You may disagree with what I’m about to say, and that is fine. But in recent years, it seems to me that there is a tendency to make every National holiday about our young men and women actively serving the armed forces FIRST and then the real meaning of the holiday SECOND. While I completely support our service members, they have their own holidays, Armed Forces Day, the third Saturday of May and each of their individual service holidays. If this had been going on during my Navy years I would have felt badly for the courageous folks, for whom the holiday was created, that their holiday was being co-opted to show me more support. This is just me talking; I have not asked many active service members. Although those I have spoken with agree, the majority may not.
This weekend is a perfect example. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States designated for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces and should not be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans living or dead and as I have mentioned above Armed Forces Day is for those actively serving in the armed forces. Yet I see many more social media posts saluting those folks in active service than posts honoring those heroes who have given their all for their country.
Now, I know you are sitting there rolling your eyes, but, as time passes since the big wars, WW I, WW II, Korea and Vietnam and the ranks of the veterans who survived them gets greyer and thinner, and their memories of fallen brothers and sisters fade into the mists of time I don’t want to see honor for their service diminished.
I want to remember that Doughboy who died in the trenches in France during WW I, honor the WW II airmen who died in a B29 bombing raids over Germany. Let’s not forget the Battle of Bloody Ridge that took place during the Korean War from August 18 to September 5, 1951. And in Vietnam, the many Huey helicopter pilots who gave their lives evacuating wounded soldiers and marines from the rice paddy battlefields under withering enemy fire. To quote the United States Army Signal Corps Officer Candidate School Association Web Site; “Approximately 40,000 US Helicopter Pilots flew in the Vietnam War. Approximately 2,202 pilots were killed, along with 2,704 crewmen. For those with their hands on the joystick that means 5.5% never made it back. Considering that the average pilot flew 4 times a week, he could expect that during his tour in Vietnam he was flying up against the Grim Reaper on 11.4 of his flights. That means that every 4.5 weeks he faced death. In soldier talk, his life expectancy was 4 and a half weeks... basically, a month.”
Let me tell you a story! The Seabees (U.S. Navy Construction Battalions) began building camps for Special Forces in Vietnam in 1962. In June 1965, Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields was actively engaged at the Battle of Dong Xoai. I’m quoting Wikipedia here; “Shields fought with Special Forces soldiers against the enemy carrying up needed ammunition to the firing line positions. Although wounded again by shrapnel and shot in the jaw on June 10, he helped a soldier and a Seabee carry the badly wounded Special Forces captain in charge of the camp to a safer position in the compound. After four more hours of fighting, and greatly weakened, Shields volunteered to help Special Forces Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams who now was the acting commander since the Special Forces commander was one of the first badly wounded in the battle, destroy a Vietcong machine gun outside the perimeter which was threatening to destroy everyone now in the adjacent district headquarters building which was now under the lieutenant's command and its occupants holding off the Vietcong attackers from all sides. The lieutenant armed with a 3.5 rocket launcher which was loaded by Shields, destroyed the machine gun, and on the way back to the building Williams was wounded for the 4th time and Shields for the third time, shot to both legs. Shields was air-evacuated afterwards from Dong Xoai with five other Seabees by the direction of the lieutenant to Saigon on June 10 and died during the evacuation.” He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there. Shields’ story is important because he remains the only Seabee ever to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
So, here is my not so rhetorical question; How many of you know Marvin Shields’ story and its significance in American History? My follow up question, if you please, is; Would you have discovered his story if I concentrated on the active service member to the exclusion of writing about this hero who’s holiday IS Memorial Day?
One of my family’s traditions was for us to gather around and listen to stories told by my uncles and aunts about friends lost with Patton’s march across the Sahara and up the Italian Peninsula, or during kamikaze attacks in the Coral Sea or of shielding themselves with bulldozer blades as they attempted to rescue a fallen sailor from snipers in the jungle at the edge of a runway they were building in New Guinea. These are important stories about fallen American heroes that need to be kept alive on THEIR holiday.
Another down side of this concentration on the active military on EVERY National Holiday is the loss of prominence of the holidays that are actually dedicated to the members of the Armed Services - Armed Forces Day. Do you even know when Armed Forces Day is celebrated? In the United States, Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May. It falls near the end of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May and ends on the third Sunday of May (the fourth if the month begins on a Sunday, as in 2016). Not to mention that each service has its own day usually celebrated on the respective birthday of that service; Army – June 14th, Navy - October 13th, Marine Corps – November 10th, Air Force – September 18th and The Coast Guard August 4th.
During my years in the service, I was proud to march with my battalion in Memorial Day Parades to give honor to those who lost their lives in battle. Memorial Day is that day of honor. Likewise I was proud to stand my station aboard ship on America’s birthday, Thanksgiving Day and Memorial Day so that my fellow Americans could celebrate the true meaning of those holidays. It was OK to honor me for my active service, but only after honoring the reason that holiday was created. Oh yes when it was my turn on Armed Forces Day and Navy Day, I welcomed the support from my fellow Americans. To quote Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Bring it!! Oh MY!