Monthly Archives: November 2013

Who You Should Really Be Thankful For

“Have you had people who have touched you — not moved you in order to manipulate you — but touched you inside-to-inside? Take a minute to think of at least one person who helped you to become who you are inside today. Someone who was interested in you for who you really are … someone you feel really accepted the essence of your being. Just one minute … one minute to think of those who have made a real difference in your life.”


Fred Rogers


Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Holiday Mail for Heroes


Give the gift of caring for the holidays!

Give the gift of caring for the holidays!



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Veteran’s Day 11 Novemeber 2013

Monday, Veteran’s Day, I am taking a vacation day. It’s one of those ‘family things’, my step-dad did it and so do I (we are both veterans). Panera Bread is offering current and veteran members of the military a lunch on Panera Bread, wear your uniform, show your ID card or discharge papers and lunch is on them. Many places have offers to those who are and have served. It wasn’t always like that.

I have a book in my library written by a college professor in which he answers questions from people of an opposite political opinion than his. I have not forgotten his name or that of his book’s, I am just not promoting them. I want to mention two of the questions he answered.

First, he addressed Vietnam veterans being spit on when they returned from Vietnam. He said this supposedly happened, but there is no proof it ever happened, not even once. I went in the navy five years after Vietnam. I remember being called baby killer and someone spitting on me, and we were treated a lot better than those men and women five years before us. Bill, my step-dad and a Vietnam veteran, he was spit on and worse. Sorry professor, you got that one wrong.

Second, he addressed the accusation that people of his political opinion are weak or even anti-national defense. The rest of this chapter was spent making the point that man-made global warming (the book was published before the term was changed to “man-made climate change” to cover downward changes in temperature as well) is a national defense issue and since his side is very strong on man-made global warming, then his side is actually very strong on national defense. Professor, when people point a finger at you and say, “You are weak on national defense” I may not know the specific issue they are thinking about, but I can tell you it is not climate change, they already know where you stand on climate change.

You see Vietnam Vets, like my step-dad and some of my friends; they were treated pretty bad when they came home. My group, those of us who served between 1975 and 1991, we were pretty much ignored except by a few hostile people left over from Vietnam protesting days. I remember when Operation Desert Shield started (when we began deploying people for the first Gulf War) the anti-war protests started again. There was a backlash against the protestors across the nation by the middle and lower classes of our country. Those from the Vietnam protests days, who were organizing protests for the Gulf War, were shocked by the backlash; they did not see this during their earlier Vietnam protests. They quickly came out with statements that they were against the war, but supported the troops. The public did not believe them, and though they continued their protests, they tuned it down a little bit.

Those vets, the first Gulf War vets, were treated pretty good by the people when they came home, and today’s veterans are treated even better (though the United States government never has done a very good job supporting veterans). I support the better treatment, the way the men and women were treated when they came home from the Vietnam War was a national disgrace. I saw their treatment with my own eyes, and no book by a college professor will ever convince me I did not see what I saw.

Here is my deal. I do not mind the protests, it is an expression of freedom of speech, it is our constitution in action. When I joined the navy I swore to obey the President, but I swore to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies. I understand why some people mistreat veterans, to them the members of the military are the war (some of them even believe people in the military like killing people) and they feel justified in their actions. But, I’ll keep my opinions on those people and their actions to myself.

I know people (some are friends of mine), who say war is not necessary there is always another way. There is always another way and I am glad for those people who believe this, I encourage them and would like nothing better than to see all the people of the world believe this one day, then maybe we could end wars.

I decided to serve in the military because there are some wars that have to be fought. You talk with men and women who have served and you will receive many reasons for why they volunteered. Bring up “defending those who cannot defend themselves” and without exception every one of those veterans will agree. You can hold up Hitler or any other person who needs to be stopped and I will agree with you they should be stopped, but not by war. They should be stopped by other means.

The people in Hitler’s concentration camps and gashouses, the Kurds gassed by Sadam Hussein just before the second Gulf War, the victims of genocide in Bosnia, Africa, Central and South America, you cannot protect them with sanctions and rhetoric. These are men, women, and child tortured and murdered while we try other means. The longer we try those other means the more victims are created.

The problem with wars are the leaders and celebrities both for and against, they are only concerned with winning a political argument. The people who stand to make money from war get their “boys & girls” on the hill to wave the flag and talk about patriotism. Their political opponents scream about blood for oil or whatever happens to be the expeditious slogan of the day; during Bosnia, the opponents stated the president was trying to get attention off his scandals and the attempts to impeach him, by going to war. The people who propose war rarely do it for the right reasons, to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Those who oppose war too often ignore those who cannot defend themselves – out of sight, out of mind.

Most of the wars my country has fought in the last 100 years should not have been fought, and there are many other wars that should have been fought (to defend people who could not defend themselves), but were not fought.

To me the worst part of those wars we do fight is what we do to our men and women fighting those wars while they are fighting. Once again, it is all politics. You see the losing side of the political fight, republicans during Bosnia and democrats during Iraq, write “rules of engagement” that the military must obey while fighting the war. The political opponents are usually responsible for more American military blood than our enemy is. In Afghanistan a US soldier brings his/her weapon to bear on two people operating a mortar lobbing shells at him/her, but they are not allowed to shoot them because the attackers are dressed like Afghan civilians and therefore (in the mind of politicians in the military and in Washington DC) may actually be an innocent civilian or there may be other innocent civilians standing near them. (The enemy know this and so they ensure all combatants are dressed like civilians.) So, more American women and men die needlessly thanks to politicians and generals back in Washington DC.

In Iraq, our enemy know that if they attack us from inside a mosque they can shoot at our soldiers all day and fear no return fire. Why? Because those same politicians do not want mosques damaged (it’s ok to damage churches and synagogues though), they are afraid our enemy will think we are fighting a religious war, a war against Islam. Except the political, military, and religious leaders of our enemy have already declared this war to be a religious war against all non-Muslims.

News flash to those in Washington DC! If the only time a mosque is damaged by our troops is when they are returning fire from our enemies, the Muslim moderates (our politicians claim they are pandering too) will notice this and realize we are not targeting their mosques. Not only does this rule of engagement kill many of our own men and women but also it presumes that if you are Muslim you are too stupid to notice the difference between damage done to a mosque while in battle and a mosque that is destroyed in the absence of a battle simply because it is a mosque.

I think the next time these politicians propose a war for money (republican or democrat) or the next time they (republican or democrat) oppose a war that needs to be fought to defend those who cannot defend themselves, we should take both sets of politicians give them clubs and lock them inside the capital building in Washington and let no one out until only one is left standing. I think there would be fewer wars and fewer genocides around the world. Yes, I am a veteran. Yes, if the need arises again and if I think I will be useful, I will put on a uniform again. Yes, if I have to, I will kill people in war. No, I do not like war. No, I do not like killing.

You want to see a smile on my face? Flash forward thirty years, I am walking with my granddaughter:

“Grandpa Mommy says you are a veteran. What’s a veteran?”

“A veteran is someone who served in the military. Do you understand Sweetheart?”

“Yes grandpa.”


“Yes dear.”

“What’s a military?”

You help make that conversation possible and you will see a smile on my face that took eighty years to create, a smile like I have never had before. And the tears that will be streaming down my face will be from a joy so intense no words could describe it.

Joe C Combs 2nd First offical navy portrait November 1980.

Joe C Combs 2nd First offical navy portrait November 1980.


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Just A Man Who Was Trying To Be Decent (Bessieres Part 5)

The triumphal parade of the Grande Armée in th...

The triumphal parade of the Grande Armée in the Prussian capital of Berlin on 25 October 1806. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From March 1802 to 18 May 1803, Europe was at peace, the longest peace during the Napoleonic era. The Bessieres’ would be married for eleven and a half years, until Jean’s death in battle in May 1813, yet even this 15 month peace would not allow him to be home with his bride.

Though, Napoleon had wanted Jean to marry his sister Caroline Bonaparte he was quite happy with Jean’s choice. Jean and Marie were a perfect match. Marie (the name she went by instead of her first name Adele) was very beautiful and with the same strong character, charm and manner of her husband.

The couple was a great social success everywhere they went. Marie became a close friend and confidant of Josephine. This friendship drew the Bonaparte and Bessieres families even closer together. When Napoleon divorced Josephine, it made the friendship difficult at times, yet true to their character and sense of fidelity, Jean and Marie never wavered in their affections and loyalty to both Napoleon and Josephine.

The War of the Third Coalition would last until 1806, to be followed by the Fourth, Fifth, and finally the Sixth Coalition War. It was during the War of the Sixth Coalition that Marshall Bessieres was killed followed two years later by the final defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon said, “If I had had Bessieres at Waterloo, my Guard would have brought me victory,” this point has been argued by historians. I am not sure if Waterloo could have been a French victory, even with Bessieres at the battle.

What do I believe? If Bessieres had been at the battle of Waterloo, even if the French had been defeated, it would not have been the rout that destroyed the French army. The French may have lost, but Bessieres’ unbiased advice on the battlefield would have allowed Napoleon to conduct an orderly retreat that would have preserved the French army and Napoleon’s throne. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

In 1803, the War of the Third Coalition began between Great Britain and France. Napoleon’s actions in Italy and the execution of the Duke d’ Enghien (which Bessieres was against) brought Austria and Russia into the war in 1804-05. In the Ulm campaign (August to October 1805), an entire Austrian army was captured. Then came the battle of Austerlitz in December, outnumbered by the Russian and Austrian allies, Napoleon soundly defeated the allies effectively ending the Third War of the Coalition. Once again, the friends Murat and Bessieres were in the thick of the fighting, helping to win the day for France.

Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz, by Franç...

Napoleon at the battle of Austerlitz, by François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The War of the Fourth Coalition happened without a period of intervening peace. The Fourth Coalition was basically the Third Coalition without Austria and the addition of Prussia. This was to continue for the rest of Bessieres’ life and continue after his death until the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Jena, Auerstedt, Eylau, Friedland, Somosierra, Corunna, Aspern-Essling, all of these and more would see the victorious and dashing friends Murat and Bessieres working hard for French victory.

At the battle of Wagram (July 1809) a cannonball knocked him unconscious and killed his horse, the Guard wept thinking Bessieres had been killed and charge into battle vowing revenge. Napoleon later told Bessieres, “That was a fine shot, it made my Guard cry.”

Napoleon during the battle of Eylau

Napoleon during the battle of Eylau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At Elyau the Austrians technically defeated Napoleon, but they let him get away with his army. Partly because Bessieres led the Imperial Guard in a frontal assault against the main Austrian attack force at a vital point in the battle. Not once but several times Bessieres led his men in a suicidal attack. The last year and a half of Bessieres’ life was spent constantly in battle. It is miraculous that Bessieres did not die earlier than he did. At this time in the Napoleonic Wars, the allies were getting better because of experience from the earlier defeats, and the French were slowly losing their best and most experienced men through combat deaths.

Bessieres was the first to recommend they leave Russia, even before they arrived at Moscow. In Moscow, the French found the city burning and deserted by the Tsar and his army. Bessieres took his own food from his own table and gave it to hungry Muscovites and Russian children. On the retreat from Russia in October 1812, 6,000 Cossacks surrounded Napoleon’s headquarters on three sides. Without concern for his own safety (as Bessieres always was in battle) he led a charge of the Imperial Guard, running off the Cossacks, killing thousands of Cossacks, and rescuing Napoleon.

Battle of Weissenfels 1813 by Girardet

Battle of Weissenfels 1813 by Girardet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 This image shows the death of Bessieres

The morning of Bessieres’ death, he told an aid he was eating breakfast because if the enemy got him that day he did not want to die on an empty stomach. Sixteen years of war and eighteen months of continuous battle were taking a great effect on the great Marshall. Apparently, he was beginning to believe own combat death was inevitable, that can be dangerous for any person in combat. But, who could he confide in? His wife was thousands of miles away for much of their married life and all of  1812 and 1813, Napoleon and his men not only counted on his calm, cool, courage in battle; they depended on. If Bessieres showed his fear it could have been disastrous for the Imperial Guard.

There was no one Bessieres could turn to for comfort, so Bessieres took a mistress. Not what you would have expected considering his reputation and the deep love he had for his wife. However, even in this one vice, Bessieres’ character was above that of the men and women of his day. Affairs were common in this day, even Napoleon and Josephine both had a long lists of lovers. Bessieres though did not follow the norm of inviting woman after woman into his tent. Bessieres took one mistress, for whom he paid all of her bills. An expense his contemporaries all avoided by going through lover after lover. Even in his one vice, there was a certain amount of honor.

At the battle of Borodino (7 Sep 1812) the Russians and French were both decimated, but there was no clear-cut winner. Napoleon is criticized for not committing his reserve to bring about a victory. All of Napoleon’s Marshalls wanted to commit the reserves except Marshall Bessieres. Bessieres did not argue the point, he made one simple statement to Napoleon, “But, Sire, you are 700 leagues (2,100 miles) from Paris.” If Napoleon would have used the reserve and not destroyed the Russian army, he would have had a French army that was worse than decimated, deep inside an enemy country facing an enemy army thousands of miles from home. Bessieres was correct and Napoleon knew it.

Bessieres is criticized by historians as a capable commander, but a failure as an independent commander due to his conservative nature. I would like to point out though, that when historians look at a battle they are looking at that one battle with the knowledge of how it and all the following battles ended. They also tend to look at each battle as an isolated affair. Bessieres’ advice and actions were always tempered by the knowledge that he did not know what would come tomorrow and the knowledge that if the army was utterly destroyed, France’s enemies would own the streets of Paris (which they eventually did).

Bessieres is also criticized for the one battle where he was placed under the command of his old enemy Lannes. Bessieres’ supporters say that Lannes still had a grudge against Bessieres, and that his orders to Bessieres were not designed to win a battle, but to embarrass and humiliate Bessieres. The historians say, “Posh, Lannes was happily married and his grievance with Bessieres was old news happening years ago.” Really? Maybe the
historians should read the diaries and memoirs of the aides of both Bessieres and Lannes who witnessed this whole affair. A good place to start is with the memoirs of General Marbot. General Marbot was one of the men ordered by Lannes to deliver Lannes’ orders to Bessieres. Marbot had no doubt that Lannes’ purpose was to insult and humiliate Bessieres. Marbot states that there was no doubt of this at the headquarters of Lannes and Bessieres. He goes on to describe the scene when he gave the orders to Marshall Bessieres.

I have already printed the letter Napoleon wrote to the Duchess Bessieres on the occasion of the Duke’s death. When Marshall Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria died he left huge debt. Napoleon created a pension for the great general’s widow to insure she was taken care of.

In his book, Travels in France during the years 1814-1815, Archibald Alison wrote of spotting General Blucher leaving his apartments in Paris (which Blucher rarely did). Alison followed the General to the church of the Invalides, where he went to a grotto in the church where the body of Bessieres lay in state surrounded by flowers his widow brought to the church daily for her husband, this was two years after his death. General Blucher paid his respects to his former adversary (Bessieres beat Blucher in 3 out of 4 battles they faced each other in) and then left.

This is a reproduction of an original portrait showing Madame bessieres, dressed in morning with the bust of her husband that is in the hall of heros in paris. Reproductions are available at

This is a reproduction of an original portrait showing Madame bessieres, dressed in morning with the bust of her husband that is in the hall of heros in paris. Reproductions are available at

The Bust of Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France. This bust is just inside the hall of Heros in Paris to the right of the entrance.

The Bust of Jean Baptiste Bessieres, Duke of Istria, Marshall of France. This bust is just inside the hall of Heros in Paris to the right of the entrance.

There are so many more instances that I am prepared to give to demonstrate the greatness of this simple man. A simple man who loved his country, his friends, his family, and his wife. However, I will leave you with the words of Napoleon as he neared his own death in exile.

“If I had had Bessieres at Waterloo, my Guard would have brought me victory.”

Jean Baptiste Bessieres' name is on the east wall of the Arch De Triumph. Second col. from the left third stone up from the bottom. The line under his name denotes he was killed in action. His younger brother is on the South wall without the line because his brother survived the wars.

Jean Baptiste Bessieres’ name is on the east wall of the Arch De Triumph. Second col. from the left third stone up from the bottom. The line under his name denotes he was killed in action. His younger brother is on the South wall without the line because his brother survived the wars.

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