Two Rather Different Thoughts on Memorial Day

How We View This Day Depends Greatly on What Experience We Bring To It

A Lot is Written and Spoken About Memorial Day

As well it should be. This is about as solemn a memorial service as we have for this country, and it deserves our attention. Still, as a veteran with more than a little bit of combat experience, I have always been a bit cautious about the day.

Seeing people who never served make pompous and bellicose speeches does not ring my bell. Neither do the machinations of those I think of as “professional veterans,” who seem unwilling to turn the page in life, living in a time warp of what was, to the exclusion of what is challenging us and comforting us now.

I appreciate it when people thank us for our service, but I always thought it an honor and a privilege to have served. No one owes me anything going forward, but that is a personal perspective.

Still, on this year’s Memorial Day, two things caught my attention that I think are worth sharing, and are a bit different from the usual things one reads on this special day.

The Meaning of Freedom

I attended a Memorial Day service this time around, and I am glad I did, for it featured what was, in my view, the single best homily I have heard on such a day in a very long time. The speaker made two remarkably important points.

First, she highlighted that we in this country enjoy a level of freedom unimaginable in much of the world and throughout most of human history.

Veterans surely have answered the call to make that condition possible, some paying the ultimate sacrifice to make it so. But she noted, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, that freedom comes paired with responsibility.

It is only healthy and meaningful if we accept the responsibly to exercise our freedom responsibly and in the interest of others besides ourselves.

A look at the anti-vaccination/anti-mask crowed during the pandemic and the attackers on January 6 tells us not everyone gets the concept. And we need to take them to account.

Second, she highlighted that most of us feel pretty darn lucky to be who we are, where we are, at this time. But we need to match that feeling with one of humility and the aforementioned sense of responsibility. Be careful that you don’t consider “being blessed” as the same thing as “being entitled.”

To the degree we are fortunate, we have a moral and a practical obligation to recognize that this is not the case for all. Those of us in the fortunate column need to step up and help others join our ranks.

I can think of no finer points to make on Memorial Day. I fought for and took some risks to help protect a country that believes in the aforementioned perspectives and seeks to live those values. America has always been a work in progress, a concept ever under development.

People died to give us the space and time to do it right. Want to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice? Help make a country worthy of that sacrifice.

A Fond Flashback

A friend set me a short video of a presentation made by Joe Galloway, our generation’s Ernie Pyle. Galloway is probably the best journalist in the country, maybe in the world, in explaining combat and soldiers to the rest of the world. And he writes from personal front-line experience. He is the real deal.

This video is a tribute to the helicopter crews of the Vietnam war, a tribute from the infantrymen they served, helped, rescued. This video rang not one bell, but two, for me.

My first tour in Vietnam, I was for most of that year a rifle platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division. I was one of those people calling for help from helicopters.

They put us on the battlefield, resupplied us, with food, water, and ammunition, developed intelligence, rescued our wounded, and took home our dead.

More than once for all of us, those helicopters were the difference between life and death, defeat or victory.

I left Vietnam knowing I would be back shortly and this time, I wanted to fly that noisy rescue miracle machine that helped those who needed it. I was especially grateful to attack helicopters that could quickly even out an uneven fight.

So, back to the US, went through flight school, and bugged the personnel system daily for months until they gave me the attack helicopter transition.

I went back to Vietnam and commanded an attack unit in the 1st Cavalry Division. When that guy called for help on the radio, I could read his voice, for I had been in his shoes just the other day.

Galloway says nice things about all military helicopter pilots, but I always gave a special tip of the hat to Medevac pilots. They knew that if they could get a wounded soldier on board alive, his chances of making it went up dramatically.

So, they were not easily dissuaded from making the run, regardless of weather or enemy fire. Once I got a call to cover a medevac under fire picking up wounded soldiers. Turned out this was the 3rd such medevac.

The first one got shot down trying to make the rescue. A second one tried, same result. No gunships or attack helicopters were close enough to cover them, but still they decided to try because lives were at risk on the ground. Typical of these folks.

We all got shot up enough to get our attention, but fortunately, we got there in time with the thirdMedevac and everyone, downed aircrews included, got out in pretty good shape.

Those were dedicated soldiers – we felt honored to be up there with them, anytime.

Enjoy Galloway’s video:

Overall, a good Memorial Day. Reflections on what is important, what we should expect of each other, celebrations of comradeship, and remembrances of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

See You Next Week

We will talk about the federal budget deal (it will either be passed, or we will have fallen off the edge of the earth by next week).

I have zero doubt that I will hate a lot of what is in that bill (which will be true for about everyone), but there is good news in all this. We’ll talk.

     Bill Clontz

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3 replies to Two Rather Different Thoughts on Memorial Day

  1. This video was so moving to me…I can’t imagine how it felt for you, Bill. Thank you for sharing.

    • Yeah, it really resonated deeply with me, for sure. Galloway knows how to hit the sweet spot.

  2. Wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing so openly. Alan

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