I was sick and tired of the endless train-ups. We were in the field day and night practicing fire and maneuver, close air support, marksmanship, land navigations and the skills that were supposed to keep us alive in the 13 months that lay ahead of us.
The training cycle ended for Alpha Company on 20 December 1969. We were shipping out in a few days and according to the Marine Corps, we were ready to take the war to the North Vietnamese.
Thy will be done!
There was not a man among us who wasn’t ready to sacrifice his life for the cause. We felt invincible, but there was something missing. I looked for a higher purpose. Freedom was too nebulous and I knew that when the chips were down, I would need something I could understand.
We don’t always get what we want, but we get what we need. Major Dolan from headquarters joined us in the field carrying the vision I sought. A few months prior, the Major had won the meal of honor so he had our attention.
I wrote profusely trying to capture everything the major said. I am glad I did that because now I can share it with you.
“The higher purpose of leadership is to serve others. There is certain somberness to leadership, a certain loneliness that implies the weight of responsibility and decision. Leadership is sacrifice. You’re the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed. When someone is cold, you go without a jacket. When someone is hungry you go without dinner. When the chips are down you say, Follow me!”
Major Dolan praised our warrior ethos but emphasized that the veteran is most sacrosanct. He said, “Our common bond is to care for the men and women who wear the uniform; and when they take off the uniform, we care for them when they are veterans. Being a veteran will not be handed to you; you will have to earn it.”
He told us that there was a greater purpose than winning the war. It was to take care for our men and do our best to bring them back. And those we leave behind, we are to honor their memory for the rest of our days.
His last three orders to us were simple; I wrote them down. “Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be a man. And… take care of your men.
I had found what I needed and I was now ready to go.
The major’s words were not exclusively for me. They are for you as well. Collectively, we honor the memory of the fallen and by doing so we assure the continuance of all that is noble.
On Monday, 28 May, 9AM, at Memorial Park, La Canada, the Memorial Day Commemoration will honor the fallen in America’s wars. The ceremony is brief but reverent; and dear reader, I think you should come. The major would have wanted this.
All veterans who may read these thoughts, you are to report to me at 9AM in Memorial Park. We have another mission.