Operation Lone Star has its busiest year!

Jim Conley

Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops has had its busiest year since its beginning on July 4th, 2008. We are now celebrating our 8th year and thanks to our friends who support our endeavors we’re doing more than ever.

Among all the happy moments there were many somber ones. We’ve made too many journeys this year to lower flags and place wreaths for fallen heroes at the Fallen Warriors Memorial.

On Jan. 15 two CH53 helicopters from Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 463 crashed off the coast of Hawaii with the loss of all 12 Marines, two of whom were from the Houston area, Major Shawn Campbell and Corporal Matthew Drown. Operation Lone Star placed a wreath at the Fallen Warriors Memorial, Cutten Rd at Cypresswood, and lowered the flags to half-staff to honor the fallen Marines.

On Jan. 31, we attended the 75th Anniversary of the activation of the 1st Marine Division. The activation as well as the anniversary ceremony took place aboard USS Texas. My son Jim, North Division, and fellow Marine and good friend Kenneth Elliot, Homicide Division, also attended the ceremony. They served together in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

We visited the Community Living Center at Houston’s Michael E. Debakey VA Hospital in March and gave care packages to the patients who are permanent residents. Each package included blankets, robes, pajamas, socks, toiletries and snacks. We had the opportunity to visit with each patient, the majority of them Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans, and thank them for their service. My favorite patient was a World War II veteran who served with General George Patton. He was watching news about the presidential candidates and his language was extremely “colorful.” It was refreshing to talk to someone who wasn’t concerned about being politically correct. He proudly showed me his Croix de Guerre Medal he received from the French government.

March was also the month in which we mailed Easter care packages to troops deployed to Afghanistan. The packages contained snacks, toiletry items and Easter items that we hoped would bring a smile to their faces.

Easter of 1968 I was aboard USS Ranger CVA-61 in the Tonkin Gulf off of North Vietnam. The chaplain set up an altar on the flight deck and conducted a sunrise service between flight operations.  I couldn’t attend because I was standing watch but I observed the service from my duty station on the Signal Bridge. I’ve never forgotten how beautiful sunrise was that morning. Everything was peaceful, as it should be on Easter morning. Thirty minutes later the ship turned into the wind and we resumed conducting air strikes against the North.

On March 26 Operation Lone Star attended the homecoming and dignified transfer of Army Corporal Davey Harvey Bart. In 1950, Corporal Bart, just 18 at the time, was serving in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in Korea when his unit’s position was overrun by North Korean forces. Corporal Bart was taken prisoner with other American soldiers and was placed in the Pyokton prisoner of war camp where he died in November, 1951.

In 1990 North Korea returned 208 boxes containing the remains of approximately 600 service members. Early this year Corporal Bart’s remains were identified through the use of his sister’s DNA. She was only 10 years old at the time of his death.

Although 65 years late, Corporal Bart received full military honors, a gun salute, and a lone bugler playing taps. We attended the funeral the day after his long awaited arrival home and had the honor and pleasure of meeting his sister. We presented her with an Operation Lone Star Alamo Challenge Coin, which is given only to Purple Heart Recipients and surviving spouses and family members.

It was indeed an honor to welcome Corporal Davey Harvey Bart back home to Texas.

In April a memorial ceremony was held at the Fallen Warriors Memorial to honor Marine Major Shawn Campbell and Marine Corporal Matthew Drown, both of whom lost their lives in the helicopter crash off of Hawaii in January. Each family was presented a Marine Corps flag which had been flown at the Fallen Warriors Memorial as well as portraits of their sons. We had the pleasure of meeting the parents of both Marines and presented them an Alamo Challenge Coin and the promise that their sons will never be forgotten.

The second weekend in May brought us to George Bush Intercontinental Airport for the arrival of over 500 Wounded Heroes from military medical facilities from all over the country for the 10th Annual Warriors Weekend, a weekend of fishing and barbeque in Port O’Connor. They were greeted by Navy and Marine Corps Color Guards as well as Color Guards from the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Metro Police Department and many more as well as well-wishing civilians.

A special thanks goes to Captain Greg Fremin, Northeast Division, and his staff for arranging and coordinating this event under sometimes trying circumstances. We also want to commend Captain Glenn Yorek, Airport Division, and his officers for providing security and traffic control. As always, you Airport Division ladies and gentlemen made the City and the Department look good.

We attended the Memorial Day Ceremony at Houston National Cemetery and participated in the Wreath Laying Procession honoring all of our American Heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could enjoy the freedoms so many take for granted. We were disappointed at the size of the crowd; it seems to get smaller each year.

At the conclusion of the National Cemetery Ceremony we proceed to the Fallen Warriors Memorial where we lowered the half-staff flags then raised them to the top of the flagpoles. A large crowd of both military personnel and civilian patriots were on hand to observe the flag raising and I was later told that the crowds were large for the entire day.

From there we went to Rosewood Cemetery to place a wreath on the grave of a childhood friend, Specialist 4th Class John Dobroski, 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, who was killed in Vietnam on January 17, 1971. On a previous visit several years ago the funeral home staff told me that a soldier who had been with John when he was killed visits his grave every Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

We were finally able to make contact with him and arranged to meet him on this day. Upon our arrival at the gravesite we were greeted by Dennis Loop, who had served in John’s recon platoon. We exchanged handshakes and hugs. We immediately began talking; Vice-President Judy Pierce (my sister) and I told Dennis everything we could about our friend, John. Dennis told us everything he knew about his friend, “Tex.” It was as though we’d known each other as long as we’d known John. It was a very gratifying experience.

Dennis explained that the platoon is having its annual reunion in the Houston area in March and promised to invite us.

June 2 brought more tragedy. Nine Fort Hood soldiers were killed when flash-flood waters overturned their vehicles while on a training exercise. We placed a wreath at the Fallen Warriors Memorial honoring these members of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and lowered the flags to half-staff.

We traveled to the Warrior and Family Support Center located at Joint Base Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on June 23. There we provided over 200 Wounded Heroes, their families, and volunteer staff a catered Pappasito’s lunch. As we did 2 years ago we visited with the service members and presented each an Alamo Challenge Coin. It is amazing to see the joy a few minutes of attention and a round piece of metal brings to these Heroes. The smiles make it all worth the effort.

We also provided the Center with much needed supplies of diapers, wipes, and snacks for the many families who pass through their doors while their loved ones are being treated and/or in rehabilitation.

At the completion of the luncheon we proceeded to the Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program, one of only five facilities in the country designed to treat and rehabilitate veterans and active-duty service members who are suffering from polytrauma, such as traumatic amputations (IEDs) or traumatic brain injuries with the goal of returning them to active duty or back to their communities. The staff was completely dedicated to their patients and their goals of giving these men and women the best quality of life possible.

During our tour of the facility the staff explained the importance of physical therapy for their patients and we asked how we could help. We learned from previous visits to VA and military facilities that the staff is not allowed to ask for donations of any kind. We’ve also learned how to properly phrase our sentences so that we can learn what equipment would be beneficial to the patients and the facility. We determined that there was a need for recumbent bicycles, the type of bike in which the rider is sitting low with his legs parallel to the ground. We promised to take care of this need.  Prior to leaving we donated several HEB gift cards for use in training the resident patients to put together a shopping list, shop for the needed items, and prepare their own meals.

Over the next few weeks Sandy Alexander, our Secretary/Treasurer made contact with the PTRP staff and made arrangements for us to purchase a recumbent bike and a stand-up bike.

June 29 brought us to the twice postponed-due-to-flooding HPOU 6th Annual Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament held at the Clubs of Kingwood. The tournament benefits the Assist the Officer Foundation and Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops. For that we are very grateful to Captain Fremin, HPOU President Ray Hunt, the Board of Directors, and the Membership of HPOU.

It was a great day of golf, friendship, good food, and a productive auction.

At the beginning of the after-tournament presentations host and organizer Captain Fremin allowed me to say a few words about Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops. I explained who we are and what we had done this year up to that point. I called Captain Fremin to the stage and told the crowd how instrumental he is in organizing the Warriors Weekend welcoming ceremonies, the organizing and coordinating of the Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament, the annual Travis Manion Foundation 9/11 Heroes Run each September, and many other events that benefit veterans and active-duty military personnel. We then presented him with our first Operation Lone Star Hero Award for his selfless and continuous efforts on behalf of America’s military personnel. A well-deserved award, Captain.

We spent the 4th of July providing an old-fashioned picnic to patients and staff at Houston’s Michael E. Debakey VA Hospital. We served hamburgers and hot dogs (cooked by volunteers, the Christ the King Lutheran Church Burnt Offerings Kookin’ Krew, led by Butch Hagey) as well as potato salad, chips, watermelon and cookies. The staff assisted us in serving the food and when possible we had the pleasure of interacting with the patients.

Four Dallas Police Officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer were murdered on July 7. 3 of the 5 officers were veterans. We immediately lowered the flags at the Fallen Warriors Memorial and placed a wreath at the site to honor these fallen heroes.

It was care package time again so we went shopping for the standard snacks, socks and hygiene items. We wanted to do something we hadn’t done before so we purchased sports equipment: 2 footballs, 2 soccer balls, and enough baseball gear to field a team….two bats, a dozen balls, and 10 gloves….9 righties and 1 lefty. We packed everything and sent it to my son and Kenneth Elliot’s former unit, the 2/7 Marines, who had recently deployed to Iraq. We hope they have some down time in which to enjoy the equipment.

We received several thank you notes from the Marines of 2/7 Golf Company, including the following:

“First I would like to thank you and your organization for the packages you sent us. The socks and the baby wipes were especially needed and the snacks are just icing on the cake. For some of us here it might be the only package we get from the States, so It’s nice knowing that there are people who still think about us while we’re deployed. I have only been to Texas once but your Texas hospitality has stretched to the other side of the world. It’s definitely felt here. Again, thank you for the package and for being patriotic Americans who still care about us Marines. With Gratitude, Cpl S.”

You’re welcome, Marine.

Officer Marco Zarate, a 7-year veteran of the Bellaire Police Department was killed in a motorcycle crash during his pursuit of shoplifting suspects on July 12. Officer Zarate was a member of the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club and a Marine veteran. Operation Lone Star placed a wreath at the Bellaire Police Department Headquarters in his honor.

The Department of Defense is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War with events and functions across the country. As a “Commemorative Partner” Operation Lone Star presented a brief ceremony at the Houston Police Retired Officers Association meeting which was held on August 11. We recognized the membership’s Vietnam Veterans and Vietnam-Era Veterans for their service during a very difficult time in our country’s history. We commended them for serving their country when so many refused to, when so many dodged the draft or fled to Canada.

The Vietnam Veterans upon their return home were greeted with abusive language and insults, yet they held their heads high and continued to move forward. These men were presented a Vietnam Veteran lapel pin and an Operation Lone Star/50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration t-shirt.

The Vietnam-Era Veterans were also praised for doing their duty and each received a t-shirt.  As retired HPD Sgt Paul Ogden said to me, “I did what my country asked me to do.”

As Judy and Sandy were handing out the t-shirts HPROA President Steve Rayne announced to the attendees that the extra-large t-shirts didn’t last long. Retirement has been pretty good for some retirees.

I reminded everyone that we must not forget the true Heroes, the ones who didn’t come home, not only from the Vietnam War but all wars, including the current ones.

The Fallen Warriors Memorial is dedicated to all Texans killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the over 700 names on the walls six are sons of HPD families.

 

  • Marine LCpl Todd Bolding, son of Jim Bolding
  • Marine SSgt Russell Slay, son of retired Officer Roy Slay
  • Marine LCpl William Miller, son of Lewis Miller
  • Marine LCpl Ryan Miller, son of retired Sgt Frank Miller and Officer Jeaninne Maughmer-Miller
  • Army Spc Rodney Johnson, Jr, son of Officer Rodney Johnson
  • Marine Cpl Joey Logan, son of retired Officers Tom and Debbie Logan

 

This brief ceremony was well received by the retirees. There were 69 veterans in attendance, including 56 Vietnam and Vietnam-era vets, 1 Korean War vet, and 1 World War II vet. We were proud to be in the company of these American Heroes.

Operation Lone Star is currently planning a similar event for the November 3 HPOU meeting. We will recognize all HPD veterans for the upcoming Veterans Day and will have a special recognition for Vietnam and Vietnam-Era Veterans who may be in attendance.

August 16 took us back to San Antonio to take delivery on a new recumbent bike and a new stand-up bike. We brought a used recumbent bike that had been donated by HPD Retiree Roy McDonald.

Upon our arrival at PTRP we were greeted by Recreation Therapist Mary Dawn Fail-Phillips and Kenesiotherapist Phil Imbody and other staff members. They were excited to receive the bikes and repeatedly hugged and thanked us. Therapist Fail-Phillips got a little misty at one point. We spent a little time visiting with the staff then head back to Houston, leaving them with the promise that this is not a one-time event.

Aug. 20 we participated in Hempstead’s 7th Annual Watermelon Run for the Fallen, an event honoring our fallen service men and women. The opening ceremonies included American and Texas flag-bearing skydivers, a special salute to the American Flag, and the swearing-in of young Army and Marine Recruits. After a 5K run a ceremony was held which included reading aloud the name of every Texan killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. This event has a special significance to Hempstead Police Chief David Hartley; his son Army SSgt Jeffrey Lee Hartley was killed in action April 8, 2008 while serving in Iraq. Chief Hartley organized this event to honor his son and Texas’ other fallen warriors.

Thursday, Aug. 24 Judy, Sandy and I were invited to the HPOU offices to meet with President Ray Hunt, 1st Vice-President Doug Griffith, and Captain Greg Fremin. Upon our arrival Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops was presented with a portion of the proceeds from the HPOU Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament. This is our 4th year as a beneficiary of this event and we are humbled each time Ray, Doug, and Captain Fremin make this presentation. On behalf of the servicemen and women, veterans, and family members we serve, I want to thank HPOU for your generous donation. We couldn’t do the things we do without your support.

The ConocoPhillips Patriotic Employee Network Care Package Drive was conducted during the month of August. For the fourth consecutive year Operation Lone Star was the beneficiary of their efforts. We met at their headquarters in the Energy Corridor on I-10 on September 6 and loaded Sandy’s Toyota Tundra with boxes of candies, cookies and other goodies which will be mailed to the 2/7 Marines in Iraq on September 17. Thanks to the ConocoPhillips employees for supporting our troops with the annual care package drive.

One of our most anticipated events, the 6th Annual Travis Manion Foundation 9/11 Heroes Run, occurred on September 10. “The Travis Manion Foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.”

In 2007, 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion, USMC, was killed in Iraq while saving his wounded teammates. Today his legacy lives on in the words he spoke before leaving for his final deployment. His brother-in-law asked why he had to go again. 1st Lt Manion replied, “If not me, then who….?”

The Travis Manion 9/11 Heroes Run began in his hometown of Doylestown, Pa., as a tribute to his memory and that of his closest friend, Navy Lieutenant Brendon Looney (SEAL) who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The Run now takes place in 55 cities in the US in addition to military bases around the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan. One US Navy ship was reported to have participated this year.

The event, sponsored by HPD and the City of Houston, was held at Ellington Field. It was coordinated by Captain Fremin with the assistance of his wife, Sgt Elaine Fremin, his staff and numerous volunteers throughout HPD, the military, various city departments, and civilians.

About 1,626 runners and walkers participated with 1,299 finishing. There were every manner of participants; serious runners, runners who do it strictly for exercise or fun; bomb squad members in full gear, firefighters in full gear, police officers in uniform with body armor, military personnel in full combat gear. There were several military personnel running with prosthetic legs as well as a male and female in wheelchairs. When you see their strength and dedication you realize that your knees don’t hurt so much after all. Several HPD cadets represented their Academy classes as well.

The event began with the National Anthem followed by a prayer. HPD’s Color Guard was in attendance as were Color Guards from other law enforcement agencies and the military services. Several brief speeches were given, including a touching one by 1st Lt Manion’s sister, Ryan Manion Borek.

There were around 3,000 runners and spectators in attendance, the same number who were killed in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as pointed out by Captain Fremin.

At the conclusion of the Run awards were given to those who placed in the top 3 of each age group. I’m proud to say that my son, Jimmy, placed 2nd in the 20-29 age group, 11th overall. I placed 9th in my age group, 350 overall. Fortunately I wasn’t placed in an ambulance.

I encourage everyone to get involved in this annual event. Make a donation to the Travis Manion Foundation to enter the Run then on event day you can walk, run or watch.

“If not me, then who….?” Those are strong words we should all strive to live by. We constantly hear friends and strangers say, “Somebody ought to….” then walk away having done nothing. Veterans, active-duty military personnel, firefighters, EMS, have all asked themselves that same question. And they answered by standing up and making a difference. Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops was started for the same reason.

If you want to learn more about the Travis Manion Foundation go to travismanion.org. I also encourage you to read “Brothers Forever,” a book about 1st Lt Travis Manion and Lt Brendan Looney, written by retired Marine Colonel Tom Manion, Travis’ dad. It details their friendship which began in the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, their service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their burials next to each other in Arlington National Cemetery, which makes them “brothers forever”

We had the pleasure of meeting Col. Manion 2 years ago at his book signing event in Houston, and met with him again at a function 2 days before this year’s Run. He’s a down-to-earth man who misses his son and greatly appreciates everyone’s support of his son’s Foundation.

The year 2016 has been our busiest and best year so far. For the remainder of the year we have the Huntsville Fair on the Square in October, the HPOU Veterans Day Recognition event Nov. 3, the Veterans Day Parade November 11, Wreaths Across America Dec. 17, and Operation Lone Star Wreaths Dec. 18.  Also, we will be mailing Christmas care packages the Saturday after Thanksgiving. If you have relatives or friends who are deployed over the Holidays please contact us with a military mailing address and we will put them on our care package mailing list:

OperationLoneStar@hotmail.com or jconley7@comcast.net.

On behalf of Judy, Sandy, and most importantly, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces that we serve, thank all of you for your support.

And from a former Officer Safety Instructor who still cares, keep your head on a swivel and WEAR YOUR BODY ARMOR. Always remember that YOU are the most important person on ANY scene.  In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s officers were being assassinated as they are today. Keep your spirits up. We got through it. You will, too.

God Bless Our Troops and Our First Responders.

God Bless America.