Posts Tagged ‘soldiers’

Extraordinary stories of ordinary people

Extraordinary stories of ordinary people


“That’s Mary Ford,” I said, pointing to the faded image of the Army nurse on the man’s tee shirt.

He nodded.

“She was my sister. She’s in here, too,” he said, holding up a booklet.

“I know. I’m the one who put her in there.”

We shook hands and both started crying.

In September of 2006, South Dakota dedicated its Vietnam War Memorial with a three-day celebration. Today, the state observes its first “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day”, an official state holiday to honor those who served in Vietnam.

I was on the planning committee for the 2006 event, the third war memorial dedication in our state. I’d worked on the previous two as well, for the World War II Memorial in 2001 (literally days after 9/11) and the Korean War Memorial in 2004. My duties were to design, write and oversee the production of all the printed materials like invitations, signs, apparel, name badges, banners, concert tickets and so on. And the commemorative program booklet which for the Vietnam War Memorial Dedication included the pictures and stories of more than a dozen South Dakota veterans.

Thousands of veterans, along with friends and family members, submitted photos and stories for the dedication website and a book “The Vietnam War: South Dakota Remembers” that was published in conjunction with the event. I read and reviewed all of them.

I knew some of those people. Dennis Foell, Nick Roseland, Dale Christopherson, the Harford brothers (Warren, Jerry and Doug), Dale Bertsch, Francis Whitebird. Others I didn’t, like Mary Ford. But their memories and images were no less compelling or personal to me.

Some Vietnam veterans wouldn’t attend that weekend and given the reception they got when they first came home after the war, that’s to be expected. Sometimes a “Thank you and welcome home” 30 years later is too little, too late.

There are moments from that fall weekend in 2006 that I will always remember. The biker with the Vietnam Veteran patch who saw the “committee” designation on my shirt and asked if he could hug me. I said yes. The quiet man who handed me his “Find a Buddy” card to hang on the board and whose “buddy” turned out to be the older brother of one of my friends. A few quick phone calls later, they were reunited for the first time since shipping out together. And meeting Mary Ford’s brother who had brought his family to the dedication in her honor because she couldn’t attend herself. The smiling, compassionate woman who’d entered the service on Halloween 1967 and served two tours in Vietnam as an Army nurse died in 1998.

It’s March 30, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in South Dakota. Who are you thanking today?

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A snowy world, at peace

The author is Mark Helprin. The book is “In Sunlight and in Shadow.” And given the devastation caused by this past weekend’s blizzard, the passage below is an appropriate description of the bleak battle we wage with Old Man Winter.

“They had practically nothing but snow – the feel of it, the silence it imposed with an almost beneath-the-threshold-of-sound hissing as it fell, the way it lit the darkness even as it smothered sight. Snow was God’s scolding of the world for war. It suppressed and conquered legions and nations. It quieted continents, forced branches to bow in submission, and broke those that would not. It made a mockery of military power and pride in numbers, throwing into the world inexhaustibly its own soldiers, tiny crystals each with an inimitable identity, each fragile, temporary, frozen, resigned, but in such endless profusion that they could slaughter entire armies in absolute silence and bury them until spring. Snow muffled the sounds of soldiers who fought across it or waited in it; it sent them messages in its glistening whirlwinds; and like a wrestler who need not expend energy or breath, it effortlessly pinned them to earth.”

Thoughts are with you weary warriors still struggling in the white.

I’ve been a student of World War II since junior high school. Strategy, armament, location, cause, aftermath – there’s a lot to learn and much to remember. At one time I could identify all the aircraft used by any country in World War II by sight alone. But all of those things, while essential to history, can’t compare to the true lessons of war – the ones you learn from the soldiers themselves.

I am a huge “Band of Brothers” fan. If you’re shrugging your shoulders and shaking your head right now, you obviously are not. Let me help you out. In 1992, Stephen Ambrose wrote “Band of Brothers”, a book that recounted the World War II experiences of the men of Easy Company, paratroopers with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. Ambrose researched his book by interviewing Easy Company veterans who gave him a personal view of their war, not just the fighting but the friendships, the heroism and the hardship, the insanity and the normalcy. The story of soldiers.

In 2001, thanks to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (and honestly, if you want to get something produced, they would be the ones to do it), HBO aired a 10 part miniseries based on Ambrose’s book. Though I’d read “Band of Brothers” not long after it was published and loved it, I didn’t see the miniseries for the simplest of reasons – we didn’t have HBO. I was working part-time in a video store when the DVDs finally came out and I brought them home, the whole set, one rainy Sunday afternoon and spent until early Monday morning watching the entire miniseries from start to finish. Eventually, I had to take them back (one missing DVD is not unusual but a wandering box set is a little tough to ignore) but now that I own the set, I still watch it, frequently.

Now that you have some grasp of what I’m talking about, you should know that “BoB” fans are a serious bunch. They know things, and I mean really KNOW things, like all the veterans’ names, who’s passed away and when, the locations for all the battles, what actor played who in the miniseries and what those actors are doing now, 10 years after the program first aired. Which brings me to the real point of this post.

This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011, in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the miniseries, nearly a dozen of the show’s actors will be parachuting out of a plane over Devon, England to raise funds for the Richard D. Winters Leadership Project. Those monies will go toward the building of a monument in Normandy to recognize the leadership of officers like the late Major Winters who led the way on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The event, called “Jumping for Heroes”, was organized by Scottish actor/writer Ross Owen and has already drawn donations from all over the world. But it can always use more. Whether you’re a “BoB” fan or not, recognize the cause for what it is…a worthy one. To find out more, visit http://jumpingforheroes.blogspot.com/ or look for Jumping for Heroes on Facebook and Twitter.

To the actors and others who are jumping this weekend, good luck and Godspeed. And to the men of Easy Company who inspired them, thank you for your service. None can be forgotten if there are those who will remember.

If you’re looking for more great soldiers’ stories, here are a couple to grab: “The Good War“ by Louis “Studs“ Terkel, “Nam” by Mark Baker, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, and “The Long Road Home” by Martha Raddatz