By Pam Dudding
Honor, respect, pride, loyalty, and sacrifice. These are words that seem to penetrate people’s minds when we speak of our military in the United States of America.
On Memorial Day, many gathered in the courtyard in New Castle to pay tribute to those who sacrificed it all, their own lives, as David Givens played patriotic background music, providing his system and service.
With warm welcomes, handshakes of intensity and hugs aplenty, friendships seem to be abundant.
The service started with the ringing of the Courthouse bell and the presentation of the Colors by our local VFS Post 4491 and a warm welcome by mayor Bucky Johnson’s wife, Melinda.
Marine Veteran Dennis White gave the invocation, sharing, “On this Memorial Day, your servants humble themselves before you and pause to reflect upon our blessings as a nation, and the high cost of those blessings….Even as your servants remember those who have given their lives in the past, we also think of those whose lives are on the line today. Protect them, encourage them, and bring them home safely.”
The Craig County Daughters of the American Revolution led the Pledge of Allegiance followed by Alyssa Schulke, the music teacher at Craig County Public Schools, singing the National Anthem and then played and sang patriotic music.
White, the special speaker, began with a poem he wrote:
“It’s a long way back, from the shores of war. I’ve been coming back for 40 years or more. / It is by the grace of God, that I am here with you, and not because of anything I did or did not do. / In this life on earth, I have never had a lot and I am thankful to God for everything I got. / Especially for the time he has granted me – it has been more time that I ever thought I’d see. / It is the good people of this land that make it all worthwhile and when I think of them, they always make me smile. / “He was a good man!” is what I hope to hear them say, when my life on earth is over and I fly away.”
White continued, “Memorial Day is a Federal holiday in the United States, for mourning the U. S. Military personnel who have died while in service, in the United States Armed Forces.” He noted that it has been observed for 154 years now.
White joined the United States Marine Corps in March of 1968 and after basic training went to Elkins, West Virginia. Right before his orders to go to Vietnam, White was in a restaurant, talking to friends. A gentleman asked to speak with him. White went to his table.
“After we talked for a short time, he said he had something important to tell me,” White shared. “Then he told me that when I get to Vietnam, ‘Keep your head down! Don’t forget this. It is very important.’”
White said that in Vietnam, he did what the man told him.
“If we were on patrols and stopped to check the map, or for any reason, I would stoop down, kneel down, sit down – even in the rear. I kept my head down as much as I could the whole time in that country for 12 months and 28 days. Then I got back.”
Thirty-five years later, at a reunion in Washington D.C., for his 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, he saw three of his Vietnam buddies.
“I walked over to them and asked if they remembered me, and they said “Yes, we do! You’re the guy that would kneel down all the time,” White said with a remembering smile.
White quoted Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation Prayer for peace, made on May 27, 1985. Some of the words were, “This year, we observe the fortieth anniversary of the end of the most destructive war the world has ever known – a war the United States did not want but nevertheless fought with total commitment to protect the most cherished human ideals. Throughout that war, and in our foreign relations afterward, we have sought to achieve true and lasting peace for all the people of the world.
“We honor the brave Americans who paid the highest price for their commitment to the ideals of peace, freedom and justice. Our debt to them can be paid only by our own commitment to preserving these same ideals. But our recommitment cannot be for ourselves alone. It must also be for our children, and for the generations yet to come. Peace, freedom, and justice are not things that were won for us 200 years ago or 40 years ago; they must be won again and again by each successive generation.”
White then shared a memory of one of his comrades in war, Alan W. Mediate. White said that in Vietnam they had company compounds as well as battalions. He explained that a compound was as big as a city block and they would have a perimeter all the way around it with sand bag ditches and box hole bunkers outside of it. They also added coasenta or barbed wire, trip flares and other warning devices to alert them if anything or anyone was in the wire. Guards were placed at different sites, with 24-hour watch.
Their compound was called “No Name Island,” though it was not an island but had water on three sides.
“It was about 10:30 one night when we heard the alarm, ‘Gooks in the wire!’ The shooting started and explosions were going off and everyone took positions. As I ran to the line, I went around to my right and took a spot to defend. Alan decided to go more to the left with about 30 feet between us,” White shared. “After it was over, I learned that Alan had been hit by a rocket or RPG and had been killed in action. Maybe if he would have come around more to the right, he would still be here or maybe if I had gone more to the left, I would not be here.”
White added, “We can second guess all we want to, but he still isn’t here with us. His name is on the wall in Washington.”
White found his name and took a piece of paper, placing it over the name, and in rubbing with a pencil, was able to copy the name.
“I also have a bracelet with his name on it,” White added. “Sometimes when I think about it, I get all choked up and teary-eyed. If that happens, don’t think that I am crying, because Marines don’t cry.”
“This Memorial Day, let us remember and honor Alan, as well as the others who gave their lives for our country. Let us remember that on average, 22 discharged Veterans commit suicide each day,” White said. “I am a combat veteran and I’m 73 years old. Life has taught me a lot.”
White concluded with, “There are at least three things I would like to pass along to you. 1- God is real and He is alive and well. 2- The Bible is the Word of God, 3- Jesus is the son of God and I put my faith and hope in God.”
The honoring “Taps” was played by VFW Post 4491 to end the ceremony. People mingled and The Craig County Library sold delicious homemade desserts.