Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day. A time to celebrate...and a time to remember.

There are so many words, poems, songs, etc. that “work” on this day. I thought I’d compile some images of those who paid the ultimate price (and some left behind). Nobody in my immediate family served in Viet Nam. And to my knowledge, nobody in my family has died in wartime since the Civil War. I was raised to be a patriot; I am thankful for that raising. Especially the part of patriotism that supports the troops and honors the service and the memory of those whose service is over.

Growing up near Eglin Air Force Base—then the largest AF base in the world—meant that many of my friends’ Dads served. And some paid with their lives. There were those in my home town who won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some served that most difficult assignment: prisoner of war. So my home town runs deep with patriotic fever. Note carefully, that there are democrats and republicans there. Liberals and conservatives. Patriotism, like heroism, is not tied to any particular place on the political spectrum.

I didn’t know any of these individuals personally.

Maj. Carl Drake was an Air Force pilot. Before going to Viet Nam, he led the Air Force ROTC program at LSU. He was a native of Ohio, but his last U.S. address was St. Petersburg, FL. His outfit was based out of McDill Air Force base in Tampa. Major Drake was shot down over Cambodia on June 18, 1970. His remains have not been found.

Carl Drake's younger son Randy was a friend of mine when I was @ U. of FL. Randy still wears his Dad’s watch that was sent home with Major Drake's personal effects after he was shot down. Randy was 11 when his Dad was killed. Carl had just turned 37 a couple of weeks earlier. Randy is now 46, like me. When I knew him, Randy was strikingly handsome. Big, strong, well-spoken, athletic. Just like his Dad must have been. Major Drake's name appears inPanel 9W, Row 65 of the Wall in Washington.

Capt. Tom Metsker and Lt. Jack Geoghegan are heroes of mine. They became so when I read the wonderful book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young that their commanding officer wrote about the battle in the Ia Drang valley in Viet Nam in which both men died. Maybe you've seen the movie. If not, you should see it.

Capt. Metsker, slightly wounded, was already on board a medevac helicopter, awaiting takeoff. He noticed that one of his fellow soldiers was being carried toward the same helicopter. Capt. Metsker cimbed off of the helicopter to help a more seriously wounded soldier get on board. That’s when Capt. Metsker was shot and killed. The other guy survived. Jesus once said "greater love hath no man than when he lay down his life for his friends." Captain Metsker left behind a wife and a very young daughter. He was 27 years old when he was killed.

Lt. Geoghegan died when he turned back under heavy fire to help one of his soldiers who had been shot. Lt. Geoghegan and the soldier, Willie Godbolt, died side by side. Which is how their names appear on the wall. If you’ve seen the movie “We Were Soldiers”, you’ll remember Lt. Geoghegan’s character well. He was one of the good guys. Married, & thrilled about his young daughter. Thoughtful. Christian. You’ll remember Mel Gibson/Hal Moore praying w/ Lt. Geoghegan shortly before heading out to Viet Nam. You may remember Lt. Geoghegan's character asking Col. Moore (Mel Gibson) about being a soldier and a father. He was 24 years old when he was killed.

Here's a brief tribute written by his widow just a few years ago. (She later remarried)

What a joy it is for me to know that he lives on in his precious daughter, Cammie, and his granddaughters, Stephanie and Julia. His loving, altruistic spirit is a part of all who knew him, from Pelham, NY where he grew up, to Widener University in PA (PMC in his time) where he is still a legend, and in Afica where we lived and he worked for the Catholic Relief Services, distributing US surplus food to the schoolchildren of Tanzania. Jack represented the best there is in life! He will always be part of us. Posted by: Barbara Geoghegan Johns
Relationship: He is my husband
Monday, November 5, 2001

I did not have any previous connection with Lt. Jack Rittichier, prior to my websearch for Memorial Day information. I am captivated by his story and the story of the recovery of his remains though. In case you’re wondering, I’m still quite bitter at our government, the Vietnamese government, the Cambodian government, and the Laotian government about the MIAs. I don’t think any of the four governments did all they could to recover the MIAs…or more likely, their remains.

Lt. Rittichier was a helicopter pilot who flew recovery missions, rescuing downed pilots. In 1968, a Marine pilot was shot down near an enemy encampment in Laos. The enemy used the downed pilot as bait to draw in U.S. helicopters and shoot at them. Lt. Rittichier was approaching the very hot landing zone when ground fire caught his helicopter on fire. Shortly after landing, the helicopter blew up.

35 years later, Lt. Rittichier's remains were located in the jungles of Laos. He was buried with military honors at Arlington. He left behind a wife who later remarried. She said that she was glad Lt. Rittichier was not forgotten.

Finally, I did not know Cpl Roy Wheat either. However, a good friend of mine from the Sunday School class I teach was a classmate of Roy’s. Said he was one of the nicest, quietest guys around. I’ve read Roy’s story several times while waiting in line at the post office on 40th. Roy won the Medal of Honor by jumping on a mine, thereby saving the lives of several in his squad. The newspaper picture is Roy’s mother hugging two of the guys whose life Roy saved.

I watched a show featuring Hal Moore yesterday. He’s the co-author of We Were Soldiers, and was the CO of the outfit that Capt. Metsker and Lt. Geoghegan were part of. Mel Gibson played Hal Moore in the movie.

Anyway, here’s what he said. Only God knows what those 58,000 people could have done with their lives had they been able to live them.

The same goes for those who died at Normandy (cemetery shot below), on Okinawa, on Sicily, in the Ardennes Forest, on the USS Maine, at Gettysburg,….Which is why I have always been haunted by the words of Major Michael O’Donnell. (see below)

I remember. I honor all of the heroes that these few represent. And I thank God that I am free because they served, fought, and died.

So, it’s Memorial Day. In the midst of all the cookouts, water sports, shopping, & all that, take just a moment to remember that freedom is never free. It is very costly. Many have given their very lives in defense of that freedom. As Major O’Donnell wrote, “save for them a place…”

Some writings from others...

Our dead brothers still live for us and bid us think of life, not death -- of life to which in their youth, they lent the passion and glory of Spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil, our trumpets, sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes ~

The Sentinel’s Creed
(for those who stand guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery)

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance, my standard will remain perfection.
Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect that I protect.
His bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
Alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
This soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

"Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow –

This is a song by the Statler Brothers:

More Than A Name on a Wall

I can see her from a distance,
As she walks up to the Wall,
And a little boy beside her
With a face that I recall;
And she takes out pen and paper
As to trace a memory,
And the little boy said,
Mama, that's the same name as me.

She said, Son, it's someone special,
And he meant a lot to me;
Even though you've never seen him,
I'm sure he'd be proud to see
A young man who looks just like him,
And who'll grow up strong and tall;
I know then you'll understand,
Your daddy's more than a name on a wall.

She said, He really missed the family
And being home on Christmas day,
And he died for God and country
In a place so far away;
She said, I know it's hard for little boys,
But I think you understand,
So, son, just be proud of him,
Cause God surely knows I am.

She said, Son, it's someone special,
And he meant a lot to me;
Even though you've never seen him,
I'm sure he'd be proud to see
A young man who looks just like him,
And who'll grow up strong and tall;
I know then you'll understand,
Your daddy's more than a name on a wall.

All Rights Reserved

"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.

And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind."

Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970 Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978

No comments: