By Joe Ragonese
On May 26, 1967, in South Vietnam’s Que Son Valley, the 5th Marine Regiment launched Operation Union II, a continuation of Operation Union I, moving North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) battalions out of the fertile rice paddies in the northern half of South Vietnam. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5) and 3rd Battalion, (3/5) were helicoptered to Landing Zone Eagle, east of Loc Son. Although they only experienced light resistance, at first, the NVA and VC were well entrenched and ready for battle.
Supported by artillery, the Marines quickly gained superiority, and by late afternoon, overran enemy positions. 38 Marines died taking those positions, while 118 NVA bodies were found. The enemy withdrew into Cambodia, but not far away. The Marines continued to sweep the region, until on the morning of June 2, while sweeping toward the Vinh Huey Village, they encountered another unit of NVA entrenched and waiting. As 1st Battalion Marines were moving forward, while crossing a wide rice paddy, they were caught in a crossfire and became pinned down.
During heavy fighting, Foxtrot Company, commanded by Captain James A. Graham, was decimated. For his actions guarding wounded and dead Marines, Captain Graham would be awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Before the battle ended on June 5, every company of Marines from the 1st and 5th Battalions would become involved. A total of 110 Marines were killed and another 241 wounded, while 594 NVA were killed and 23 captured. This battle was joined 50 years ago. As Americans went to military graveyards to honor our war dead, more were dying in the finest traditions or our armed forces.
Memorial Day is fast approaching. To me it is a sacred holiday, but most today only think of it as a three day weekend, without understanding the implications of this day. In 1967, I would like to think that the veterans of World War II and Korea were thinking of their comrades in arms in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, as they laid wreaths on the graves of the men and women they knew who sacrificed everything. Today, there are so few of veterans left, the holiday is meaningless to most Americans.
The first Memorial Day is said to have been in Columbus, Mississippi, a year after the Civil War ended, when a group of local women, on a fine spring day in April, decided to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had been killed in the Battle of Shiloh. In a corner of that graveyard lay the graves of Union soldiers, whose gravesites were in shambles from neglect.
The women, taking pity on the dead, even though they were the enemy, placed flowers among the graves. The next year they repeated the decoration of graves to honor those killed in service of their country. Somehow, this phenomenon spread around the country, as the toll of young men killed in the Civil War was a heavy burden to everyone, north and south.
On May 5, 1868, just three years after the war ended, Union veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization like today’s VFW) established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. The date was set as May 30, in the belief that flowers would be in bloom throughout the nation. Back then, so many had been involved in the conflict, that almost every American was touched in some way by it. Everyone grieved and honored those who died.
Today, the vast majority of Americans have never served in the armed forces, nor do they know anyone who has; and do not understand that service to one’s country, with a willingness to give all, is a higher cause than themselves. This lack of patriotism has hollowed the meaning of Memorial Day.
Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day, as a reminder to all American’s that freedom is not free; and then some left minded individual decided that May 30 is not an appropriate day to have off, if it falls on a weekend, so it is now May 30, or the Monday afterward.
That change should tell every reader just how sacred the day is to most. It is simply a three day weekend. And why shouldn’t it be. Only about 13% of us are veterans of any branch of the service. We have been in a constant state of war for the past 16 years, where our airmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers are dying on a regular basis; and no one cares.
No one cares because only 0.04% of American’s are today on active duty in our armed forces. Include all reservists and National Guardsmen, and that number climbs to around 0.08%. The number of Americans who are in the service, or have ever served, reflects the state of our nation today. The lack of concern about our readiness and preparedness for combat is so low that all branches of the service are begging college graduates to join. There is a substantial shortage of officers in our armed forces today.
There is such a pilot shortage, in all branches of the service, that if we were in a war with a peer nation, we would be out of pilots within weeks of its onset, maybe only days. The call to duty has eroded with every graduating high school class since the inception of Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education, which does not teach students our history and American Exceptionalism.
Today this writer was listening to the morning press briefing where the entire White House press corps asked question after question about President Trump’s firing of FBI Director, James Comey and the connection to the purported Russian hacking of our election and Trump’s involvement with it. There is and has been no inkling of any wrongdoing by the President or any of his staff, yet that is all they are concerned about.
For almost an hour this circus continued, and no one asked any substantial questions dealing with the military, our likelihood of going to or avoiding a war, on the many different fronts; not even about the state of relations with Russia or China. They have forgotten all about Iran’s aggression in the Persian Gulf and don’t care about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal that is about to mate with intercontinental missiles.
The state of our military is the last thing on the mind of most Americans, or what they are doing. Honoring those who gave all for their freedom to act silly and call it their right to shut out conservative speech on campus, is the last thing on the minds of America’s youth. Americans believe that they have all the rights and freedoms that they have, just because they were born in America; no one taught them that those freedoms were earned with the blood of patriots.
It is exactly the way Roman citizens felt when the great Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. They didn’t understand that Rome’s Legions were the reason they could indulge in orgies and elect Senators just like them; until the Visigoths sacked the city and they lost everything.
As we honor our dead warriors this Memorial Day, take the time to remember how we got to be the greatest nation on earth, and tell those who are only glad that they have a three day weekend, that it is because of the price paid in blood, by those we memorialize on this day, that they have any rights at all.