Me and Leon ought to get the credit for all those medals David Mark garnered in Viet Nam. We beat on him most everyday during his formative years. It was our patriotic duty to toughen him up a mite! We double teamed him on slow days. He would never surrender to us. You talk about mule headed and obstinate. He wouldn’t give in, he wouldn’t give up; he wouldn’t admit defeat. He’d die before he’d quit fighting back! He never counted the odds, consequences, licks or setbacks.
You could say the younger brother got the short end of the stick…..or you might consider the survival skills that came early and natural for him. I’ll tell you this, he was the toughest Colbert boy by a whole heap, and then some!
We are a fortunate nation. We have always managed to find the toughest, bravest and most stubborn men among us to send off to war. Duty, right, honor, pride, responsibility, love of country weren’t lines in a John Wayne movie to soldiers like my little brother.
That Green Beret training was a snap for David. The twenty parachute jumps a walk in the park. He wanted no part of Viet Nam. But then, he hadn’t wanted those sneak attacks and blindsides from me and Leon either. When the call came, he answered without wavering simply and solely because his country asked him to. For the American soldier, from Lexington Green to Afghanistan, it had always been thus.
Daddy had done his island hopping across the South Pacific with MacArthur before we were born. I didn’t set up nights praying for his safety. It was different with David in Viet Nam. I worried every day. I checked the list of killed and missing in action. I actually let my thoughts drift to the very real possibility that he might not come back. I pondered the imponderable!
It brought home in a very real sense the unimaginable tragedy of each and every single American soldier who ever laid down his life for this country. They all had a brother…..or mom, little sister, father, girl friend. They were not “objects” in a history book. They were not statistics on a tally sheet. They were far more than political propaganda or names on a wall. It was a breath from God extinguished in this life.
Yeah, I hugged Dave’s neck on his safe return. I reminded him I could still “take him” anytime I wanted to. He chuckled but didn’t bother to qualify that fallacy with an answer. The conversation turned serious as I tried with all my might to “thank” a returning hero. He dropped his head, there was a slight pause and the stare was long and went somewhere I couldn’t see. He whispered a line we’d heard our Dad say of his World War II stint, “K. C., the real heroes didn’t come back”
What a special tribute from one soldier to another!
I remember the time we both stood transfixed before an old magazine we’d uncovered in our cluttered up attic. Mom kept most everything. This was in the mid fifties. It was a cover of Life Magazine, Look, or maybe Stars and Stripes. The American soldier was laying face down in the sand. It could have been Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Biak or Omaha. The tide lapped at his boots. Nothing was moving. We were way too young to understand “Last full measure”, “Some gave all” or “Supreme sacrifice”. We were old enough to realize this dead soldier had given up HIS future for SOMEOME else’s future. And anybody could see this guy died trying. We noticed he was moving toward the enemy when he fell. He was so far from home, so lonely……the scene was so final! It was the quietest magazine cover I’ve ever seen in my life. It also brought a truth, a realism to that verse, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
The seventieth anniversary of D-Day is just a week away. Utah and Omaha beaches will again be the focus of the moment. Try to look past the dignitaries, speeches and the intervening years. Pause and do a little staring of your own. Remember that amid the thunder of the exploding 88mm shells, the M2 mortars raining down from the enemies’ fortified position on the cliffs, the clamor of the incessant machine gun fire--twenty-five hundred American warriors fell silent…….before their family and friends back in the states had even sat down for breakfast!
Turn off your TV this Memorial Day week-end, step out in the yard, glance skyward and alert your neighbors if you hear any Japanese Zeros “kamikazing” overhead. Rush out to the street and cup an ear toward town. Any German Panzers rumbling your way? Bounce around to the back and peer over the fence. Is anyone yelling at you in Kurdish from the other side? Ride by city hall and check for Middle Eastern flags rustling against the pole. That’s a silence we’ve taken for granted so long we don’t hear it anymore. It didn’t come cheap. And it sure wasn’t free.
I don’t know what kind of salute you are planning on giving our fallen heroes this Memorial Day…….but I will tell you this, twenty-one guns ain’t near enough!