Today’s Memorial Day Tribute comes from our dear friend Captain George Harris. He was kind enough to write the Memorial Day thread for today as a special favor for Elena and me. I know it was not an easy task. I would like our readers to know a bit about George before you read his tribute:
Captain George S. Harris, U.S. Navy (Retired) served in the Navy from August 1951 to July 1990. He rose from Seaman Recruit to the rank of Captain. During his career he served as a Senior Company Corpsman in a Marine rifle company in Korea, and several tours as a medical company commander in the First and Third Marine Corps Medical Battalions. As the commanding officer of B Company, First Medical Battalion, he served in Vietnam in 1966-67. Unlike many officers in his field he had “hands on” experience in treating wounded Marines in Vietnam.
His military decorations include Legion of Merit with Two Gold Stars, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, Navy Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, Korean Service Medal with Marine Corps Device, Vietnam Service Medal with Two Bronze Stars and Marine Corps Device, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Navy Expert Pistol Ribbon.
Here are my thoughts this Memorial Day–
Memorial Day is here once again. It is not to be confused with Veterans’ Day, which used to be called Armistice Day but few remember what happened at the “eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 1918” when the armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany in a railroad car in France and all was quiet on the Western Front.
Memorial Day is when we, as a Nation, are supposed to stop and remember all those brave men and women who gave the last full measure, laying down their life for their countrymen. At our National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia the sixty-year old ceremony known as “Flags In” was completed a few days ago when more than 350,000 small American flags were carefully placed one foot in front of each tombstone and on “The Day” a wreath will be placed in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. People will gather in cemeteries around the nation to honor our military dead.
Just who is it exactly that we’re remembering? From our very beginning at the Battle of Concord when citizen soldiers stood,
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1837)
until today, almost 42 million Americans have answered our Nation’s call to arms. Some 1.2 million have been killed or died in the service of their country and another 1.4 million have been wounded. In our most recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,300 have been killed and nearly 37,000 have suffered what are now known as life altering injuries. You know who they are—they’re the ones with missing arms, legs, eyes and assorted chunks of flesh and those whose minds that have been forever stained with the memories of war.
In Vietnam, I held young men and watched as the light left their eyes and my strongest memory of that terrible time is still the smell of blood. I have stood by that “rude bridge” in Concord and if you listen very closely you can hear the sound of musketry and the cries of the wounded and dying. I have walked through Arlington National Cemetery where some 30 funerals a day take place. I am always awed at the sight of all those gravestones lined up so precisely. I have attended the funerals of many friends there and listened to the beat of the muffled drums and the clip-clop of the horses drawing the caisson.
Not all died a “hero’s death” on the battlefield. Some, like me, served their nation and long after the smoke of battle has cleared they join that band brothers lying beneath gravestones scattered around the world. One last crackle of rifle fire and the mournful sound of Taps echoes across the land as they are laid to rest.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh