We Will Never Forget

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Memorial day artic;le

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<p>We will never forget! (Oh yes we will well forget before the hot dogs get cold.) By Paul SchwartzmeyerWe were in Cherry Point, North Carolina. It must have been around 1979. I was a radio man in the Marines and was assigned to an officer, I believe a major. We were in a training exercise and the only thing about that I really remember is that I relayed the targeting directions wrong and if it was real combat, I would have wiped out my own company. After the assault on the beach we all sat in groups in the sand. I was with a few officers and a few higher ranking enlisted men. Then, something happened then that was surreal. A man walked up, an older man, probably late 60s. He was dressed in a rumpled uniform, no rank and a scruffy hat. These things dont happen on Marine bases. In the Marines, 45 is ancient and nobody just waltzes into a training exercise with 1,500 men, a navy ship and 50 APCs. The major stood up and looked at the guy. Typically he would have ripped him a new asshole for walking around, but he knew something wasnt quite right. As I recall the conversation. Excuse me. What are you doing? Walking around. I retired a while back and they let me check these exercises out. The major was befuddled. Ok, well. Do you have any experience in amphibious assaults? Yea, I was in Iwo Jima. You could have heard a pin drop. To a civilian, Iwo Jima was a big battle in WW2. To the Marines, Iwo Jima was like Dantes 7th circle. It was pure hell. The people who lived through it were considered god like creatures. The Major didnt quite know what to do, so he nervously saluted the man, something so against protocol it was laughable. He then made a space for him, gave him his canteen cup of coffee and listened. He told stories for a while. An hour? Two? I dont remember. I remember it today like it was a dream. I never thought combat was that brutal and he changed my view of war forever. Eventually he stood up and walked off, just as he came and we all sat there, staring forward. Ive been at a couple war memorials in the Pacific, but not as a soldier, as a tourist when I worked around the world. The one I remember the best was Corregidor, which sits in the middle of Manila Bay. Its the place where Macarthur abandoned his troops, took his senior staff and took off for Australia and left them to starve and die. I realize this isnt the official version, but Marines have their own version of history. To me, Corregidor is the perfect war memorial. Its in the middle of nowhere. Its a totally useless piece of rock that nobody would possibly want. The memorial itself is overgrown with weeds, the fountains are shut off and very few people ever go there. These are the places where we fight wars and theyre not very glamorous. The reason I mention this is that were in the grips of another scandal. This time its the VA. But if you talk to a veteran, this is hardly a surprise. My biggest grievances were no toilet paper and having to spend my military pay on uniforms, equipment and food, but I lived in the lap of luxury compared to some of my friends. I have a friend that spent 13 months in Que Son during Vietnam, who had to cover himself in mud to stay warm. Sleeping bags and coats were luxuries I guess. I have several friends who are on a steady diet of Jack Daniels because the Army cant afford competent psychologists. These scandals are not the exception, theyre the rule. The same Congressmen who say they cant live on $174,000 a year send men to Afghanistan on $24,000. The same government that pays for sex change operations underfunds VA hospitals. The same politicians who tell us that these things are unacceptable continue to accept them, year after bloody year. Having worked on both sides of the military industrial complex, let me say, I am not an anti-war activist. America is the greatest country that ever existed and if we ever lose our sway, the world will be a mean and ugly place. If youve ever been to Asia and especially the Middle East, you know that Philadelphia freedom is a really thing and its worth fighting for. But if were going to send men into combat, we need to insure theyre taken care off. They shouldnt have to fight one war in a shit hole like Afghanistan and another in the out-patient clinic at the VA. Lastly, let me impart on you a secret very few people know. I have been to a lot of war memorials worldwide and I think I know where the best one is. It takes place in the cemetery, on Memorial Day in Elba, NY. It starts with the boy scouts who present the flag. A girl, (my daughter Meg and Gretel Kauffman used to do it.) sing the star spangled banner. The head of the local veterans organization reads the roll call of those that died in combat and finally, off in the distance, behind the grave markers, a young man lifts his bugle and the soft, sad sound of Taps floats across the cemetery. There typically isnt a dry eye in the crowd. And whats most amazing is that this is the only thank you these guys ever ask for. (Paul Schwartzmeyer is the Author of To Sharazad, Where ever you are, and 39 Down, set for Amazion/Kindle release on June 1st.</p>