Skip to main content

Editors: From March 2017 to September 2019, Dan Embree wrote an at least weekly series of "Dear Mister President" letters to our Commander in Chief, which LA Progressive was honored to present. As a West Point grad, an infantry company commander in Vietnam, and long-time professor, Dan thought he had wisdom to share with a chief executive who was clearly over his head. To his great disadvantage, the White House Occupant ignored every bit of this sage advice, so Dan moved on to other projects.

But now, following the Orange Menace's endless disparagement of veterans and soldiers alike, Dan is back with a new series of "Dear President Spurs" letters, to remind the One Term President that some Americans actually know what sacrifice entails.

Here's Dan's invitation to colleagues, friends, and, especially, fellow veterans:

I encourage you all to please write a letter or two about some sucker you have known, giving a name, if appropriate, and a few details to indicate honorable service to the country despite Trump's label.

If I send 50 letters before Election Day, Trump will not read them, and no one will know of them except you all; if 50 different people send letters, Trump will not read them, but someone on his staff will and will note that a popular uprising is in progress. 

Letters need not be longer than a paragraph or two. The White House form has a limit of about 300 words, but longer letters, like Laura Peters', can go through regular mail. Email letters can go on the Contact the White House form at

dan embree 300

And encourage your friends to send a letter as well.

Dan Embree

Dear President Spurs,
I am one of those losers who served in Viet Nam back when America was great. I served with many others who risked (and too often gave) their lives for what we believed was the defense of our country. We were mistaken, of course. What suckers!

Later, I served with many others -- veterans and non-veterans -- in the movement against the war. That took a different kind of commitment to the country -- equally mistaken, I suppose, because there was nothing in it for us. Suckers again!

A West Point roommate, Bert Westbrook, surpassed me in foolhardy courage both ways. Decorated for valor three times, he then -- in Viet Nam and under orders -- said no. The Army could have shot him, I guess, but it could not muster courage equal to his own. So they sent him home, where he got busy trying to end the war. I don't think he ever made a dime out of it. 


Dear President Spurs,
I want to introduce you to my uncle, Ken Burdick, little more than a kid when he enlisted in the marines after Pearl Harbor. He was barely out of training before he was shipped across the Pacific to Guadacanal. By the time he landed on the beach at Tarawa, he was the youngest buck sergeant in the Marine Corps.

He was wounded that day, but survived to serve out the war as a military policeman in San Diego, and then to go on to a long career in the Border Patrol and Immigration Service (that was before the Kids in Cages Era). He raised a large family of decent and productive kids -- one of who became a Coast Guard officer, and therefore, I believe, an official second-generation sucker.

He seemed a little less gung-ho than I and my Regular Officer buddies, less determined to be a hero. But he became one anyway when his outpost at Hieu Nhon was overrun on 13 March 1967.

Dear President Spurs,
Captain Tom Sauble, from Pennsylvania, was my roommate at Fort Bragg when we were being trained as advisors to South Vietnamese infantry units. He was a little older, a reserve officer, and had been an enlisted man before.

He seemed a little less gung-ho than I and my Regular Officer buddies, less determined to be a hero. But he became one anyway when his outpost at Hieu Nhon was overrun on 13 March 1967. The Army awarded him, posthumously, the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions that night.

For context, President Spurs, the DSC is the second highest award for valor, right after the Medal of Honor. They don’t give it to suckers.


Dear President Spurs,
Charles Muscatine was a graduate school professor of mine in the early '70s. We didn't get along very well: in his report on my qualifying oral exam, he doubted that I had "long thoughts", and I suspected him of being overly "trendy" in his embrace of what I, back a couple of years from Viet Nam, found facile in Berkeley "revolutionary" culture.

I thought him a brilliant scholar and a charming lecturer, though ignorant of the harsh realities I imagined I had confronted in combat. But as a naval officer (and thus one of your suckers), he had been on Omaha Beach on D-Day, sorting out the chaotic traffic of vehicles and infantry and moving them on into the battle above.

I don't think anyone on that beach that day was ignorant of realities. I never heard him mention this experience, and I didn't learn of it until I read his obit in 2010. 

I was aware, however, of something else in his past. As a young assistant professor in the early '50s, he had refused to sign a McCarthyite loyalty oath and was fired. He sued on the grounds that such an oath violated his oath to the Constitution and "that in a free society scholars and teachers are allowed to express and believe anything that they feel to be true." The Court of Appeals agreed.

 It is sometimes true, I think, that the quiet courage of civic opposition transcends the intense, but temporary, physical courage of the battlefield.

Dear President Spurs,
I know you only like soldiers who aren’t captured and consider those who are killed “suckers”, so you probably won’t want to hear about Lt William M. Grammar, USMC, who fell heroically into both categories. I knew him as a fellow advisor to the South Vietnamese infantry in Quang Tri Province in 1967 – he was the senior advisor to the Third Battalion of the First Regiment, First Division, and I to the First Battalion, so our units often coordinated in field operations.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

But I had been home and safe for two weeks (so technically, in your terms, not a full-fledged sucker) when, on 20 May, his battalion disintegrated in the face of a determined attack. While attempting to carry a wounded American to safety and then to distract the enemy from another’s position, he was captured and summarily executed.

He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. 

Dear President Spurs,
My uncle Harold was as Republican as they come, civic-minded within old-fashioned limits, outspokenly patriotic, helpful to his neighbors if they hadn’t pissed him off, a Nixon stalwart (“Nixon is not a crook”, he told me long after the evidence was in on that question), later a Goldwater voter, and no more actively racist than my parents and their friends (“I’m the last thing from a racist”, he told me in his old age – just before going on to explain that Black people can’t swim). And he thought he had to explain away the inexplicable contempt his father – an old Texas cowboy – had for John D. Rockefeller (and “his God damned dimes”) and his affection for Franklin Roosevelt; he assured me that if my grandfather were still alive, he would be voting for Goldwater too.

Though by the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was past the age when he had to worry about being drafted, he drove down to San Diego and enlisted in the navy before the smoke had cleared, and he served in the Pacific until the end of the war. I had a photograph of him in uniform holding a two-year-old version of myself at my grandparents’ ranch, and I treasured the “sailor-hat” he gave me until I lost it.

He was proud of me when I joined the army, and quietly tolerant of my participation in the anti-war movement after I came back from Viet Nam. He was a “sucker”, in your terms, for risking his life “for nothing”. But I loved him. For his courage and for his readiness to risk his life without calculating what it was worth.

rice paddy 720

Dear President Spurs:
My wife’s great, great grandfather, William Hancock, is a difficult case to classify in your system of suckers and losers, simplistic though your classifications are. He was born in North Carolina (a swing state, +1) in 1833 (during the Black Lives Don’t Matter Era, +1) as an uneducated (+1) white male (+2).

So he started out looking like a solid Make-believe America Great Already sort of guy. But when he was drafted by the Confederacy in 1862 because he didn’t know a podiatrist (– 1), he went along reluctantly despite being of that class of poor whites (– 1) who didn’t own slaves ( – 2) and didn’t own stock (– 2), until the Wilderness Campaign, in which he was captured (– 2) and sent to a POW camp in Maryland (– 1), but soon talked his way out (+2) by promising to switch sides (+2) and fight (– 2) for the Union.

But the Union Army wouldn’t trust him with a rifle, so he finished out the war riding on a caisson in an Indiana artillery battery, sort of like in a parade (+1). At the end of the war, his wife and son joined him in Indiana (a red state, +1) where they settled in to being hard-working (– 2) Hoosiers (+1) and Democrats (+1*).

[*NOTE: I know you don’t read history and stuff, so let me explain. In those days, the Democrats were the Republican party, aggressively nativist and racist, unified, and stuck in an imaginary past, and the Republicans were the Democratic party, a shade more passively racist, fighting with one another, and stuck in an imaginary future.]

The score? Looks like a tie. But considering that Hancock can’t vote any more and wasn’t the sort of Southerner who got his image carved in limestone in the Court House Square, waving a sword (he didn’t own one), mounted on a horse (he only had a mule), I think it would be safe for you to despise him.

Dear President Spurs:
One of my heroes in Viet Nam was, most improbably, a navy doctor. I’ve forgotten his name. Guys like me, who typically spent a week at a time in the rice paddies, didn’t pay a lot of attention to guys like him, who A) were navy, and B) always slept in beds and ate in a mess hall. It was only in the mess hall, on my returns from the field, that I ever saw him or talked to him. And that was it: navy, doctor, sleeps in bed. Nice guy, but definitely Rear Area.

One day, as our ARVN battalion was patrolling the paddy fields south of the DMZ, we stopped for a break in a village of Catholic refugees who had fled the North in 1954 and put down roots as soon as they were on the safe side, as they thought, of the DMZ. As often happened in a friendly village, the kids gathered round to stare at us.

A girl about eight years old was badly disfigured by a harelip. Someone on the team said, “We could get that fixed,” – an act which wasn’t part of our mission and a promise we had no authority to make. The Vietnamese commander said, “Never mind, she was born that way.” “Well,” another guy said. “Maybe she doesn’t have to die that way.”

It was mess time back in Quang Tri, so I contacted the base radio operator, and he got the navy doctor on the radio. I described the girl’s face as accurately as I could. “Piece of cake,” he said

We found the girl’s father and convinced him to let us try. We walked to a rendezvous with a resupply helicopter, lifted them aboard, and waved them off. We never saw them again. S

omeone back in Quang Tri got them to the hospital. The navy doctor performed the act that was a piece of cake to him. It was the single-most positive act of my negative year.

There were thousands of heroes like him – doctors, nurses, aid workers, agricultural advisors, at risk though unarmed – nameless to us grunts, perhaps, but fellow suckers who served for a year or so and got nothing for it but a case of intestinal distress.

It bothers me that I cannot remember his name.

Dear President Spurs,
Captain Nelson Lehman found life and humor in everything. The Army was a running joke, the Vietnamese language an inexhaustible comic word-hoard, every day a celebration of the absurd. But his laughter was neither cynical nor foolish. It was a hedge against the indignities and disorders of the war and against death. We had all taken the measure of the dangers, though not yet of the politics of the war. We had no politics, just duties and passions and fears.

Late in our tours, I spent the night in Hue on my way back from R&R. Nel had a safe staff job in intelligence after six months of combat. We lingered over breakfast while I waited for a ride north and he flirted with a pretty waitress. A clerk came to summon him to accompany his boss, a newly-arrived Australian major, to the outskirts of Hue where an outpost had been fired on during the night.

It wasn’t normal for intelligence advisors to inspect the sites of minor firefights, but the major was, Nel said, eager for an experience to shape into a story. Nel went off, wary, but savoring the prospect of watching the major play at war. I was still sitting in the mess hall when someone came to tell me Nel was dead.

War is a game of risks, of course, and surviving it depends partly on gauging and limiting the few you have control over. Nel was a seasoned soldier who knew that. The major was a fool, a tourist at war, who didn’t.

A month or so later, I heard the story of the major’s own death. Ever the fool, he had agreed with an American major to observe an operation where neither had any proper role – for the explicit purpose of writing each other up for a medal – for valor planned in advance.

According to his co-conspirator, they were watching the action from the safety of a trench, when the Australian announced, “Here’s where I get my Silver Star,” stood up, and took a bullet through his head.

That major, President Spurs, was a loser. There were others, of course. Nel Lehman wasn’t one of them.

Dan Embree