I never served in the armed forces. The fact that I wanted to, earns me no share in the respect earned by those who did, including my father and two brothers-in-law.
Memorial day is different from Veterans Day in that it is a day set aside to remember those who went to serve their nation and never made it back to home and hearth. Everyone of us, no matter our political or philosophical persuasion, owe those men and women who fell in the service of our nation a debt that can never be repaid.
It is easy for people like me to be "chicken-hawks" (advocate for the use of military power without personal risk). Anyone who can understand history and strategy can see when and where military force may be used. But no one prays for peace more than those who voluntarily put on our nation's uniform and their families. Talk to any officer who has sent subordinates into harms way knowing that they would not all come back. They pray for peace not because they fear their duty, but because bringing peace is the supreme duty that our warriors have assumed.
I have been very blessed to count among my friends, and have among my relatives, veterans of both peace and war. Among them was Col. M. David Simons, a person who was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor and author of the book, "You Don't Cry for Heros."
Col. Simons was an "advisor" to the South Vietnamese in the early 1960s. He was with 300 SVA in an old outdated French fortification trying to persuade them that they needed to be mobile, rather than hunkered down. A patrol discovered that some 1,500 graves had been dug in the jungle. The NVA and Viet Kong routinely prepared for 50 percent casualties before a major engagement.
During the night, small arms fire erupted and the enemy was quickly within the fort. Colonel Simons rolled out of his cot between it and the wall where he kept his Tommy Gun. By the time he had his weapon, the enemy was in his room.
By sunrise, the enemy was in retreat. The after analysis of the battle attributed not less than 300 kills to Col. Simons' Tommy Gun. Among those who fell to the Colonel was an enemy general. Although outnumbered more than 10 to 1, the enemy was soundly defeated.
Colonel Simons has since faded away. He was awarded, among many other decorations, the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, and the highest decoration awarded by the South Vietnamese Government. He was qualified to be laid to rest in Arlington and I hope that it is his resting place.
The United States is unique in the history of the world. No other nation in the history of the Earth have sent their best and brightest, not for conquest and wealth, but to lift tyranny and bring liberty. But for none other than that cause, we have sacrificed our blood and treasure for the past 100 years.
What I learned from Dave and the many other veterans I have known from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa, and many other places "where we never were" is that each of these extraordinary men and women believed that they were ordinary men and women placed in extraordinary situations. Many of them struggle with guilt from surviving when others did not.
I spent this Memorial Day puttering around the house, drinking beer, and barbecuing chicken. While Memorial Day is set aside for remembering those who gave their last final measure for our great nation, the Veterans I have known would also find this supremely appropriate. They served and died for us, their friends, relatives, and strangers, to enjoy peace, security, and just being an American.
It is my most sincere hope that there will never be a day when the sacrifice of those who serve on our behalf are ever taken for granted. It is equally important to remember to take time to just enjoy being Americans. After all, that is exactly why those we honor this day served and sacrificed.