Last Saturday was Armed Forces Day. This coming Monday is Memorial Day. For those born in “The Greatest Generation,” we never forget these days and what they mean. A recent TV commercial is about a young soldier blinded in Afghanistan who takes a medicine for his sleep issues.
This is a somber reminder that those who serve are still with us, and should never be forgotten. Some live with severe disabilities, others have given the ultimate sacrifice. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have sight and then lose it or limbs in some far away war as so many have done in defending our freedom. My son Doug vividly recalls men without legs on wheeled devices selling pencils just after World War II.
Doug and I were watching a moving television program the other night that told of those who have received the “Medal of Honor”, our country’s highest award. There were scenes showing frozen dead in Korea, men lying dead in the rice paddies in Vietnam, and of those on the beaches of Normandy. We cried as we recalled a family member and friends who served and those who sacrificed all in defense of our country.
The stories and bravery of these people are extraordinary. Some didn’t receive the Medal of Honor until years later. Not all were soldiers carrying a weapon. Some were Chaplins or medics. One story was of Sgt. Alvin York, a country boy who served in WWI. He had a terrible time deciding between what he thought was his duty to his church and to his country.
Then there was General Jim Day, who had served as a foot soldier with my second husband, Van, in Korea and had risen through the ranks. During Korea Jim had distinguished himself in battle. After many years, he received his Medal of Honor from President Clinton. There were many others who died and are forgotten. Simple men and women who, when called, did the unthinkable and often impossible without concern for their own safety.
I often think about the boys who will forever remain young in my mind. I can still see Pat Davis, the boy I almost married, as he stood on my front porch the last time I saw him. He died on Anzio Beach. The wife of a friend from church had given birth to a little girl after he’d left for the Marines. He made the ultimate sacrifice on Iwo Jima before ever seeing his daughter.
In our family, Doug’s grandfather-in-law was one of Blackjack Pershing’s 50 in WWI. He was a Polish immigrant who married a German woman he met in the “War to end all wars.” Doug laughs when he recalls how they always seemed to be arguing something 50 years later. Wars seem to make strange bedfellows. During WWII, Doug’s dad was a bombadier, his uncle Bob a fighter pilot and his uncle Clayton worked on the atom bomb.
During Vietnam, Doug’s older brother Don served in the Air Force. Thankfully he had taken German in high school and believe it or not, was stationed in Germany. Doug’s cousins, the sons of his Uncle Bob, served in Vietnam. Bruce was a Green Beret, and Bob Jr. a “Dustoff / Medevac” pilot. Up until that time, we hadn’t lost family members. However, this was to change on September 27, 1970.
During its flight, a helicopter taking an ill Vietnamese child for treatment crash-landed. A second helicopter left base to find and rescue those in the first chopper. There was a terrible storm raging, visibility near zero. The second craft slammed into a mountainside, killing all aboard. The pilot of that second craft was Robert Oran Hill Jr., my nephew. We found out three days later. Our family, especially Bob Sr. and other children were devastated.
Millions have, over the course of our country’s history, gone into battle and sacrificed their lives. Not all have received any kind of medal. Around the world, in foreign cemeteries, seas of white crosses testify to their sacrifice. A French general, at the end of WWII told one of our generals to take our soldiers and go home. Our general then replied, “and the dead, too?”
People will soon be going to cemeteries putting flowers and flags on graves to honor those who have served in our military, many who gave the ultimate. I too will be thinking about those I know that served and died to keep us free. Yes, God Bless America.
Van said not to fear, “At least they aren’t shooting at us, are they?”
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org