Cumberland Times-News

Columns

October 1, 2013

It was much better than a $500 dinner

When Capt. Gary and First Sergeant Goldy took a break from Gettysburg Eddie’s and walked out into Steinwehr Avenue, we were greeted by a cascade of aerial explosions maybe half a mile away.
I will not try to describe it for you, although I know people who think they have sufficient talent and would try.
They would be wrong. These were Zambelli fireworks.
All that’s needed now, I told Gary, is for the U.S. Marine Corps Band to strike up “Stars and Stripes Forever” and a 105-mm artillery battery to fire off a few rounds.
“I’ll take the Marine Band,” he said. “I don’t know about the 105s.”
We found out later that the Marine Band was there, but we weren’t close enough to hear it. If there were any howitzers around, we’d have known it.
We arrived in Gettysburg the same weekend that 19 Medal of Honor recipients and their families were there for a series of events.
I have met two of these men: Woody Williams and John Baca were said to have been there, but I was never in a position to see them.
In addition to fireworks, there were dinners and other ceremonies, including a speech by Tom Selleck. Some of it was free, but you had to go online ahead of time to get tickets, and the dinner cost $500.
That left the captain and the first sergeant out, but that was OK.
What happened to us at Little Round Top made up for anything else we’d missed.
We met some of the people who founded the Wounded Warrior Project.
They told us about a vintage car that was painted in patriotic theme and sold at a high-end auto auction. It was bought for far more than it was worth by someone who donated it back, and it didn’t end there. “A million dollars” was mentioned somewhere.
A Yankee general and a major who joined us for a few minutes said they had been to one of the dinners. Both of them showed us a Medal of Honor challenge coin they got from a Wounded Warrior founder. (A case of “I got one and you don’t,” maybe?)
The captain and I later agreed we had been tempted to show them the two coins the Wounded Warrior guy gave us; I wish I could remember his name.
One bore the photo of Alfred Mac Wilson, U.S. Marine Corps, and the other the image of Marvin Rex Young, U.S. Army. Their names are among more than 58,000 engraved into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. You owe it to them to look them up and see what they did.
Both were from Odessa, Texas, the Wounded Warrior guy’s home town. He said he was determined not to let them be forgotten, a sentiment I understood.
These were top-flight well-made challenge coins. The man gave them to us after we handed him a “wooden nickel” coin from our local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 172.
It has “WELCOME HOME” on one side and the VVA logo on the other, and we’ve given hundreds of them to Vietnam Veterans.
Sometimes, the guy just stares at it for a long time and you think he’s about to cry. Other times, he doesn’t look at it right away and walks on, but comes back after he has seen what’s on it
Only somebody who got spit upon and had dung thrown at him when he came back to America from that hellhole can appreciate what something like this means.
A fellow who joined us two days in a row is the author of a book called “Six Degrees of the Bracelet: Vietnam’s Continuing Grip” that has had him travel more than 50,000 miles to talk to Vietnam Veterans.
He said he got chills when he looked at the wooden nickel we gave him.
When the Wounded Warrior guy gave us the Medal of Honor coins, I told Gary, “Now, I’m getting chills.”
We met some of the honor guards, mostly Navy and Air Force, who were there to serve as escorts for the Medal of Honor recipients.
The flight crew of a C-130 Hercules that came in for the ceremonies — a tall male major and two short, very cute female staff sergeants — also stopped to chat.
I told them a friend of mine’s brother — Grady Cooke — was loadmaster in a Herky that was shot down in Vietnam while trying to resupply An Loc, and his body wasn’t identified and returned to the U.S. for more than 30 years.
I went to Arlington for his funeral with a busload of men from the VVA Chapter and their wives seven years ago. Grady’s sister had hoped that maybe three or four guys in a car would show up.
There was a C-130 flyover for him, but none for Major James Sizemore and Major Howard Andre, whose bodies were found in Laos last year and recently buried in Arlington. They had been Missing In Action for 44 years.
The Air Force said that because of the sequestration and the approaching end of the fiscal year, it couldn’t afford to do a flyover.
However, pilots from the non-profit Warrior Flight Team provided two flyovers in vintage P-51 Mustangs and an A-26, the same type of plane in which Sizemore and Andre were killed. It cost them $24,000 but, as the pilots said, it’s what they do.
I didn’t know about this before I talked to the C-130 crew, who I suspect would rather have done a flyover at Arlington. 
Even if they knew about it — which I doubt that they did — it would not have detracted from our time with them.
They were terrific examples of our service members ... friendly, funny, smart and sharp, with great personalities and who were interested in why the captain and his grizzled old first sergeant were at Little Round Top. 
They go where they are sent and do what they are told to do, to the best of their ability. It never ceases to astonish Gary and me that such folks actually thank us for what we do.
Then there was a sudden, absolutely unexpected reminder of someone else who went where he was told to go and did what he was told to do above and beyond anyone’s expectations.
I never knew him, but some of my friends did.
Next week: A flash of Lightning.

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