Saturday, May 26, 2007
Memorial Day, 2007: We Must Never Forget
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith.
I remember the 18-year-old kid from Tennessee who let me use his transistor radio, the baby-faced private from North Carolina with the big grin, Staff Sergeant James, Sergeant Brezinski and Sergeant Dowjotas. There are others whose names, God forgive me, I cannot recall. All of their names are on the Vietnam wall because they gave their lives for their country.
I also remember Lieutenant King.
Late in 1970, after several months as an infantry platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division (the First "Air" Cav), I got sick as a dog one morning after we returned to the firebase. At first the medics thought it was malaria, but it was some other jungle virus and I was laid up in the rear area for about a month. Unfortunately, another lieutenant was sent to take over my platoon.
When I recovered, I asked the battalion commander to re-assign me to another platoon. He said he would let me fill the next platoon leader vacancy. When the lieutenant for the second platoon of Bravo Company rotated back to the States, I politely reminded the battalion commander of his promise.
He was nice about it, but he said he was sending Lieutenant Thomas P. King to take over that platoon. I had gotten to know King from our chess games in a firebase bunker. King was a West Point graduate and a career officer who needed the field time, so the commander said I could have the next platoon.
Less than two weeks later, Lieutenant King and his men walked up on an NVA bunker complex. Along with several other soldiers, he was killed when a North Vietnamese soldier detonated a Chinese claymore mine. If I had been in command of that platoon as originally planned, I would have been the one killed.
Years later I stood in front of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and stared at the engraving of King’s name. Only a quirk of fate put his name there instead of mine.
Now there are those from Iraq who don’t have their own place in Washington, D.C. yet, but whose names will one day appear on the Operation Iraqi Freedom monument. They have sacrificed everything in this new war just because their country needed them.
From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, America’s warriors have given their lives to defend America and its allies from those who would enslave them. On battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries throughout the world, we continue to lose our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers as they protect our way of life with honor and valor.
Those of us who have fought in America’s wars will never forget the faces of our comrades. We will remember them when they were laughing, sharing a meal or missing their families. They will always be in our hearts and souls.
We hope that, on this Memorial Day, all of you will remember them, too.
SFC Chuck Grist