David H. Hackworth
November 10, 1998

Lest We Forget Those Who Earned It

Especially at this time of the year -- around Veteran's Day -- the guys who didn't make it back are on my mind. These are the haunting last words of soldiers who died in battle:

"No sweat, sir. You can count on me. We'll stop them." Sp4 James K. Stoddard as he lay bleeding his life out, 26 February 1968.

" I'm sorry I won't be able to help you any more today. I'm gut shot. Hang on and good luck." Radio message from a chopper, 27 February 1968.

"I'm okay. Just get us more ammo." Sergeant Jimmy Mayamura while continuing to man his machine gun even though one of his eyes was torn out and he'd been hit three other times by bullets and grenade fragments, 4 November 1951.

"I'm dying, ain't I Sarge, I'm dying, ain't I Sarge?" Sp5 Paul Sperry, 17 September 1962.

"We need a medevac bad, three soldiers are hurt bad by a mine. My legs are blown off. Tell them to hurry!" 1st LT Charles Hemingway, 9 June 1967.

"I know, I'll be careful, but they need this machine gun up front." 1st LT Bob Arvin, 5 September 1967.

"I can see you, you are coming up on our left. Be careful, they have a 57MM recoilless in the brown building." Captain Terry Sage, killed by 57MM recoilless fire - 2 February 1968.

The question we should ask ourselves this week is: What is a Vet? This anonymous article explains it better than I ever could:

"Some Vets bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, the thousand yard stare.

Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge of honor. You can't tell a Vet just by looking.

But he is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were good to go.

He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near South Korea's DMZ.

She - or he - is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for one year in Vietnam.

He is the Drill Sergeant who has never seen combat - but has saved countless lives by turning couch potatoes and ex-gang members into disciplined soldiers.

He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his medals with a prosthetic hand.

He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.

He is the two anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket -palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.

He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.

He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest testimony on behalf of the greatest nation ever known.

So remember, this week when you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most Vets need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot to a Veteran, 'THANK YOU.'"

So make a Veteran's Day resolution to get out there and salute a Vet or two. They earned it.