Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Special II: Honoring Those Who Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice

In the early days of this blog I published 'Memorial Day Special' part one, which quickly became one of the most popular posts here. This is part two.

Revolutionary War

The army was now not only starved but naked; the greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets. I procured a small piece of raw cowhide and  made myself a pair of moccasons, which kept my feet (while they lasted) from the frozen ground, although, as I well remember, the hard edges so galled my ancles, whilee on a march, that it was with much difficulty and pain that I could wear them afterwards; but the only alternative I had was to endure this inconvenience or to go barefoot, as hundreds of my companions had to, till they might be tracked by their blood upon the rough frozen ground. But hunger, nal~edness and sore shins were not the only difficulties we had at that time to encounter; we had hard duty to perform and little or no strength to perform it with.The army continued at and near the Gulf for some days, after which we marched for the Valley Forge in order to take up our winter-quarters. We were now in a truly forlorn condition—no clothing, no provisions and as disheartened as need be. We arrived, however, at our destination a few days before Christmas. Our prospect was indeed dreary. In our miserable condition, to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition, was appaling in the highest degree, especially to New-Englanders, unaccustomed to such kind of hardships at home....

-Private James Sullivan Martin at Valley Forge

Civil War

Before the sunlight faded, I walked over the narrow field. All around lay the Confederate dead-undersized men mostly, from the coast district of North Carolina, with sallow, hatchet faces, and clad in "butternut"-a color running all the way from a deep, coffee brown up to the whitish brown of ordinary dust. As I looked down on the poor, pinched faces worn with marching and scant fare, all enmity died out. There was no "secession" in those rigid forms, nor in those fixed eyes staring blankly at the sky. Clearly it was not "their war." Some of our men primed their muskets afresh with the finer powder from the cartridge-boxes of the dead. With this exception, each remained untouched as he had fallen. Darkness came on rapidly, and it grew very chilly. As little could be done at that hour in the way of burial, we unrolled the blankets of the dead, spread them over the bodies, and then sat down in line, munching a little on our cooked rations in lieu of supper, and listening to the firing, which was kept up on the right, persistently. By 9 o'clock this ceased entirely. Drawing our blankets over us, we went to sleep, lying upon our arms in line as we had stood, living Yankee and dead Confederate side by side, and indistinguishable.-This was Sunday, the 14th of September.

-David L. Thompson at Antietam

World War I

Luf fired several short bursts as he dived in to the attack. Then he swerved away and appeared to busy himself with his gun, which evidently had jammed. Another circle over their heads and he had cleared the jam. Again Major Raoul Lufberyhe rushed the enemy from their rear, when suddenly old Luf's machine was seen to burst into flames. He passed the Albatros and proceeded for three or four seconds on a straight course. Then to the horrified watchers below there appeared the figure of their hero in a headlong leap from the cockpit of the burning aircraft! Lufbery had preferred a leap to certain death rather than endure the slow torture of burning to a crisp. His body fell in the garden of a peasant woman's house in a little town just north of Nancy. A small stream ran nearby and it was thought later that poor Lufbery seeing this small chance for life had jumped with the intention of striking this water. He had leaped from a height of two hundred feet and his machine was carrying him at a speed of 120 miles per hour! A hopeless but a heroic attempt to preserve his life for his country!

-Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, describing the death of American ace Raoul Lufbery

World War II

We jumped into the little tractor boat and quickly settled on the deck. 'Oh, God, I'm scared,' said the little Marine, a telephone operator, who sat next to me forward in the boat. I gritted my teeth and tried to force a smile that would not come and tried to stop quivering all over (now I was shaking from fear). I said, in an effort to be reassuring, 'I'm scared, too.' I never made a more truthful statement in all my life. Now I knew, positively, that there were Japs, and evidently plenty of them, on the island. They were not dead. The bursts of shellfire all around us evidenced the fact that there was plenty of life in them!... After the first wave there apparently had not been any organized waves, those organized waves which hit the beach so beautifully in the last rehearsal. There had been only an occasional amphtrack which hit the beach, then turned around (if it wasn't knocked out) and went back for more men. There we were: a single boat, a little wavelet of our own, and we were already getting the hell shot out of us, with a thousand yards to go. I peered over the side of the amphtrack and saw another amphtrack three hundred yards to the left get a direct hit from what looked like a mortar shell. 'It's hell in there,' said the amphtrack boss, who was pretty wild-eyed himself. 'They've already knocked out a lot of amphtracks and there are a lot of wounded men lying on the beach. See that old hulk of a Jap freighter over there? I'll let you out about there, then go back to get some more men. You can wade in from there.' I looked. The rusty old ship was about two hundred yards beyond the pier. That meant some seven hundred yards of wading through the fire of machine guns whose bullets already were whistling over our heads. The fifteen of us - I think it was fifteen - scurried over the side of the amphtrack into the water that was neck-deep. We started wading. Marines hunker down at the seawallNo sooner had we hit the water than the Jap machine guns really opened up on us. There must have been five or six of these machine guns concentrating their fire on us... It was painfully slow, wading in such deep water. And we had seven hundred yards to walk slowly into that machinegun fire, looming into larger targets as we rose onto higher ground. I was scared, as I had never been scared before. But my head was clear. I was extremely alert, as though my brain were dictating that I live these last minutes for all they were worth. I recalled that psychologists say fear in battle is a good thing; it stimulates the adrenalin glands and heavily loads the blood supply with oxygen. I do not know when it was that I realized I wasn't frightened any longer. I suppose it was when I looked around and saw the amphtrack scooting back for more Marines. Perhaps it was when I noticed that bullets were hitting six inches to the left or six inches to the right. I could have sworn that I could have reached out and touched a hundred bullets. I remember chuckling inside and saying aloud, 'You bastards, you certainly are lousy shots.' After wading through several centuries and some two hundred yards of shallowing water and deepening machinegun fire, I looked to the left and saw that we had passed the end of the pier. I didn't know whether any Jap snipers were still under the pier or not, but I knew we couldn't do any worse. I waved to the Marines on my immediate right and shouted, 'Let's head for the pier!' Seven of them came. The other seven Marines were far to the right. They followed a naval ensign straight into the beach - there was no Marine officer in our amphtrack. The ensign said later that he thought three of the seven had been killed in the water."

-Robert Sharrod at the Battle of Tarawa

Korean War

We sent out daily patrols that only got 600 yards before getting hit. On the 25th, I had to send out a platoon toward positions I knew were there. I didn't like it at all because the enemy had been get cagier and cagier and had been holding their fire. But out went Lt. Radcliffe and his 1st Platoon. The Chinese let them get 200 yards from the peak before opening up with cross-firing weapons. Radcliffe was killed instantly. The platoon sergeant, a corporal, didn't hesitate. He ordered marching fire , and the platoon took half the peak so the rest could get out. There were three dead. Sergeant Brown was cut down by a grenade near Radcliffe. He rolled over and took Radcliffe's .45 pistol and the maps and took them all back as he himself was carried out. A machinegunner who could not find a vantage point to set up his machinegun went up with it cradled in his arm with one belt of ammunition. He had to be evacuated for the burns on his arm. Every night, enemy patrols would crawl up and feel us out. They plotted our weapons and counted our men. Every night I would have to get up and calm down a squad that thought the whole Chinese Army was out there. But this had one good effect. The men dug in tight. They kept their weapons spotless. They slept in the daytime and watched at night. The 60mm mortar crew got faster and faster under colored platoon leader Lieutenant Walker. I collected heavy machineguns and on the 28th had five heavies and seven lights across the front. But because of the fire and dwindling number of men, we had been able to put out only a few rolls of concertina wire on the two easy approaches. The engineers all but refused to work laying mines in front of us. The night of the 28th came. The day had been quiet and it seemed as good a time as any for the big show. At 2330 a bombardment came in. It was deadly accurate and concentrated on the positions controlling the two approaches. It continued until 2400 and then, for a few minutes, stepped up to a frenzied firing of all kinds of shells. Then I heard the rip of a burp gun on the left. At the same time, just as I popped out of my bunker, a purple flare went off on both flanks of the peak. I yelled off a series of concentrations to the FO's (forward observers), and the first sergeant roused the 60's on the phone. But before I had even given a command to the 60's, two plop plops came out, and in a second a flare was burning over each flank. They had fired in about 20 seconds from the enemy flares. All hell broke loose. A company hit each flank, and even with the 4.2's dropping right in the draw they came up, they overran the tie-in with Company L and rolled up the flank of the understrength 1st Platoon. On the right they were stopped for a while by the automatic weapons and the 81mm and 60mm mortars, but there again they punched through a squad front and overran that squad turning toward the peak through the 2d Platoon. Not a man bugged out, and all our dead soldiers in the morning were found in their holes.

-David R. Hughes 

Vietnam War

Sergeants William Beall and John Duboise had the routine evening patrol. They took the 3rd Cambodian Battalion out to set up the night ambush as part of a combat training exercise. Beall and Duboise, along with their interpreter Puk, found a likely area facing a rice paddy dike, tree lines on both sides, and overlooking a cow path. They set up a typical field of fire for a line ambush – the main body spread along the dike and the rear guard on the opposite side of the rice paddy. There was only one glitch in the routine – the rear guard lost radio contact with the main body not long after they set up the ambush. This being the case, they were forced to walk back and forth across the rice paddy to use the main group’s radio. It was just another ordinary night in the life of training the Cambodians in Vietnam. The continual traffic back and forth across the paddy during the night became routine…so routine that when Sergeant Beall saw a group of soldiers coming up behind him he though it was the usual cast of characters, that is, until he saw Puk’s eyes widen in fear. “Hey, what’s wrong? What’s going on?” he whispered to Puk. Puk replied incoherently and Beall turned to look for himself. In one glance he saw that the “usual cast of characters” was actually a small column of Viet Cong clad in black pyjamas, humping brown knapsacks and carrying AK-47s. He knew immediately that the crap was about to hit the proverbial fan. The VC also realised that they had gotten caught “half stepping”. Thinking they had walked into the kill zone of an ambush, they began to respond. The second line squatted down, forcing Beall to instinctively grab for his weapon. At the same time, Duboise, who had been drinking from his canteen, turned around to see what all the commotion was about. That was when the VC opened fire on full automatic and sprayed lead across Beall, Puk and Duboise. Beall’s body was shaking and jerking from the impact of the rounds hitting him. Duboise was down and critically wounded, while Puk lay dying to one side. The Cambodian soldiers laying in ambush facing the wrong direction were thrown into utter chaos with their leaders down and on one around to tell them what to do. In spite of the seriousness of his wounds, Sergeant Beall struggled to the roadio and made a call for help.

-Robert C. Reed, US Special Forces

Iraq War

Hospital Corpsman Third Class Jesse P. Hickey, the platoon corpsman, rushed 75 meters through the enemy’s kill zone to reach the casualties. “It was a bad situation,” Hickey said. “A lot of Marines were getting injured. I wasn’t really wor­ried about myself. … I was worried about whether I was going to be able to take care of everybody.” Suddenly, explosions rocked the collec­tion site, felling two more Marines, includ­ing Cpl Rogers, who succumbed to his wounds. Insurgents on the roof had lobbed grenades over the top into the mass of wounded men. Hickey “ran into the heart of the fierce melee to provide first aid to a severely wounded Marine who lay immobilized in the kill zone,” his Silver Star citation noted. “Enemy grenade explosions wounded Petty Officer Hickey with shrap­nel to his entire body … undeterred by his wounds, he continued treating casual­ties,” one of whom was Cpl Javier Alvarez, 2d Squad leader. Alvarez had taken three bullets in the legs as he sprinted across the open area. “It felt like something hit me, and I looked down and I saw that I was bleeding,” he said. “I continued to push toward the house, about 20 feet away at that point. I didn’t know if it hit an artery, so I stopped and took cover behind the wall.” When LCpl Lawson L. Salisbury (2d Fire Team leader) rushed over to help with the wounded, he was shot. “I picked up my weapon and started shooting into the windows where the round came from,” Alvarez said. “As I ran out of rounds, I put my weapon down. And as I looked back up, I see Salisbury’s face, you know, with a pretty intense look. I look down to see what he’s looking at … and there was a grenade.” Salisbury shouted, “Grenade, grenade, grenade!” as it rocked back and forth on the ground. “I have two to three seconds to get rid of this,” Alvarez thought. He grabbed the missile and tried to lob it away. “I don’t know if it went off in my hand or within a foot of it … everything was black for a couple of seconds, and when I came to, there was just a ragged bone sticking out, with my sleeves from my uniform black and red from blood.”

-Dick Camp, writing what soldiers described at New Ubaydi, Iraq


Anonymous said...

Thank-You for sharing this with us

Adrienne said...

Have a wonderful weekend, Hack...

Gorges Smythe said...

Thanks for YOUR service as well, Hack.

Kid said...

Have a great weekend and memorial - it's what they want isn't it, it's what they fought for.

Silverfiddle said...

Nice tribute!

Steve: The Lightning Man said...

Excellent post, brother.