Gratitude and Remembrance: A Nation Remembers
The war in Vietnam is receding in American memory. Those Americans who served there grow fewer in number every year. But for Medal of Honor winner Colonel (Ret.) Paris Davis, the events of one day in 1965 remain fresh.
One of the first black officers in the elite First Special Forces of the Green Berets, then-Lt. Davis was on his second tour in Vietnam. As dawn broke one June day in Binh Dinh province, Davis and his men were attacked by hundreds of Viet Cong. Although ordered to retreat, Davis refused — he would not leave until he rescued three wounded soldiers.
The battle lasted 19 hours. Davis slew at least a dozen Viet Cong. He used every weapon he could to defend his men, ranging from an M16 to a 60mm mortar. Wounded eight times, including the loss of half of a finger (he used his little finger to keep pulling the trigger), he got his wounded men out and was the last man to leave the field.
Colonel Davis’s heroism is the stuff of legend, yet in the long history of the United States, such extraordinary valor has been demonstrated untold numbers of times by those who have served on land and sea and in the air. America has been blessed to have an abundance of brave men and women who “more than self their country loved.” Tried by the fire of combat, they have not hesitated to place themselves in harm’s way for us.
There have also been millions who have worn the uniform whose courage has been tested in other ways. The noisy pulse of an engine room in a ship on a storm-tossed ocean. The quiet of an administrative job at an installation in the heartland. The fighter pilots who, in close formation, set the international standard for airborne warriors. The soldiers on North Korea’s border, whose motto is, be prepared to “Fight Tonight” — not that they want battle, but they know that in a heartbeat battle might begin. In these and a thousand other ways, from the era of the Revolution to today’s unreported fights with insurgents around the globe, the men and women of the Armed Forces offer dedication, competence, and grit so that the liberty and prosperity we enjoy can remain a way of life.
Most recently, nearly 7,000 Americans gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thousands more have suffered wounds of the body and the mind. Those latter deserve the best possible treatment a grateful nation can offer. And their families and those of the deceased merit full and continued support in whatever ways it can be given.
As readers of The Washington Stand know, today’s military is in crisis. The Biden administration’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan only fostered in our opponents a greater confidence in our leadership’s ineptitude. From the “wokeness” demoralizing so many and discouraging enlistment to our weakening ability to fight and win wars, we are at growing risk in a world where our adversaries watch the depletion of our military with hostile anticipation.
Yet on Memorial Day, even as we ponder current needs and future threats, we must pause to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have carried the weight of conflict with unflinching resolve. With them, we must also remember their families — those who have grieved and still grieve, whose love and hope and pride mingle on an altar of honor.
It was to them that President Warren G. Harding offered a moving tribute to 5,000 American war dead whose coffins were brought home on May 23, 1921. “These dead know nothing of our ceremony today,” he said. “We are not met for them, though we love and honor and speak a grateful tribute. …But we can speak for country, we can reach those who sorrowed and sacrificed through their service, who suffered through their going.” Memorial Day is as much about those left behind, a child raised without a father, a mother whose cherished child lies in a foreign field, a brother whose older sibling will never again be there for him.
Another, later president, one named Ronald Reagan, called on all Americans to a bracing truth about those who have served. “Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have ever made a difference in the world,” he remarked. “A veteran does not have that problem.”
Military life can be mundane or, as with the case of Paris Davis, horrifying and dramatic. But it is never not essential, vital, noble. It is ever worth remembering.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.