Since Memorial Day is coming soon, I thought perhaps we might write a few words about why we have Memorial Day and who benefits from the holiday. It isn’t just the military that stands tall on this day. I know lots of folks that have been in war and a lot of folks that have never even shot a gun, and they both feel that Memorial Day is one of our most treasured holidays.
It is a day when we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the loved ones they left behind. In Gonzales, we meet at the cemetery and read the names of those who are laid there for their final rest. It is a very somber ceremony. There is even a 21-gun salute. This is considered one of the most respectful things we can do. That’s why it is only offered for those we want to remember.
Let me tell you a war story that is absolutely true and yet painful to remember. I am a victim of PTSD. I’m not a special case; there are lots of men and women that suffer this debilitating malady. In fact, we lose 22 of these former servicemen every day. They can’t deal with the problems this disease has placed upon them.
One of my wounds is that I can’t deal very well with sharp noises. It took my loving wife quite some time before she started to understand my symptoms. I will be laying in bed reading or watching TV and she will come in to tell me something. As she comes through the door, she usually calls my name. Not loud or in an exciting manner. She just lets me know she is coming into the room.
I usually throw the book, magazine or newspaper I’m reading up in the air in surprise. She always feels bad for this reaction of mine, and I wish she wouldn’t. It’s not her fault. It’s just part of the PTSD, which I can’t seem to get rid of. I hate that she feels this way, and I tell her so every time. You see, she also suffers with me. I love her so for the love she shares with me. We are blessed that at this time we are not at war and there are very few service personnel who are lost to the enemy. Yet, we can’t forget our wars because these veterans, like me, feel so impotent that we can’t heal this wound.
I saw on television the other day where a young serviceman peeled off his armor and jumped into the Rio Grande River to save a person who was caught up in the current and was losing ground. The serviceman was swept away and his body has not been found. The situation was very familiar to me.
The first person I saw die in Vietnam was a young man under very similar circumstances. We were patrolling a new AO (area of operations) and came upon a river. It was a lot bigger than the map showed it to be. Of course, the maps we were using were based upon the maps issued by the French when they too thought they could win any war.
We were at company strength, which meant there were about 40 men in our patrol. The CO (Commanding Officer) was new. He wasn’t one of those shown in movies as being stupid. He listened to his men and made decisions based on solid information. We had to cross this river because the maps showed there was a very old spa built upon lava rock that the intelligence people said there were a bunch of North Vietnamese using this as a base to harass and fire upon anyone getting close. The CO asked if anyone had an idea about how we were to get across this river.
I thought we could have one guy swim across with a rope to tie on the other side and then we could go across holding onto the rope. The CO asked if anyone could swim well enough to make this happen. This good-looking young Specialist four said he thought he could do it. He was told this was a volunteer deal as the CO couldn’t ask him to take this chance if he had doubts. The young man, full of bravado grabbed the rope and dove into the river right by us. He never came up.
We did everything we could to try and find him. Patrols were sent downriver to see if his body turned up. Helicopters came by and dropped grenades hoping the concussion would free his body from any hold. Nothing worked. I was distraught as this young man had been in my platoon and I felt a sense of responsibility.
Swimming was the only thing I excelled at in high school. Probably because of all the swimming we did in the canals surrounding Wasco. I took off all my clothes and blew up my air mattress, tied everything down on the mattress and waded out and into the river. Somehow I made it across, didn’t spill anything, and tied the rope to a tree right by the river.
The CO had each man grab onto the rope and pull themselves across the river. Nobody else was lost and there were no enemy anywhere on the other side. A man lost his life because of nothing. That was not the only life lost from my platoon, but it was the most wasteful thing I ever saw during my next three trips over there.
I was awarded the Bronze Star for my actions at the river. I would much rather have had the young man we lost back. I’ll bet that the National Guardsmen that were at the Rio Grande there when the serviceman tried valiantly to help the two people that were in trouble would much rather have had him found safe.
This column was the hardest one I have ever written. I didn’t do it for me, but for the serviceman that lost his life. Again, for nothing. Let us not forget even these actions were made in order to try and save a life. Please remember all the soldiers and Guardsmen with a prayer this Memorial Day, May 30.