by Larry Belote
November 19, 2006 was a special day in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, as Vietnam veteran Dave McAllister joined other Chelmsford Vietnam veterans in honoring four young men from the town who never returned from the conflict.
The occasion was the dedication of a black African granite obelisk as the town’s new Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The structure, a miniature version of the Washington Monument, displays each of the four fallen soldiers’ names on one of the four sides of the obelisk.
BVA Past National President Dave Szumowski (pronounced Shoe-Mau-Skee) of San Diego, California, kindly forwarded to BVA National Headquarters a speech delivered by McAllister at the event. Because the remarks are a deeply moving tribute to all veterans, we have received permission to share some of the excerpts with our Bulletin readers at this most meaningful time of year.
To all veterans, families, and friends, we are here today not only to honor all men and women, both living and deceased who have served in the United States Armed Forces. We are here today, brought together by those words we spoke the day we took the oath. Please allow me to refresh your memory of that day.
The oath went something like this:
“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to all regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God.”
Those of us who took that oath belong to a special, patriotic fellowship that was created by our many experiences while serving our Country.
The fellowship bonds us to the veterans of past wars and with the servicemen and women who will serve in future conflicts. It is a fellowship that knows no particular service affiliation—Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines, all doing their part for freedom and all very proud of the words spoken by President Kennedy in 1961:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, or oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
I, myself, am proud to be a veteran because I feel that I understand the hardships that veterans of all branches of the service must have met while opposing our foes in the name of liberty.
These hardships, fraught with great danger but also with the cooperation and sacrifice shown by all branches of the service, are why we bond with other veterans and why this bonding is happening right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While in Vietnam, our unit’s job was to hinder, slow down, or stop supplies, material, and personnel from traveling down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Our missions consisted of using small groups that would blend in with natural surroundings in order to maintain that crucial element of surprise. For example, we choose not to use our ponchos to cover ourselves for two very good reasons: first, the possibility that we would be detected because of the bright shine from the moon or stars; and, secondly, the sounds given off by the rain hitting plastic, as opposed to natural vegetation, were also very loud and distinct, creating still another security risk.
We did, however, use our ponchos as ground cover to keep the termites and scorpions, which were attracted to our body heat, from creating a midnight snack. Unfortunately, during the monsoon season these plastic barriers soon took on the shape of cold little bathtubs. Due to this less than comfortable environment, we sometimes had trouble getting to sleep, giving us much time to think.
Our first thoughts during sleeplessness were usually about our most recent combat contact. What could we have done better, and how would we correct it the next time?
Our second thoughts would, of course, be about family and home. We would wonder how the full moon above could possibly be the same moon as the one seen back home in the peaceful USA.
Our next thoughts would always analyze how soldiers in previous wars ever accomplished what they did, and of the extreme discomforts they endured for the cause of freedom.
If we thought we had it uncomfortable, we can be certain that our grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and other forebears who fought in World War II and Korea had it unbearable: From the terrible beaches of Normandy, the Ardennes and Hurtgen Forests of the Bulge, the Siege of Bastogne, the Naval and Air wars over the Atlantic and the bombing runs over Europe; to Bataan, Lieti Gulf, Guam, Iwo Jima, the fierce Naval battles for Midway and the Air wars over the Pacific; and to the cold, fierce winters in Korea around the Chosin Reservoir, the Pusan Perimeter, the dangerous landings at Inchon, and the tremendous Naval and Air support during all these battles.
The word “uncomfortable” does not do justice to the conditions these brave veterans endured.
My fellow veterans from Vietnam: Remember names like Hue, Pleiku, The Siege of Khe Sanh, Tet of 68, The Iron Triangle, Hamburger Hill, and the Au Shau Valley. These were all places where we lost friends and courageous soldiers.
The places of battle and the battles themselves help create this fellowship among veterans. They also serve to remind us that the cost of freedom does not come easily, and that the need for strong Armed Forces is more important today than ever before.
As a group of 25 million veterans, we must keep this fellowship strong, supporting our men and women serving on active duty far from home.
As we know, due to our media and reporting techniques, our troops are performing their duties under closer scrutiny than ever before. They are receiving little thanks or recognition. I would urge us to communicate frequently our position on veterans affairs issues to our elected representatives, and to vote wisely in selecting our political leaders.
Choose politicians who will recognize our returning servicemen and women with every benefit program and piece of legislation that allow them to readjust to the way of life that we so cherish.
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