Friday, May 22, 2009
Thoughts for Memorial Day 2009
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, the two sergeants and one staff sergeant who were killed on the same day. 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 one particular lieutenant.
Late in 1970, after several months as an infantry platoon leader, 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 just 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, and 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 another lieutenant to take over that platoon. I got to know the other officer from our chess games in a firebase bunker. He 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, the West Pointer 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 the young lieutenant's name. Only a quirk of fate put his name there instead of mine.
Now there are those from Iraq and Afghanistan who don’t have their own place in Washington, D.C. yet, but whose names will one day appear on a monument for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. They have sacrificed everything in this new war on terror just because their country needed them.
From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, America’s warriors have given their lives to defend this nation from those who would enslave or kill our fellow citizens. 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 fought in America’s wars will never forget the faces of our comrades. We will remember them when they were laughing, sharing a meal, missing their families, or lying dead in a body bag. They will always be in our hearts and souls.
We hope that, on this Memorial Day, all of you will remember them, too.
Charles M. Grist