I wrote this last year and since that time I have learned alot about soldiers who are coming back with PTSD. The sadness and heartbreak of war is so very real in their lives each and every day. Even though they came back alive they struggle with those who did not. It reminds me to pray for them and thank God for those who sacrificed their life!!! Please DO NOT FORGET those who do not come back! May 2010
Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism? ~Henry Ward Beecher
For anyone who has served in the Armed Forces there is a certain understanding of what it means to be a Comrade in Arms, a part of history and tradition. To wear the uniform of our nation is a feeling like none I have ever experienced then and since. The first part of our uniform we received was our field jacket. Our TI lined us up in the day room to try them on. We were to zip, snap and button every part of the jacket when wearing it. After everyone was fitted we then learned how to report. “Airman So & So reports as ordered” I remember the first time I did it I was very nervous and said “Airman Leach reporting as ordered” I was then told I didn’t work for the New York Times so I had to do it again. That was to be the first of silly things I did out of nervousness. But it was all exciting and new.
To be honest I had never really thought much about my patriotic duty. I was 23 at the time, living on my own. I had been caught up in a ‘house-cleaning’ sweep at a hotel in Orlando, Florida where a new General Manager comes in and decides he wants to replace the old regime, so to speak, so I was suddenly without a job. One day on the way to the beach, as a passenger in a car sitting at a stop light, I looked up and on the back of the car in front of us was a bumper sticker that said “Aim High”. I made the decision right there and then, I would sign up. My father had actually planted the “join the Air Force” seed before I graduated high school but the idea of being under rule and thumb at that time was unthinkable, I just had to try it on my own first. When I signed up, within a few days of my decision, I wasn’t thinking about “the service” part, I was thinking of getting a job, traveling the world and getting a good education. It really wasn’t until I got to basic training that it fully dawned on me what I had committed myself to for 6 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I had great respect for the military and even at that age I had some appreciation for what our military men and women sacrificed over the years. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II and my step-father served in Vietnam. Two of my uncle’s served in the Navy, one during the early 70’s. So I had some connection with the history of our country but it was to some extent a romantic notion. What I did not know going into training was what it took to wear the uniform. What “sacrifice” meant.
(Before I go any further I must admit that I was never in harms way. While I did serve during Persian Gulf War (Dessert Shield and Dessert Storm) I was never sent to what would be considered a combat area, however I did have friends that were deployed to those areas. I watched the action of our troops on television along with the rest of our country. So much of my time in the military was rather peaceful although soon after I arrived at the air base in Germany, 1986, we were put on alert, and it was then I had a sudden wake up call to the real world danger our military faces around the world. President Reagan ordered the Libyan bombing in retaliation for the Libyan missile attacks on US forces in navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra and the German disco bombing where two US soldiers were killed.)
It was in basic training where I learned the history of our armed forces, mainly the Air Force history. I learned what it meant to stand in a long line of men and women who had come before. Some died in their uniform. For most it was the last thing they wore. I remember the day in basic training when we filed in line to be issued our uniforms. Blue suit jackets, blue pants, blue skirts, long sleeve and short sleeve blue shirts with tabs, a blue rain coat with liner, blue berets, flight cap, white t-shirts, green field caps, green fatigue pants, long sleeve green button-up shirts, black socks, low quarter shoes with laces and combat boots. They were just clothes until they were worn with all the insignia pins, ribbons and buttons in place. Standing in front of a mirror for the first time after making adjustments made me stand taller. In that moment a pride welled up in me with full force. In that single moment was a culmination of the knowledge and realization that I now belonged to history and a tradition that had been passed down through time, by my own family none the less.
As powerful as that moment was for me, it is the combat boots that struck me as the connective thing. Men and women wear different pieces of clothing for obvious reasons but it was the boots that every member of the armed services wears at one time or another. No matter what branch of service, whether in battle or in support of the battle, in the continental US or overseas we were all issued combat boots.
The first time we all had to fall out at 3 or 4 am fully dressed in fatigues with combat boots was hilarious. (well, not at the time) Everything had to be buttoned, zipped, laced and tucked in, including our hair if you didn’t have a short hair cut, which I did, thank God, all in 3 minutes. I think we did have to do it twice one day because we weren’t quick enough. That was an incredible feat to be so trained that 50 women could be standing in a formation zipped and tucked! I still shake my head at the visualization of that!
They were just boots at first. We had to spend hours polishing and getting them to shine. Cotton balls, water and black shoe polish. Then we would go out and get them dirty by marching, running or some duty made up to keep us busy. Then, again, we would spend more hours getting them back into shape. By the end of basic training they were “combat boots”. Why, because we did everything in them. We polished them, trained in them, walked in them, marched in them, ran the obstacle course in them, sat around in them, stood at attention in them, saluted in them and slept in them. Of all the items we were issued we spent more time with our combat boots than any other item in our locker.
So you are probably asking me what on earth does this have to do with Memorial Day? When I saw the picture below it brought up the memories of my combat boots. The picture brings to mind the sobering recognition that it was an Airmen, Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Ranger or Seal that wore them. The boots that remain say to the world, of the fallen one that wore them, “I trained, I served and I gave my life for you, my countrymen, to live free of the very enemy that would take your freedom from you, remember me!"
On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes of a mighty nation! ~Thomas William Parsons
Memorial Day Order
I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
We are organized, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.
If other eyes grow dull and other hinds slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.
Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation’s gratitude—the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.
II. It is the purpose of the Commander in Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this Order effective.
—General Orders No. 11, Grand Army of the Republic Headquarters
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13