A thought for Veterans Day | VailDaily.com

A thought for Veterans Day

Tom Smith Special to the Daily

As Gen. Eisenhower gazed upon the incredible carnage of Normandy Beach on D-Day he remarked, “Where do we get such men?”

As a Marine platoon commander in the ‘Nam in ’68 and ’69, I often thought the same thought. The answer is quite simple – they’re made right here in America! Thank you, God, for these home-grown wonders.

The Third Infantry Regiment at Fort Myers has the responsibility for providing ceremonial units and honor guards for state occasions, White House social functions, public celebrations and interments at Arlington National Cemetery and standing a very formal sentry watch at the Tombs of the Unknowns.

The public is familiar with the precision of what is called “walking the post” at the Tombs. There are roped off galleries where visitors can form to observe the troopers and their measured step and almost mechanical silent rifle shoulder changes. They are relieved every hour in a formal drill that one has to see to believe.

Some people think that during the evening when the cemetery is closed to the public that this “show” stops. First, to the soldiers who are dedicated to this work, it is no show. It is a charge of honor. The formality and precision continues uninterrupted all night. During the nighttime, the drill of relief and the measured step of the on-duty sentry remain unchanged from the daylight hours.

To these men, these special men, the continuity of this post is the key to the honor and respect shown to these honored dead, symbolic of all Americans unaccounted for and American combat dead. The steady rhythmic step in rain, sleet, snow, hail, hot, cold and bitter cold is uninterrupted – uninterrupted is the operative word.

When Hurricane Isabel swept through the area, she tore hell out of everything. Thousands of trees were down, power outages, traffic signals out, roads filled with down limbs and any manner of debris. There was also much flooding and the locale looked like it had been the impact area of off shore bombardment.

The regimental commander of the U.S. Third Infantry sent word to the nighttime sentry detail to secure the post and seek shelter from the high winds to ensure their personal safety. THEY DECLINED.

During winds that turned over vehicles and turned debris into projectiles, the measured step continued. One soldier said it best: “I’ve got buddies getting shot at in Iraq who would kick my butt if word got to them that we let them down. I sure as hell have no intention of spending my Army career being known as the goddamn idiot who couldn’t stand a light breeze and shirked his duty.”

Then he said something in response to a female reporter’s question regarding purposeless personal risk: “I wouldn’t expect you to understand ma’am. It’s an enlisted man’s thing.”

Well, God bless that soldier and every member of that detail. At a time in our nation’s history, when spin seems to have become the accepted coin of the realm, the hearts of lions beat on.

While we slept, we were represented by some fine men who fully understood their post orders and proudly went about their assigned responsibilities unseen, unrecognized and in the finest tradition of the American enlisted man.

The ABC Evening News reported that because of the dangers from Hurricane Isabel approaching Washington, D.C., the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment.

They refused. “No way, sir!” Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the tomb was not just an assignment; it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

There was also an interview on the Fox News Channel with the commander of the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He took the shift when Isabel was unleashing her greatest fury because he did not want to ask any of his men to do what he wouldn’t do. He believed it was his highest honor to be on duty during that time.

Folks, there’s hope. The genes that George S. Patton and Jimmy Doolittle left us survive today. May God bless all of our veterans on this day of remembrance.

Tom Smith of Sarasota, Fla., is an avid reader of the Vail Daily on-line at http://www.vaildaily.com

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