Tag Archives: Memorial Day Tribute 2016

Reflections

By PMWalt2

Yesteday, I had a bunch of Marines who served with me years ago contact me via Facebook.

These were guys I led in the very early 80s and called me Lieutenant. I was a tank platoon commander and they were my Marines. They were a great group of young men, Marines who like me were probably not as mature as we would be after our “float” across the pond, a float which would take us to Grenada and Beirut. Chatting with a few of them recently brought back memories of how proud I was of each and every one of them … then, as now.   We entered the crucible of combat and experienced pretty much everything that went with it.

Those chats reminded me of the importance of something I remember each year at this time of year, one particular event from decades ago.

One late afternoon on a non-descript January afternoon in 1984, things began to heat up and I took a section of tanks from our maintenance area to our firing positions east of the Beirut airport. I recall rounding a curve and making a quick decision to head to the right firing position which would mean the trailing tank led by Lance Corporal Rich Delgado to take the position to my left.

As we were turning into our positions, we drove into a barrage of either 122 or 152 mm rockets. Both of us were heads up out of the turret as all hell broke loose.

As we settled into our firing positions I got the call on the radio, “Delgado is hit, we need doc”. A piece of shrapnel nailed him in the neck as we were getting into firing position.

I made a medevac call and my doc (corpsman) and one of his buddies (another doc) ran from an adjacent bunker about 125 yards away to Delgado’s tank. Both got knocked down at least once with more incoming rockets, but both got to his tank unscathed. The docs got him stable and were able to medevac out of there in an Amtrak.  Later that night we heard Rich was stable on the USS Tripoli. The next day I got the word he was evacuated to Germany.

I saw Rich Delgado once more when we got back and were all at Camp Lejeune. He was still hurting and was going to be discharged.   I was so happy to see him and glad to see him. He was a Lance Corporal, an E-3, who was given a tank and three other Marines to lead … he was a solid leader, great Marine, and a great person.

Three or four years later, it doesn’t matter, I was a tank company commander at 29 Palms California and I ran into to my tank mechanic, Pollard, from that float years before. I was now a Captain and my Pollard now a sergeant. He asked me if I heard about “Delgado”.   Not knowing, I asked what he knew.

Sgt Pollard told me that Rich had passed a few years previously when undergoing surgery to repair the damage to his neck that January day in 1984.   Not knowing what to say, I recall feeling very sad and a bit hollow.

This Memorial Day, lift a glass and say a prayer for all of the Rich Delgado out there. I know I will, just as I have these past 30 plus years.

By the way, the event I recall from decades ago wasn’t the firefight in January ’84, it was learning of Rich Delgado’s passing.

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The Foxhole

By Silent Warrior 6

As they came of age between 1940 and 1943, the five Smith brothers left their town in Indiana for places that most had never heard of. They volunteered to jump out of planes, crouch in machine gun nests and ride in plywood gliders. They survived diphtheria and gunshot wounds, burrowing into the earth or under trucks at night so they could sleep through the shelling. Their family had nothing but hope and prayers to bring them home. And one by one, the five Smith brothers, dozens of war decorations among them, came home – exhausted but whole. All five brothers lived long into retirement and all but one is living today today. A 4th brother, Kenneth “Kenny” Ray Smith, died on 1 April 2016 in Washington, Indiana at the age of 92.

Kenny’s story is unique. With the advent of World War II, he volunteered to serve the Army and our Nation. He was a 75mm Howitzer Sergeant assigned to the 681st Glider Field Artillery Battalion and attached to 82nd Airborne Division. He fought and survived behind the front lines in Sicily, Normandy and Holland. He served also in North Africa, Italy, France, Bulgaria and Germany. He earned six European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals with six bronze stars and one bronze arrowhead. After returning home from the war he married and raised four sons in Southern Indiana.

Kenny fought at Normandy, one of the bloodiest battles of the 20th century. Just before D-Day, he sent a telegram to his mom, saying, “Mother, pray for us boys, we need God now.” Later, Kenny described his task on D-Day as a “suicide mission”. Remarkably, Kenny’s plywood-and-canvas glider (AKA flying coffin) landed “successfully” by crashing into a tree, ripping through the branches as the nose hit the dirt. Unconscious for the next several hours and separated from his crew, Kenny linked up positively with his team later the next day.

Surviving six campaigns in WWII and earning a bronze arrowhead for a combat glider landing requires trust in God and discipline. I visited with Kenny last summer and asked him simply, “how did you survive?” Without hesitation, the old Soldier responded, “I always dug a foxhole.” Standing tall at 6 feet, 8 inches – digging a foxhole to standard was not a quick easy task for Kenny. He jokingly added, “one or two Soldiers always ended up in my foxhole with me because they lacked the discipline to dig their own day after day in combat”. Kenny’s “foxhole” message is both simple and genius. “Always improve your foxhole” is one of the first orders I received as an Infantry enlisted Soldier in training. It was my honor to share Kenny’s message with the Soldiers assigned to my Battalion a few weeks ago, his message was received well by the entire formation. The key task assigned to the Nation’s current generation of Soldiers is simple —– improve your foxhole and deliver RESULTS that benefit the Nation, our Army’s Mission, our Soldiers and their Families.

 

 

 

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