The gift – lest we forget
November 14, 2010 by Bill
From the Battle of the Bulge to Iwo Jima, the gift they gave to us and to our nation, has never been more eloquently expressed than by the poet Stephen Vincent Benet:
“There are certain words, our own and others we’re used to; words we’ve used…heard…had to recite…forgotten…rubbed shiny in the pocket, left home for keepsakes…inherited…stuck away in a back drawer…in the locked trunk…at the back of a quiet mind. Liberty…Equality…Freedom. To none will we sell, refuse, or deny right or justice. We hold these truths to be self-evident. I am merely saying, what if these words pass? What if they pass and are gone and are no more? It took a long time to buy these words. It took a long time to buy them and much blood and much pain.”
There is not a privilege, nor an opportunity that modern society offers that has not been paid for by another person’s blood. We live by liberties that others won and died for. We are protected by a Constitution and Bill of Rights that others wrote and created and others died to protect. We live daily, in every area of our lives, on the interest of the principle that has been paid.
LIBERTY. EQUALITY. FREEDOM. It took much blood, and much pain, to protect these words, and last week we celebrated the lives of those who put their blood and pain on the line to make sure that those words and ideas survived in these United States. There were gala celebrations all across this nation on Veteran’s day and the Marine Corps birthday.
On my computer, I printed out 18 pages of gift offers to veterans, from department stores to plush and prime eating restaurants, to bistros and entertainment parks for Veteran’s Day on Thursday.
The genius of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks has made it possible for the public to taste the “blood and pain” of those who gave us the gift of freedom. The movie is The Pacific. It is a masterpiece, in 6 DVD disks, available at Amazon and Costco. The New York Times called it a “monumental work of film and history.” It follows the Marines through the Pacific, from bloody island to bloody island, with 25,000 being killed on Iwo Jima. Peleliu, as one general said, was one of the most vicious battles in the history of the Marine Corps, making Iraq and Afghanistan pale by comparison.
General “Chesty” Puller is in the movie, the winner of six Navy Crosses, the next highest honor under the Congressional Medal of Honor. I was the pilot for General Puller often times and my mind turns to Korea.
In Korea I was a Plane Commander of a Marine Corps transport plane with primary responsibility for flying wounded evacuation out of the front lines, back to the hospital ship in Pusan. Our main evacuation point was Inje above the 38th parallel. We would fly up a very steep canyon, right down low over the river, with steep cliffs and mountains on either side, which were filled with guerrillas shooting at us with small arms. We landed on hard-packed sand and took the wounded, which were arriving in helicopters from the front, with their blood not even dry yet. Corpsmen would load them on my plane and I would turn around and fly out the same way I came in, due to a very high mountain at the other end, and once again we would get small arms fire from the cliffs on either side.
After the Korean war, I became one of the six personal pilots for the top General, the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, D.C. and was personally decorated by him for “Valor in Korea” at his famous Friday evening sunset parade on the main parade grounds, with the Marine Corps marching band, the drum and bugle corps, the concert band and the exhibition drill team. All officers and NCOs were in full dress blues with sabers. Marine Corps NCOs, sergeants, are the only NCOs in the armed forces to have the privilege of carrying swords on ceremonial occasions.
Another interesting insight into the Marine Corps is that they had sergeants who were on full flight duty and were outstanding pilots, flying as fighter pilots and plane commanders of transport planes. The first three Congressional Medal of Honor winners in the Pacific were Marine Corps pilots who were sergeants. They were in all squadrons, and when flying as plane commander of a transport plane, they were in full command, even though having a Colonel or even a General as co-pilot. In the air the plane commander was in full command. There is a special museum dedicated to them at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
Maybe you can understand now why I had tears in my eyes watching The Pacific with the Marines taking island after island, one at a time, with a courage, bravery, and trained competence that transcends language. Steven Spielberg made a “monumental” (New York Times) contribution to our knowledge about those who were involved with “much blood and much pain” in protecting those ideas: “Liberty. Equality. Freedom.”
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Veteran’s Day, by Father Denis Edward O’Brien, USMC