In celebration of Memorial Day, I'd like to share some historical trivia with you. Below are some true stories of sacrifice and courage from each of America's major military involvements. I encourage each and every one of you to read to the end.
Peter Brown's firsthand account of Bunker Hill...
David Thompson at Antietam...
"I remember looking behind and seeing an officer riding diagonally across the field - - a most inviting target - - instinctively bending his head down over his horse's neck, as though he were riding through driving rain. While my eye was on him I saw, between me and him a rolled overcoat with its traps on bound into the air and fall among the furrows. One of the enemy's grape-shot had plowed a groove in the skull of a young fellow and had cut his overcoat from his shoulders. He never stirred from his position, but lay there face downward, a dreadful spectacle. A moment after, I heard a man cursing a comrade for lying on him heavily. He was cursing a dying man.
As the range grew better, the firing became more rapid, the situation desperate and exasperating to the last degree. Human ature was on the race, and there burst forth form it the most vehement, terrible swearing I have ever heard. Certainly the joy of conflict was not ours that day. The suspense was only for a moment, however, for the order to charge came just after. Whether the regiment was thrown into disorder or not, I never knew. I only remember that as we rose, and started all the fire that had been held back so long was loosed. In a second the air was full of the hiss of bullets and the hurtle of grape-shot. The mental strain was so great that I saw at the moment he singular effect mentioned, I think, in the life of Goethe on a similar occasion - - the whole landscape for an instant turned slight red."
World War I
British poet John Masefield describes his experience with an American ambulance...
"Presently the sick arrive, haggard and white, but able to walk, and the gathering breaks up and the ambulances are free to go. The moon is blotted by this time; it is darker and beginning to rain, the men say. On leaving the operating-room, one hears again as a real thing the scream of the rush of the big shells, the thump of the bursts, and the crash of the great guns. The stretchers are passed into the ambulances, the sick are helped on to seats, they are covered with blankets, and the doors are closed. It is much darker now and the rain has already made the ground sticky; and with the rain the smell of corruption has become heavier, and the ruin is like what it is-a graveyard laid bare. Shells from the enemy rush overhead and burst in a village which lies on the road home. They are strafing the village; the cars have a fair chance of being blown to pieces; it is as dark as pitch and the road will be full of new shell-holes. The drivers start their engines and turn the cars for home; the rain drives in their faces as they go, and along the road in front of them the shells flash at intervals, lighting the tree-stumps.
These drivers (there are now, and have been, some hundreds of them) are men of education. They are the very pick and flower of American life, some of them professional men, but the greater number of them young men on the threshold of life, lads just down from college or in their last student years. All life lies before them in their own country, but they have put that aside for an idea, and have come to help France in her hour of need. Two of them have died and many of them have been maimed for France, and all live a life of danger and risk death nightly. To this company of splendid and gentle and chivalrous Americans be all thanks and greetings from the friends and allies of sacred France."
World War II
Reporter Ernie Pyle at San Pietro, Italy...
"In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Captain Henry T. Waskow, of Belton, Texas. Captain Waskow was a company commander in the Thirty-sixth Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and a gentleness that made people want to be guided by him. 'After my father, he came next,' a sergeant told me. 'He always looked after us,' a soldier said. 'He'd go to bat for us every time.' 'I've never known him to do anything unfair,' another said. I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow down. The moon was nearly full, and you could see far up the trail, and even partway across the valley below. Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on one side, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other, bobbing up and down as the mules walked. The Italian mule skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies when they got to the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself and ask others to help. I don't know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and you don't ask silly questions. They slid him down from the mule, and stood him on his feet for a moment. In the half-light he might have been merely a sick man standing there leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the stone wall alongside the road. We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules. Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more; the dead man lay all alone, outside in the shadow of the wall. Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. 'This one is Captain Waskow,' one of them said quietly. Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally, there were five lying end to end in a long row. You don't cover up dead men in the combat zones. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody comes after them. The unburdened mules moved off to their olive grove. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually I could sense them moving, one by one, close to Captain Waskow's body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear. One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, 'God damn it!' That's all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came, and he said, 'God damn it to hell anyway!' He looked down for a few last moments and then turned and left. Another man came. I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the dim light, for everybody was bearded and grimy. The man looked down into the dead captain's face and then spoke directly to him, as though he were alive,'I'm sorry, old man.' Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said, 'I sure am sorry, sir.' Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the captain's hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face. And he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. Finally he put the hand down. He reached over and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of the uniform around the wound, and then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone."
Ted Heckelman at the tank battle of Naktong...
"Our instructions to all were to let the first tank round the curve and then Cpl. Thomas was to hit the bogey wheel and knock the track off the tank causing it to become immobile. Then Cpl. Bowles was to concentrate on aiming for the gas tank and blow it up. I believed the second tank would then proceed to the curve and try to move the first tank out of the way. It was at that point, when the second tank made contact with the first tank, that Cpl. Bowles was to knock the bogey wheel out and Cpl. Carrow was to aim for the gas tank and destroy it. When the third tank came to the bend and made contact with the second tank, Cpl. Carrow was to aim for the gas tank and destroy it as well. All of us would then work out an instantaneous plan of attack should there be a slip up or slight deviation.
The first tank went around the bend as planned and Cpl. Thomas did his job. Because that tank was now exposed to our main line of resistance and our troops, our own tanks fired armor piercing shells that went straight through the front of the tank and out the back, exploding in the rice paddy several yards away. It must have been a horrifying experience because we could hear the activity of the Koreans inside the tank trying to start the engine and make things happen. As the escape hatch on the turret opened, out came the tank commander. I think everybody in the section cut loose with their carbines, rifles and pistols.
It was at this point that Cpl. Thomas Fava stood up from his fox hole and fired a white phosphorous round into the turret. Now we were not in the position that we were supposed to be in, and had no way to communicate with our troops as to our actual position. When Cpl. Fava stood up, our troops behind us thought he was a North Korean and opened up with a machine gun that riddled Cpl. Fava from his head to his waist, or he was shot down by our air Force planes strafing the area. Either way, it was friendly fire that took his life.
We had no corpsman—we were out of position—no means of communication—and three more tanks coming at us. After checking Cpl. Fava, we could see that there was nothing we could do to save him. All we could do was to offer a prayer to the Almighty. I tried to comfort Cpl. Fava as best I could. It was the most agonizing death that I have ever witnessed in my life. When all was over I returned to my original position to watch the progress of the second tank that was now coming around the curve in the road. But I shall never forget his calling out for "Mama, mama." I have heard that for years."
Den Cook recounts his experience of the Tet Offensive in 1968...
A US soldier on losing a fellow brother...
"As we prepped for this mission the word came down to us that Thomas “Doc” Stone, one of our medics, had been killed along with a Canadian soldier and another of our men had been injured.
Sometime in the early morning hours the enemy attacked their FOB with a heavy barrage of RPGs, mortars, and small arms fire. The base had not been occupied very long and the team did not have very long to build up defensive positions. Sometime during the battle one of our men, while moving from one position to another, was shot in the face. Another soldier began treating him and called for a medic. As always “Stoney” heard the call and got up from his covered position to aid the wounded man. He was struck multiple times by small arms fire and died within a few feet of the man he tried to save."
Remember what this holiday is for when you're cooking out and drinking your beer. God Bless America, and those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.