“Regarding Veterans and The Vietnam Memorial Wall Dedicated to Billy Joe Bennett and All who are now serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces.” (from Google Video)
This is a deeply moving video tribute. “Ashokan Farewell” is the solidary music score that plays throughout the piece.
“Ashokan Farewell” is the story of a Rhode Island officer who sends a love letter to his wife on the eve of battle in the US Civil War. Written on July 14, 1861, Major Sullivan Ballou died seven days later in the First Battle of Bull Run. This musical piece was used in the 1991 PBS documentary: “The Civil War”.
The sacrifices of so many, for so long, have had profound impact upon our American life. Let’s honor our Veteran’s not just on Saturday, but everyday, let us be grateful for their courage, commitment, resolve and self-less-ness.
The Price of Freedom
Joseph Kinney | November 07, 2006
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, like other monuments paying tribute to veterans, hides a bitter truth to those who visit. The reality is that veterans have often paid a terrible price for the peace and freedom that we as Americans enjoy, a price that cannot be easily understood by those who don’t know the pain. It is this poignancy that I wish to explore on this Veterans Day with the hope that a broader healing process can begin.
For two bitter years, I volunteered nearly every Saturday for the National Park Service as a guide at the “Wall.” For me, this place had become a spot where I could hide my emotions while honoring the Wall’s 58,000 names. I had been a combat Marine in Vietnam, and the experience left me deeply scarred in ways that I will never fathom. As both a Marine and a man, we are taught to bury our emotion even as they boil underneath our skin. This is hard and some of us don’t make it.
At the Memorial, I wore a Park Service cap and shirt that allowed me to cloak my identity as a Vietnam veteran. I pleasantly helped many unpleasant people. I was steadied by memories of a Cub Scout who laid a tribute and then stepped back with sharp salute. Nor will I ever forget the young black woman who rode all night on a bus from deep in Alabama just to see her Daddy’s name. I am truly blessed by these experiences.
Those who serve in combat pay a terrible price that will haunt until the grave. There are as many reasons for being in war as there are warriors on the battlefield. Yet there is one unshakable truth — we were together united by a sense of service to country and an abiding bond to each other. In Vietnam, Marines often fought more like gangs than cohesive and disciplined units. Yet even with this freestyle approach to war, the same ideas held true — duty to honor and country, and to each other.
Recently, I saw “Flags of Our Fathers.” Director Clint Eastwood graphically showed the bonds that men formed in overcoming the seemingly impossible challenge of unlocking the grasp of Iwo Jima’s Mount Surabachi from the Japanese. More than 5,000 Marines were killed or seriously wounded during that three-day battle. Twenty-two Marines and five Sailors won the Medal of Honor for this campaign — a fact overlooked by Eastwood in this anti-hero era.
There have been many occasions when America’s back has been against the wall, yet we stared down defeat to gain victory. Our enemies have continuously counted on us to waver but we did not. Kids from Lillington to El Paso to Butte stood firm. They knew courage by moving even an inch here or there in the face of blistering machine gun fire and mortar attacks.
Therein lies the truth. In the face of death and destruction were the survivors — those who came home to renew their lives. In doing so, we lose the grip on our souls held by our compatriots. In other words, we lose by merely living. According to one study I have seen, at least one out of four servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered traumatic stress disorders. The true number is surely higher.
As we get further away in time from the heady days of victory in World War II and the agony of Vietnam, it is easier to lose our sense of history and why we are a great nation. As a child, I looked up at my uncles in their sharp Marine Corps uniforms. It was 1955 and I was just six years old. My Uncle Perry had fought in World War II and then in Korea, while his younger brother, Dwain, had caught the tail end of the Korean conflict. They never asked for much, coming from a poor part of Missouri, a state already poor to begin with. At an early age, I understood that there was a deeper meaning associated with the uniforms that they proudly wore. I knew that they had stood in harm’s way and prevailed as generations had before them. They had been ready to die for their country, just like the warriors who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today. I am proud to have stood in their shadows.
Robert Frost once wrote: “Courage is the human virtue that counts most–courage to act on limited knowledge and insufficient evidence. That’s all any of us have.” These words come as close as any I have read that explains what it means to be a hero. Heroes aren’t born. They are called by circumstances to do the extraordinary and they willingly sacrifice all that they have. Let us thank God for those who have made us free.
From Military.com 11/7/06
Copyright 2006 Joseph Kinney.