There's a few interesting things going on out there today. We'll pick and choose a bit.
We'll start today in my own backyard, and with a museum ship. The Boston area has a long maritime history, and it's honored by way of the USS Constitution, Cassin Young, Nantucket, and Salem all anchored in and around the harbor. Down the coast a ways is the Electric Boat Works in Groton, CT. There you can find a Cold War relic, being the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine.
Maintaining a museum ship isn't easy. Salt water in particular is a brutal and relentless enemy. The USS Texas is in need of extensive repair work, and freshwater isn't easy either, as we witnessed the sinking of The Sullivans over last spring.
So it is good news that the Nautilus has recently re-opened to the public.
The Navy on Friday celebrated the completion of a $36 million preservation of the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, as elected officials celebrated the ship's history and advocated for continued investment in the nation's undersea force.
The Nautilus, which was launched in 1954, decommissioned in 1980 and opened to the public at the Submarine Force Museum in 1986, departed the museum last October for work at the Naval Submarine Base and returned Aug. 4. The work involved repairing the hull, replacing topside decking, upgrading lighting, painting and more.
During Friday's ceremony at the Nautilus' pier, Adm. Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, posed and answered the question, "She's the first submarine to have atomic power. So what?"
He said the Allies "came perilously close to losing World War I and World War II" due to German submarines, and with that recognition, "everything in the 1950s was a race, and we won. This submarine was built fast, designed fast, got underway fast."
He said the U.S. didn't get everything right and lost two subs in the 1960s, but the Soviets lost more.
Cox said "there are millions of people who are alive today because of the submarines and the fact that they never had to fire at shot at the Soviets, so that's the "so what.'" He added that repairing the Nautilus and keeping it for another 30 years is half the cost of getting rid of it.
Lt. Cmdr. Derek Sutton, director of the Submarine Force Museum and officer-in-charge of the Nautilus, said the goal is a 30-year "clean bill of health" for the boat and for the Nautilus to stay attached to the museum.
Sutton said the planning for the repairs began in 2015, and that the Nautilus has attracted more than 3 million visitors since it became the focal point of the museum.
Lonny Barham, president of the Nautilus Alumni Association, said the best way to honor the 2,500 people who served on the Nautilus is to preserve the ship.
He served on the Nautilus from ages 18 to 21, and his daughter Jennifer Murray recalled living the Nautilus through him. He told her stories of surfacing north of the Arctic Circle to do repairs while on a mission, and stories of friends and camaraderie.
At age 11, Murray went to see the Nautilus with her father shortly after it was docked in Groton, and Murray said as soon as her own children were old enough to walk, Barham began bringing his grandchildren there.
I've been down there a few times; there's a nice submarine museum at the site, too.
But let us think of our old Cold War adversary today, too. We've taken our relics and put them out to pasture in museums, but it appears that the Russians are still trying to fight wars with their old stuff. You may have heard of a turn of the tide in the Ukraine war. The northeast front around Kharkiv seems to have collapsed, and the Russians are in headlong retreat. Surprising perhaps, given the mythos of the former Red Army. The rout is exposing many more shortcomings in the Russian Military
than they have ever cared to admit.
From Wednesday to Sunday, Vladimir Putin's military forces saw at least 338 pieces of important military hardware -- from fighter jets to tanks to trucks -- destroyed, damaged or captured, according to numbers from the open source intelligence website Oryx, as Ukraine's forces have bolted through Russian-held territory in an offensive that has stunned the Russians in its speed and breadth.
Ukraine's top military commander claimed on Sunday that more than 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of territory had been retaken by his country's forces since the beginning of September. And for more perspective, just "since Wednesday, Ukraine has recaptured territory at least twice the size of Greater London," the British Defense Ministry said Monday.
Ukrainian reports say Putin's troops are fleeing east to the Russian border in whatever transport they can find, even taking cars from the civilian population in the areas they had captured since the start of the war in February.
These Russian losses are the accumulation of a multitude of existing problems that are now colliding head-on with a Ukrainian military that has been patient, methodical and infused with billions of dollars of the Western military equipment that Russia cannot match.
And without a drastic, and potentially unconventional intervention from Putin, the Ukrainian victories are likely to accelerate, analysts say.
Many of Russia's problems -- poor and inflexible leadership, sour troop morale, inadequate logistics and hardware beset by maintenance issues -- have been evident since the beginning stages of the war more than seven months ago.
Pavel Filatyev, a Russian paratrooper who fought his army's capture of the Ukrainian city of Kherson earlier in the war, told CNN last month that his unit lacked even the basics during that operation.
"Several days after we encircled Kherson many of us did not have any food, water or sleeping sacks," he said. "Because it was very cold at night, we couldn't even sleep. We would find some rubbish, some rags, just to wrap ourselves to keep warm."
And their armaments were substandard, he said.
"All of our weapons are from the times of Afghanistan," where Russian forces fought from 1979 to 1989, he said.
This was once the army that defeated Nazi Germany. The way things are going, they'll end up more like the Sixth Army at Stalingrad.
Finally today, let us consider actual veterans. We've been at war for 22 years now. But how many of us actually know a veteran or anyone that served overseas? Two of my Scouting friends served. One long ago now, in the First Gulf War of 1991. Another was an artilleryman in Iraq.
You're aware of the many fraternal organizations that exist to support veterans after their service. In the wake of WWII and Korea, these organizations thrived and grew, but as the older veterans passed on, membership has contracted. Vietnam and modern era veterans seem to want little to do with them in this day and age. Perhaps a sign of changing society, but like all fraternal organizations, they are still trying to remain relevant.
Commander Wayne Keaton stood tall in a crisp white uniform in front of the M-60 tank outside American Legion Post 185 in Agawam, Mass. The post is struggling, he said, both to find new members and keep its building in shape to welcome the latest generation of veterans.
“We have no younger members signing up,” Keaton said. “I’m 63 and one of the youngest ones here.”
Louis Russo, chairman of Post 185 House Committee, sat in his Rollator walker next to Keaton and explained how recruitment is on the back burner because building safety is a top priority.
“We did not know how much longer we could go with that roof before we would have had to shut down,” Russo said.
Across the country and the state, veterans organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are confronting declining memberships. As they scramble to find ways to connect with new veterans, they are also coping with increasing costs to keep their posts’ buildings open.
Everything from funding, closings forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, stigmas, veteran eligibility and the passing of a generation of men and women who long sustained the American Legion, VFW and other veterans groups are on the list of mounting concerns raised by members to state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield.
It’s what prompted Velis to secure funds to help sustain some Legion posts in his district, including Post 185, which received $50,000 to make building repairs.
Post 185?s big push for new members to whom leaders hope to someday day pass the baton has been a fruitless endeavor so far, Keaton said.
Velis, a major in the Army Reserve, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and member of Westfield’s Post 124, is making the rounds of his district to visit Legion and VFW posts and listen to concerns.
“The challenge is how do we continue to expand at a time when membership is down,” Velis told the Post 185 leaders during a visit there. “I do not have the answer to that, but it is something we must spend a lot of time thinking about.”
The American Legion is a veterans service organization that traces its history back more than a century, started by World War I vets and established by Congress in 1919. Since its founding, the Legion has lobbied for veterans’ rights, including the original GI Bill that was adopted in the wake of World War II, and helped create the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
A contributing factor to enrollment declines is stigma and an invisible divide between veterans who served post-9/11 and those before the Gulf War-era of the 1990s, the senator said. “There is a flawed perception that it is just a dimly lit bar to drink at,” Velis said.
“Post-9/11 vets are likely to join run groups and others like it, but they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s just a matter of getting them through the doors to understand the role the legion plays,” he said.
Today, the American Legion has about 2 million members in more than 13,000 posts worldwide. In Massachusetts there are 285 posts in nine districts with 30,000 members.
The VFW, which traces its history back to 1899 and veterans of the Spanish-American War, like the Legion, has played an important role in services for veterans, including the GI Bill post World War II and recently in the passage of the PACT Act. The VFW has 5,883 posts around the world and some 1.5 million members, according to its website, vfw.org.
“We have had just handful closings,” said Milton Lashus, the Legion’s department adjutant for Massachusetts. “Although membership across the country and in state are seeing declines, locally we had good year.”
While there are concerns, “things are not as bad as they seem,” Lashus said. Most posts, he said, have met 100% or have exceeded their membership recruitment goals.
So - hopefully not too dense today. I bet you can tell I had some time this morning. It remains peak season for a few more weeks - so I'm on second shift today and will be driving into the night. (Ghost Tours).