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News & Editorials

Memorial Day
Steve Towe

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 his sacrifice.

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.   

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To prohibit a citizen from wearing or carrying a war arm . . . is an unwarranted restriction upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns, the evil must be prevented by the penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation of constitutional privilege. [Wilson v. State, 33 Ark. 557, at 560, 34 Am. Rep. 52, at 54 (1878)]

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