Memorial Day is an occasion to remember the soldiers and service members who didn’t make it home, but also the families who mourn their loss, Lt. Col. (ret.) Doug Andrews said.
Andrews, a combat veteran from the Vietnam War and a Savannah attorney, discussed the loss of a close friend in Vietnam. A draftee, Andrews was in basic training with Richard Holt.
“He taught me how to spit-shine boots,” Andrews recalled at Monday’s Memorial Day observance at Effingham Veterans Park. “He taught me how to display insignia. He showed me how to survive basic training. He wasn’t my best friend; he was my only friend.”
Andrews attended Hunt’s wedding in 1967. A year later, he attended his friend’s funeral. Hunt, assigned to the 196th Infantry Brigade, was killed while on a reconnaissance mission.
“He was killed by a sniper bullet to the chest, having been in country just 51 days,” Andrews said.
More recently, Andrews attended the funeral of Pfc. John Young, a soldier killed while serving in Iraq. He noted the pain he saw in Young’s parents’ eyes was the same he saw in the eyes of Holt’s parents 45 years earlier.
“Today is also about those who die a little bit every day because of the loss of their son or daughter who they can’t see except in their mind’s eye,” he said. “It is a day to remember those who did not survive their military service, for whatever reason never brought home. Today we pay special attention and honor and mourn those lost in service, lost to the nation, lost to their families, those who gave up their tomorrows so we could have our todays.”
Andrews, who pointed out he used to race motorcycles at Roebling Road Raceway in Effingham as a youngster, said he came of age in Vietnam as thousands of others descended on Woodstock in 1969.
“We don’t remember much about the hippies and peaceniks at Woodstock,” he said, “but four decades later we must keep fighting our nation’s battles. We’re fighting to preserve our freedoms.”
The fight these days, Andrews said, is against terrorists, both at home and abroad.
“There are those who want to hurt us and hurt us bad,” he said. “Some are overseas. Some are right here in our nation. 9/11 proved clear as a bell that even the most ardent pacifist can see that there are those who want us dead. Show me a committed pacifist who will not fight to protect his family from slaughter and I will show you a coward more worried about his own skin than his family.”
Soldiers, Andrews said, don’t often fight for their own preservation.
“A soldier serves a cause greater than himself,” he said. “Every soldier raised his right hand, took an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and at that time wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America for any sum up to and including his life.”
Andrews added that there are still American servicemembers whose fates are unknown, and the U.S. “is the only nation that spends millions of dollars in a quest to bring every one of our sons and daughters home,” he said.
Andrews also related the story of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the retired general and Vietnam veteran who was asked about the shame he must feel because of the U.S.’ conquests and empire-building.
“He replied ‘over the years, the United States has sent many of its great young men into great peril to fight for the freedom of others beyond our borders. And the only land we have ever asked for or retained is enough to bury those who did not return,’” Andrews said.
Col. (ret.) Lamar Crosby also noted his connection to Memorial Day. As a young platoon leader in Vietnam, he had two soldiers killed in action and had to recover their bodies under fire.
“We as veterans and as families of veterans remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Elliott Foss, state chaplain for the American Legion. “We have their story to tell, and if we don’t tell it, who will?”