28 May 2016
War and Remembrance – My truth endures from Grandpa and Lt. Persons
:by Maloey Jones
In 1968, I was 21. A Marine four months back from Vietnam, I was visiting Grandpa, walking with him in the cool of an autumn evening. As we passed the woods near his house, I asked him: "When do you ever forget?" Everyone was telling me to forget about the war in Vietnam. After all, I was home. We walked in silence for a while. Then Grandpa answered, "You never forget them, and you never should."
It had been 50 years since he had lost his eye in the trenches of World War I. He still carried the memory of the dead with him, the buddies who didn't return. Grandpa knew what haunted me, prompting my question. Nearly another half century since that fall day, I struggle with how to live my life. Should I stop torturing myself for living while comrades died so young?
After a long and deadly battle, we finally got resupplied with C-rations. I stood in line to pick up my allotment when the supply clerk asked, "How many?" We were supposed to pick meals for each squad member; each squad was supposed to send one man to get the chow. I was too ashamed to tell him there were no other squad members. I feared he'd ask, "Why are you the only survivor?" I was too afraid he'd blame me for living. I know that I blamed myself.
I finally answered that I needed meals for one. He asked again, "How many in your squad?" I told him twice more one, before he looked up into my eyes, and gasped. Finally he handed me a case of C-rations. I walked away. Later the word came down that we were no longer an effective fighting unit, we'd sustained too many casualties. We were waiting for the helicopters that would lift us back to our base camp; when I pulled my helmet down over my eyes and quietly allowed my shame, and hurt for all those dead Marines to run silently down my face in the form of tears.
Lt. Persons was my platoon commander. He'd missed the whole operation, away on battalion business, but he'd caught the first helicopter out to the battle site. As he handed out water, the lieutenant lifted my helmet and asked me if I wanted some. He saw my tears. He dressed me down He said I should keep it together "in country," that after we returned to the world we could cry all we wanted. Later, back at base camp, I asked him how he dealt with all the Marines who had died. He told me that he was going to first keep himself together so that he could get himself home. Then he would live life to the fullest, he said, for those who'd have given anything to make it back to "the world."
A few months later, I had wrangled my way out of the grunts and into an office. I was in a rear area of Da Nang. As I smoked with a couple of Marines, one said he was from my former outfit, Delta Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines. I asked about Lt. Persons. He had been among those killed in action. I felt as if a cold hand gripped my life, squeezing out the last bit of feeling.
I will never forget Lt. Persons. Now I hope you won't ever — not him or any of the others who've given their all for the United States. Don't forget them while you're having a barbecue on Memorial Day. Don't forget them while at the beach. Don't forget them the next time a politician says we need to intervene in a conflict without a clear cut path to victory.
Never forget that these heroes put their most precious possession —the coins of their lives — into the hands of their country.They handed over the coin freely, trusting that it would be spent wisely.
Let us never forget that, either.