When I was eight
years old, Bill ran a country store built of stone near the river. His son and I
were friends, and on the days when we played together alternately riding bikes,
horses, playing hide-and-seek in the store room isles saturated with the sweet
aroma of stored feed stacked in the back, sometimes we were drawn to the counter
where Bill worked.
Perhaps it was boredom, or
maybe a strong curiosity about this man who was raised on a farm in Madison
County, joined the Marines as a young man, and fought in the South Pacific
Theatre in World War II. I respected him, and I could see his capacity to turn
off everything else to do the job at hand, whatever it was.
Youth is bold, and I was sure
this man who knew more than I, had a past rich in experience, and that his life
was not confined to the man I saw ringing out groceries and supplies 12 hours a
day, six days a week. So one day, I asked, “Did you fight in the war?” He
looked a little shocked for a moment, like I had lifted the lid on a coffin
buried deep in his mind that only he could access.
“Yes, I did. I was a United
States Marine on board a destroyer in the South Pacific.” Bolder now, “did
you fight the Japanese?” Once
again, the look of haunting memories, buried deeds, “Yes, I was a gunner on
deck with a 50 caliber, and we fought several battles.”
I wouldn’t let up, I wanted
to know what he had done, what he had learned, what made him go, what made him
fight. Pearl Harbor was bombed
eight years before I was born, and the Veterans I knew in 1958 were the fathers
of my friends, the barber, the mechanic, or my uncles.
It was like they carried this secret inside that wounded them, left them
numb, and no one dared to touch or question that time, that place buried beneath
the rhythm of their working days.
But Bill was different; he
was like a second father to me. He opened up and talked of the battles, the
sounds of sirens, the “all hands on deck” call, the waves of planes, and the
deaths by bullet, bomb and panic. He
spoke of brave men who died, of guns that jammed and had to be cleared, of
red-hot barrels changed out by muscle memory when everything around was chaos,
smoke, and death. He spoke of their pride of being a United States Marine; he
taught me their song, their creed and part of their discipline.
He started me out with a Colt
Government Model 1911 A-1 .45 caliber pistol--the one he carried as a United
States Marine. There in the cool darkness on the worn smooth counter, he trained
me in the care and use of that weapon. Before he would let me shoot it, I had to
be able to put on a blindfold and disassemble it, and then put it back together
by muscle memory in under three minutes. He taught me that gun control was
"one well-placed shot." Then
he taught me how to shoot and handle that weapon when I was nine years old.
Then came the M-1 Carbine,
the cans at 50 yards, the pride of learning what he had to teach me about being
an American, being faithful, being able to defend what we hold precious in this
great land. As our friendship grew,
I hunted with Bill, camped with him, and forgave him when he grew distant, or
withdrawn. I understood him and knew to never wake him up by touching him or by
making a sudden noise. I gave him the dignity he had earned by his courage and
Today, Memorial Day, A. D.
2000, I salute Bill and every warrior like him who suffered mightily, who fought
for God, for Country, for the Republic of America, for the individual liberties
we are guaranteed by our only charters of freedom – the Declaration of
Independence, the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The quarter million fallen
heroes that fought the tyranny of fascism and hate to preserve our freedom under
that Constitution are calling us now to remember that they did not die to bring
us the warm fuzzy illusions of peace and prosperity, or the comfort of delusion,
but to preserve our freedom, our liberty, and our Republic.
Only by the force of arms and
men trained in their use, do we enjoy our freedom today, not because of
politicians and speeches, or platitudes or lies do we enjoy freedom - but
because of strong warriors dedicated to the Constitution who gave their lives
for God and Country.
As we grow soft and spoiled
today in our creature comforts, our instincts dull, our children taught to fear
guns and to rely on government for protection, taught to seek peace to the
exclusion of liberty and the necessity for its defense, we cannot appreciate the
real meaning of this day and the sacrifices American warriors have made to allow
us the freedom to enjoy it.