Ray W. Sarlin
REMEMBRANCES ON VETERANS’ DAY
As Australia stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the eleventh day to recognize veterans, a few things came to mind that I thought I’d share. They don’t have a lot to do with Veterans’ Day, but more with why Veterans are worth remembering.
Veterans’ Day came into being on 4 June 1926 as a legal holiday to recognize the cessation of World War I. The holiday was named “Armistice Day” on 13 May 1938, and the day was “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” On 1 June 1954, it was renamed “Veterans’ Day” and November 11th became a day to honor American Veterans’ of all wars. Other countries including Britain and Australia also celebrate “Remembrance Day” on November 11th with veterans’ parades and events.
On 28 June 1968 President Johnson “rationalized” holidays to fall on Mondays to give federal employees three-day weekends from 1971. The first Veterans’ Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. Many people rebelled and stuck with November 11. 1971 was another bad year for holidays when President Nixon unilaterally proclaimed that not only were the birthdays of Lincoln (February 12) and Washington (February 22) to be celebrated on the same day, but that both would be replaced by the third Monday of February which would honor all past presidents. Sigh.
Some sanity prevailed when it became obvious that most people wanted to celebrate Veterans’ Day on a historically significant date. On 20 September 1975, President Ford returned the annual observance of Veterans’ Day to November 11, effective from 1978.
Before moving on, let’s look at the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. Veterans’ Day is the day to thank and honor all Veterans, living and dead, who served honorably in the military. So we have two special days each year to honor our comrades who died in or in the aftermath of battle.
Before becoming webmaster of our battalion website, I spent hundreds of hours assembling a list of Ichiban troopers who died in Nam. The dust is long settled on that undertaking now, but I have to say that it was very rewarding for me… and not just a little bit eye-opening. Some Charlie Company soldiers who were at my change-of-command ceremony just before my DEROS were on that list, which came as a shock. Those were men who were familiar to me, and who I had never thought of except as alive and well… and young.
For example, SGT Gary Cokley (Panel 06W – Row 034) joined Charlie a few weeks before I left, and died just nine days before Veterans’ Day, 1970. He was our battalion’s very last man killed in action in Vietnam.
His loss reminded me of another of my E5s, SGT Dennis Moore (Panel 14W – Row 069). Dennis was a platoon sergeant who died from wounds received disarming a booby trap, a job he could have left to others. Just a week earlier, he had performed one of the most courageous acts that I saw in Vietnam, trying to save the life of a squad leader, SP4 (Acting SGT) John McDaid (Panel 14W – Row 047), who was badly wounded after his small ambush opened fire on a NVA company. Arriving with the reaction force, Dennis sized up the seriousness of John’s head wound and carried him in his arms through heavy enemy automatic fire to allow the Dustoff that miraculously flew in through NVA tracers to load John without slowing down in the beaten zone. John was alive then but died before touchdown in Phan Thiet.
All three of these men were very sharp NCOs and fine young men. The loss of each was tragic, not only for our unit and our country, but for their families and friends.
The loss of Dennis, a fellow Ranger and one of the people that I’d come to rely on, hit me extra hard. I took the time the next few days after the battle to interview a number of other soldiers who had witnessed Dennis’ act so that I could write up an award. What he did was truly heroic. I had in mind a DSC (Distinguished Service Cross), especially since the chopper company CO had been on the horn to ask if we would support DFCs for the pilots. He said the pilots reported that Dennis’ quick and heroic action probably saved their bird, which still took numerous hits, and that he deserved a Medal of Honor. As an orphan battalion, we were seldom in line for major awards. I figured the paperwork would likely be downgraded to a Silver Star, but I put him in for a DSC.
Last year I was in touch with one of Dennis’ cousins, who had retired as an Army Master Sergeant. He told me that he had been inspired to join the Army by Dennis’ example. While talking with him, I learned that the award citation for Dennis was proudly posted in the local Community Hall nearest the tiny hill community of Bodines, PA where Dennis hailed from – and that it was for a Bronze Star with “V” device.
Was Sergeant Moore’s heroic sacrifice blemished by the political pettiness of people in our chain of command? I’ve thought on this question long and hard, and I’m at peace with my final answer. Dennis is a hero to me and, far more importantly, he is a hero to his family and people in the hills where he grew up. Dennis himself told me in the morning just before he was mortally wounded, he didn’t need a medal… he was just doing his job.
I still think about Dennis often, even more so on Veterans’ Day. Most combat Veterans had difficult jobs that asked for routine heroism… to me, that’s what Veterans’ Day is all about.
©Copyright November 11, 2003 by Ray W. Sarlin