Today is Memorial Day and the airwaves are filled with heartfelt and well meant remembrances for those who died fighting for our nation.
Being a capitalist country the remembrances to "honor those who served" also are interspersed with commercials for a plethora of goods related to outdoor activities such as cookouts, camping, beach fun, hiking, food, grills, beverages – adult and otherwise. You know the drill.
I just want to point out that when I was 18 years old and enlisted in the Marines, for the specific purpose of going to Vietnam, most of the things we now mention in our remembrances about those who fought and died were not at the top of my list.
I didn’t fight for barbeque. I didn't fight so I could walk in parades or give speeches. I didn't fight to sit in traffic going and coming to the beach. I didn't fight for summer vacations or second homes to live in for winter ski vacations.
I didn't fight for Ford or Chevy or Plymouth or Oldsmobile. I didn't fight for Mercedes or BMW or Audi either. Nor Honda nor any other form of transportation.
I sure as hell didn't fight for Congress. I didn't even fight so I could wear my war medals. (I counted them yesterday and with the multiple awards, such as 15 Air Medals for flying 300 missions as a helicopter machine gunner, there are more than two dozen. They look nice on the wall and on occasion I refer to them when talking to my children and grandchildren about the sacrifices of military service.)
Being 18 at the time my vision was not as widespread as it is now, but my heart was definitely in the right place. One of the things I worked very hard for was the right to be called Marine, which I did and do consider one of the highest of compliments. I fought to wear the Marine dress blues, because there simply is no better looking uniform. And my Dad taught me that girls like men in uniform.
Unfortunately my Dad fought in WWII, the Big One, when people had a different view of those who served our country. By the time I returned from Vietnam in June 1969 – 43 years ago next month – we were told that wearing our uniforms in public could bring unwanted attention our way.
The truth is I fought for the men alongside me, both those in my Marine helicopter units, HMM-161 and HMM-164, and the infantrymen, reconnaissance Marines and others who stood alongside me in battle. We fought there, so we didn't have to fight here.
We fought so we could have all those things I listed above, plus more, and I fought to earn the respect of my countrymen. I learned afterward that to be respected you have to act respectfully not just once, but for all of your life, and that deeds on distant battlefields may be seen as honorable or dishonorable depending on the political viewpoint.
I learned that others who claimed to be my brothers and comrades sometimes were neither and that sometimes my medals were disdained by those who hadn't earned anything similar. But I also developed the confidence that comes with surviving numerous battles and frankly I don't care if some people don't see military service in the same light as I do. This is America after all and we exist because people are allowed to have different opinions.
My primary message today is to ask that you remember those who didn't come back from battle and those who still are fighting the physical and mental demons that will be with them as long as they live. And please remember those who have died in the years since coming home from their wars – sometimes from residual impacts of their long-ago fighting.
Today I honor my drill instructor from Platoon 214, Parris Island, South Carolina, the late Sgt. Robert F. Starbuck, in addition to those members of HMM-161 who also were Killed in Action. I've listed them exactly as I did in Masters of the Art, with last name followed by first name, rank, service, position they held at the time of their death and a numerical code that represents that last two digits of the year they died, followed by two digits representing the month and the last two for the day of the month.
Akins, Donald--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief-- 690602
Antonelly, Charles---Cpl--USMC--Maint-- 651106
Brandes, Kenneth--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief--680822
Cheek, Robert--LCpl--USMC--Crew Chief--681017
Chemis, Charles--GySgt--USMC--Crew Chief--651017
Morin, Donald--LCpl--USMC--Crew Chief--700216
Parker Jr., Vernon--Cpl--USMC--Crew--660925
Powell Jr., Joseph--Capt--USMCR--Pilot--681017
Sampsell, Joel--1stLt--USMCR--Co-Pilot --700216
Stahl, Donald--Sgt--USMC--Crew Chief--660625
Wilson, Frank--Cpl--USMC--Crew Chief—650606
Today I also am posting this column in memory of Lt. Col. Paul W. Niesen; Cpl. Fred Young; SSgt James O'Connor; Cpl. Ronald Charles Adair and all others with whom I served who have since passed away. And thank you especially to the Corpsmen, who fought alongside us, and did their best to save so many Marines, often at the cost of their own lives. It was never pretty; it was often ugly, but it was the price we paid so I could write this tribute today.
Monday, May 28, 2012