The Rotary Club of Thomasville welcomed a special guest and speaker at Thursday’s meeting — retired Maj. Gen. Bernard “Burn” Loeffke, U.S. Army — who has a remarkable military history and became part of the Thomasville Rotary family.
Rotarian Joe Brown who, along with his wife Theresa Brown, hosted Loeffke in their home during his stay in Thomasville. Brown met Loeffke while teaching at U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He taught math, and Loeffke taught Russian.
Brown began with telling Rotarians and guests about Loeffke’s honors and accomplishments.
He said, “His honors didn’t come easily.”
Loeffke served four combat tours in Vietnam earning three Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with four for Valor and the Purple Heart. He is also a West Point graduate and has a master’s degree in Russian language and Soviet studies, a Ph.D. in international relations and was a professor at West Point and Georgetown University, as well as a Visiting Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.
He has been a White House Fellow serving with the National Security Council, Attaché to Russia, the first defense Attaché to the Peoples Republic of China and participated in the strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union.
After Loeffke’s retirement, he earned a physician’s assistant degree and participated in medical missions to Third World countries, which included Sudan, where he treated combat casualties. Now he is interested in preventive medicine for the United States’ relationship with China. His speech topic related to that relationship.
Loeffke asked all Rotarians and guests to stand and hold hands. He had the room recite after him, “We are a family. We strive for peace with honor. God Bless America.”
He said, “My greatest honor was to be called an American and soldier for this great country.”
Loeffke wrote a book called China Our Enemy? and how the subject is something the United States is trying to avoid. He gave the audience the example of in 20 minutes or less, the United States could be a disappearing society.
“As we sit here, there are thousands of our troops sitting in silos waiting for orders to launch and in the same way, Russians are in their launchers. That’s crazy,” said Loeffke.
He spoke on the subject of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
According to the retired major general, the key to the world is to make sure we are not strangers. He was reminded of John Glenn as he orbited around the Earth. He was given cards in many languages that translated as “I’m a friend.”
This was done in case Glenn’s craft went down over a strange place and he needed to get to the U.S. Embassy. Glenn found that when researching many languages, the words “stranger” and “enemy” are interchangeable.
“We are trying to be friends wherever we can. Lack of trust is an issue we are facing today,” said Loeffke.
He also talked about the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China and Japan. No one inhabits the islands. The possibility of war could occur at the location.
He said, “Since we have a treaty to protect Japan in case they have a fight with China, this is serious business. As we sit here, the islands are a possibility of war.”
With this in mind, he illustrated how the friendship with the United States and China are so powerful they cannot be pulled apart.
He told Rotarians and guests who can contribute in making the powerful bonds.
“Organizations, such as Rotary, play a part in this friendship. Rotary is trying to start an international chapter in China,” said Loeffke.
This past December, Loeffke went to China to begin the chapter, but China will not recognize Rotary. Unofficial groups have emerged, however.
Person to person also is helpful in building relationships.
Loeffke said, “They say the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of a nation is the man or woman who is trusted by its counterparts. Who can that be? It can be Rotarians who place service before self.”
Loeffke holds one man responsible for saving his life — the late Sgt. Larry Morford. He came in with a unit and got Loeffke and his men out with an ambush. This month, Loeffke went to a dedication ceremony at Ft. Benning, where Morford was honored. Only 15 days before Morford was scheduled to go home, he was killed in Vietnam.
“I always said that if I got out of the service alive, I’d go live the life of Larry Morford. He wanted to be a medical missionary, so after retirement at the age of 52, I went to medical school. It was tough getting accepted at my age,” said Loeffke.
One of his missions is to go throughout the world teaching medicine to young people. He does this by teaching wellness lessons through “The Magic Book,” a wellness manual. The youths are supposed to go home and teach the lessons to their parents.
Two years ago, Loeffke and cadets traveled to China and taught 1,000 Chinese students the method and found it highly effective.
He considers his life to have three major components — the first being health, the second singing.
“Singing brings people together. And the last component of my life is wherever I go I try to entertain. It makes people laugh,” he said.
The challenge Loeffke spoke about revolves around co-operation with the Chinese by sending cadets to teach medicine to children.
While Loeffke was in Thomasville, he and Joe Brown visited Brookwood School. The students there took an interest in international affairs and issues Loeffke spoke about.
They came up with scenarios about what they would do in certain issues to prevent war.
Brown said, “These kids get it. They know what’s going on. It impressed me. We need to talk to our young people.”
After the lecture, Rotarians and guests had an opportunity to ask questions.
Loeffke ended his speech the same way it began. He asked everyone to stand, hold hands and repeat after him: “We are a family. Air-borne.”
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.