(Palm-Print
Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

My photo
Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mixed Feelings About Veterans Courts

Kitsap County's plan to institute a veterans court seems to have inspired a surprising amount of push-back.
       Personally, I’m fully in favor of instituting a veterans court, but the principle of equal justice under the law would seem to be a difficult one to negotiate. 
        The law, of course, is all about precedent, and there is a precedent we can point to:  drug court.  Drug courts, as I understand them, are grounded in a twofold premise:  (1) that drug addiction is an illness in need of intervention and treatment rather than incarceration and (2) that we don’t need to keep overcrowding our prisons with non-violent offenders. 
         Are veterans courts grounded in essentially the same presumption—that non-violent veteran offenders are likely to be suffering from some degree of PTSD in need of intervention and treatment rather than incarceration?  If so, we should make that argument, pointing to the drug-court precedent.
          As a Vietnam veteran myself, however, I do see a downside to pressing for veterans courts. I recall how Vietnam veterans were widely portrayed in the media as dangerously deranged.  I would hate to think that our good intentions may contribute to stereotyping our current generation of veterans as walking time bombs, ready to explode at any minute, or even as unhinged and helpless. --EFP       

Monday, December 26, 2011

Palm Beer

I have found my brew!  --EFP
 

The Latest Palm Leaves

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mere Palm Loosed Again on Kitsap County

I now write a column for the Kitsap Sun.   My last column came out on November 10, the Marine Corps Birthday and the eve of Veterans Day.  In honor of the occasion, I shared a couple war stories:  Reality and Reflections on Veterans Day

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

President James Gaudino's $500K Retention Bonus

I am thinking I need to take time out to travel to Ellensburg to catch Central Washington University's President James Gaudino's next water-walking demonstration.
      Today's Seattle Times reports that CWU's Board of Trustees has approved a $500,000 retention bonus aimed at getting Gaudino to agree to stay at least five more years.  This is on top of Gaudino's $290,000 annual salary.  And it comes at a time when Washington's colleges and universities have already had to adjust to substantial cutbacks in funding with more on the horizon.
       In this fiscal climate, it seems to me that Gaudino better be able to do something as spectacular as walking on water in order to justify that bonus.  --EFP

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Postscript to My Previous Post

Regarding the necessity for political compromise, I suddenly remembered something I should have included in my previous post.  A theme that runs throughout several of Shakespeare's plays is that a virtue misapplied or carried to extremes becomes a vice.  Would that I could drag some of today's Tea Party types through the Shakespeare class I used to teach. --EFP

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Beyond Compromise

The other day, I heard a woman tell Rush Limbaugh that if Romney gets the Republican nomination she will not vote.  Her complaint:  Romney does not adhere strictly to conservative principles; he is too prone to compromise.
      This woman was echoing a theme Limbaugh had been sounding all week--that there is no room for compromise with the "Democrat Party" and what Limbaugh sees as their socialist agenda.
      I wonder if these people understand that there is a fine line between upholding conservative principles and being an ideologue.   How many people have to be ruined so that the Tea Party types can put their conservative principles to the test?  --EFP

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Military

According to Tom Philpott's latest "Military Update" (published today in our local paper), the Obama administration's budget balancing plan includes annual TRICARE fees, substantial increases in pharmacy co-payments, and a civilianized military retirement system.   Under the White House plan, according to Philpott, servicemen and women "are expected to share in the fiscal sacrifices to be asked of millions of Americans drawing federal entitlements."
        Let me get this straight:  following 9/11, our Armed Forces went to war while the rest of America was told to go shopping.  No sacrifices were asked of the American public at large. Now, after ten years of fighting two wars, our small All-Volunteer Force is being told that "their benefits are just too generous and must be brought nearer to what civilians receive."
       As a former enlisted Marine and a retired Marine officer, I would be okay with that as long as "millions of Americans" start sharing in the same sacrifices and hardships currently being endured by the less than one percent of our population currently shouldering the burden of national defense.
        Yes, America reveres and supports its troops!  Think of how Curly, of Three Stooges fame, used to pronounce "certainly," followed by "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk!"   --EFP     

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Take on American Exceptionalism


American exceptionalism has been much in the news of late.  All the presidential hopefuls lining up against Obama seem to want to reaffirm it, and not the least of their grievances is Obama’s apparent apparent reluctance to extol it.
            The problem, as Obama Knows, is that there is a fine line between exceptionalism and chauvinism.  America is distinctive for lacking a formal class structure, and Americans are generally more upwardly mobile than people in much of the rest of the world.  But we are no longer the land of unlimited opportunity, and moving on up in America has always been largely a matter of chance and circumstance. We value rugged individualism and reward self-reliance—to the point of social Darwinism, some would argue. We were founded on the principle that “all men are created equal,” but people of color were excluded from that formulation at the time of our founding.  We are still struggling with that legacy.  The right to own private property has long been considered especially American—so much so that we tend to equate the fulfillment of that right with the “pursuit of happiness.”  The American educational system, once second to none, can no longer claim even second place.  On the world stage, we have long touted the right of self-determination, but the Vietnam and Iraq Wars called that commitment into question. 
             As a child of the fifties and sixties, I always thought that what truly put America on the path to exceptionalism was the so-called “Establishment” and “Free Exercise” clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Acutely aware of the religious strife that had torn Europe apart for centuries, our founding fathers had the wisdom, as Jefferson himself termed it, to erect a “wall of separation between church and state.”  To maintain otherwise is to do violence to the text:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 
            In the America I grew up in, these two provisions were generally understood to mean that religion should be a private and not a public affair.  I remember when then-Senator John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was running for president.  Some worried that he would allow the canons of the Church to trump all other considerations.  He reassured the nation that he could compartmentalize his faith and act in the best interests of all Americans, not just Catholics.        
           Whatever his shortcomings, Obama seems capable of such compartmentalization.  So many of his critics, by contrast, seem virtually pharisaical in their public professions of faith.  Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have all been pandering to the religious right for potential votes.  Should one of them get elected, the debt for that support will come due.  The last thing America needs right now is an evangelist in chief.
            Despite what the religious right would have us believe, America, in its most fundamental sense, is not a Christian nation.  Our founding fathers were sons of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason.  The prevailing religious sentiment of the time was deism. Deists put their faith in the “laws of nature” and believed in “Nature’s God,” not a personal God who intervenes in human affairs. They conceived of God as the “great clockmaker” who set up the universe to run according to rational laws and principles and who expects us to use our God-given reason in governing ourselves. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were products of this prevailing sentiment and not divine revelation. 
            Someone needs to remind our born-again politicians and their supporters that even Christ drew a distinction between the secular and the sacred, counseling his followers to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Our founding fathers were wise enough to ground our republic in a consensus of humanistic values and ideals that owe as much to ancient Greece and Rome as to our Judeo-Christian heritage. America was founded as a secular humanistic nation.  That was an inspired choice.  It set us apart from European history, making America truly exceptional.  --EFP

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Les Is More" Revisited: A DADT Story

Today marking the official end of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I thought I would dust off two essays I previously published on the issue.  The title to this post is a link to one of the essays.  I've copied the other one below.  --EFP
....................................
"Les Is More:  A Don't Ask, Don't Tell Story"

 [The following appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on 17 Dec. 2007.]

"Lighten up on 'don't ask, don't tell"

EDWARD F. PALM
GUEST COLUMNIST

Call me "Les."

My real name is "Ed," but I was always Les to the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division when I was a major serving on his staff in the late '80s.
     The recent news reports about 28 retired admirals and generals calling for an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy have led me to reflect on how I came to be Les. Personally, I think it is long past time for the Department of Defense to lighten up on this issue, as I learned to do in the 1st Marine Division.
     The entire time I was on active duty as a Marine officer, there was only other officer named Palm, and he was always at least three ranks ahead of me. His name is Les Palm.
     Now, the Marine Corps, compared with the other services, is a small place. Senior officers tend to know one another -- by reputation, if not personally. Les Palm enjoyed a superb reputation throughout the Corps. Ed Palm -- "not so much." This was mainly because of my own career choice. As an enlisted man, I had served in Vietnam as a rifleman and patrol leader with the Combined Action Program. But later in life, as an officer, I became an "adjutant," a professional administrator.
     The general clearly had me confused with Les Palm. Whenever I would brief him, he would close the briefing with "Thank you, Les." Or, when I would encounter him in the hall or in the club, he would say "Hi, Les."
     For the most part, I was content to be "Les." But one day I did ask the division adjutant, an ironic young captain, if he thought I should set the general straight.
     "Hell no, sir!" my young friend replied. "Les Palm is a heterosexual -- an artillery officer. You're just an adjutant," he reminded me.  "The confusion can only do you good!"
     I retired -- still a major -- in 1993 and went on to an academic career. Les Palm would go on to become a lieutenant general. We never actually met. But my young friend was right; the confusion did do me a lot of good. It prompted me to think seriously about whether having gays serving openly would really be a detriment to good order and discipline.
     Later, in interviewing for academic jobs, when people would ask me where I stood on the gay ban, I knew just what to say. I told them that I had seen far more boy-girl problems than problems caused by gay Marines.
     I told them that, gay or straight, we have an obligation to keep our sex lives private and separate from our professional lives. And I told them that, should the Department of Defense change the policy and allow gays to serve openly, not only would we adjust but we would lead the way, just as the Armed Forces had done with racial integration in the '50s.
     I still believe that. I also still wonder if anyone anywhere has ever confused Les Palm with Ed Palm the adjutant turned academic.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dragonflies, Clear Creek Trail, Silverdale, WA (9-20-11)

Dragonflies are nature's helicopters.  They can hover, fly backwards, and pivot on their own axis.  I love the challenge of trying to photograph them in flight.  Click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP

 
 
 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deficit Be Damned--for Now at Least!

Today's "This Week, with Christiane Amanpour" featured an interview with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, one of the few large American companies still hiring.  We keep hearing that businesses are sitting on large surpluses because they are afraid to hire.  The right wing, of course, attributed that fear to strangling government regulation and the socialistic designs of the Obama administration.  Schmidt doesn't see it that way.  The problem is simply a matter of supply and demand. People are not buying.  Hence, demand is down.
       Businesses are not going to hire people to meet a non-existent demand for more goods and services.  Schmidt recommends that the government put people back to work on infrastructure programs.  That would stimulate the demand that businesses need to see before they will hire more people.
      It makes sense to me.  I don't see how the Republican/Tea Party solution of "getting government off the backs of businesses" could get our economy growing again.  That alone will not create the additional demand for goods and services that would require businesses to hire more people.
      The irony is that Schmidt is not the first business mogul I've heard advancing this solution.  It would seem that conservative ideologues are quick to speak for the business community but not to listen to it. --EFP

The Superannuated All-Volunteer Force Revisited

This morning, during the "In Memoriam" segment of ABC's This Week, I noted that a 40-year-old Army PFC was killed in Afghanistan.  This is just wrong.  I said as much back in 2005 on NPR.  The title to this post is a link to that commentary.  --EFP

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Mantra of the Far Right

An opponent of a proposed veterans’ services levy here in Kitsap County has been quoted as saying this:  "We do not need continued government support to do what we need to do in our lives. . . .What we need is for government to get the hell out of our way." 
            I’m getting really tired of hearing variations on the Reaganesque mantra that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”  It was more rhetorical than real--just a clever sound bite--when Reagan first uttered it, and it is less than helpful today.  To be sure, we need to root out fraud, waste, and abuse at all levels of government.  But the fact remains that there are some needs that only government can meet.  There are other needs that government has a moral obligation to meet.  Given that we have relegated the burden of national defense to less than one percent of our population, the obligation is undeniable, and only government has the mechanisms to ensure a  consistent, widespread approach to meeting the need. I support the levy.   
            And as for our country at large, clever sound bites—especially the mantras of ideologues—are not the solution to our problems.  --EFP       

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hijacking/"High-jacking" Peanuts

I finally got a couple decent shots of blue jays hijacking (or should I say "high-jacking") peanuts from our squirrel feeder.  Click on the photos for a better look.  --EFP



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blackberry Season at Chez Palm

Our blackberries are finally ripe, and just as he did last summer, "Phineas" is helping himself.  Be sure to click on each photo for a better view.  --EFP








Saturday, August 27, 2011

The More Things Change . . .

The August 29 issue of The New Yorker features an interesting article that makes Charles Dickens appear to have been prescient.  In 1842, in the midst of a trip to America, Dickens recorded the following reactions:

This is not the Republic of my imagination. . . Look at the exhausted Treasury; the paralyzed   government; the unworthy representatives of a free people; the desperate contests between the North and the South; the iron curb and brazen muzzle fastened upon every man who speaks his mind, even in that Republican Hall, to which Republican men are sent by a Republican people to speak Republican Truths—the stabbings, and shootings, and coarse and brutal threatenings exchanged between Senators and under the very Senate’s roof—the intrusion of the most pitiful, mean, malicious, creeping, crawling, sneaking party spirit into all transactions of life.   

Except for the “desperate contests between the North and the South,” this could have been written about the American government today.  Dickens truly found America to be “exceptional,” but not in the idealized sense that the Tea-Party-types and other neoconservatives are currently promoting.
            I can relate.  An America in which honest disagreements are characterized as treason and demagoguery has replaced reasoned discourse is not the “Republic of my imagination” either.   --EFP

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Red Dragonflies

Phineas and I had a good day photographing red dragonflies on the Clear Creek Train in Silverdale, Washington.  The only problem was that we both got muddy--really muddy!  Be sure to click on the photos for a better view.  --EFP












Sunday, August 21, 2011

Palm on the Twenty-Year Military Retirement

"Major Palm, whatever possessed you to . . .?"
          I couldn't resist weighing in on the Defense Business Board's proposal to replace the military's longstanding twenty-year retirement option with a civilian-style 401-K-type plan that would require service-member contributions and which would not kick in until age 62 or 65.  The title above is a link to a shorter version that appeared in today's (August 21) Kitsap Sun.  --EFP

Recently, I have been reminded of an ugly exchange my stepmother “Betty”--an Air Force “dependent,” as we used to call a military family member—once had with a civilian wife.  This woman was bitterly complaining about the rising cost of living.  Betty tried to commisserate, but the woman was having none of it.  “How would you know? “ she demanded.  “You get everything for free!” 
            Something of that same spirit of jealous resentment, it seems to me, may just be animating the current closed-door discussions aimed at reforming the military’s longstanding system of early retirement.  The fact of the matter is that military families never got “everything for free,” and they still don’t.  They endure privations and sacrifices that are hardly offset by the option to retire at half pay after twenty years’ service.    
            The group responsible for the current initiative, the Defense Business Board, however, just may not be seeing it that way.  Shades of Robert McNamara and his whiz-kids of the sixties, these are a group of civilian business executives who would put the Department of Defense on a more-business-like footing with a 401-K system of voluntary contributions and pension payments that would not start until age or 62 or 65.
            At first glance, today’s all-volunteer force may seem to be very well paid indeed.  Base pay is higher than it used to be, and a large part of the compensation package still consists of tax-free allowances for housing, uniforms, and food.  Contrary to popular belief, these subsidies do not cover the total cost of such necessities, but the average military family would be hard-pressed to get along without them.  The kicker is that, upon retirement, the allowances are lost.  A twenty-year retiree merely gets 50 percent of his or her base pay, and that is taxable. 
            What we are hearing now, of course, is that the current system has simply become unaffordable, but the presumption that our Armed Forces enjoy unwarranted and undeserved benefits certainly predates our current economic crisis.  The current mania for supporting the troops notwithstanding, the civil-military relation in America has always been a strained marriage of convenience.  As essentially a socialized system that demands conformity, the military cuts across the grain of our cherished American mythos of rugged individualism, unbridled freedom, and limitless opportunity. 
            Personally, I suspect that many of the neo-conservatives who have been celebrating and promoting these same myths do not have nearly as much respect for the military as they profess.  As people who have realized the American dream on their own terms, many of today’s Tea Party patriots probably join liberals and media elites alike in looking down on the military as a haven for those who lack the talent and the ambition to make it in America, most of whom they consider to be expendable.
            Ironically, today’s neo-conservatives are the same people who like to remind us that “freedom isn’t free.”  True enough.  We have to continue to pay for it in many ways, the current twenty-year retirement included.  It is an entitlement in the literal sense of the word—something that a twenty-year veteran has earned and is indeed entitled to. --EFP

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Remembering Chuck Armstrong


“Captain Palm, whatever possessed you to compare being a Marine officer to being an unemployed Ph.D. driving a cab?”
            That was the unlikely start of what turned out to be one of the most enduring and supportive friendships of my life—my friendship with Charles (“Chuck”) Armstrong, who passed away on Sunday, August 14, after a short but valiant struggle with brain cancer
            It was early in March, 1985, when then Major Armstrong, USMC, had occasion to pose that decidedly unmusical question. I was serving at the time as the Marine Officer Instructor with the Naval ROTC unit at the University of California Berkeley, and an arsonist had burned down our building over the President’s Day weekend in February.  The following week, as we were waiting for the police to allow us into the ruins to reclaim what we could, a passerby—a very young, cherubic-looking woman—exclaimed, “I’m glad it burned!”
            Later that same day, in the heat of the moment (pardon the pun), I penned an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Book Burning at Berkeley.”  I pointed out that the building had housed an extensive library of naval literature and lore, including the personal papers of Berkeley’s first professor of naval science, Admiral Chester Nimitz.  But my main theme was how little that young women, and so many students like her, knew about the military profession and those of us who had chosen to pursue it.  My op-ed was generally well-received among the closet conservatives in the Bay Area, and it would have been applauded by my fellow officers and military authorities alike had I been just a bit more guarded about my own mixed motives.  “All things considered,” I had written, “I would rather be a Marine officer than another under-employed Ph.D. driving a taxi.” 
            Someone in the Bay Area (I think I know whom), complained to Headquarters Marine Corps, and I found myself accused of not displaying the proper enthusiasm for my Marine Corps career.  While I was nominally under the control of the professor of Naval Science at Berkekey, a Navy captain, Chuck was the Corps’ program sponsor and my real boss.  The head of Manpower, Lieutenant General William Maloney, had tasked Chuck with investigating the complaint.  I still remember how Chuck closed that initial phone call:  “I wonder, Ed, if you appreciate how serious this is.” 
            Chuck, I later learned, had recommended that I merely be reprimanded, but General Maloney was having none of it.  He was quoted as saying he wanted “a high and tight at Berkeley.”  I was to be “short-toured”—transferred to Camp Pendleton after only one year of what was to have been a three-year tour of duty. 
            My wife and I resolved not to go quietly.  To make a long story short, with the support of the editor of the Chronicle, we threatened to go public with my plight.  Much to our surprise, it worked.  I received a call from Headquarters Marine Corps telling me, in effect, that it had all been a mistake and that I was not going to be short-toured at Berkeley.  Still, I was not surprised when the promotion list to major came out that spring and I was not on it. 
            (A word about the significance of that promotion is in order.  It is the make-or-break promotion, the tenure point.  Only by making major can an officer stay for 20 years and qualify for a pension.)
            With nothing to lose, I appealed to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, arguing that I had been passed over as the result of my refusal to go quietly.  The Board must have agreed.  My passover was set aside, and I was promoted to major in July of 1986. 
            What I will always remember, though, is how I found out that I had made major after all.      
Chuck called me.   He seemed almost as happy about it as I was.  Unfortunately, his call came at a particularly awkward time. Andrea told him to hold on, that she had to get me out of the shower. Chuck, putting two-and-two together about my being in the shower in the middle of the day, seemed to get the biggest kick out of that phone call. It was a good day all the way around.   
            I understand now why so many Marines took such offense at what I had written.  The profession others had embraced as a calling and a special trust, I had dismissed as a mere job—worse yet, a job of last resort.  I also understand what it says about Chuck that he would still befriend me.  The military in general is rife with people I like to call military spiritualists.  These are generally humorless people who take themselves far too seriously and who believe that the military profession demands a uniformity of attitudes, values, and aspirations.  Chuck, I came to realize, was the real thing:  a true military professional with an enlightened and well-informed commitment to his profession.  He was also a student of history who believed that what set the Marine Corps apart was its willingness to capitalize on the talents of some decidedly eccentric characters, a few of whom loom large in the popular legend and lore of the Corps.  The Marine Corps is indeed a unique fraternity.  But to Chuck it was also a big tent, with a place for a frustrated, would-be professor of literature like me.
            My problem is that I never could leave well enough alone.  Despite having nearly lost my Marine Corps career over intemperate, and possibly disloyal, public statements, I had to have the last word.  I went on to publish “Winning Hearts and Minds at Berkeley” in our professional journal, The Marine Corps Gazette
            In this piece, while I led off with the tragic loss of Berkeley’s ROTC building, I took a much more balanced approach to the problems of officer accession on the liberal college campus.  Unfortunately, not all the Gazette’s readers saw it in that light.  I had been heretic enough to argue for deemphasizing uniforms and close order drill and for emphasizing academics.  Predictably, that piece earned me the disapproval, and even the ire, of many of my fellow officers—but not Chuck’s.
            I’m sure that Chuck didn’t agree with all my assertions in "Winning Hearts and Minds at Berkeley," but he very much approved of the effort.  He encouraged me to keep writing for Marine Corps Gazette.  He felt it was vitally important to have a professional forum for the frank and open exchange of views.  He went on to tell me that the Gazette had not always filled that bill, but that it now had a new enlightened editor in Colonel John Greenwood who was determined to bring in new voices and provocative ideas.  That was the beginning of a long and fruitful association with Colonel Greenwood.  I became a regular contributor to the Gazette, doggedly promoting the liberal arts in general and literature in particular as essential components of a professional military education.
            In becoming a regular contributor, I was following Chuck’s lead.  Truth be told, Chuck was always a better writer than I am.  He had the gift of graceful, succinct expression.  His pieces were always well-informed and authoritative, but he also had the knack of keeping it light and lively, with just the right balance of serious commentary with colorful colloquial expression and humor.  But what really made the difference was Chuck’s credibility as a warrior.  He wrote with firsthand authority about the central business of the Corps, and he had the liberal education to be able to establish that authority within the geo-political context in which the Corps must operate.  I am sure that many a reader must have disagreed with Chuck over the years, but I never saw him savaged in angry letters to the editor.  Everyone respected him. 
            Chuck, in short, was the closest thing to an actual renaissance man that I have ever known.  In addition to being a legitimate warrior and a gifted writer and speaker, he was a world-class athlete.  When the Marine Corps began to emphasize physical fitness and weight control in the mid-seventies, Chuck made it his business to lead the way.  He went on to set a world record for the greatest number of pull-ups performed in a single day. 
            It was the late, great balladeer Harry Chapin who, in one of his songs, observes that “it’s sometimes better not to touch your dreams.”  For better or worse, I began to touch mine in 1990.  With the help of a couple of sympathetic colonels, I managed to get assigned to teach English at the U.S. Naval Academy.  This was to be my twilight tour.  I had wanted it, and I embraced it, as my halfway house back to civilian academia.  It worked, after a fashion.  I retired from the Naval Academy in 1993 and went on to a job as the chair of the English Department at Glenville State College, in West Virginia.  Still, that Naval Academy experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  Ironically, I now look back on my time at Berkeley as the best three years I spent as a Marine officer and my time at Annapolis as the worst.  My reasons for feeling that way are complicated, and I went on to air them in opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
            To say that that piece was not well-received among my former English Department colleagues and academy alums would be an understatement.  Even retired Lieutenant General John Sheehan, then head of the academy’s alumni association, sent me a personal letter denouncing me and my piece as an embarrassment.  But Chuck and Colonel Greenwood, himself a Naval Academy alum, stood by me, and I stand by my views.  Recently, in fact, I expanded and refined that Chronicle piece into the lead chapter of a book on the intersections of military and academic culture. 
            One thing that always bothered me was my apparent inability to validate the faith that Chuck always seemed to have in me.  There were several reasons why I wanted to move on from that small college in West Virginia.  Not the least of those reasons was the thought that Chuck, who never lacked for self-confidence, believed me to be capable of doing much better.  He and Colonel Greenwood both encouraged me to apply to schools such as VMI, where my unusual blend of military and academic experiences might finally be fully appreciated.  I tried that route early on, but my deliverance from West Virginia finally came in 2001 in the form a deanship at Maryville University of St. Louis. 
            It was, frankly, a job I never should have taken.  Maryville at the time was a house bitterly divided between an administration intent on reorienting the university toward professional programs and a faculty unwilling to let go of their traditional commitment to the liberal arts.  I ended up siding with the faculty, a fatal mistake for a dean who served at the will and pleasure of the president. 
I lost that job after three years, and I credit Chuck with playing a major role in pulling me out of the doldrums and restoring my self-confidence.  Chuck insisted that I could pursue any number of new opportunities because the Marine Corps had instilled in me an ability the average academic couldn’t match—the ability to get people to do what I wanted them to do.  I walked away from Maryville with a reasonable settlement, and within a year, I had another dean appointment at a college in a place where my wife and I had always wanted to live.
One thing I especially appreciated, and will always remember, about Chuck was his sense of humor.  When my “Winning Hearts and Minds at Berkeley” came out, Chuck told me he had a theory about who the arsonist was who had claimed our building.  According to Chuck, I did it—in order to get bylines and to pad my writing résumé.
On this particular occasion, I felt it incumbent on me to apologize for a mistake I had made in “Winning Hearts and Minds at Berkeley.”  In one unfortunate sentence, I had mentioned the “charges that have been levied against the military profession” when I meant “leveled against,” and the editor didn’t catch the mistake.  Chuck generously brushed my apology aside, assuring me he had not noticed it because he was just the simple sort of guy who used to “drive his Chevy to the levee.” 
And then there was the time I made the mistake of telling Chuck about how I had chided my mother-in-law over her ongoing battle with feral cats that kept using her flower beds as their litter boxes.  For Christmas, I gave her “Earl the Dead Cat”—a stuffed animal in the form of a cat, complete with a flattened mid-section, tire-tread marks, and felt Xs for eyes. Chuck insisted on helping me go one better.  He sent me a perfectly mummified cat that he and his father had found between the walls of an old house they had torn down in Paris, Texas.  Chuck said that it just went to show that, if you keep something long enough, you’ll find a use for it.  In honor of Chuck, I did try to give it to my mother-in-law, but ingrate that she is, she declined.  Chuck’s mummified cat now resides in a display case in the Science Department of Glenville State College.  
I would like to think that on one occasion I somewhat repaid Chuck for his unwavering faith in me.  I don’t remember how it came about, but I do remember his confiding in me regarding the one reservation he had about taking a tour of duty with the State Department in Central America.  He first had to go through an intensive course in Spanish, and he was concerned about whether he really could become fluent in Spanish—or at least he professed to be concerned.  I reassured him that he could do it.  By that point, I was certain that Chuck Armstrong could do anything he set out to do. 
Along the same lines, I would like to believe that Chuck was legitimately proud of me when “Tiger Papa Three,” my memoir of my Combined Action service in Vietnam, won the Heinl Award in 1989 for the best contribution to Marine Corps history published during the previous year.  He was certainly generous in his praise of the piece.
It came as quite a surprise to me—and to a lot of other people, I’m sure—when Chuck announced that he was going to retire from the Marine Corps in 1991 at the rank of lieutenant colonel.  I’m sure he could have gone to full colonel, and probably beyond.  To fall back on a much-abused phrase, he had the “right stuff.”  But he said his priorities had changed now that he was a father.  I don’t doubt that he was sincere about that.  But I also suspect that his State Department tour had opened other doors for him.  Given the timing of Chuck’s Marine Corps retirement and his subsequent trips to and consulting about the Middle East, I’ve long wondered if Chuck actually ended his career with the CIA.  If so, I’m sure that it was not ambition or opportunism that motivated his move, but rather the opportunity to do more good than he could as a Marine officer.    
During our time in Southern California, my wife Andrea and I got to know Chuck’s wonderful wife Marlys.  We met his son Jason shortly after he was born, and we have followed his progress in the annual Armstrong Christmas letters (ostensibly penned by “Ringo” the family dog).  Clearly, Chuck and Jason had a marvelous relationship.  Chuck took great pride in Jason’s accomplishments, and I know that Jason will continue to make his father proud, wherever he is. 
From the Marine Corps’ perspective at least, I spent too much of my wayward youth studying war literature and not enough studying war.  But one of the things I learned is that certain peak experiences in life are ineffable—beyond the power of mere words “to add or detract.”  Chuck’s untimely death is certainly one of them.  But I was moved by the heartfelt epitaph that his good friend Turk McCleskey wrote on the day of Chuck’s death: 

If courage could have saved him, his courage alone would have sufficed.  If tears could have preserved his life, mine alone would have floated his boat back to this side of the river and made him a centenarian.  I never expected to outlive him, and I miss him tremendously.

            Speaking of courage, according to Marlys, one of the last things Chuck said was “no man had a better life.”  I believe it.  It’s just that all of us who knew and admired him wish there had been more of it.
--Ed Palm
Bremerton, WA
August 18, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the Nisqually Glacier Trail

Yesterday, August 2, I decided to brave the snow-packed trail and to follow a guide to the Nisqually Glacier overlook on Mt. Rainier. Normally, this trail would be clear by now, but Mt. Rainier saw record snowfalls last winter.   I am especially pleased to have caught a lenticular cloud forming over the mountain.  Click on each photo for a better view.   --EFP









Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Forks Eagle

I found this eagle in a tree just outside Forks, Washington.  I wish the light had been better, but we're not having summer this year in Western Washington.  Given what people are enduring in the East and the Midwest, I know I should be grateful.  Still, it would be nice to have some sunlight and temperatures in the seventies at least.  --EFP


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Ancient Mariner

I spent a pleasant morning kayaking in Dye's Inlet.  --EFP

Friday, July 8, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Lieutenant Dan Band Here in Bremerton

Gary Sinise's Lieutenant Dan Band gave a two-hour free concert on the Naval Base here in Bremerton yesterday.  Sinise and his group did a fantastic job.  A good time was had by all.  Click on the photos for a better view.  --EFP