Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It doesn’t feel like it, not in this terrible year, but nor does it feel like the normal facade of cook-outs and three-day weekends and other mundanity.
Even now, even today…
Strike that. Especially now, especially today, we have to take the time to remember just what this day means. Just why it is more than tiny little flags someone else stuck on a grave in between hot dogs and runs to the store for more beer. Unfortunately, I have this fear — more of a certainty, to be honest — that this Memorial Day, and all that it means, will be lost under the cloud of COVID-19, political hatred, and the brewing unrest and discord that hangs over it all.
So I sat down to write a post about Memorial Day. I sat down to use my own words and knowledge to put a drink on the bar (you can read about the origins of my use of that phrase here) for those we have lost, then I realized I was just repeating myself. Instead of doing that, I am going to break one of my semi-rules and repost here something I wrote a couple of years ago. I’m going to repost it because it still works…and it stills carries all the meaning in the world.
I Have No Words
I’ve never heard the drums of war.
I’ve never lived the reality of combat.
As a writer, and as a student of history, I try to learn and to understand, but that understanding is merely intellectual. I know the truth as it has been told to me, but I have no true understanding of the reality.
For this Memorial Day post, I am not going to use my own words. My own words are as inadequate as they are disconnected from that reality. No, instead I am going to use the actions and words of those who know.
From Lieutenant Bob Kerrey, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart:
“Too often, Memorial Day becomes just another three-day weekend, a holiday that marks the beginning of summer, the opening of public pools, the excitement of children who know that the school year is about to end.
The holiday doesn’t have to be this way. It can be more. And it can be more with just a little bit of an effort. You don’t have to give much to get a lot.
If you have not suffered a loss, think of someone who has. Consider what they gave. Consider what they are giving now.
In my case, I will take a few minutes to quietly remember the men I knew who died before this day had a meaning for them. They were too young, too free of terrible memories, too unburdened of wondering if they were good men.”
—Quoted from “How I remember my lost military comrades” in today’s New York Daily News. Read the whole thing.
I wasn’t sure how to approach today’s post, until Lt. Kerrey gave me the idea. Below are the formal citations for several Medal of Honor winners, one from each service…every one of them posthumous.
Commander Ernest Evans, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart
— Killed in action October 25, 1944 in the Philippine Sea
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Johnston in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Comdr. Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the Johnston, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.”
Corporal Jason Dunham, USMC — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action April 4, 2004 in Husaybah, Iraq
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Private First Class Anthony Kaho’ohanohano — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action September 1, 1951 near Chup’a-ri, South Korea
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano, Company H, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Chupa-ri, Korea, on 1 September 1951. On that date, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano was in charge of a machine-gun squad supporting the defensive positioning of Company F when a numerically superior enemy force launched a fierce attack. Because of the enemy’s overwhelming numbers, friendly troops were forced to execute a limited withdrawal. As the men fell back, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano ordered his squad to take up more defensible positions and provide covering fire for the withdrawing friendly force. Although having been wounded in the shoulder during the initial enemy assault, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano gathered a supply of grenades and ammunition and returned to his original position to face the enemy alone. As the hostile troops concentrated their strength against his emplacement in an effort to overrun it, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano fought fiercely and courageously, delivering deadly accurate fire into the ranks of the onrushing enemy. When his ammunition was depleted, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s heroic stand so inspired his comrades that they launched a counterattack that completely repulsed the enemy. Upon reaching Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s emplacement, friendly troops discovered 11 enemy soldiers lying dead in front of the emplacement and two inside it, killed in hand-to-hand combat. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 7th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”
Captain Steven Bennett, USAF — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action June 29, 1972 in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam
“Capt. Bennett was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery adjustment mission along
a heavily defended segment of route structure. A large concentration of enemy troops were massing for an attack on a friendly unit. Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support but was advised that none was available. He also requested artillery support, but this too was denied due to the close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Capt. Bennett was determined to aid the endangered unit and elected to strafe the hostile positions. After four such passes, the enemy forces began to retreat. Capt. Bennett continued the attack, but, as he completed his fifth strafing pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile which severely damaged the left engine and the left main landing gear. As fire spread in the left engine, Capt. Bennett realized that recovery at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare for ejection, but was informed by the observer that his parachute had been shredded by the force of the impacting missile. Although Capt. Bennett had a good parachute, he knew that if he ejected, the observer would have no chance of survival. With complete disregard for his own life, Capt. Bennett elected to ditch the aircraft into the Gulf of Tonkin, even though he realized that a pilot of this type aircraft had never survived a ditching. The ensuing impact upon the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damage the front cockpit, making escape for Capt. Bennett impossible. The observer successfully made his way out of the aircraft and was rescued. Capt. Bennett’s unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.”
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, USCG — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
— Killed in action September 27, 1942 near Point Cruz, Guadalcanal
“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as petty officer in charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”