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GUEST COLUMN
MEMORIAL DAY REMINISCENCE
 By Michael Wyly

Continued from Home Page.
It will be my distinct honor to once again command Pittsfield’s Memorial Day Parade, on Monday, May 28th.
No day in the year holds as much meaning for me. It was my second tour of duty in the Vietnam War in 1969 that I commanded Company “D”, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. It was a younger (17-18 year-old troops and 22-year-old officers), maybe a little rougher around the edges Marine Corps than the finely-honed one I first went to war with in 1966. Seldom did we spend two nights in the same place. We wore no rank insignia, this to keep the enemy from knowing who was in charge. There were no salutes and my troops called me “Skipper”, the nick-name bestowed on all Marine company commanders to this day. “The kids” (as we oldsters in our 20’s called them) back in 1969 may have thought “Skipper” was my name – maybe my first name. We were all in it together, depending on one another – for our lives.
Officers took the same risks as the men. Every officer who started out with my “Delta Company” in March 1969 came home with at least one purple heart. One, “Lieutenant “Chip” (Chip was Charles’s nickname), as the men called him, didn’t make it home at all, killed in action in the month of May. The 180 or so enlisted men, likewise, earned their share of purple hearts, and writing a condolence letter to a Gold-Star family was to become a weekly task for me. When I came home I visited Chip’s Mom and Dad and as many other Gold Star parents as I could. Chip stands out in my memory because I was less than ten feet away from him when he received his fatal wound. I was struck by shrapnel from the same enemy 40 millimeter round that took Chip's life.
When I think back to those days, what I remember is the spirit of being all in it together. If a Marine found himself in an open paddy, wounded and exposed to fire from surrounding trees, his comrades would be out there in seconds to help him, exposed themselves – too often faster than I could say “Hold on so we can get you some covering fire!”
Don’t ever think they were wonton killers. They were Americans, many right out of high school, brought up the same as you and I. They were reared and nurtured in families and schools that were safe and secure. These “kids” as I called them at my ripe old age of 29 in 1969, never got used to the sight of blood, whether it flowed from friendly or enemy. Neither did I. And when there was a break in the action after a firefight, after we got our wounded out, when there was room on a “Medevac” chopper for a bleeding Viet Cong or North Vietnamese soldier, we bound his wounds and loaded him aboard the chopper headed for the aid station. “We’re the Americans,” I explained to my young Marines. “If we don’t hold to our values, then what are we fighting for?”
Memorial Day is the day I remind myself of the answer to that question. From the “blue coats” who won our independence and freedom, through to our quest to save the world from tyranny in lands far from home, through to and including our volunteers who have given it all in the battles waged this year and last – sometimes the cause may seem obscure until the histories are written – but now – while the fight is on, our duty is clear. It is what makes us a nation. When there is even one American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, putting their life on the line because the country called on them to do so, they will be surrounded by comrades willing to do the same, some of whom will die; and on this day we return that love as best we can, here in the safety and the freedom so dearly paid for by those we remember on this special day.
Back in May of 1969, knowing this gave us heart, and reminded us that we were not forgotten; yet more importantly, we knew that those comrades we had lost were remembered and loved still, in the towns, cities, and the countryside, back home.