Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Marine from Noo Yawk City runs for Congress in North Carolina

As a former sailor, I must confess I tried to avoid Marines whenever possible while in service, since they just loved to start fights with us "swabbies." But as a former sailor, I now have the highest regard possible for Marines, airmen and soldiers in the service of our nation. And here's a Marine I hope to see in office soon.

I don't live in the 7th Congressional District of North Carolina, I'm in the 8th, but there's a Marine running for the 7th District seat that I surely would vote for.

To stretch my unlikely admiration even further, he's a Noo Yawk City Yankee but everything I read about him sounds very good.

The article I read identifies him as "former Marine 1st Lt. Ilario Pantano" but any Marine will tell you "there are no former Marines, once a Marine, always a Marine." (There are only two exceptions to that rule that I'm aware of, Lee Harvey Oswald and the late Congressman Jack Murtha. Both of these two earned the prefix "ex-Marine" for their betrayal of all that Marines stand for, faithful service to God and country.)

But back to Marine 1st Lt. Ilario Pantano.

He believes Republicans are as responsible as Democrats for the country's economic problems. Though he served willingly and proudly in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he doubted the Bush administration's justification for the war and criticizes the competence of its execution.

Nor should anyone expect him, should he be the next congressman from North Carolina's 7th District --- held by Democrat Mike McIntyre since 1997 --- to support expensive defense programs simply because they're defense programs.

"If you think the largest piece of the federal budget is not fraught with fraud, waste and abuse, you're smoking crack," he said. "And I am going in there with a butcher's knife, and we are gong to get to the bottom of some things." This will include going after the practice of senior congressmen directing billion-dollar programs into their districts for jobs when the military goes without critical resources.

"I am not a typical Republican," Pantano told in a Feb. 3 telephone interview. "In fact, I think the Republicans have done a lot of things that disgusted me, that have disgusted the American people over the last couple of years. And the Republicans absolutely deserved the comeuppance they've gotten.

"And just because there have been some successes in Massachusetts and elsewhere is absolutely not carte blanche to return to … tone deafness to the American people."

Pantano further earns my admiration by first serving a hitch in the Marines as a "grunt," their term for an enlisted man, then going into the financial business on Wall Street, then returning for a second hitch as a Marine officer. Ironically, an incident in Iraq left Pantano fighting accusations of murder, exactly the same BS that ex-Marine Murtha accused other Marines of committing in Iraq. Pantano and the Marines Murtha falsely accused were all found innocent of any charges.

But his interest in business collapsed along with the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, and he returned to the Marine Corps, this time going in as an officer.

April 2004 found him leading a platoon in Mahmudiya, Iraq, where he had in custody two Iraqis he suspected were involved in anti-coalition activities. According to various accounts, Marines had already searched the men's car and found no weapons. But when weapons were found in a nearby house, Pantano wanted the car stripped down for another search.

Then the shooting started. When it was over, both Iraqis were dead. Pantano said he killed them in self defense. Marine prosecutors called it murder and roughly a year later he faced an Article 32 hearing on the charges. But when witness testimony fell apart from inconsistencies and autopsies on the Iraqis' exhumed bodies supported Pantano's version of events, the charges were dismissed.

With the legal storm over, Pantano left the Corps and penned his autobiography, "Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy."

"My experience has colored and defined and shaped who I am," he said, when asked if the murder charges he faced will play a part in the campaign. "And there is no question it's going to be an issue. All my life experience is going to be an issue. … They speak to my character."

And Pantano believes he can turn those blemishes in his record into strengths at the voting booth.

"I went out to do a dirty job for my country and in the process I got jammed up," he said. "I never broke with my Corps. I never broke with my country. I never said I was a victim. I took responsibility. I did what I did. I killed men in combat and if you don't like it, don't send men to war."

With a few good men (and women) like Pantano in Congress, we might return sanity to America.

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