Photo by Tessa Marie Images
A low-key bi-monthly gathering, SPECWAR & Friends Luncheon in Chester County brings together an elusive military roster.
SPECWAR & Friends Luncheon organizers hoped retired captain David Christian would be seated at the head of the table. He is, after all, an honored guest who must sign copies of his book, Victor Six: The Saga of America’s Youngest and Most Decorated Officer in Vietnam. “I don’t want to,” Christian says, before retreating to the back of Pietro’s Prime steakhouse on a Saturday in February in downtown West Chester. “I like being under the radar.”
The title of the distinguished veteran’s 1990 autobiography pretty much says it all. He enlisted at 17 and a year later became the youngest commissioned officer to lead troops into combat since the Civil War. Now 73, Christian has won seven Purple Hearts and numerous military awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, two Silver Stars and the Air Medal (for amassing 25 helicopter combat assaults). He toured Vietnam twice from 1966 to 1970, before retiring with serious injuries and napalm burns to 40% of his body.
“Mr. Christian, have you ever learned to duck and roll?” asks Chuck Corbett Jr., co-host of SPECWAR, a retired chief intelligence specialist for the Navy.
During his career, Corbett also served as a chemical safety inspector for the US Department of Homeland Security and an intelligence analyst for the FBI. He and other organizers see the luncheon as the first in a series of bi-monthly gatherings for retired special warfare service personnel young and old. You won’t find much online about this elite group – Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Airbornes, Rangers and other Special Ops veterans. Of the 135 invitees, 80 were confirmed and 55 participated. “SEALs don’t advertise,” says co-host George Kearns. “We will be over 100 next time.”
Kearns will not talk about his military service. But the Westtown resident reveals his role in orchestrating the return of the most decorated battleship in US Navy history, the USS New Jersey, November 11, 1999, and the subsequent establishment of a museum and memorial. “These guys feel like they’re still undercover or on active duty,” Christian says. “There’s almost nothing about them that you can find, but they’re all legends. Silent warriors. It is a historic afternoon.
Kearns and Corbett had met for lunch at the West Point Society in Philadelphia, where Kearns is a life member and serves on the board. Occasionally, retired US Coast Guard investigator Ed Karasiewicz would join them. Soon they had become a group of nine at Pietro’s Prime. “There’s never an agenda except fellowship, lunch and laughter,” says Corbett, who began his military service as a post-Vietnam military police officer.
Based on the character of the niche staff, Kearns has high hopes for these encounters. “The first thing you learn about SEALs is that they are overachievers,” he says. “They go out, then go get an MBA from Harvard. Just because they’re SEALs, they’re determined. They live by the military adage of the “7 Ps” – proper planning and preparation avoid poor performance. If you live your life like this after serving, life will never let you down.
As for Christian, he simply presents himself as a soldier. “You always think someone else is going to get hurt, but you also have to know how hostile the situations are,” he says.
Christian went on to earn degrees from Villanova University and Penn, as well as a law degree from Rutgers University. He has two more books in the works: Yankee in Red Square and Ambassador to Chechnya, which cover his years of continuous service under past presidents. Now living in Washington Crossing, Christian was Senior Advisor to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee for National Defense and Veterans Benefits, a position created by the late John McCain and Senator John Kerry. Later in Chechnya, he served as a special ambassador for economic, humanitarian and medical aid.
Christian has also authored legislation on Agent Orange and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among many other contributions. It’s no wonder Kearns hopes he’ll be a regular at SPECWAR lunches. Christian does not see why. “It’s so important for these guys to share with each other,” he says. “Each of these guys’ sons are American flag sons – and you have to look up to them.”
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