Friday, June 12, 2009

Cops, Spies, War Heroes and Flowers


The first head of the Counter-intelligence Staff of the CIA had Chicano roots. His name was James Jesus Angleton and he was a core figure in U.S. espionage circles from World War II until his resignation in 1974. He was the son of the US-born James Hugh Angleton and Carmen Mercedes Moreno from Nogales, Mexico. It looks as though he never used his middle name later in life and that he didn't self-identify as a Chicano, so I won't go too far with the Chicano tag, but I thought this was an interesting historical footnote. (As Dr. Filipe de Ortego y Gasca has noted, Chicano is more of an ideological label than an ethnicity.)

A recent (2008) book explores Angleton's life and legacy: James Jesus Angleton, the CIA, and the Craft of Counterintelligence, Michael Holzman, University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. In a review of the book in the London Times Online, Terence Hawkes says:

By December 1954, a counter-intelligence staff within the Agency was created and Angleton was duly appointed its head: he became counterintelligence’s “chief theoretician”. It’s easy to condemn what followed. The American literary journal Ramparts was enthusiastically suppressed and any criticism of the government was automatically suspect. Huge lists were compiled of teachers and authors of socialist and even feminist persuasion. By 1967, the CIA began operation of the quaintly named CHAOS, which aimed to investigate the anti-Vietnam war press and the peace movement. The attack on universities was especially vigorous. Entire academic disciplines were sometimes shaped to the goals of the intelligence agencies, or were even initiated by them. All the members of Students for a Democratic Society were placed under surveillance, and most black groups were spied on. The end came for Angleton when the New York Times published Seymour Hersh’s story about CHAOS on December 22, 1974. It did not mince its words. “The Central Intelligence Agency, directly violating its charter, conducted a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon Administration against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States.” This was bound to make a public figure of Angleton, who resigned in the same month.

Angleton considered himself a serious poet. He had ties to Ezra Pound, whom he helped capture in Italy; e.e. cummings, and T.S. Eliot. He was an avid fly-fisherman and orchid breeder. On the other hand he was infamous for his zeal and paranoia, and was forced to resign amid charges that he had almost destroyed the CIA. He cleared out the entire Russian Bureau of the CIA because he thought they were all Russian spies. Yet he was deceived for years by counter-spies such as Kim Philby. He helped create the present-day acceptance of Guantánamo, water-boarding, etc. in the CIA with his tactics and ideology. He may have called himself a poet but there's no evidence that he had a poet's sensibility. As my wife said once, even rapists ride bikes.


On June 12, 2009, Conversations with American Heroes at the Watering Hole will feature a discussion with authors Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez. The show airs at 9:00 pm (Pacific) at

About the Guests
Sarah Cortez has been in law enforcement since 1993. During her career she has worked as a patrol officer, field training officer and sexual assault investigator. After her writing career began, she continued in law enforcement as a reserve police officer and has been assigned as a juvenile bailiff, worked undercover during alcohol stings and assisted with the service of civil processes. Sarah Cortez is the author of How to Undress a Cop: Poems and a coauthor/editor of Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery.

Liz Martínez’ short stories have appeared in the anthologies Manhattan Noir, Queens Noir, and Cop Tales 2000, and in publications including COMBAT: the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones and Police Officer’s Quarterly. Her short story Kris Kringle was Orchard Press Mystery’s Christmas 2000 feature. She is also the author of the non-fiction book The Retail Manager’s Guide to Crime and Loss Prevention, and her articles about security and law enforcement have appeared in publications around the world. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, and the Public Safety Writers Association. She and Sarah Cortez are also co-editors of the anthology Indian Country Noir from Akashic Books (Brooklyn).

About the Watering Hole
The Watering Hole is police slang for a location cops go off-duty to blow off steam and talk about work and life. Sometimes funny; sometimes serious; but, always interesting.

About the Host
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years. He retired in 2003 at the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelor’s from the Union Institute and University in Criminal Justice Management and a Master’s Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University, Fullerton and has completed his doctoral course work.

Listen, call, join in at the Watering Hole:

Program Contact Information
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA


Here's the text of Senate Concurrent Resolution 22 from the Texas legislature, sent to the Texas Governor for signing on May 28, 2009. It tells the story of Marcelino Serna, a brave man who some think never got the recognition he deserved.

WHEREAS, The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest decoration for valor in combat awarded to members of the United States armed forces; generally presented to recipients by the president of the United States on congress's behalf, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor; and

WHEREAS, First authorized in 1861 for United States Navy and Marine Corps personnel and for United States Army soldiers the following year, Medals of Honor are awarded sparingly and bestowed only on those individuals performing documented acts of gallant heroism against an enemy force; and

WHEREAS, Since congress authorized the award, 70 Medals of Honor have been accredited to the State of Texas, yet other Texans have similarly distinguished themselves by acts of courageous gallantry in combat no less deserving of such recognition; one such individual is Marcelino Serna, a native of Mexico whose unflinching and selfless bravery and acts of uncommon valor on the battlefields of World War I made him one of Texas' most decorated heroes; and

WHEREAS, Born in the Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1896, he came to the United States as a young man in search of a better life, working various jobs in Texas, Kansas, and Colorado; and

WHEREAS, In 1917, Mr. Serna was working in Colorado when the United States, unable to remain neutral any longer while war raged in Europe, declared war on Germany; later that year, federal officials in Denver, Colorado, gathered a group of men and held them until their draft status could be verified; and

WHEREAS, Included in this group, Mr. Serna chose not to wait for such verification and instead volunteered for service in the United States Army; after only three weeks of training, 20-year-old Private Serna was shipped to England, where he was assigned to the 355th Infantry of the 89th Division, a unit that was to see action in some of the most arduous campaigns of the war; and

WHEREAS, By the time the unit arrived in France, Private Serna's status as a noncitizen had come to light, and he was consequently offered a discharge from the army; given the opportunity to return home, Private Serna refused the discharge, choosing to stay with his unit as it began its advance toward the Meuse River and Argonne Forest in northeastern France; and

WHEREAS, At Saint Mihiel, Private Serna’s unit was moving through thick brush when a German machine gunner opened fire, killing 12 American soldiers; with his lieutenant's permission, Private Serna, a scout, continued forward, dodging machine-gun fire until he reached the gunner's left flank; and

WHEREAS, Having come through a hail of bullets unscathed, despite being hit twice in the helmet, Private Serna got close enough to lob four grenades into the machine-gun nest, killing six enemy soldiers and taking into custody the eight survivors, who quickly surrendered to the lone American soldier; and

WHEREAS, This encounter was followed shortly by an even more astounding feat when, during his second scouting mission in the Meuse-Argonne campaign, Private Serna captured 24 German soldiers with his Enfield rifle and grenades, an episode that began when he spied a sniper walking on a trench bank; and

WHEREAS, Although the sniper was about 200 yards away, Private Serna shot and wounded him, then followed the wounded German's trail into a trench, where he discovered several more enemy soldiers; opening fire, Private Serna killed three of the enemy and scattered the others in that initial burst; and

WHEREAS, Frequently changing positions, Private Serna fooled the enemy into thinking they were under fire from several Americans, keeping up the ruse until he was close enough to lob three grenades into the German dugout; in about 45 minutes of furious action, Private Serna managed to kill 26 German soldiers and capture another 24, whom he held captive by himself until his unit arrived; and

WHEREAS, Enduring several months of combat action largely unharmed, Private Serna was shot in both legs by a sniper four days before the Armistice; while he was convalescing in an army hospital in France, General John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, decorated Private Serna with the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest American combat medal; and

WHEREAS, Private Serna also received two French Croix de Guerre with Palm medals, the French Medaille Militaire, the French Commemorative Medal, the Italian Cross of Merit, the World War I Victory Medal, the Victory Medal with three campaign bars, the Saint Mihiel Medal, the Verdun Medal, and two Purple Hearts; and

WHEREAS, Discharged from the army in 1919, Marcelino Serna settled in El Paso, where he became a United States citizen, entered the civil service, and lived out his retirement years until his death in 1992; although he lived the most ordinary of lives after the war, Mr. Serna was, for a brief moment in time, an extraordinary hero whose remarkable feats of bravery under fire elevated him into the pantheon of American heroes; and

WHEREAS, In 1993, Texas Congressman Ronald D. Coleman introduced a measure in the 103rd Congress to waive certain statutory time limits on awarding the Medal of Honor and thus bestow on Marcelino Serna the proper recognition he so richly deserves; unfortunately, the measure did not receive a proper hearing, thereby denying the legacy of Mr. Serna its proper place in history; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to reopen consideration of this case to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to World War I hero Marcelino Serna and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the president of the United States, to the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate of the United States Congress, and to all the members of the Texas delegation to the congress with the request that this resolution be officially entered in the Congressional Record as a memorial to the Congress of the United States of America.

The resolution leaves out the part of the story where Serna was told that buck privates couldn't get the Medal of Honor (not true) and that because he didn't speak English he couldn't be promoted. You can read more about Serna at this link, or this one, or this one. There may be some information about Serna in Hispanics in America's Defense: by Department of Defense; Publisher: U.S. Government Printing Office (1990); ASIN: B000GWLOMU.



That was a bit different, no?


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