of the week people applaud our first responders. When they think about people on the frontline, they think about doctors, nurses and first responders to this virus here on U.S. soil,” Williams said. “We have ships and submarines and aircraft carriers and airplanes and deployed forward bases where people don’t have the same luxury of being able to social distance. These guys are out there every single day putting their lives on the line for us.”
While not everyone has the resources of a television legend, Williams insists there are things average people can do to show their appreciation to veterans.
“You don’t have to makeover a veteran’s home to contribute to a veteran’s life,” Williams said. He said providing meals, volunteering to babysit or mowing an injured veteran’s lawn are great ways for people to show their appreciation.
“Why not go out and do a gesture, not just of being a good neighbor, but deliberately doing something to help out our veterans?” Williams asked. “Remember that there’s a military family on every block in every community across this country. Reach out and do a little bit more than just say ‘thank you for your service.'”
Another way people can show appreciation is by going to Tag A Hero and nominating a veteran for a home makeover before May 31.
Williams has joined forces with WWE star Lacey Evans, a Marine veteran, to gain awareness for the new national campaign, but they are in need of more nominations.
“Lacey Evans, who is one of their stars, has become one of our team members on Military Makeover. She convinced [WWE] to reach out to their viewers to nominate veterans in their community,” Williams said.
The application submission deadline for the latest campaign is May 31st. On July 13, Montel Williams and WWE Superstar Lacey Evans will appear on Facebook and Instagram announcing the home makeover recipient.
For Dr. Stephen Gau, an emergency medicine physician at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loma Linda Healthcare System, a recent encounter with a veteran confirmed a key benefit of his choice of a VA career: the ability to spend more time with patients.
Despite recently documented progress in reducing wait times since the Phoenix controversy erupted in 2014, Dr. Gau said his patients often voice concerns about VA care. One of Dr. Gau’s patients, frustrated and frightened after a diagnosis of metastatic cancer, even asked, “Is this going to be another Phoenix?”
Dr. Gau said VA Loma Linda’s relatively low doctor-patient ratio allowed him the time to thoroughly review the veteran’s medical record. He confirmed that follow-up appointments were scheduled and specialty care was coordinated. Dr. Gau discussed the cancer care process and answered the veteran’s many questions.
It was sea change compared with Dr. Gau’s experience in the private sector, and an eye-opener for the patient. “I don’t know if I would have had that kind of time in the community (hospital) — to really talk to a patient and really explain what was going on and relieve his fear,” he said.
Wait times are down, study shows
This anecdote shines a light on how VA’s effort to reduce patient wait times in primary care and other specialty care services — in part through increased access to care — can manifest at the patient level.
Broader data from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirm that service improvements are happening VA-wide. The study, released Jan. 18, 2019, found that, in 2017, VA physicians, including primary care doctors and cardiologists, saw patients 12 days sooner than their private-sector counterparts.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the study results confirm that systematic changes are working. “Since 2014, VA has made a concerted, transparent effort to improve access to care,” he said in a statement.
The study, “Comparison of Wait Times for New Patients Between the Private Sector and United States Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers,” looked at VA and private-sector hospital wait-time data across 15 major metropolitan areas. In 2017, average wait times were significantly shorter for VA compared with private hospitals, in primary care, cardiology and dermatology. (Orthopedic wait times were longer for VA in both 2014 and 2017, although they were down during the study period.)
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
The study affirmed additional progress in cutting wait times since 2014 cited by Wilkie in December 2018 testimony before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs’ committees.
“The average time it took to complete an urgent referral to a VA specialist has decreased from 19.3 days in FY 2014 to 3.2 days in FY 2017 and less than 2 days in FY 2018,” Wilkie testified.
Choose VA to prioritize patient care
Wilkie also credited VA’s workforce for improving services across the board and committed to using the tools of the VA MISSION Act to recruit and retain talented healthcare providers, including additional hiring resources and incentives.
Dr. Gau, who moved to VA from a private sector hospital, said it was the veteran-centric mission and the sizable benefits that ultimately lured him to government service. More time with patients has been an added benefit.
It’s a career choice he doesn’t regret. “I tell you what, it’s been a really positive experience for me,” he said.
Choose VA today
Physicians like Dr. Gau find that choosing a VA career means being able to deliver the highest quality healthcare in a time frame that works for veterans and providers. See if a VA career as a physician is the right choice for you, too.
Josh Anchondo started his adult life in the Navy, specifically Kings Bay, Georgia. Now, he’s self-styled luxury-events emcee known as DJ Supreme1 and his work takes him to the party hotspots of South Florida and Las Vegas. But he loves to give back to groups like Toys For Tots, Susan G. Komen, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
This time, he’s playing for his second family: the U.S. military.
The Palm Beach Gardens-based DJ is headlining the next BaseFEST Powered by USAA on June 2, 2018, at Naval Station Mayport, near Jacksonville, Fla. He’s come a long way from the days of being in the silent service.
“We would be deployed 90 days at a time,” says the former sailor Anchondo. “No sunlight, no newspaper… So my escape being submerged for that amount of time was music.”
He says it’s like living a dream to be able to provide a temporary escape to those going through similarly rough situations. He did five years in the Navy as a sonar technician and the last 20 as a DJ — yes, there’s a little overlap there.
“I know for a fact the military got me to where I am today in my career, to being a great man, a great father, and to living up to the core values that I learned in the military,” he says. “Honor, courage, and commitment. Those core values will always be with me.”
In the Navy, he spent all his spare time training to be a DJ — eating, breathing, and sleeping music. His favorite records were primarily old-school (even for the late 1990s) hip-hop. But his sounds also extend to the unexpected, like jazz and pop standards, doing live mash-ups of pop songs along the way.
“I kind of let the crowd take me wherever they want,” he says. “Take us wherever the night takes us.”
Anchondo, aka DJ Supreme1, is not just a DJ who does music festivals and tours like Dayglow. Like many veterans, he’s an entrepreneur with a heart. He runs his own event productions company and wants to start his own tour — the DoGood FeelGood Fest, focused on doing great work in the community. His company, Supreme Events, even prioritizes charity work.
He acknowledges that DJs have a bad reputation, given what happens in the nightlife around them, but he wants you to know they can have a positive influence as well — and that influence can be amazing. BaseFEST is a huge show for him. He wants his fellow vets and their families to come see and feel his positive vibes at the coming BaseFEST at NS Mayport.
It’s an all-day event that brings the music, food, activities, and more that you might get from other touring festivals — but BaseFEST is an experience for the whole family, with a mission of providing a platform for giving back to family programs on base, boosting morale for troops and their families.
BaseFEST Powered by USAA kicked off in 2017 with two huge festival dates at Camp Lejune and NAS Pensacola, gathering over 20,000 fans for each and creating a fun atmosphere of appreciation and support for service members and their families and friends. The 2018 tour kicked off at Fort Bliss, Texas and runs through Sept. 22 with a stop at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Check out Patriot Boot Camp with their next event in San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 16-18, 2018.
The program welcomes 50 veteran and mil-spouse entrepreneurs from around the country—and offers an intense 3 day education, mentoring, and networking experience designed to help their businesses succeed.
Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) was started by Taylor McLemore as a volunteer effort to help veterans and mil-spouses gain access to mentors, educational programming, and a robust community of experts and peers. It was built to help them innovate and build impactful technology businesses.
Charlotte Creech, a veteran spouse, and the CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, discusses the impact of the program for entrepreneurs.
“I am continually impressed by the determination and mission-focus of the entrepreneurs that come through Patriot Boot Camp, as well as the magnitude of the problems they aim to solve.”
Creech adds that most veteran and military spouse founders don’t merely set out to build a business; rather, they work to make the world a better place and it’s inspiring to hear the stories of what motivates them to succeed and to follow their progress along the entrepreneurial journey.
“What makes the program so powerful, is when we combine these talented, mission-driven entrepreneurs with a community of peers and mentors that are dedicated to helping them achieve their business milestones and goals. By the end of the event, we all leave with new insights and new network contacts that will help us advance and overcome the challenges of startup life.”
The core, three-day program is modeled after the popular Techstars accelerator and continues to leverage the Techstars network to empower and advance military/veteran and spouse founders.
Since its first program in 2012, nine Patriot Boot Camp alumni have been accepted into the Techstars accelerator programs, with many others gaining acceptance to prominent accelerators including Y Combinator and Vet-Tech.
Four of PBC’s alumni have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank television show, and five have had successful exits via acquisition.
Creech adds: “It’s inspiring to see these alumni achieve great business outcomes, but what’s really powerful about the PBC program and network is that our high-performing alumni continue to come back to PBC as mentors and guest speakers to share their lessons learned and coach new entrepreneurs to success.”
The boot camp works as follows:
The Patriot Boot Camp staff facilitate the planning and execution of the program where they organize external guest speakers and mentors to provide the educational content and workshops.
Each PBC program is entirely unique because the speakers vary in each 3 day intensive. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend multiple programs to continue learning as the needs of their business change over time.
If you’re interested in learning more or applying for this year’s Patriot Boot Camp, visit http://patriotbootcamp.org.