Volume 13, Issue 45 ~ November 10 - November 16, 2005
Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

In Memory of Those Who Served and Died

It is the Soldier, not the Reporter
who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the Poet
who has given us the freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the Campus Organizer
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the Soldier who salutes the Flag,
who serves beneath the Flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the Flag,
who allows the Protester to burn the Flag.

—Father Dennis Edward O’Brien: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps.

Think what you want about the military, but get down to the nitty gritty and it is the soldier — also the sailor, airman and marine — who has preserved the most basic and valued ingredient of this great nation. Freedom.

It is appropriate that they be remembered and honored on Veterans Day, in particular, those who laid down their lives to ensure freedom will always be ours. Without getting maudlin, mawkish, melodramatic and such, there is not a more fitting time to think about the words of Father Dennis Edward O’Brien.

Forget for the moment (only) Iraq, Vietnam, Korea or any other conflict deemed unworthy or inappropriate. Forget also the demonstrations, the accusations, the discontent and the second-guessing. But don’t forget those who, corny as it may sound, answered their country’s call to duty. Surely among them were some who would agree it was the wrong war, the wrong time, the wrong place. But they went.

Some were frightened. Others endured financial and other hurtful sacrifices, heart-aching loneliness away from sweethearts, family, friends. It meant postponing or missing out on higher education, maybe a job promotion. To all, deep down, came the realization that they might not come back in one piece … might not come back at all.

Yet, realizing it was their duty, they went.

Some enlisted, others were conscripted. But once they were in uniform it mattered not whether they volunteered or had their lives put on hold via the draft. They made up a determined blend of young men and women who had a job to do.

It was not up to them to question the legitimacy of the conflict at the time; their government said they were needed, so they went.

“War is hell,” said Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. He also admitted that “war is at best barbarism … Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a gun, nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

He put it all in perspective in a speech at St. Louis:

The legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace.

58,000 Warriors Died in Vietnam

Some among us believe some wars are wrong; others insist all wars are wrong. But we live in a democracy thanks to those now serving or who have served. Only in an anarchy — a social structure without law or order — can a citizen decide to take a rain check and remain a civilian in any or all conflicts on rationales of morality or self-interest.

In a democracy we elect those who rule, and whether we like it or not, those who rule have the authority and the responsibility to do what they consider to be in the best interest of our country. That’s how democracy works. The soldier, sailor, airman or marine appreciates it’s not his or her decision to go to war. That decision is made by those we elect to do just that. Make decisions.

It is important on Veterans Day to keep this in mind. There are among us some who would deprive recognition to those who served in Vietnam, or perhaps some other conflict, on the grounds that that war was wrong. They are of the opinion that the call should have been rejected on moral grounds. Their bitterness is still evident. No thank yous from them.

On Nov. 13, 1982, they weren’t around to pay the homage deserved and due to the veterans when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington. Inscribed in black granite were the names of 58,000 warriors who didn’t come back.

I will not forget that occasion. Before me unfolded the most emotional scene I have witnessed in my life — and I’ve been around since Calvin Coolidge was president. Following a long and spirited parade, there were few dry eyes as veterans of that controversial conflict — some in tattered old uniforms and clothing, others smartly dressed in suits — flooded a field to embrace each other. Their eyes were as wet as ours.

For many, it was their first reunion. They had waited years for recognition, and it had finally come. When they came home from the war, there were no crowds and waving flags, nor were there many thank yous.

The war was not forgotten, but they were. Now they had their niche. I’m as certain as can be that most of them were gratified above all that the names of their fallen comrades were chiseled in stone to remind visitors they had served flag and country had died doing so. They, above all, are the ones never to be forgotten.

’Tis said life is for the living, and it’s true. But there are times when the living should pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by their armed forces to ensure that we can live the life we live. Of all times, Veterans Day is most appropriate.

Henry Beckwith, 61 Years Dead

Once again, we are asked to remember those who served. I cannot allow the day to pass without somber thoughts of my best high school friend, Henry Beckwith of Navy Air who went down over Great Britain in ’44. As we fished, studied and chased girls, we anxiously waited to join the fight against Tojo and Hitler. Several times the Navy turned us down; we weren’t yet 17.

We had planned to serve together, but I wanted the SeaBees; Henry, Navy Air, so we parted when we joined up. I never saw him again, though often I have played tennis at the recreational center named in his honor.

Nothing has or ever will be named in my honor, but I have lived a full life while Hen was around only 19 years. He never had the time to marry, start a family, never enjoyed the pleasures of adult life, that first new car and house, grandchildren, the works.

It isn’t only on Veterans and Memorial Day, but not infrequently at other times, I think about those two carefree students, Hen and me, and wonder why it was he. Why was I the lucky one?

The day I received a newspaper clipping telling about villagers in Ireland burying Hen in a field where his plane went down, aloud I promised him he would never be forgotten.

Nor should any of the others be forgotten; it matters not what war, what place, what time. It matters only that they made the supreme sacrifice. Enough said.

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