Thursday, March 31, 2005


"Where do we get such men?"

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
What can we possibly say in gratitude that would ever equal the worth of this man?
So we simply say, "thank you, Paul."

Semper Fi,


Terry Schiavo has died

A sad day for all of us, having become so media-familiar with this beautiful young woman struck down in the prime of life. She was mentally incapacitated for so many years, ultimately starved to death, the issue of her fate dividing a nation (though not completely along traditional political lines) and becoming quite a shameful circus in many quarters.
My take on the value of her life - and life in general - can be seen here.

We pray Terri is rejoicing with God.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005


a nice mention in this morning's paper...

Bertram Rantin at THE STATE newspaper reports:

The writings of USC alumnus W. Thomas Smith Jr. soon will be appearing on the pages of one of the nation’s leading military news websites.
Smith, an author and journalist, will begin writing a biweekly column for beginning Thursday.
Smith will provide an insider’s look at ground combat forces, paramilitary and special forces, past, present and future in the column, entitled “Beyond the Drop Zone.”
After graduating from USC in 1982, Smith entered the U.S. Marine Corps where he served as an infantry leader, paratrooper, and shipboard counterterrorist instructor. Following his service in the Corps, he served on a special weapons and tactics team in the nuclear industry.

See it here.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Beyond the Drop Zone

We're LIVE... two days early

Beyond the DropZone, our new column in, was published, this afternoon.
Our debut piece discusses the rapidly improving combat capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. See it here.


Monday, March 28, 2005


Ligon to speak on Columbia’s beginnings

My friend, Temple Ligon, will present a lecture on the early history and development of Columbia, South Carolina on Wednesday, April 27. Official details follow:

invite you to attend a slide–illustrated lecture on our city's beginning:

"Renaissance Redux: Columbia's Early Streets"

Wednesday, April 27, 6–7 pm
Columbia Museum of Art
open admission

Under the safe assumption you prefer to visit a restaurant nearby, we have no reception following [knowing Temple and his affinity for champagne receptions, thats subject to change].

John Temple Ligon, lecturer
office: 803.771.0219
cell: 803.261.1828

Sounds good.
I plan to be there.


On the wire

The following was just forwarded to me regarding our new gig at
Apparently, NAMC Media Industry New & Events and PRWEB are promoing us worldwide.
Yep, we'll be there, this coming Thursday.


Sunday, March 27, 2005


Happy Easter

If you read nothing else this Easter morning, please take a moment to read what Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor had to say in London's THE DAILY TELEGRAPH.

"Without the Resurrection, human society would not have known the one, singular, astonishing thing that underpins the best of our laws and our traditions: that God gave himself to the world in Jesus Christ, was rejected by the world, and became a victim. Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained an unknown victim - trampled on, and forgotten; and human society would be none the wiser. But God raised Jesus up, demonstrated His power over death, and gave those who witnessed it the knowledge that the bloodied victim abandoned on Golgotha was, after all, His beloved son."

Read the entire piece here.


Saturday, March 26, 2005


"I want to live"

Considering the plight of Terry Schiavo

I don't care what any ex-wives or future wives may say, I WANT TO LIVE... no matter what it takes and no matter how terrible my life may be deemed by others.
Here's why (and it has nothing to do with selfishness or wanting to be a burden on others).
I want to live because God may be teaching me something while I am still alive - or I may be learning something - about myself and suffering, or the people around me, or humanity overall, or the triumph of the spirit in the darkest moments, or who knows what.
And since God has given me life - and given physicians the means to preserve life - I don't think it is my right or place to take that life away... or to allow that life to dissolve simply because it might be an escape from that which is not what I or others might have wanted in the first place.
As long as my heart is beating, it is because God has willed it.
And who am I to second guess His will?


My friend, author-poet Kay Day, e-mails me from Jacksonville:

"...If I'm living, I'll be certain your wishes are followed. I feel the same way. I've expressed my feelings to my family and written them into my will.
What the medical establishment and Schaivo's estranged husband are doing is murder.
I cannot reconcile the fact they are removing her feeding tube. But to withhold water from a dying woman is barbaric. If she were from a foreign country, the popular press would be up in arms.
In my opinion, her husband has abandoned her, having fathered children by another woman. He should have done the honorable thing and divorced her long ago. He is, in a moral sense, a bigamist.
I do not believe the polls accurate. I have found only one person, of many with whom I've spoken, who believes Terry Schiavo should be euthanized. That's what the establishment is doing.
It speaks to the heart of a judicial system that lacks compassion, except for the very wealthy."

Thursday, March 24, 2005


New column at MilitaryWeek

The following press release is making the rounds, regarding my new column, Beyond the DropZone, at I could tell you more about it, but I'll let the release speak for itself:


Author-journalist W. Thomas Smith Jr. will write a bi-weekly column, BEYOND THE DROPZONE, for beginning March 31.
A former U.S. Marine and paratrooper, Smith will offer an insider’s look at ground combat forces, paramilitary and special forces; past, present, and future.
" is very pleased to announce that W. Thomas Smith, Jr. is joining us in our ongoing efforts to explore the roots of military conflict and provide our readers with easy access to on-line, conflict-related articles from throughout the world," says Leroy Woodson, publisher of and a former editor and war correspondent for National Geographic magazine and The Washington Post. "Mr. Smith will be providing us with his unique insights in his own column, 'Beyond the DropZone'."
Other columnists at include Lt. Col Karen Kwiatkowski (U.S. Air Force, ret.) and Janine di Giovanni, a war correspondent and contributing editor to Vanity Fair.
W. Thomas Smith Jr. has written four books, edited two, and penned hundreds of pieces for a variety of publications including USA TODAY, George, U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, The New York Post, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His work appears frequently in NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE.
Smith is a graduate of the University of South Carolina (USC). He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry leader, paratrooper, and shipboard counter-terrorist instructor. Following his service in the Corps, he served on a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team in the nuclear industry.
As a journalist, Smith has reported from combat zones in the Balkans and the Middle East, as well as covering the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks from ground zero in New York. He is an adjunct professor of journalism at USC and a military technical advisor for FactChasers, an international research service.

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Elloree, South Carolina

"Charmingly Southern"

I just got back from Elloree, South Carolina where I was covering a story for Sandlapper magazine, and I must say it was one of the most pleasant morning excursions I've made in quite some time.
In fact, I think I need more of these escapes back to things I remember and so-cherished before the advent of computers, cell phones, seven-day-work-weeks and out-of-town jaunts that almost always mean business trips to huge metropoli like D.C. and the "Apple."
Don't get me wrong, I love those cities and the energy I'm always infused with when visiting them. But there was something almost magical about my visit to the self-proclaimed "Charmingly Southern" town west of Lake Marion, between Columbia and Charleston, in eastern Orangeburg County. It was a step back in time (if you'll pardon the cliché), but with all the modern conveniences we so-often take for granted. And indeed it is "Charmingly Southern:" Inhabited by incredibly warm and friendly people - only 740 of them - living and working in a beautiful little antiques buyers and dealers destination, Elloree boasts some of the region's most interesting specialty shops, excellent restaurants, and fascinating historical sites. In fact, its museum is as fine a repository, exhibition hall, and art-gallery as I've ever visited... and I've toured many of the world's finest.
Not to mention the drive: A gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree morning along smooth, vehicle-less highways passing old homes and farmhouses, vast corn and cotton fields, and old-growth hardwoods and pines. Even the railroad crossing between Elloree and St. Matthews, where I had to stop for a few minutes of fast-rolling freight cars, was pleasant.
Point being, folks, when you're passing through our great state, please take a moment to stop in our small towns. That's where you'll discover so much more about who we - as Southerners - really are.
Oh, and visit Elloree on the web here.


Monday, March 21, 2005


Credit for the Coast Guard

My friend, Capt. Lou Colbus (U.S. Navy, ret.), emails me a copy of a letter sent to several flag and general officers (and others) by Coast Guard veteran Marvin Perrett that attempts to redress a number of oversights that must not continue. The letter published in its unedited entirety below speaks for itself.
Mr. Perrett, a former combat coxswain whose heroics in action during several of the most celebrated albeit hellish amphibious assaults of World War II, is the subject of a fascinating feature that was published in the January 2005 issue of COAST GUARD magazine.
We owe these guys so much more than any of us can ever repay. And slights like what you are about to see are simply unacceptable!
Mr. Perrett's letter follows:

The Honorable Francis J. Harvey, U.S. Army
Admiral Vernon E. Clark, U.S. Navy
General John P. Jumper, U.S. Air Force
General Michael Hagee, U.S. Marine Corps
Honorable David Vitter, Congressman

I have just returned from a 60th Anniversary visit to Iwo Jima. I was the sole D-Day Iwo Jima U.S. Coast Guardsman on tour with about 60 contemporary U.S. Marines. I departed this emotional and memorable ceremony misty eyed. The impressive and elite U. S. Marine Corps Band, failed to include the Coast Guard Marching Song “Semper Paratus!” in their musical Services salute! With Mt. Suribachi in the background, this slight was difficult to embrace.
History “101”
Just for the record, I was “Coxswain” of a HIGGINS boat (LCVP/PA33-21) stationed aboard the U.S.S. BAYFIELD (APA33) a U.S. Coast Guard manned Navy Assault troop transport, Atlantic and Pacific.
At D-Day Normandy, our dedicated and decorated Captain Lyndon Spencer, U.S.C.G., Combat Citation/Normandy; Croix de Guerre/with Gold Star, hosted RADM Don Pardee Moon, U.S.N., Maj. Gen. R.O. Barton, U.S. Army and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., U.S. Army, as “Flagship” Utah Beach.
At the Invasion of Southern France the U.S.S. BAYFIELD hosted RADM S.S. Lewis, U.S.N., rendering us a “Flagship” for that engagement.
On February 19th 1945 (D-DAY Iwo Jima) we hosted Maj. Gen. Clifton B. Cates, U.S.M.C., Commanding General, with elements of his 4th Marine Division. I landed 4th Marines on D-DAY at Blue Beach One and lost my HIGGINS boat on my first trip in to the beach. It sunk out from under me! I have vivid memories of Iwo Jima to this day.
I have every reason to believe that if any of the aforementioned departed Officers were with us today, they would support my plea for UNITED STATES COAST GUARD recognition as a Sister Service Organization of WWII!!! We are not seeking favors. We deserve better. We earned it…the hard way!
It started with S/M 1/c Douglas A. Munro, U.S.C.G., Congressional Medal of Honor, 9/27/1942. He evacuated some 500 U.S. Marines via HIGGINS boats destined for extermination off Guadalcanal.
I am given to understand that the second American Flag and staff that was erected upon Mt. Suribachi was donated by Quartermaster Bob Resnick, U.S.C.G., from his LST-758. The Coast Guard was present, Big Time!
I humbly beseech you honorable and decorated Leaders to issue a directive to your Band Masters to include the U. S. Coast Guard marching song “Semper Paratus” henceforth and hereafter, at ALL SERVICE related programs where such is presented.

Respectfully yours,
Marvin Perrett, U.S.C.G.
“Coxswain” PA33-21 (WWII)

CC: Admiral Tom H. Collins, U.S. Coast Guard
P.S. I have just been advised that there is posted on Saipan, Service Ensigns, without that of the Coast Guard.
Please correct this! The Coast Guard was there also!! Not to mention OKINAWA, as well!

After publishing the letter, this morning, we received the following email from Marvin Perrett:
It was difficult to read amidst the tears of joy and pride still rolling down my cheeks at this writing!

We "Coasties" have suffered this slight down through the years.
Iwo Jima was the last straw for me. I was compelled to speak out on this, the biggest day of my life. It was more than I could bear. Sorry it came to this; however, this one is for my COAST GUARD shipmates, past, present, and future.
Semper Paratus!


Semper Fidelis,


principles of success

Quick note, then back to the paying work...
Recently - and for a variety of reasons - we’ve had a number of requests for a list of 30 Principles of Writing Success, developed for the Southeastern Writers Association’s annual conference back in 2003 (We will be teaching a course in non-fiction writing at the same conference, this summer.). Though developed specifically for professional writers, the principles can be adapted to almost any career. See them here.

ON AN UNRELATED NOTE: I hate country music (to me, it all sounds like a bunch of warmed-over soft-rock leftovers with steel guitars) ... but how can any red-blooded American male not love this?!!!



popping the question...

My buddy, Jeff Quinton, just did.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Cold War “containment” architect dies

George Frost Kennan

eorge Frost Kennan, the man credited with authoring the United States’ policy of “containment” during the Cold War, passed away at his home in Princeton, Thursday night. He was 101.
“Kennan was the man to whom the White House and the Pentagon turned when they sought to understand the Soviet Union after World War II,” write Tim Weiner and Barbara Crossette in THE NEW YORK TIMES. “He conceived the cold-war policy of containment, the idea that the United States should stop the global spread of communism by diplomacy, politics and covert action - by any means short of war.”
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 16, 1904; Kennan was the son of attorney Kossuth Kent Kennan and Florence James.
As a boy, Kennan attended St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin. There he excelled in history, literature, and English. He was also elected by his peers to the rank of cadet lieutenant and senior class poet. He later would self-describe his boyhood personality as “oddball, not eccentric, not ridiculed or disliked, just imperfectly visible to the naked eye.” As a young man, he attended Princeton University, earning an A.B. degree in 1925. The following year, he entered U.S. Foreign Service.
Kennan initially served as vice consul in Switzerland and Germany. From 1928 through 1929, he served in the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In 1930, he earned a diploma for “Oriental Languages” from the Berlin Seminary.
In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt officially recognized the Soviet Union and subsequently dispatched to Moscow America’s first ambassador, William C. Bullitt. The latter chose Kennan to be a member of his new embassy staff. In this capacity, Kennan was able to develop strong opinions as to the global implications of Stalinism, including its executions and bloody purges, death threats against dissidents, and concentration camps. He also developed an uncanny ability to discern the difference between the Soviet Union’s official hostility toward the West and its unofficial cordial diplomacy.
In 1937, Ambassador Bullitt was replaced by Joseph E. Davies, a respected democrat who primary task was to develop goodwill between the two nations in order to lay the groundwork for a possible future alliance. Kennan, who had been privy to an insiders peek at the dark side of Stalinism refused to remain in Moscow under Davies. He briefly returned to Washington, but was soon dispatched to Prague. There he witnessed the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Kennan transferred from Prague to the American embassy in Berlin. When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941, Kennan and his fellow embassy staffers were detained and prohibited from leaving Germany until May 1942.
Kennan’s next post was as chargé d'affaires of the U.S. mission to Portugal in Lisbon.
In 1944, Keenan returned to Moscow where he served as minister-counselor until 1946. He then returned to the U.S. where he served on the faculty of the National War College. In 1947, he was named chairman of the State Department’s Policy Planning Committee.
In July, the quarterly publication, Foreign Affairs, ran a piece entitled, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” The article, published by an anonymous writer under the pseudonym “X,” became the basis for American policy toward the Soviet Union. The article offered a model of “containing” the Soviets which would remain U.S. policy throughout the Cold War. The article stated, “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” The author was later revealed to be Kennan.
Though Kennan never served a day in the CIA, he also is considered to be the great architect of the Agency’s covert action arm. In June 1948, Kennan drafted a National Security Directive which ultimately provided for the establishment of the CIA’s storied Office of Policy Coordination.
In 1950, Kennan temporarily left government service in order to conduct research at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies. In May 1952, he was named ambassador to the Soviet Union. However, critical comments he made about Soviet treatment of Western diplomats forced the Soviets to declare him “persona non grata” in October. In 1953, he returned to Princeton. From 1957 to 1958, he taught at Oxford University.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Kennan ambassador to Yugoslavia. He served in that capacity until 1963. He then held a variety of academic posts including a professorship at Princeton (1964-1966), a university fellowship in History and Slavic Civilizations at Harvard (1966-1970), and a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College (1969). He also served as president of both the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1965-1968) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1967-1971).
Kennan authored many books (winning two Pulitzers), and he is the recipient of numerous national and international awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Albert Einstein Peace Prize.
For more information on George Kennan, see ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY.

“ excellent reference source...engaging...practical...a useful addition to reference collections for all libraries.”
--- American Reference Books Annual

“Smith's resource contains little known facts that will delight and entertain...tight, well-organized information presented in an easy-to-read format. Smith has compiled an exhaustive resource of CIA trivia that will answer some of the most obscure questions.”
--- Florida Times-Union

“Engagingly written, the book is eminently readable and informative, not to mention fun to browse. It should draw the casual reader and researcher alike as a useful and convenient source of background information. As befitting a good reference title, little known facts will delight the curious...belongs in all libraries with strong current affairs collections.”
--- Reference Reviews


Thursday, March 17, 2005


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

For those interested in a couple of quick, informative reads about the famous patron saint of Ireland, click here and here.
Also, we've received a huge response RE: BORN TO BE A SOLDIER (essentially a Southern boy's chronicling of his ascension to the profession of arms, and why). Wish we could respond to each related email message, but there are simply too many and we have to meet our paid-writing deadlines. Read the story here, or simply visit yesterday's entry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Boy Soldiering

An essay on growing up Southern and becoming a Marine

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
I was born to be a soldier: Not that I was particularly brave or even destined for a distinguished military career, but I think there is something inherent in most Southern boys that predisposes them to the profession of arms. And I simply got a bigger dose of it than most.
As early as I can remember, I was surrounded by, and fascinated with, all manner of things military.
Growing up in South Carolina - particularly along the once scorched-earth route that followed Union General William Tecumseh Sherman - it seemed that everywhere was once a battlefield and everyone was somehow connected to it.
Swords, rifles, flags, daguerreotypes, and photographs of young uniformed men filled the local museums, historic homes, and even the attics of friends and family-members. Books about French knights, Confederate cavalrymen, and German paratroopers lined the dens of senior male relatives. Portraits of Southern Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson graced the foyers of banks, libraries, and government office buildings. Models of British warships were displayed on the credenzas of my dad’s business acquaintances. And in Dad’s Gervais Street office hung a picture entitled “The Surrender,” a parodist’s portrayal of Union General Ulysses S. Grant relinquishing his sword to Lee.
Beyond that, most every man in my world - Dad, Dads friends, my friends dads, my uncles, older cousins, and ancestors as far back as my family knew - had at the very least served a hitch in active or reserve service. If they had not it was because they were medically disqualified, not because they chose not to serve.
In any other region of the country such a record of service would qualify a family as being considered a “military family.” In the South, however, it was simply ordinary duty, and no family was considered a military family unless the patriarch had logged at least twenty years of service and retired.
But the South was military. It always has been. And military tradition, though rarely expressed albeit acknowledged by Southerners, permeates every inch of the Southern social fabric from deer drives to debutante balls to the pageantry associated with college football games.
Though I didn't realize it at the time, the approach my parents took with me even had martial overtones.
Dad taught me before I was six-years-old – “Love your country.” “Love your flag.” “Never raise your hand against someone senior to you.” “Never start a fight.” “Never run from a fight.” “Always fight fair unless your sister or your mom are attacked.” Then I was exhorted to pick up the biggest stick available and crush the attackers skull.
Dad also told me stories about Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion and how he and his men would burst upon the British columns, striking quick, and then disappearing into the Carolina swamps where the British soldiers were unable to track them. Marion and his guerillas were particularly fascinating to me as at least one of their hideouts had purportedly existed in the area where we vacationed at my Uncle Bobs “lake house” on the Santee. Marion's exploits – combined with Uncle Bob's twisted tales of “untamed Injuns” and others-not-like-us who lived on nearby islands and ventured out only to murder children in their beds – was enough to convince me that a soldier was the most important man in the world.
The first stories I remember being read to me were from the Childcraft book series. Mom read those to me: Always the tales I wanted to hear about ear-ringed pirates operating along the Eastern Seaboard, English princes commanding grand battalions in the era of Marlborough, and American patriots on horseback splashing across backcountry streams.
The first books I bought (which I still own) were The Golden Book of the American Revolution and Great American fighter pilots of World War II.
And, of course, I can't remember not playing with plastic submachine guns, G.I. Joes, and those miniature green soldiers.
At Kats Hotel – an inn in downtown Aiken so-named by my sister, Annette, and me because our Aunt Kat worked there as a receptionist – I spent hours in the pool pretending I was a Navy frogman infiltrating an enemy-held beach. My mission included swimming from one end of the pool to the other, slowly surfacing, eyes first, then my nose and only just enough to breathe while I reconnoitered older girls who were usually sunning in a row of chaise longues.
I even dreamt of one day forming an underwater commando unit with some of my neighborhood buddies. We would be called the sea devils.
Like all Southern boys, we built forts, played “army,” and sometimes crawled into a neighbor's garaged boat and pretended we were patrolling the South Pacific with John Kennedy and PT-109.
Even sports had a martial flavor for us. We often played pickup games of baseball, basketball, and football; inevitably arguing over which team would be called the “Fighting Gamecocks” - the mascot of the University of South Carolina and the nom d’ guerre bestowed upon Continental Army General Thomas Sumter by one of his opponents, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
At night, lying in bed, I consciously divided my world into six parts: I was at the center, safe and strangely contented by the sounds of crickets, dogs, and distant train whistles. North was where the Yankees lived, and, as I understood it then, they were our natural enemies. To the south was Charleston where South Carolina earned its “Palmetto State” sobriquet in a fiery exchange between the Royal Navy and our coastal defenders. To the near west was the city center of Columbia, still scarred in some places from Sherman’s invasion a century before. To the near east was Fort (Andrew) Jackson where the distant “wooomp” of grenades and mortars was “a constant” as young army recruits trained for combat in Vietnam. And above me was the infinite sky where, in my mind, unseen American fighters pilots were holding back the hordes of Russian bomber pilots who wanted to kill us all.
Often I would lie awake listening to the distant “woomps” and contemplating my own future as a soldier. At eight and nine-years old, I was afraid of one day being killed in action. But more horrifying to me was the idea that a man who did not serve his country might somehow be considered less-than-a-man.
Of course, the debacle in Vietnam would ultimately change that concept for most people.
I was the exception.
In my mind, the call to arms, regardless of the outcome, was the most noble opportunity a man could ever have.
When I was a little older - like so many other Southern boys whose schoolwork begins to take a back seat to mischievous pursuits - I was parentally threatened with being shipped off to a military prep school.
I had mixed emotions about military school. Most of me had no desire to go. The thought of a shaved head, institutionalized corporal punishment, and a female-free environment was not attractive in the least. On the other hand, there was something secretly appealing about flashing swords, brass-buttoned tunics, and learning more about the heroes with whom I had become so enamored.
In the end, my independent nature and a steady girlfriend overcame my warrior dreams. I promised to work harder in the classroom, my grades gradually improved, and my formal training in the art of war was postponed. But I always knew, as did my friends and all other Southern boys, that military school was an option for substandard performers.
Ironically, it was during that same period that I remember my friends and I discussing the prospect of soon being old enough for the draft. About six or eight of us were sitting on the steps outside the gym at our high school. One or two of my buddies said they would run away to Canada. I was horrified. How could anyone be so shameless? To me, running away from duty was worse than death. “My country, right or wrong,” I said, accurately believing that I was the only one in my little group familiar with Commodore Stephen Decatur’s oft’ quoted toast to the nation.
As a teenager, I loved to fish, hunt, camp, and hike: For the sport, yes. But my soul was feeding on something far greater. For me it was a communing with my ancestors and the living land: As I fished the lowcountry's broad rivers and inlets, I saw them as navigable waterways for 18th Century sloops-of-war. In the backcountry where my friends and I followed deer tracks, sun-browned fields and green treelines were seen as dramatic backdrops for British dragoons and skirmishing colonials, and in the shadows of every misty thicket moved the imaginary figures of red-skinned men with paint-streaked faces.
Naturally, I took most of it for granted: Assuming that all American boys, not just Southern boys, were exposed to the same.
I was wrong.
A few years later, when I entered Uncle Sam's Marine Corps, I discovered that there was a markedly greater sense of “duty as the sole reason for joining the military” among new Southern recruits than those of other regions. Not to say that the latter weren't committed warriors: They were. But their initial reasons for enlisting ran the gamut from needing money for college to skirting the law to desiring to wear a dashing uniform to looking for adventure. Southerners, on the other hand, joined because it was simply the thing that Southern boys do.
Years later, my friend John Temple Ligon, a Southerner and a former Army Ranger officer who won numerous combat decorations in Vietnam, took issue with me on this.
“Sure there is a military tradition in the South,” he said. “But to suggest that non-Southerners are somehow not as noble or committed is simply not fair. The guys I served with from Philadelphia and New York performed as well as anyone else.”
True. They did, they do, and they forever will, because all Americans are part of a greater American military tradition. And the idea of “duty as the sole reason for joining” in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 is no longer the dominion predominated by Southerners.
The Iraqi city of Fallujah was recently stormed and taken by U.S. Marines and Army forces, led by 23-year-old rifle platoon commanders and 30-year-old platoon sergeants shouting commands in hearty Brooklyn brogues and Indiana accents. They are there for the same reasons Marine Brig. Gen. John Kelly stated during the drive to Baghdad in 2003: To “kill them all [the bad guys] before they get bus tickets to New York City.”
But Southern boys, whether soldier or civilian, are unique in that they cannot escape being grafted into a society that almost demands service of its young men. It is a society wherein grown men secretly feel a sense of shame at not ever having served. It is a society that, since its inception, was built upon a contrasting foundation of sadism, chivalry, and organized aggression unlike that experienced by any other region in North America. Like it or not, it was a foundation that enabled the South to secede from the Union and hold off a quantitatively superior federal army and navy for four terrible years.
In his book, Long Gray Lines, author Rod Andrew, Jr. contends that the idea of a uniquely Southern military tradition is a prominent though not universally accepted theme in the history of the South.
According to Andrew, “Some historians claim that due to geography, frontier conditions, incessant warfare, slavery, and cultural notions of honor, the South developed into a remarkably militaristic society, fond of military display, preoccupied with war and notions of martial glory, and holding up military service and military training as honorable activities for males.”
In his book, The Lords of Discipline, best-selling author Pat Conroy summed it up best when he penned the line, “no Southern man is complete without a tenure under military rule.”
I am quite certain I would not have been.

© 2005 W. Thomas Smith Jr.


Sunday, March 13, 2005


freelance challenges

My friends Brett Harvey and Kelly James-Enger - both ASJA-ers - are quoted in this morning's Washington Post.
The piece, which comes on the heels of our recent discussion about wannabe scribes, is written by Rebecca R. Kahlenberg who discusses the challenges and frustrations facing new freelance writers (actually, much of the same applies to freelancers no matter what stage of one's career one is in).
Kahlenberg's story follows:

Breaking In as a Freelance Writer
Beginners Must Have Patience, Persistence To Make Initial Sales

By Rebecca R. Kahlenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page K01

Freelance writer Caralee Adams has a steady stream of magazine assignments on parenting, health and business topics for publications such as Better Homes and Gardens. But it wasn't always this easy.
When she began freelancing in 1997, she took one job -- editing a parenting book -- that a mom at her son's preschool had rejected and another that involved background research for someone else's article. Back then, "I was willing to take anything," said Adams, who lives in Bethesda.
Finding work can be challenging for beginning freelancer writers, who typically earn their living through a variety of short-term or long-term assignments. So it pays to be realistic about where you can get published, several editors said.
"Don't expect to leapfrog into freelancing and write for the Atlantic Monthly or Cosmo Girl," said Brett Harvey, executive director of the New York-based American Society of Journalists and Authors, an association for freelance nonfiction writers.
She suggested that beginners contact their local village or community newspaper. Early on, "you have to write for whoever will publish you -- it could be your local Pennysaver -- to build up your repertoire of clips," she said.
Be patient and don't get discouraged by rejection, said Jennie L. Phipps, editor of, a weekly online newsletter and community forum for freelancers. "You can't be discouraged that the first 10 e-mails don't go anywhere, because eventually you will hit on an editor who likes your ideas," she said.
Once you have some article clips that you can send to editors, target a few publications for which you would like to write, suggested Harvey. There are listings of potential markets that need freelancers in magazines such as the Wisconsin-based monthly, The Writer (, or on Web sites such as or Study each publication's style and content, then choose an editor from the masthead and send a proposal, called a "query letter."
Elfrieda M. Abbe, editor of The Writer, explained that the query letter should include four components: a catchy opening, a statement or statistics indicating why the story needs to be told, a description of how you plan to write the story, and an explanation of why you're the best person to write it.
Also, signal to the editor that you are familiar with the publication. "A lot of times we get queries and it's really obvious the person has not read our magazine. That turns an editor off right away," Abbe said.
Consider specializing in one writing area, said Kelly James-Enger, an Illinois-based freelancer and author of "Ready, Aim, Specialize!: Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money" (2003, Writer Inc.). Having a specialty "sets you apart from all the other thousands of writers out there," she said.
Choose a specialty from topics you know or have written about and make sure there's enough demand, James-Enger said, noting that business and health top the list as the two most lucrative markets for freelancers. "Both of those areas affect everyone," she said.
As home to the federal government and thousands of nonprofits, the Washington region offers a broad range of freelance job opportunities, including writing speeches, special or annual reports, fundraising letters and newsletters.
And don't forget all those handouts that you see at meetings. "Somebody has to write those," said Donald O. Graul Jr., executive director of Washington Independent Writers, a trade association and support network. He estimates that there are approximately 25,000 freelance writers in the D.C. area who earn anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000 annually.
At any stage in your freelance career, it's important to network with editors, connect with other writers and keep up with media developments. So it can make sense to join a writers' organization such as Washington Independent Writers ( or the American Society of Journalists and Authors ( and to tap into online writing resources such as (
Freelancing can be a risky way to earn a living because you don't always know what your next assignment will be. Editors leave, publications go under, and staff writers may get the assignments you were hoping for. Persistence is necessary because as a freelancer, "you are always selling yourself," said Carmen Scheidel, East Coast education director for New York-based
Adams, the Bethesda writer, knows this firsthand. When an editor she knew well at Better Homes and Gardens left, it took two years of querying before the new editor accepted a story idea.
Still, she loves the creative outlet and the flexible hours that freelancing offers her as a busy mother of three young children. She said, "It's the perfect job for where I am now."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Stay motivated!

Friday, March 11, 2005


K-LO at Newspaper Enterprise Association

Kathryn Jean Lopez, my editor at NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE, will begin writing a weekly column for Newspaper Enterprise Association. Read about it at EDITOR & PUBLISHER.


Thursday, March 10, 2005


"Everybody thinks they're a writer"

Melba Newsome, my friend and fellow member of The American Society of Journalists & Authors, waxes philosophic about wannabe writers in her latest Q&A column, Straight Shooting, in the March 2005 issue of The ASJA Monthly. My favorite snippet from the piece is a question posed by a professional writer about said-wannabes and Melba’s answer.
Here 'tis:

Q: I’m frequently approached by someone wanting advice on how to be a writer. I try to be helpful and answer their questions but frankly it’s draining, especially when they won’t take my advice. They zone out whenever I tell them to read certain books, take classes, read magazines and start off small. They are convinced that if I could just give them all my editorial contacts, they could be published in the same magazines. How do I handle this without acting as if I don’t want to help?

A: Being a writer is one of the few professions everyone believes they can do. After all, we learned to write in the first grade so how much harder can it be to write for publication? Whenever I tell someone that it’s a long, hard slog between writing those ever so witty family Christmas letters to being in The New Yorker, their eyes glaze over. They want a short cut, not a road map. Every time I explain to writer wanna-bes how it works, most think those rules are OK for other people but their story is so perfect and compelling, they don’t need to follow them. They remember that John Grisham’s first published novel made him a millionaire; they’ve forgotten that he wrote at 4:30 every morning and how many publishers rejected him. Continue to do what you’re doing but realize that most people don’t want to write; they want to be published. Take comfort in knowing that although there are a lot of writers out there, you really don’t have much competition.

MY COMMENT: Perfect question. Priceless answer.
Melba, who lives and works just up the road from me in Charlotte, North Carolina (I’m in Columbia, S.C.), has written for a variety of publications, including O, the Oprah Magazine; National Geographic; Lifetime; and
Good Housekeeping.

AFTERTHOUGHT: The above Q&A brings to mind another of the many excuse-laden battle-cries of the whining wannabes... that of “writers block.”
Like Melba says, “most people don't want to write; they want to be published.” True, and in many cases, “writers block
is a direct reflection of that fact. I discuss it here in a piece for the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications.



from the hate-mail bag

An anonymous reader emails me:
“What is it with you Marines?
You're all so arrogant and you cling to that Marine title as if it meant you were the bloody Prince of Wales.
I think you're all a bunch of sadomasochistic fascists!”

My sister, Annette Smith Fowler, has a perfect response:
“Isn't it wonderful that the person who wrote that has the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to speak his mind? For that he can thank a Marine... or any serviceman.”

My own response is to ignore the second and third sentences of his rant, and address the first here and here.
Semper Fi,

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


The Perfect Writer Moment

We've received several requests over the past several weeks for reprints of a piece first published in The American Society of Journalists & Authors' ASJA Monthly, last November.
Why the recent interest is beyond me. But we're grateful.
Here 'tis:
The perfect writer moment

Reprinted with permission of
The American Society of Journalists & Authors
New York, 2004

Much of a writer’s life is filled with lack of sleep, isolation, eye and back strain, seven-day work-weeks, temporary poverty, querying, researching, returning phone calls, rejection letters, and 80 zillion deadlines. There are, however, perfect moments. They’re rare, but we’ve all had them. And they’re, oh, so sweet.

I experienced one recently that lasted for nearly an hour.

My perfect moment began on a Wednesday morning, a little after nine o’clock, when I turned the key on my post office box – in downtown Columbia, South Carolina – and opened the little door. Inside I found two pieces: a letter-sized envelope containing a nice fat book-advance check from my agent and a package-pickup card for the postal window.

Whispering a quick prayer of thanks, I blew a kiss above, and folded the check into my wallet.

At the window, I was presented a box with an unfamiliar Virginia return address on it. I knew I hadn’t ordered anything, so the image of a “bomb” briefly crossed my mind. Perhaps, I thought, I had written something that had angered some whacko up in the “Old Dominion;” and that whacko figured the best way to get back at me would be to take off my head and an arm or two.

At any rate I took a deep breath, whipped out my trusty penknife, and carefully began cutting into the tape on top of the box.

I was floored by what was inside: It was a beautiful, hand-painted model of Philadelphia’s old “Tun Tavern” building - the 1775 birthplace of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The model - quite an expensive piece I might add - was a gift from a retired Marine who was so moved by an essay I had written about the Corps for NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE that he felt the need to send me something.
The gift included a note, a portion of which read:

Thanks for taking the time to so clearly communicate the uniqueness of the Corps and what that uniqueness can mean to what is an increasingly confused and chaotic world. Hope you have a prominent place to park this small piece of the history of our great Corps!
Semper Fi.

Moved by the gift and thrilled with the advance check, I decided to postpone returning to my office. Instead I would treat myself to a cup of coffee at a nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore before depositing the check in the bank.

In a few short minutes I was strolling the aisles at B&N, sipping a perfectly brewed cup of their house blend, and admiring the latest magazine covers. There I came across the May 2004 issue of The Writer. I picked it up, leafed through a page or two, and turned directly to a quote from me about my working with U.S. News & World Report. Wow! Pardon the cliché, but it was literally a bolt from the blue.

My quote was part of an article about best magazine markets written by Moira Allen. I had forgotten she had interviewed me months earlier for the piece, so it was a complete surprise (not to mention the fact that The Writer had quoted me the previous month in a piece written by our own Sharon McDonnell).

“Quoted two months in a row?” I thought. “Good gracious, this is as good as it gets.”

On my way to the register to pay for the magazine, I stopped by the history books section to check out the new releases. There I spied an elderly, well-dressed black man reading Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency – the first of my three books, all of which had been published during the previous ten months. And all were there on the shelf in front of the man. At that point, I simply could not contain myself.

“I wrote that, sir,” I said, pointing to the book in his hand.

The man turned to me with a smile so broad his face glowed. “You did?” he responded. “Well, that’s wonderful! How about that. Did you make a million dollars?”

“no, sir,” I said.

“But you’re working on it, aren’t you?” he continued.


“Well that’s fine, young man. That’s just fine. Congratulations!”

It was all I could do to get my swollen head out the door of the store, and into my car.
There, I tossed my copy of The Writer on the passenger seat, next to my gift from the retired Marine in Virginia. I glanced at my watch – it was 10:00 a.m. – and then my phone. I saw I had a voicemail message. It was from my editor at U.S. News & World Report.

“Tom, someone just dropped a copy of The Writer on my desk,” the voice said. “Bless you for saying those wonderful things about us. You’re the greatest!”

I took another sip of coffee and drove to the bank.

© 2005 W. Thomas Smith Jr.


Saturday, March 05, 2005


RE: Final days for USS AMERICA

Click here to access excellent click-on photos of USS AMERICA.
Oh, and see yesterday's entry for more information about the final days of this great warship.


Friday, March 04, 2005


Final days for USS AMERICA

Capt. Lou Colbus (U.S. Navy, retired) directs me to a story about USS America (CV 66) that will surely elicit mixed emotions from sailors and Marines who were privileged to stroll her decks.
According to John Lumpkin of the ASSOCIATED PRESS, "The Navy plans to send the retired carrier America to the bottom of the Atlantic in explosive tests this spring, an end that is difficult to swallow for some who served on board the ship, which was based in Norfolk during its 31-year career.
The Navy says the effort, which will cost $22 million, will provide valuable data for the next generation of aircraft carriers, which are now in development. No warship this size or larger has ever been sunk, so there is a dearth of hard information on how well a supercarrier can survive battle damage, said Pat Dolan, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command."

See story in its entirety here.
On a personal note, I remember USS America as one of several ships that Marines from my Sea School class were deployed to during the early-1980's. I was slated to go aboard either the America or the carrier USS Carl Vinson, but traded with another Marine and got the USS Holland, a submarine-tender then-based out of the Charleston (S.C.) Naval Weapons Station (I later deployed to an infantry battalion).
Of course, several years after I left President Ronald Reagan's Marine Corps, President Bill Clinton removed Marines from carriers, battleships, tenders, and others - leaving security of warships in the hands of sailors - thus destroying a 200-plus year tradition of Marines serving on Sea Duty.
Of the America, which was decommissioned in 1996, Lou remembers it as the warship where his retirement ceremony was held.
For more information on USS America, visit either or the official U.S. Navy website.
Semper Fi,


Israeli Spec Ops

Israeli Special Forces have a cool website.
Lots of great info. See it here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


New York City Marines

The official U.S. Marine Corps website for New York City Marines Public Affairs has again re-published one of our NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE pieces. This particular piece, "It's Our Duty," discusses the courage exhibited by the Iraqi people on their election day.
Ours are the only stories that has published on their Warrior Read page as "recommended reading."
We're proud of this... but we're even prouder of those young Marines from The City, now serving at home and abroad. In fact, we're proud of and grateful for all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen who hail from every state in the Union.
Thanks, ladies and gents, for what you do for us day-in and day-out.
Semper Fi,

ADDITIONAL NOTE: While visiting, please take a moment to check out the excellent work by Sgt. Beth Zimmerman and Cpl. Lameen Witter.


"numero due"

Just learned that we were #2 among the 20 top-referring weblogs for February over at Jeff Quinton's Backcountry Conservative.
Here's the running list:
1. Airborne Combat Engineer
2. W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
3. Instapundit
4. Pardon My English
5. Right Mind
6. The Command Post
7. Scrappleface
8. Michelle Malkin
9. Confederate Yankee
10. Lone Dissenter
11. Stinking Opinions
13. Will Femia
14. VodkaPundit
15. Doransky 2004
16. The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler
17. Fark
18. Outside the Beltway
19. The Common Virtue
20. GOP and the City

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