Sunday, November 11, 2007

Savor This Day

Whether a brother or sister, father or mother, grandfather grandmother, friend or foe, go out there and thank a veteran today. Do your best to understand what they had to do for the country and the comparative ease in which you live. Ask about their good friends they still keep close to their hearts. Don't approach the subject of what they did and saw in combat. It is the ultimate insult to the memory of our fallen. I write about those things because people ought to know what is happening to our men and women in a far away land. I can't write or talk about such horror without shedding a few tears. So please don't ask about the gruesome details. Rather, ask them their most cherished memory during their time in the service.

I recall convoying on the highway through eastern Washington on our way to Yakima for training. Standing up in the back hatch, I watched as people drove by in their cars, honking and waving. Some even braved the wheel with one hand and took pictures with the other. Classic rock blared through the internal speakers, and we played air guitar for the confused passing motorists. When a Stryker broke down, Dozer and I sat on top of the hatches and lazily chatted for hours as the convoy was stopped on the side of the road. Like kids, we would make the motion for pulling the string for 18-wheelers as they went by. They gladly replied with long, thunderous honks of their horn.

While on leave from Iraq, I opted to go to Europe with my friend Steve instead of going home. We figured it would have been more bitter than sweet to see our family so briefly. We made our way through Holland to France, arriving in Caen after a brief stay in Paris. We decided to take a tour of the Normandy beaches and with it, the American Cemetery that lay next to one of the invasion beachheads. Everyone buried there was an American soldier killed during the invasion of June 6, 1944 and subsequent fighting to break Hitler's Atlantic Wall. It was moving to be in that place, at that time, while my friends were fighting for their lives and each other in Baqubah.

Despite what I think about the war, the administration, and the policies that shaped our lives, I can't help but feel incredibly lucky to serve with the finest men this country has ever produced. The memories and experiences we have will forever be seared into our memory for the rest of our lives. I am always grateful to have this ever growing forum to tell the world what happened in those fifteen months. So while I have your ears, go now. Tell a veteran you are proud of their commitment, service and sacrifice, and that you're forever in the debt of the men we couldn't bring back home alive, and the men who came back forever changed.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

If you're a veteran, leave a comment telling your favorite story of your service, in war or in peace.



Ken P said...

Well, I'm in the Vietnam also rans - FANG. The last three reference Air National Guard. Anybody that ever stood in line for shots and skivvies, knows the first one.

My war story is about a summer camp. One of our Chief Master Sergeants brought his ten speed to the barracks and we ended up schlepping the thing up to the second floor for the fat SOB. It got bent in the process. He went ballistic and I managed my best line and his eternal shit list with the comment, "War is hell, Sarg."

The thing I notice from my days is the KIA reports contains so many NCO and commissioned types. Your folks lead from the front it seems. Although, they must run like hell to stay ahead of the quality I see so apparent in the enlisted troops.

Jeff said...

My favorite times in the naval service was when I wrote annual performance evaluations for my enlisted personnel. This year-round administrative task is approached with dread by most officers, but I looked at it as an opportunity to help the careers of my hard-working and deserving petty officers. I really enjoyed composing a "water-walker" narrative when one was deserved, and most of the time, they were.

One particular case stands above all the rest. I had a Petty Officer Bracy working for me in my capacity as Executive Officer of a pretty good-sized Naval Reserve unit back in the early 1990s. Petty Officer Bracy had earned a college degree and had applied to the Direct Commissioning Program for the Supply Corps. It's easier to get into Harvard than that particular program, as hundreds apply for only a handful of slots that open up every year.

The performance evals I wrote on Bracy and the narrative I provided for his Direct Commissioning Program application somehow did the trick. Petty Officer Bracy was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy, with the commissioning oath read to him by the highest ranking officer in the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations Vice Admiral Mike Boorda.

Knowing that I made a direct and positive impact on someone's life like that made that particular moment the finest of my twelve-year naval career.

Thank you to all my brothers and sisters in and out of uniform for your sacrifices and dedication to your duty, your fellow service members and your country.

Jeff Horton
LT, U.S. Navy
1982 - 1994

Proud Father of Alex Horton
SPC, U.S. Army
2004 - 2007

CMac said...

Happy Veterans Day to all of those that have served, those that continue to serve, and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

I was an Infantry grunt in the Nasty Guard. I was lucky....I got out shortly after 9-11...but, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my brothers and sisters in uniform. It's funny how the Army makes you feel like you've never served enough. Even as I sit here today on my nice couch, with my family, I'm wondering when I'll re-enlist.

My most memorable moment comes from a little place in the Mojave Dessert in CA. As a Nasty Guard grunt, I was pretty used to getting lost in the woods with ROTC pukes attempting to lead the way. But, getting lost in the Mojave is a completely different challenge. I'll never forget the day my squad got lost in the friggin dessert. It had to be about 120 degrees out and we were marching through the damn sand and dirt trying to find our way. We finally go so tired of walking that we all looked at each other and said F this sh*t. We managed to find a huge sloped rock that provided just enough shade for our entire squad. We all plopped down, pulled out our smokes, and enjoyed the shade. After a couple of minutes went by I looked above at the rock that covered the sun. Written in spray paint were the words "F*ck Em". Turns out, we weren't the only grunts that had sat in that shade spot before. Those words made me realize that the men that sat in that miserable sand trap with me were forever my brothers and I would never have the same bond with anyone else. It was a simple, yet powerful experience. Sometimes, you just gotta say F*ck Em.

Anonymous said...

My story is not about me but a family member, my great-uncle Ray. Unfortunately, his experience and service was never, as far as I can recall, mentioned when I was growing up. We found a Chicago Tribune article containing this information in his obituary from June '99 in my grandmother's belongings after she passed away.
"Ray Gallagher 77, a member of the Army Air Forces' 509th Composite Group that took part in both the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki passed away May 1." In part, the article quoted his wife Mary as saying,"it would be untrue to say he had no regrets-but his priority was to end the war." She quoted Ray's words to her, "War is awful, oh God. There is so much to be lost. We had to drop 'em. There was a monster loose and the monster was war, and we had to kill the monster." Ray rarely spoke of the bombings, partially due to a direct order and secondly he was disturbed that women and children had to die. He used to say the women and children were the defenseless ones according to his wife. Another crew member, Fred Olivi, said many of the other crew members had the same thoughts, but those were soon outweighed by their orders. "We all just wanted the war to end and our job was to drop the bomb", Fred told the newspaper. Ray came home from the war, married, had two daughters and worked for Illinois Bell for 39 yrs.
I wish I could have known him.
Thanks to all of you who have chosen to serve.
Cathy B

Anonymous said...

Hey Alex,

Yet another great entry! Keep up the good work.

One of my fondest memories are of the many nights in Mosul that we would stay up late playing poker. We would sit around a makeshift table made out of a cable spool and a piece of a shattered wall. We would play with up to ten guys sometimes, for hours...just chatting and playing our favorite. I guess we did it to take up time more than win money, but it was the jokes and the laughing I'll remember most.

Steve Lewey
SPC, U.S. Army
2004 - 2007

Dave McLemore said...

Let me add another piece of poetry for this day.

It's from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

David McLemore
Spec. 5, U.S. Army
1969 - 1971

fjb said...


This poem is read during our Remembrance Day services, and everyone in attendance is encouraged to repeat the last line.

We will remember them.

pseudonymous in nc said...

Alex: I'm glad you made it up to Caen. In happier times, I spent plenty of layover hours in smoking rooms with soldiers heading to and from postings in Germany, and though they talked of R&R trips in Amsterdam and Hamburg, there was always mention of the European graves, Normandy and Belgium.

My grandad was there with the British troops 63 years ago. He went up through Belgium and Holland with the Canadians, and made it back.

Living now in the US, it feels strange not having a poppy pinned to my lapel in early November.

Kevin Hayden said...

Also cconsider sending a holiday package to a service member.

unhappycamper said...

I remember the night Tet of 68 as it kicked off.

At the time I was hanging around the perimeter of the Chu Lai airbase. We had a few rockets come in that woke us up. We had enough time to grab our pots, guns & boots & get to the wire.

It seems that a convoy of 500-lb bombs came in late to the airbase the night before. Naturally, the boys parked them all together in the ammo dump.

Around 1AM, Charlie landed a rocket right in the middle of them. BOOOOOM! The sky lit up - I thought it was a nuke. A huge mushroom cloud rose in the sky. F-4s on the pad a half mile away were tossed thru some hangers. I was about two miles away & the blast knocked me off my feet.

China Beach was covered in black burned powder for miles.

I won't be forgetting that night for a long time.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i got two, don't know if they're really favorites. . .

wrote this on memorial day it's one of my better efforts.

my own clumsy attempt at war poetry

which when compared to wilfred owen, sassoon, cummings and macleish is, at best, an example of my own clumsy attempt.

glad you made it home dude. it seems you have the bulk of your wits and soul still attached. that's a good thing. you'll need that shit later.

dodo said...

Remember that time my squad harrassed the force pro people when we were just about to leave Mosul. I screwed a wholoe battalion into putting more people on guard. How's that for making a difference.

Anonymous said...

Another great post Alex. Im looking forward to more!

My most vivid memory would have to be "Chuck Ave." We had been sent out on QRF to try to locate a possible VBIED. As soon as we turned on the street, IED's starting blowing up everywhere. Missed the truck I was in twice by no more than a foot. My best friend and I just looked at each other, sank in our seats, and accepted the inevitable.

We made it out of there with, believe it or not, everyone! SSG. Knapp (Alex's SL) was hit in the arm by a sniper. As soon as we got back to the FOB, everybody started hugging at the Aid Station before we went to make sure SSG. Knapp was ok. Something I will never forget.

Josh Martell
SPC, U.S. Army

Jim L said...

While I was stationed in Katterbach Germany in 1986, my buddies and I went to Dachau to tour the concentration camp. It was very strange to stand in a place that so many perished. I remember wishing I could of helped them some how. I'm so proud that I served with so many caring soldiers. There are to many people out there that only think of themselves. When you are in the service you some time s feel that your being screwed over by the Command and it is easy to feel sorry for yourself. I know I did. But to tell you the truth, all I remember are the good times. If I had to do it all over again I would have no problem.

Air Cav!

Tarek said...

Bravo. I chanced upon your blog from Michael Yons website (another good writer) and its good to see that you keep things the real and they way they were. I was over there from 04 to 05, and though not in a Infantry unit ( I was Comm) we all experienced an inordinate amount of shit. I knew a lot of people who were in your unit as I was stationed for awhile in 3rd Brigade, but then was transferred to 29th Sig due to manpower issues. Fun Ft Lewis and the pile of shit we had to live in.

Anyway, I salute you on brining the account of what its really like. So many media outlets are always downplaying something or bringing it up to suit their needs. Reading the comments on your blogs is a bit disheartening but expected as people love to nay say and call you unpatriotic, though they dont have one single clue as to what its really like. But I guess what did we fight for right? If its not personal freedom then I guess we are just shit out of luck.

Good to hear you are back and safe man. I got out in 05, and like you were in the end of my enlistment so a lot of this stuff is just funny to read as is its too true sometimes. Keep up the good work. If your in Wash still hope you are enjoying the weather like me. Crap ass rain, though better then 1000 degree heat.

Anonymous said...

A terrible thought: sometime after the new year, an American soldier born after January 1, 1990, will be killed in a war that began when he was thirteen.

unhappycamper said...

BTW, here's a photo essay of Veterans Day in Boston.


Anonymous said...

Among my fondest memories is watching a sling loaded pallet of beer come into our firebase in Quang Nam. I think it was July 4, '68 but it could have been another holiday. I honestly don't know how our guys function in Iraq and Afghanistan without alcohol, at least some beer. I suspect there's a lot of homebrew percolating here, there, and the next place.

SSG_Dan said...

Awesome blog - I wished I could keep up with it all the time...

August 4th, 1990 Fort Lewis WA...I've been a Squad Leader in a psuedo-mech/light infantry battalion for 4 months (Co C 3.47th Motorized), after spending 2 years being full-on Mech in 5/8 INF in Mainz Germany. My big mouth and ability to back it up has got me in charge of 4th (weapons) squad, which is the collection of soldiers that none of the tight-assed Airborne/Ranger butt buddy squad leaders wanted.

We were put on full alert to deploy with 75th Ranger early that morning - and my squad of losers, misfits and profiles was the ONLY one to show up with all their gear, sober, and my Rat Patrol Humvee was the only one in the Company ready to roll out.

My guys and I had tolerated months of abuse from the Tab Boys, and all of their squads were FUBAR - and I have never been more proud of my troops in my life.

crickett said...

In my family this is the New Thanksgiving. We are thankful for my brother coming home, safe, after 3 tours with the Marines in Iraq. We are also thankful everytime we hear of another family as fortunate as ours.

7 of 69 said...

Pulling into Miami aboard the USS Stark. We were moving along the channel, parallel to a highway. Traffic came to a stop, with people getting out of their cars, taking pictures, waving and cheering. It's been nearly 20 years, but I have never forgotten the swell of pride at that moment.

AUGUSTUS said...

Thank YOU for your service. I am a former Marine. Some of my best memories come from sending the FNG to find non-existent things... The best was when we got this great, albeit slow, midwestern kid named melvin to go look for a hum-v key. Not sure now, but back in 94 there were no keys for the hum-v. We sent him to our Gunny, who in turn realized the prank and sent melvin to Admin to fill out an id-10-tango form to check out the key. Admin quickly realized the joke as well and told him that he needed to go back and have gunny give him a ba-1100-n form before he could fill out his "idiot" form. This went on for quite a while until we couldn't stand it anymore and had to tell the kid it was all a joke. I think about those times the most. I miss those guys that were such fun to be around. I'm glad to read in your blog, the underlying humor you soldiers still carry with you despite the horror you face on a daily basis. Take care.