Never Take Them for Granted
"The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war."
“When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in the happy hour when the establishment of American Liberty, upon the most firm and solid foundations shall enable us to return to our Private Stations in the bosom of a free, peaceful and happy Country.” —George Washington (1775)
Since then, I’ve heeded that advice with ever-greater regard, and as a result have developed relationships I treasure, including many with veteran American Patriots who have served our nation with humility, honor and dignity.
Our family’s ancestral line includes many Patriots who defended Liberty at great sacrifice. For that reason I’ve always held in high esteem those along my path who have also sacrificed much in the service of others.
If you are a regular reader of this column you may recognize a few of these names.
Among those Patriots are a few POWs, including a mentor, Col. Roger Ingvalson (USAF Ret.). Sustaining his legacy are two of his grandsons, who are now flying A-10 Warthogs. There is also my friend and neighbor, Col. Bill Gauntt, who recently went back to Vietnam to find his crash site — where his rear-seat weapons systems officer, 1st Lt. Francis W. Townsend, perished.
Another former POW who died last year is Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness. Leo was a Medal of Honor recipient and a devout and humble man. He authored “Mike’s Flag,” a brief but powerful tribute to a fellow POW, a young Navy pilot named Mike Christian. It is also the preface to a children’s book sponsored by The Patriot Post, I’m Your Flag.
Then there’s my colleague Roger Helle, who was hit with an NVA RPG, shot twice, bayoneted and left for dead. But they couldn’t keep him down. It is thus deeply humbling when one considers that Roger has returned to Vietnam 19 times to assist orphanages and build rural medical clinics there.
Perhaps the most inconspicuous combat veteran I’ve had the privilege of knowing is also the one best known for his conspicuous gallantry, Desmond Doss. He belonged to my father’s “Greatest Generation.”
Desmond was a small and unassuming neighbor who wore thick glasses and had been virtually deaf since World War II. He and his wife were simple people who lived a faithful life on a small farm a few miles south of our family home in Appalachia.
His physical stature notwithstanding, Desmond demonstrated his faithful resolve in repeated acts of heroism unparalleled among Medal of Honor recipients before or since. (His remarkable story was captured in the 2016 movie “Hacksaw Ridge.”)
These men have provided great inspiration in my life and our family, as well as that of all who have known them.
Of course, many folks I have met along my path have not worn a uniform in the service of our country but have no less devoted their lives to serving others. One of them is an East Texas Patriot, Kenny Vaughan.
Twenty years ago, Kenny started a ministry to encourage military personnel and their families by providing words of encouragement embossed on dog tags.
Fifteen years ago, our Patriot Post team partnered with Kenny to supply these dog tags for what grew to become “Operation Shield of Strength,” a significant component of our Patriot Post military mission of service.
Over the last 15 years, OpSoS has distributed countless shields with service branch seals or flags on the front and Joshua 1:9 on the reverse: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
In the first month of OpSoS deliveries, I received a note from a young Air Force fighter pilot who was on his first deployment with OIF. Landing at an airbase in the region, he wrote, “I was very unsettled. I was well trained to be in dangerous environments, but what was most unsettling is that I knew nobody. But then I noticed that the Airman who greeted me as I was raising the canopy was wearing the same Shield of Strength I was wearing. And there was great comfort in that.”
While we have distributed shields to military units worldwide over the years, along with “The Patriot’s Primer on American Liberty,” one of our regular OpSoS distribution points has been Camp Pendleton in California — by way of Gunner Gilbert Bolton.
Gunner Bolton received the Silver Star for his heroic actions on Hill 25 in Vietnam, when he and his men, badly outnumbered by enemy forces, doggedly drove back the Viet Cong.
Though technically “retired,” he has never left the Marine Corps, and he now devotes his life to young Marines at Pendleton.
Since 2003, he has delivered 55 combat leadership briefs, taught 37 Marine Combat Training classes, and has been an adjunct instructor for 18 Infantry Training Battalion classes. Bolton says, “I enjoy coming [to SOI-West]. It’s an honor and a privilege as I look forward to every presentation.”
He tells his Marines, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”
He has also attended 95 course graduations and has personally presented every Marine completing the School of Infantry with a Marine Corps Shield of Strength.
Capt. Bob Warren, a retired Navy chaplain, and his wife Genece, have always ensured Gunner Bolton was supplied with Shields of Strength and together they have put more than 25,000 OpSoS dog tags in the hands of young Marines. Last week, Gunner Bolton wrote, “On behalf of the our School of Infantry Marines, thank you for the thousands of OpSoS dog tags donated by The Patriot Post and Shop to our Marines!”
God bless the Warrens and Gunner Bolton.
On Armed Forces Day, I’ll be sending you a message about how you can obtain Shields of Strength, as well as two other limited-quantity items supporting severely wounded veterans — handcrafted paracord crosses and wooden flags in natural and full color finishes.
And finally, on this Armed Forces Day, and every day of the year, may God bless our men and women in uniform — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen — who have stood and continue to stand in harm’s way. For their steadfast devotion to duty, honor and country, we, the American people, offer them and their families our humble gratitude and heartfelt thanks. For those who have moved beyond this life, let us, in the words of Gen. George Patton, “thank God that such men lived.”
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776