Honor and Eternal Vigilance

 

The load assignment was mundane enough. Pick up a load of something or other at a warehouse in Kansas City. I had backed the trailer to the loading dock, no easy task since the dock was inside a large garage-like structure, necessitating a tricky maneuver around the support columns as the trailer made its way back into the building. The tractor was still outside though, and the sun shining directly into my mirrors made it all but impossible to see whether the back of the trailer, some 75 feet behind me, was lined up properly inside the darkened facility. Tired, and with nerves somewhat frayed, I was placing chocks in front of the trailer tires when I saw a lady standing by the truck looking it over.

“Ah,” I thought, “the Ride of Pride has another visitor.” No matter the time or weather, when people take the time to come look at the truck, I enjoy meeting them. “Good morning, Ma’am!” I chirped. “I work in the office here,” she said with her back to me, “and I just had to see this.” “You’re welcome to take photos if you like,” I said, adding, “I think the truck has learned to actually smile when someone points a camera at it.” She didn’t have much to say, so I began pointing out various features of the design, and directed her attention to the emblem over the driver’s door that said, “In Honor of Gold Star Families.”

That was when she turned to face me, her eyes moist and ringed in red, her expression betraying the awful strain and burden of heavy loss, and I knew. The lines in her face and around her eyes were the very opposite of “laugh lines.” Her solemn expression spoke years of sadness. “My son,” she stammered, her lips quivering as she struggled to control her emotions. “I lost him in Iraq.” The sentence pierced the soul. What to say? Words can never convey the raw and solemn power of her grief, nor blue eyes that seemed as windows into a yawning emptiness in her heart. I was overwhelmed, the words, “I’m so very sorry,” stumbling stupidly from my lips.

I should have said something uplifting and noble. I should have told her that her son gave his life doing what he was meant to do, and that it falls to the rest of us to honor his memory and sacrifice. I should have unleashed a sonnet of prose, praising this regal woman. I should have said any number of things that would have been well intentioned, but would have rung hollow nonetheless. For mere words and phrases, at that point, would have been no more than tiny drops of rain against her granite mountain of heartache — utterly insignificant to the crushing pain she shouldered. We stood in silence for awhile. “What’s this for,” she asked about some inscription or other on the truck. I explained, walking her around the truck and pointing out various features. 

ROP-at-Talledega.jpg“May I take a picture?” she asked. “Of course,” I answered, adding that the most challenging part of driving this truck is when people try to take photos while they are in the passing lane. Her laugh almost sounded like one of relief. A few minutes later, the photos taken, the tour complete, she said she had to get back to work. We shook hands and I thanked her for her son’s service and sacrifice, as well as her own.

I often think that as harrowing as military service can be, sometimes those of us in uniform have an easier time of it than our families. Military members know what they are signing up for, and they know the price of their work. The pace of events in theater provide little time for reflection or worry. There is a job to do, a mission to fulfill, friends and buddies to look after as the training kicks in and we tend to business.

In Bristol, Virginia, only a couple of weeks ago, a giant of a man walked up to have a look at the truck. The camouflage pattern on his boonie hat was the first give-away. “Marine?” I asked. “Twelve years worth,” came the answer. He had served from 1980 through 1992 and was in the barracks in Beirut when the bombs went off. “I lost my friends there,” he said, adding, “I loved Reagan, but he wouldn’t let us finish the deal.”

“I did Recon,” he said, pulling his left sleeve up to reveal an enormous USMC tattoo that covered his bicep and shoulder. “You stuck around for Desert Storm?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” he said, adding, “Payback’s a bitch, but it was sweet, ya know, thanking them for what they did to my friends.” He said he regretted his decision to separate from military service prior to retirement. “But I don’t think I would have made it. I like being in the [expletive] too much,” he said with a rather deadly smile, reinforcing the reality of what it takes to keep us free. Then, his expression changing, he began talking of comrades he had lost in the bombing. He was taking photos of the the Ride of Pride, when I asked if he’d like me to use his camera to take one of him with the truck. “Would you do that?” he asked, and I was happy to oblige. He didn’t want to actually stand in front of the truck for fear of blocking any portion of the artwork. So this born warrior went to one knee beside the truck. If Heaven isn’t guarded by Marines, it will be mighty disappointing.

arlington.jpgBut for all the service members perform overseas, it’s the families back home who sacrifice their peace of mind and contented souls, who spend hours transfixed to news networks, simultaneously hoping to hear news of their loved ones and dreading what they might hear. They keep the home fires burning, the bills paid, the yard trimmed, and the children cared for when they ask, “When is Daddy coming home?” When Daddy, or Mommy, or a son or daughter, lose their lives in our defense, every day becomes Memorial Day for these families. They deserve our honor and prayers, our kind thoughts and our help, as they continue their own lives with an empty place at the table and in their hearts. 

A few years ago, there was a regular caller to Sean Hannity’s radio show. He was a senior citizen named Marty, and he was among those who stormed the beaches at Normandy. Time after time, Hannity would ask Marty to tell listeners about his experience that day, and Marty would always change the subject, eventually signing off with the words, “Take care, my son.” Then, one day, he gave in to Sean’s request. He said that when the door lowered, the first thing they had to do was push the bodies of their friends into the water. You see, the hail Normandy-Landing.jpgstorm of bullets cut through the first row or two. As Marty told of having to get through the bodies of his buddies while bullets whizzed all around striking flesh, helmets, gear, and water, his old heart broke anew and he began crying on the air. With a delicate touch, Sean backed away from the discussion and, obviously moved, thanked Marty for his heroism, to which Marty disagreed. The heroes were the guys who never made it home.

We who remain have an obligation to honor the memory and sacrifice of our fallen, though I would respectfully submit that our obligation extends beyond a moment of silence before a barbecue, or even a solemn remembrance at a cemetery. Our obligation is no less than the continuation of their mission, to ensure that a nation conceived in liberty not only survives, but that it prevails. Brave men and women did not spill their blood and pour out every drop of fidelity to this country so that the IRS could badger and torment American citizens whose political beliefs are antithetical to a government whose prevailing ethos is antithetical to America’s founding. The 2,000 men who died at Valley Forge (two thirds of whom died from disease alone), and those who died at Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton, Saratoga, and Brandywine, didn’t give their lives so that their regretful progeny could stand on that holy ground today in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and surrender their sovereignty to a government that demands to know the content of their prayers! They didn’t fight for centralized authority, but rather against it. And they sure as hell didn’t scoff at the vigilance required to remain free from tyranny.

Arlington-Sentries.jpgThe Sentinel’s Creed, at Arlington National Cemetery reads:

My dedication to this sacred duty

Is total and wholehearted-

In the responsibility bestowed on me

Never will I falter-

And with dignity and perseverance

My standard will remain perfection.

Through the years of diligence and praise

And the discomfort of the elements

I will walk my tour in humble reverence

To the best of my ability.

It is he who commands the respect I protect

His bravery that made us so proud.

Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,

Alone in the thoughtful peace of night,

This soldier in honored Glory rest

Under my eternal vigilance.

May the sentinel’s vigilance become our own, so that even as he guards the hallowed remains of our honored dead, we respect and advance the living principles for which they gave everything.

There are 26 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @flownover

    Thanks Dave. I was in the cemetery this morning decorating the graves. Where I live, a few miles up the road from KC, my family is in an old cemetery so there are Union and Confederate soldiers and both flags are flown ( they wouldn’t understand why in alot of places). The greeter was a retired doctor whose uncle disappeared with his whole squadron flying back to base in Florida on a training exercise at the beginning of WW2. His dad was an Army surgeon in England during WW2 and he was one during Korea. 

    It’s what the holiday honors. And you have done it justice. 

    We did miss you then if you were in the neighborhood. 

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Days of pride, prayer, remembrance and gratitude…Reminded also of service members – and families – whose lives have been radically altered by their service, who mourn for what was/what might have been. Calling down peace, healing and consolation, as well.

    Thanks to Dave, and all our RicoWarriors, past and present!

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HeartofAmerica

    As usual per your posts, beautifully written.

    For several years, our little Civil War reenactment outfit assisted with the cannon salute during the Memorial Day services at our World War I monument here in Kansas City. I have to admit to having so much pride for those men and women who have served our country. You could see their character and stamina (even well into their 70’s and some older) as they stood with the color guard for the entirety of the services. A number of high school ROTC candidates stood alongside these fine soldiers but many students would occasionally falter under the hot sun. I never once saw one of these men collapse in the same weather conditions and in fact, I saw many help these kids off the field and then take their place among the color guard.

    Too soon these men and women will leave us but their contributions will live on and we are grateful.

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HeartofAmerica
    flownover: Thanks Dave. I was in the cemetery this morning decorating the graves. Where I live, a few miles up the road from KC, my family is in an old cemetery so there are Union and Confederate soldiers and both flags are flown ( they wouldn’t understand why in alot of places). The greeter was a retired doctor whose uncle disappeared with his whole squadron flying back to base in Florida on a training exercise at the beginning of WW2. His dad was an Army surgeon in England during WW2 and he was one during Korea. 

    It’s what the holiday honors. And you have done it justice. 

    We did miss you then if you were in the neighborhood. · 11 minutes ago

    We were up close to your neck of the woods this morning decorating graves in Weston and Atchison. My husband’s great-great-grandfather was in the Union army so we always visit his resting place in Weston.

    I think Flownover and I could have found some time to spare and some BBQ to share with you Dave….next time give us a heads up!

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Member
    @tabularasa

    Beautiful tribute, Dave.

    On Monday, I’ll be in the little cemetery in my home town putting some flowers on my Dad’s grave (First Army, Second Armored Division) and watch while the American Legion guys (some a bit gimpy) shoot their rifles in remembrance of our veterans.

    As I do every year, I’ll stop by the stone placed in remembrance of a young sailor buried at sea in 1943 and say a quiet “thank you.”

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    HeartofAmerica

    We were up close to your neck of the woods this morning decorating graves in Weston and Atchison. My husband’s great-great-grandfather was in the Union army so we always visit his resting place in Weston.

    I think Flownover and I could have found some time to spare and some BBQ to share with you Dave….next time give us a heads up! · 42 minutes ago

    I wasn’t there today. The story I recounted was from a couple of months back. I’m in Seattle taking a couple of days off before hitting the road again tomorrow.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @iWe

    Thank you, thank you.

    And may G-d bless all those who have lost loved ones in service to this nation, a nation founded on the principle that all men are endowed by their Creator with Liberty….

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @Percival
    haig-fund-poppy-250.jpgIn Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row,That mark our place; and in the skyThe larks, still bravely singing, flyScarce heard amid the guns below.We are the Dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.Take up our quarrel with the foe:To you from failing hands we throwThe torch; be yours to hold it high.If ye break faith with us who dieWe shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.

    – John McCrae

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HeartofAmerica
    Dave Carter
    HeartofAmerica

    We were up close to your neck of the woods this morning decorating graves in Weston and Atchison. My husband’s great-great-grandfather was in the Union army so we always visit his resting place in Weston.

    I think Flownover and I could have found some time to spare and some BBQ to share with you Dave….next time give us a heads up! · 42 minutes ago

    I wasn’t there today. The story I recounted was from a couple of months back. I’m in Seattle taking a couple of days off before hitting the road again tomorrow. · 13 minutes ago

    Dave, sorry…my first comment regarding Atchison/Weston was directed at Flownover, who lives relatively close to me.

    But the BBQ comment was directed to you. If you find yourself heading back this way, there are a few Ricochetti in the general area and we’d love to meet up if you pass through here again.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    HeartofAmerica
    Dave Carter
    HeartofAmerica

    We were up close to your neck of the woods this morning decorating graves in Weston and Atchison. My husband’s great-great-grandfather was in the Union army so we always visit his resting place in Weston.

    I think Flownover and I could have found some time to spare and some BBQ to share with you Dave….next time give us a heads up! · 42 minutes ago

    I wasn’t there today. The story I recounted was from a couple of months back. I’m in Seattle taking a couple of days off before hitting the road again tomorrow. · 13 minutes ago

    Dave, sorry…my first comment regarding Atchison/Weston was directed at Flownover, who lives relatively close to me.

    But the BBQ comment was directed to you. If you find yourself heading back this way, there are a few Ricochetti in the general area and we’d love to meet up if you pass through here again. · 39 minutes ago

    Fingers crossed then…

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Member
    @ScottWilmot

    Thanks Dave, you bring to heart the meaning of this day.

    Your story brings to mind these great words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

    The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    God Bless you and all who have served our country in the Armed Forces.

    Happy Memorial Day from Jakarta!

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler

    At first I thought the picture must have been of two Marines because the ranks were different. Then I wondered why he was both a gunnery sergeant and a sergeant. Then I wondered how a sergeant had 20 years’ of hash marks. Finally, I enlarged the picture and realized his mourning band was covering part of his rank on his left sleeve.

    It’s a good picture, and even better because it made me read the story. Thanks.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter
    Scott Wilmot: Thanks Dave, you bring to heart the meaning of this day.

    Your story brings to mind these great words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

    The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    God Bless you and all who have served our country in the Armed Forces.

    Happy Memorial Day from Jakarta! · 11 minutes ago

    Thanks, Scott, and happy Memorial Day to you and yours. 

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @Roberto

    Despite the empty words of the President, despite the refusal of journalists to do their damn job and let citizens know a war is still going on a war is still going on regardless. 

    Two weeks ago one of ours at Beale came back from Kandahar, Afghanistan in a box. Staff Sergeant Dickson of the 306th IS gave his life for all of us. Remember that this weekend, remember and honor all who have fallen. 

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Inactive
    @BarbaraKidder

    Thank you, Mr. Carter, for taking the time to put your thoughts in writing for the rest of us.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Member
    @DelMarDave

    Once again, Dave, you have gone straight to the heart of the issue in gorgeous, eloquent prose. Thank you.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Member
    @KayofMT

    Words fail me, Thank You!

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Thank you for sharing The Sentinel’s Creed. It is beautiful and profound.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Trink

     You break our grateful hearts.

    This tender tribute honors the fallen who gave their lives to the cause of freedom.

    We cannot repay this debt.

    That is why my only charities are to veterans and service organizations. Monthly to The Wounded Warrior Project.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HeartlandPatriot

    Amen, Dave. And Airborne!

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @MaxKnots

    Thank you Dave! Wonderful stories and tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who knew them. I served almost 22 years ago, in between the rough stuff and count myself fortunate to have served with some fine folks. Now I have two sons who have jumped into the fray. You can imagine the combination of pride and anxiety a father feels.

    Thank you again for your tribute. We must never forget.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Member
    @bernai

    This is why I belong to Ricochet.

    Wonderfully written Dave.

    God Bless

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Inactive
    @StanHjerleid

    You are the best Dave. Shared this with all my friends and a #Benghazi group on twitter. Take care and God Bless America.

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxfier
    HeartofAmerica:

    A number of high school ROTC candidates stood alongside these fine soldiers but many students would occasionally falter under the hot sun. I never once saw one of these men collapse in the same weather conditions and in fact, I saw many help these kids off the field and then take their place among the color guard.

    I suspect that’s at the very least in part from sense. No matter how many times you say “don’t lock your knees,” some of the kids do it…. (I didn’t, but I also am the only person I know who’s fainted from kneeling too long. Note: cement is hard.)

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Foxfier

    My family has been blessed with nobody in it staying “missing, presumed dead” in living memory; I think one of my grandmother’s brothers– or brother in laws– didn’t come home from the Navy at Pearl Harbor.

    There have been some brother-in-arms not as fortunate. 

    God bless and keep them.

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Inactive
    @ChrisDyer

    Dave,I read many wonderful and heartfelt stories this Memorial Day, yours made a difference. Yours was able to blend the sacrifice of our defenders from the Revolutionary days to the men and women that battle today’s threats to our country. You then took it to a sometimes forgotten aspect of the sacrifices that we remember on this day.You made the connection with the warrior and their family from those that endure endless absence followed by the long-awaited return, to those who must move on in their lives without that husband, wife, brother, sister, son or daughter who paid the ultimate price.Including the warrior as well as the family, remembering the earliest of patriots to the present generation as well as the families, tied together this community of people who step to the front when their country is in need.Perspective is a wonderful thing. Your travels allow you the ability to see the bonds that tie this wonderful country together. Please keep the experiences coming to your readers. I know that I will share them with all those folks in my own realm.Chris Dyer

    • #26

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