This week’s critiquealation will vary considerably from my usual Barack Hussein Obama bashing rant due to the uniqueness of the Memorial Day holiday and my relationship to it. I would like to speak about a group of men, boy men actually; with whom I shared an extraordinary experience of mutually shared danger, suffering, redemption, nobility, sacrifice, absurdity, madness, cruelty, barbarity, and courage, an experience of all encompassing totality unique to those you share it with.
The man with whom I experienced these circumstances in Vietnam were my brothers. I don’t mean to over sentimentalize this term. I don’t know about the relationship that any of you had with your brothers, but I used to regularly fight with mine. So too did I occasionally do battle with some of my comrades in arms. At various times they would irritate me immensely, do things that I found objectionable and maddening, and I have no doubt that I did the same for many of them. I recall one incident in which I found myself in a rare opportunity to be completely alone in my hooch, which was reserved for the use of the four squad leaders and the platoon sergeant. I was looking forward to contemplative thoughts in a rare moment of solitude during a time in which my outfit was resting and recuperating from four weeks in the bush. Another young sergeant, a pretty good guy who I was on good terms with named Parmenter choose that time to enter the hooch. As he entered he proceeded to break wind rather loudly. For some reason that to this day I cannot quite fathom, I yelled at him to get the hell out of my hooch with all that disgusting noise and odor. Parmentier replied rather indignantly, “who the hell made you the king of farting?” You must bear in mind that we were on a Vietnam combat base that was utterly saturated with the most horrific smells imaginable. In a moment of sheer irrationality and testosterone driven cussedness I told him that he wouldn’t dare say that to me again lest he be prepared to receive a thorough beat down. He repeated his objection and next thing I knew we were battling all over the hooch. The fight was only stopped by my platoon sergeant stepping in and separating us. I eked out a mumbled apology to Parmenter and we shook hands. Later that week, Parmenter got a box of cookies from his sister that he shared with me, and I recall they were really quite good. It was as though the fight between us had never happened and didn’t matter, and our friendship resumed on it’s past terms. I guess that’s how it is, particularly with people with whom you have to rely upon for your very existence.
Personnel in combat units depend upon the certainty of being able to rely upon the fact that the people within that unit can be counted upon to do what is necessary to ensure the survival of all those within the unit. From the commanders on down, confidence in their performing their duties with a high level of competence and knowing that you won’t be abandoned to your fate if anything humanly possible can be done to assist you are vital to the continued effectiveness any good unit. Those who run afoul of this basic requirement will not last long in combat as they will be isolated and shunned
You would be amazed at the tenderness with which men who are engaged in the brutal business of killing the enemy are capable of showing to their comrades in arms. I even saw that extended to wounded enemy POW’s. My unit had a rule that no one could be relieved from the field for illness unless their temperature was over 102°. So we had guys out in the bush hauling 90 pound rucksacks up and down the hills of the demilitarized zone in 100° heat with 100% humidity who were suffering to varying degrees from malaria, dysentery, scrub typhus, dengue fever, diarrhea and other ailments whose fevers did not quite meet the required treshold who were still required to ruck up and carry on. I recall one wag in the platoon who had improvised a flap in the back of his trousers so he could stop and readily relieve himself without having to undo a mass of gear. He actually submitted a recommendation thru the chain of command for a modification to the field jungle utility trousers and was indignant at the lack of a reply. But often guys were only a little bit less sick would volunteer to pull their buddies night watches for them, or assist them with digging their nighttime defensive positions as well as their own after a hard day of campaigning, or tend to their fevers while offering them some of their precious C-ration fruit cocktail to succor their ailments. It was the little kindnesses that stick out in my memory as I recall these combat hardened boy men cooing to badly wounded soldiers as they took them to medical evacuation helicopters that their wounds weren’t really too bad and that they any were going to make it just fine The guy from Louisiana with special culinary skills who would offer to whip up the squad’s C-Rations into a mouth watering treat is a special memory. As is the kid from Jersey, Eugene Shields, who was the platoon comedian.
White black Asian Hispanic, it really didn’t matter as to judging a man’s worth. You lived or died by the self evident worth that you displayed to people who had the most unimpeded ability to judge such things, men impervious to BS. Risking the likehood of death itself was secondary to failing to measure up to the expectations of your buddies. The prestige with which they accorded you enhanced your self esteem and was reinforced in a continual feedback loop of reninforcement and mutual reliance.
Here on the Teri O’Brien show we regularly rail against the tyranny and strictures of socialism. Combat soldiers are the ULTIMATE in enforced socialists. Barter and a mutually agreed communitarianism were the economies of the day. NO ONE who got packages of goodies from home failed to share them with their buddies. We often told our relatives to mail enough stuff to share with the squad and platoon. If your pal was short on water purification tablets you shared yours with a buddy. The platoon Sergeant would redistribute ammo and other supplies after firefights to ensure all had enough. All the onerous and dangerous duties like waking point and listening posts were as equally shared as was possible to do. All this was readily understood as requisite to that time and place and none of us would not have it any other way.
One pal of mine particularly stands out. He was Bobby Holt, a redneck from SC. He had a rebel battle flag stitched to his helmet cover. Consequently my black brothers in the platoon didn’t like him very much and I avoided him too. Bobby saved my life when I was pinned down in a devastating ambush in which 3 other soldiers were killed at great risk to his own life. I got to know him as I expressed my gratitude to him and I discovered that the Confederate battle flag was simply an expression of his pride in his Confederate heritage as he had ancestors who died at Antetiem and Shiloh. We became good friends and comrades. Bobby taught me to never judge a person by superficial charecteristics until you got to know them personally. I used to regularly tell my children that you wouldn’t be here if Bobby hadn’t been there. My brother Bobby died in an industrial accident in 1986. I love you and will never forget you.
Many in the media might be reluctant to acknowledge this. But the question often asked is why did these men hazard their lives so? Many recalled the incredible services of their fathers in World War II, and desired to be seen as equaling that paradigm. Perhaps many others believed that risking their earthly lives in that fashion was essential for the life that would follow the earthly one, the permanent one, into which the God-inspired achievements of this life would be mirrored as rewards.
As a tee totaler myself, turning memorial day into what is for many a drunken holiday often irritates me until I recall how most of my Nam buddies would have been and are the first to guzzle beer all day long themselves. I guess all I ask is that you spend an hour or two remembering those of all our wars who gave up all their tomorrows for your todays in service first to their buddies and then to their country.
I ask you to consider this role call of my personal heroes, the men of my outfit who didn’t come back. I can still see their faces and hear their oaths; laughter, disputes and encouragements. They had their time in the sun, and they were noble far more than not.
Bax Bernard Herman PFC 05/08/70 Quang Tri
Bunner Lester Earl SFC 05/16/70 Quang Tri
Cordova Chris B SP4 05/11/71 Quang Tri
Cox Michael Lou Jr PFC 08/05/69 Quang Tri
Desmarais Donald Roger SSG 10/22/69 Quang Tri
Dixon Carl Dean PFC 05/08/70 Quang Tri
Farmer Thomas Hoyt SP4 06/08/71 Quang Tri
Flannery James Kenneth 1LT 04/16/70 Quang Tri
Fricke Eugene Marshall SP4 05/06/71 Quang Tri
Gilpin Terry Lee CPL 08/02/70 Quang Tri
Hebert Alton John SFC 07/19/71 Quang Tri
Heskett, Bruce R 1LT 06/29/70 Quang Tri
Huggins Eugene SSG 06/23/70 Quang Tri
Keller Francis Joseph PFC 05/28/70 Quang Tri
Kelly Glenn Erroll CPL 01/05/71 Quang Tri
Lecates Robert Burton 1LT 05/21/71 Quang Tri
Leis John Eugene SP4 06/20/71 Quang Tri
Marcantel Elbert SFC 06/20/71 Quang Tri
Martinez William Joseph SP4 07/19/70 Quang Tri
May Raymond Allen SSG 01/09/70 Quang Tri
Mc Candlis Owen Ted 1LT 02/05/70 Quang Tri
Mc Collough Gary CPL 05/25/69 Quang Tri
Ogren Jerry Lewis SSG 09/16/69 Quang Tri
Pierson Grover Cecil Jr SP4 04/07/71 Quang Tri
Price Arthur Houston SSG 12/26/70 Quang Tri
Roberson Joseph Thomas SSG 04/27/70 Quang Tri
Shaller William Howard SGT 05/05/70 Thua Thien
Smith Walter Daniel SP5 03/30/69 Quang Tri
Sybert Roscoe SFC 05/05/70 Quang Tri
Tanner Ray Eugene CPL 11/20/70 Quang Tri
Taylor David Thornton SGT 02/20/71 Quang Tri
Tripp Dennis Robert CPL 10/25/68 Quang Tri
Walker Winston Charles PFC 04/05/70 Quang Tri
Watts Floyd SP4 07/04/69 Thua Thien
Wykoff Theodore Leonard SSG 09/15/69 Quang Tri
So in conclusion let me say NO Barack Hussein Obama on this special day. Remember the heroic fallen for this great nation, from all the wars and all the services. A new group of boy men and girl women and their old pro leaders are presently engaged in harms way at our nation’s behest in the Middle East. They too will be as deserving of your consideration as any of our combatants in any other war. Ensure that they receive it.