As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities, we need to refocus on the goodness, determination, grit, and gumption that make the United States of America as great as it is: the American spirit. August was terrible, 2021 has been exhausting, 2020 was a nightmare. But as we look forward uneasily to what may lie ahead, we should take stock of the good work going on around the world thanks to veterans who hung up their uniforms but held close their devotion to service.
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Veterans Liberate Athens, Tennessee
Let’s begin in August 1946, in east Tennessee with the Battle of Athens. As WWII closed and millions of men came back from war, one county in Tennessee fell victim to a corrupt political machine based in Memphis. Crooks and political cronies joined the police force, and corruption led the county’s governance. But the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who labeled themselves as “the GIs,” decided to stand up against it. Guards at a voting station brutally beat a black farmer attempting to vote and kidnapped a GI who intervened. Violence broke out at multiple voting stations against locals trying to vote out the corruption. The GIs were forced to raise the stakes.
The corrupt politicians attempted to literally steal the election by taking ballot boxes to the jailhouse. Meanwhile, GIs took firearms from the National Guard Armory in response to several attacks. It all culminated in a siege at the jailhouse. Over 1,000 veterans gathered around the jailhouse and set up battlefield positions. They seized the bank across the street to take the high ground and took up firing positions around the jailhouse. They used raking fire with Garand rifles and Thompson submachine guns against the jailhouse defenders. Eventually, the GIs used dynamite to blast their way into the jailhouse.
When the dust settled on the morning of August 2, 1946, national news media began to receive word about the “Battle of Athens” that had occurred the night prior. New York Times condemned the GIs as anarchists interrupting the process of democracy. For weeks, there was an uneasy cease-fire in the city. The corrupt Sheriff Mansfield remained in his position, but he had no control in the county. GIs patrolled the streets and set up guard posts and barricades. Rumors of a counterattack spread. But eventually, the sheriff resigned, and the GIs elected against the Memphis-backed politicians took their new seats. The corrupt McMinn County government dissolved.
Team Rubicon: Marine Veterans to the Rescue
When there is a disaster, Team Rubicon comes to the rescue. Created by Marine veterans Jake Wood and William McNulty in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the team vows to bring aid wherever it is needed. Haiti was too dangerous for traditional aid organizations, so these vets stepped forward. Since then, Team Rubicon has become synonymous with disaster relief.
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Team Rubicon members arrived with aid. While politicians attempted to grandstand on the destruction, team members were pulling debris from canals. Team Rubicon was out on the ground, carrying cases of water miles on foot to bring water into places inaccessible to vehicles. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Team Rubicon is out in force in Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York.
Veterans Rescue Afghan Allies
The Afghan catastrophe is one of America’s making. There is plenty of blame to go around for 20 years of bureaucratic mismanagement as well as the current administration’s inept handling. But as we watched in horror as desperate Afghans fell from a C-17, veterans knuckled down and did what was right.
Ben Owen is an Army veteran, founder of Flanders Field, and VP of Strategy at BlackRifle Company, a data intelligence firm. He used his professional resources to connect with Afghan allies. Using the passphrase “Chesty Puller” and “November 10, 1775” on a cardboard sign, the Afghan family, codename CHESTY, managed to pass through the Abbey Gate just minutes before the explosion that killed 13 of our service members and over 165 Afghans.
Paul Crespo, a Marine veteran, political consultant, and President of American Defense News, used his professional network to establish safe communication with Afghans to help extract them. He refers to it as “Plan B.” Even today, he is coordinating rescue assistance for Afghans across the country, not just in Kabul.
The conservative political pundit Glenn Bleck has also made waves in the rescue efforts with his organization, the Nazarene Fund. First created to rescue Yazidis and Iraqi Christians from ISIS, the Nazarene Fund has since redirected efforts to save Afghans, Christian or not, from the Taliban. While Beck is not a veteran, the Nazarene Fund’s man on the ground certainly is. Rudy Atallah, an Air Force veteran of Lebanese heritage, became integral to coordinating airborne transportation for our allies under threat by the Taliban.
Veterans Still Serve
If I had to list all the veteran organizations created to do good, this article would be never-ending. Craig “Sawman” Sawyer declared war on human trafficking and child exploitation with Veterans for Child Rescue; Tim Kennedy organized the Pineapple Express; Project Refit travels across the country at the drop of a hat to help veterans in need. At every turn, a veteran stepping up to do what is right. So when the news cycle is dragging you down, or when you feel like this nation is falling apart before your eyes, remember all this. Remember that despite everything, the American spirit is alive and well. Remember that groups like the Team Rubicon and the Cajun Navy put their lives on the line during disasters to save stranded families. Remember that American Defense News, Black Rifle Company, and the Nazarene Fund use their assets to rescue lost families. THIS is the American spirit.
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