FS Bullets & Brass Blogs
What We Remember and Why
This morning, May 25, 2019, as I prepared for work, I remembered an interesting question posed to me some time ago by a friend, Steve, who is currently serving in the United States Naval Construction Battalions, more commonly known as the SEABEES.
Petty Officer Steve asked, "What do we remember and why do we remember it?" I have pondered on this question a great deal since.
Petty Officer Steve's question prompted me to begin writing down my memories starting with my earliest recollections as a young boy in 1960 Logan Utah.
This is me still trying to answer that most interesting question posed by SEABEE Petty Officer Steve.
Perhaps it was the coming Memorial Day holiday, perhaps it was my friend's current service in the SEABEES or perhaps it was a combination of both. But whatever the reason, I began remembering and have been thinking all day about the many United States Military Veterans who have personally touched my life.
It all starts with my father who met my mother while serving in the United States Army in Baltimore Maryland. Like many in military organizations around the world, my father was never in combat. Yet were it not for his being stationed in Baltimore, he would not have met my mother and I wouldn't be here. It then follows that I wouldn't have met my wife, and hence my children and grand children would also not be here.
So, in the most basic sense, you could say I owe my life and the lives of my children and grand children to the United States Army for ordering my father to Baltimore, Maryland where he met and married my mother.
As I thought of my wife, I recalled her Step Father, Paul, who served as an Officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) in Korea in the 1950's. Even though Paul said he was never in the army, I am certain the lines are blurred. And so I remember him here.
The mind boggles at what a CIA Officer must have been doing in 1950's Korea. At this point, I can only imagine as Paul passed away not long ago.
During the couple decades I knew him, I could never get any details of his adventures out of him. He would only confirm he was there. Perhaps this is as it should be. I'm certain his colleagues at the CIA would agree I have no need to know anything more. Still I wonder what he did and how it may have changed the world in which we live today.
My Dad's oldest brother served in the United States Navy during World War II where he was a doctor. In later life, when I knew him, he was a successful surgeon in Oregon.
I tried on several occasions to get him to tell exciting stories of his time on a United States Navy Battleship but all he would ever say is "I don't remember much" or "That was so long ago. Why do you care?" One time, after pestering him more than usual, he admitted to serving as a doctor on an unnamed battleship during a United States atomic bomb test at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. This admission only piqued my interest and whetted my appetite for more details but none were forthcoming.
I sometimes imagine what my Uncle, the Navy doctor must have done on a US Navy Battleship in World War II, especially when viewing World War II movies. In those movies I often see the ship's doctor portrayed by an actor on screen treating casualties or giving encouraging words or "a swift kick to the rear" as needed to keep the men of the ship going and I wonder—Could this have been my Uncle?
I thought my Dad's father had served in the US Army in World War I but it turns out I was mistaken. The story around this issue is interesting, at least to me.
One day while looking through a box of old family photos I came across the faded black & white photo of a young man in what looked to me like a US Army Uniform of the World War I era shown at right. The photo had my Grandfather's name, Ezra on it. I assumed, therefore, that he had fought in World War I and I wondered about what was surely an interesting story. I knew he survived World War I since all his children were born after the war. So I began a quest to find the story. I asked his children, my aunts and uncles, who had known him and were all still alive at the time to tell me the stories of their dad in World War I. One by one they all said their father had never been in the army. This confused me for some time since I had the photo of him in what looked to me like a World War I US Army uniform shown here.
Sometime later I was looking through a box of old family documents when I came across my Grandfather Ezra's draft registration card dated June 5, 1917 which showed him to be a Bacteriologist employed at the Utah Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, with a wife and bad hearing. He had tried to register for military service but was rejected for a medical condition. He should have been off the hook and gone back to a quiet life as a College Professor. But why was he in uniform and just exactly what is that uniform?
With a bit more investigation I was able to identify the uniform as that of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) of 1917. (For those who aren't familiar with the USPHS, it is one of the Uniformed services of the United States. Click here to visit the USPHS web site and learn more about them and their mission.)
With the uniform mystery solved and a little more research I found my Grandfather Ezra had been assigned to Fort Olglethorpe, Georgia which was an induction and processing center during World War I and World War II. There my Grandfather worked to ensure the health of newly inducted soldiers preparing to embark for war in Europe.
Even though he was never in the military and never saw combat, he was in a uniformed service of the United States where he did what he could to aid the war effort and so I remember him here.
My Mother's oldest brother, First Sergeant Stanley, served in the United States Army during the 1960's and 1970's in Viet Nam.
As I was growing up, I remember my Uncle, Sergeant Stanley coming to visit between deployments. He always had a gift for me. These gifts were the envy of my young friends.
One time the gift was a camouflage hat that had a red patch with "Viet Nam" in white letters sewn to the folded up side. I later saw the same type of hat worn by the character "Captain Nim" played by actor George Takei in the movie "Green Berets". I've since seen photos of special operations personnel of the era wearing that same type of hat.
On another between deployments visit the gift was, what I thought at the time, "the coolest flashlight". That little flashlight grabbed my interest because it had a small brass head that contained a red plastic filter which could be slid over the lamp to change the light from white to red. I especially enjoyed my Uncle, Sergeant Stanley showing me how to read a map under cover with the red light.
My children think this is quaint because color changing flashlights are common today but in 1967, it seemed almost magical to me. I only recently discovered that little penlight was type A-6B issued to United States pilots in 1967 and nothing particularly special. Yet to me, it was a gift from my warrior Uncle of whom I was very proud.
Uncle, Sergeant Stanley never told me any history of his gifts—where he got them, or from whom and under what circumstances. When I asked what he was doing in the army, he would respond with, "it was only a job and not very interesting" or words to that effect. Then he would usually deflect me in to a game of chess.
To this day I still wonder what my Uncle, First Sergeant Stanley, did during his tours in Viet Nam. I'm sure there was more to it than "only a job and not very interesting". But I will never know as Uncle, Sergeant Stanley passed away a few years ago.
I sometimes feel a small tinge of regret that I never told my Uncle how proud I was of his service. But in spite of that little regret, I cherish my memories of Uncle, Sergeant Stanley who so clearly, or so it seemed to me, loved his country and was proud to fight to protect his country and his loved family back home.
One of my favorite TV series is "Tour of Duty" because of my Uncle, Sergeant Stanley. In that series is the character "Sergeant Clayton "Zeke" Anderson" portrayed by actor Terrence Knox. I have often wondered, could Sergeant Zeke have been my Uncle, Sergeant Stanley?
Two of my brothers served in the United States Army, one in the 222nd Battalion, Field Artillery, Utah National Guard (Now there's a unit with an amazing history.) Another brother is a US Army First Sergeant, currently serving.
I remember a most interesting interaction at my father's funeral between my First Sergeant brother and a much older cousin, Commander Don, US Navy, Retired. Commander Don would say something to Sergeant Carter who would respond simply "Sir".
I don't know why I find that so interesting. But I will always remember my brother, the Sergeant in full dress uniform, standing at attention, answering respectfully "Sir" to my cousin, the retired Navy Commander dressed in a civilian business suit with a photo of my father standing in green army fatigues on the parade ground of his base in 1956 Baltimore, Maryland behind them.
Perhaps it was the obvious respect shown by both my cousin and my brother to the other, each in their own area of service, and according to regular military discipline. In any event it made a memorable impression on me.
A neighbor and friend of mine, Chet, served in the 1st Cavalry Division of the United States Army deployed to An Khe in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam Oct 1965 - May 1967. He was a radio repair technician supporting 8" self propelled howitzers.
Chet told me his unit received incoming fire more than once but he was never wounded though some of his buddies weren't so lucky.
When I asked him to help me understand what it was like to serve in Viet Nam he replied, "How can you understand if you've never been to war, been shot at, or pulled the trigger to take someone's life? Describing my feelings about my military experience is the hardest thing I've ever had to do."
Chet and I have discussed this issue more than once. He is always very respectful and pleasant. He always greets me "Mr. Carter, Sir." Which makes me chuckle.
I appreciate Chet's service and his more than usual willingness to talk about it with me. But even Chet always comes around to "You had to be there to understand" and then changes the subject.
Some years ago the Traveling Viet Nam Memorial Wall which is a 3/5 scale replica of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C. came to my small town in Utah. I had heard of it's scheduled display in the city park but had no plans to visit. I was just too busy to look at a list of dead people with whom I had no connection.
Yet one day, as I drove by the city park, I saw the Traveling Viet Nam Memorial and pulled in to the parking lot. Then I walked to the wall where a few other people were standing. I began to read the names of the fallen. My thoughts went to my Uncle Sergeant Stanley whom I described briefly above.
I then wondered about the people whose names were inscribed on the panel in front of me. Did any of them have a nephew like me who wanted to hear exciting war stories? And then it hit me like an overwhelming ocean wave crashing on a beach that they all had mothers and fathers, that many had wives or husbands—children, brothers, sisters, and extended family and friends who loved them and mourned their loss.
Then I looked down the length of the Memorial Wall at the nearly 60,000 names inscribed and felt an almost unbearable sadness well up in me at the realization that the names represented real people with family and friends. That these many names were people who had real lives that were ended violently, prematurely, in a far away place that most Americans can't even find on a map. And that led to even more sadness at the thought of the over 3 million Vietnamese killed during that war and the uncounted others killed in surrounding countries. All this realization flooded through me in the space of about 5 minutes.
That simple memorial affected me more than I had anticipated. I'm glad I took time from my busy day to stop and remember.
One of my closest friends, a happy, hard working guy named Brian, served in the United States Army in the 1970's. Sergeant Brian was in "Army Intelligence". Setting aside the obvious jokes about "Army Intelligence", my imagination can easily get the best of me when I wonder about what he might have been doing during the tumultuous 1970's in the United States Army at the peak of the Viet Nam conflict and the height of the Cold War.
Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago from cancer.
We never discussed his military service except in passing so I can only wonder about his experience. However, I am certain the discipline he learned in the US Army played a large part in making him the "stand up guy" I knew and loved. I am proud to count him as a friend and miss him terribly.
More recently, three of Sergeant Brian's son's served in the United States Army 2nd Rangers Battalion. One of them is a Delta Force sniper deployed more than once to Afghanistan. Another son of Sergeant Brian completed his service in the US Army and is now working in law enforcement in Utah.
I have fond memories of attending the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show with Brian and his three Army Ranger sons. It was quite humorous to see them walking the show floor in "civilian" clothes but fooling no one as to who and what they really were.
One time as we walked from booth to booth with me observing their interactions with vendors, I asked one of Brian's sons if he'd ever fired a lever action rifle. He said no, just as I expected. So I dragged them over to the Winchester booth, pulled a Model 94 Timber off the display and said, "Give this a try". He put the rifle to his shoulder, sited at the far wall and worked the action. I asked, "What da ya think?" He responded, "Better than a knife, but I'll stick with my M4."
Brian's three sons have been more open to discussing their experiences than my older friends and family members but even they eventually come back to "you can't really understand unless you were there."
I was in high school in the 1970's; when Sergeant Brian, whom I didn't know at the time, was doing whatever he did in Army Intelligence; when my Uncle, Sergeant Stanley was doing whatever he did as a US Army First Sergeant in Viet Nam; when my current friend Chet, whom I wouldn't meet until almost three decades later, was fixing radios in combat in An Khe, Viet Nam; while they and tens of thousands of young and not so young men and women like them were fighting, each in their own way, to keep America safe and free.
When all this was going on half way around the world—I was studying electronics, building radios, playing football and trying to catch the eye of a certain very pretty cheerleader.
In 1974 with my High School graduation not far in the future, I remember beginning to get worried that If world leaders didn't put a stop to the conflict soon, I would likely be sent to places I had been watching on the nightly TV news reports. The prospect did not excite me.
Happily for me, the Viet Nam war ended April 30, 1975 and I was off the hook. So as it turns out, I was too young for the Viet Nam War and too old for the Middle East conflicts that started in earnest after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New Your City and the United States Pentagon and the intended attack on the US Capitol that was foiled by brave passengers who knew they wouldn't survive.
Sadly, the Middle East conflicts continue to this day.
I count it a great blessing that none of my friends and family members mentioned above were killed in service to their country. My heart goes out to those of you who were not so fortunate as I.
To anyone who has lost a loved one in military service, I express my gratitude for their service and my sadness at your loss. Words can't adequately convey my feelings. However, the short video from Hillsdale College included below comes close to evoking the emotions I feel.
I invite you to watch the video, listen to the music and remember your loved one's whose service and/or sacrifice, whether small or large, helped make our liberty today possible.
As I watched the video, I especially appreciated the speech by United States President Ronald Reagan that begins the video. I hope you feel the same as I did when you hear his words and masterful delivery.
When President Reagan says "Those who say we're in a time when there are no heroes—they just don't know where to look": I look to my friends and family mentioned above, many not mentioned who served in past wars and others who continue in military service today. To my mind, heroes all.
And who could miss the gorgeous hymn "Mansions of the Lord" written by Randall Wallace that underscores this short video. That song tugs at my heart every time I hear it—just as it did the first time I heard it in the movie "We Were Soldiers".
I hope as you remember your loved ones, you will cherish the good times you shared with them and take heart from all those who willingly choose to put their bodies and lives "Between their lov'd home and war's desolation!" as written by Francis Scott Key in "The Star Spangled Banner".
If your loved service man or woman is still with you, don't miss an opportunity to express your love for them, your gratitude for their service and how proud you are to have them in your life. You and they will both be glad you did. They did (are doing) a hard thing and need your love and support.
To those of you in uniform, past and present. Thank you for your service!
I suspect you may get tired of hearing that from people you don't know. But consider this, it is probably more for the person saying it than for you, for without your service they may not be here as in my case with my father. Or they may not not know exactly how to say what is in their heart. But unlike so many people languishing under the thumb of totalitarian regimes around the world who are forbidden to speak, we can at least try.
Please post comments below. Please tell us what you remember of your service men and women and why. I would love to read any thoughts and feelings you might be willing to share.