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Roger Helle / June 2, 2021

Memorial Day: Lest We Forget

Remembering and honoring the service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It was as hot as I remembered. The temperature was hovering around 115 degrees. My wife and nine-year-old daughter made the trek with me, despite the brutal sun beating down on us.

We crossed the open rice paddies, approaching the small fishing village located on a tributary of the Perfume River. The Old Imperial City of Hue was less than five kilometers away. Everything looked the same. The women planting rice stalks by hand, water buffalo lying in the mud. It was two kilometers of open rice patties to the small fishing village where my life changed dramatically 23 years earlier.

I got a knot in the pit of my stomach as we drew closer and I saw a group of people standing at the edge of the village. Years before, we always took enemy fire when we approached the village in daylight. Apparently, word made it to the village before we did that “the Americans are coming!”

Our small group entered the village and were immediately surrounded by curious locals. Through our interpreter, I told those gathered around us that my friends had died here many years ago. We had come to remember. Most of the villagers were too young to remember the war years.

But one elderly woman, carrying a small child, approached me. When the interpreter told her about my friends, she came up to me, laid her head against my chest, and softly cried. Apparently, I was not the only one who had lost someone. Tears began to flow freely, even for some of the veterans who came with me but did not know the whole story — the night ambush, the volume of automatic weapons firing, along with the detonation of several mines. Then … absolute silence as the Viet Cong disappeared into the thick jungle.

For a moment, there were no sounds at all. Then there was the soft moaning of two Marines who walked behind me on the trail as we entered the ambush. They had absorbed the full blast of the mines as we three were blown off the trail by the explosion. The 10 Marines in front of me were all killed.

Waiting for a react platoon to chopper to our location made for the longest, scariest moments of my life up to that point. I prayed the enemy would not come back to finish what they started. When the Marines arrived, the two wounded Marines were put on a helicopter and sent to the hospital. I flew out with the platoon and 10 body bags. The next day, I was told the two wounded Marines died on the way to Da Nang. I would carry the guilt of surviving for 23 years.

I can see the faces of so many of my friends who did not come home from Vietnam, but the mind refuses to put a name to the faces. I tried so hard to forget. But because I served with men braver than me, courageous and dedicated men, I will not forget. I will remember them for the rest of my life.

Memorial Day is not just a long weekend. It is a time to remember the incredible service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” —John 15:13

Something to remember!

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