Although two of my ships sailed in and out of Vietnamese waters in 1972 and 1973, I was never directly exposed to combat. So, please understand that I pass this quote on from Lt. Calhoun not as a member of the fraternity of combat veterans, but as a serviceman who has a limited understanding of the sense of loss felt by combat veterans.
It really doesn't matter that Calhoun wrote these words in 1990. I'm sure the events of two and one-half weeks combat on the island fortress Corregidor were permanently etched in his mind. Combat has a way of changing the lives of its participants forever.
Here's Calhoun's description of his deep sense of loss as the 2nd Battalion prepared to leave Corregidor on March 8, 1945:
For the most part we were happy, and relived, to be leaving this dusty mass of wreckage where death lurked at every turn. Possibly just as great an emotion was intense pride; we had retaken our great fortress marking this event forever as the high water mark of our lives, or at the least ranking with the high water marks. Memories were indelibly burned in our minds for so long as we shall live. Yet not all was joy. We were leaving behind some forty-nine battalion brothers who would never grow old. Even after forty-five years the grief is still there. Another thought which survives the years is the haunting question, why them and not me?As a nation, we owe these veterans the greatest sense of gratitude we can muster. They gave their lives -- even those who survived the 49 who remain on the island to this day.
It's their sacrifice (and that of all veterans before and after World War II) that allow this nation to live and enjoy the freedoms that we hold dear. Thousands of lives have changed just in my 55 years on earth. While our freedoms come from the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it's the serviceman who allows us to keep those freedoms.
Whether fighting the spread of Communism in Vietnam and during the Cold War or fighting terrorists on the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan today, many veterans willing enlisted in a cause they see as greater than themselves. These men and women have set their individual lives aside for a time to willing and voluntarily serve their country.
And many gave their lives so others could live. When you see a veteran today, give him a hug and offer your heart-felt thanks. He or she has been through a lot.
Let me close with this though from Lt. Calhoun from an article titled, "Does it Matter?":
... physical discomforts are superficial which can be laughed at ... later.Enough said ...
It is the mental trials that are seared in the soul. The memory of those young men with whom you served will never end. We were a close team, brothers following orders in every move. Our association was seven days a week. More that that, we company grade officers were required to censor mail--a hated task. I learned their loved ones, their dreams, their fears, their plans for the future, and often their inner thoughts. To some I became father-confessor. As some made the supreme sacrifice, the living became more precious. "Oh, God, don't let them die!" Though that pain began so long ago, it is still here today. The tears still flow and will as long as I draw breath.