a preponderance of punctuation marks (reedrover) wrote,
a preponderance of punctuation marks

Memorial Day: soldiers and service people

To me, Memorial Day is a time to reflect on all the people who died in the service of others, regardless of the uniform worn or the location of death.

David Johnston, died May 18, 1980 -- lived and died for his work. His last words were a radio call to Vancouver announcing the Mt. St. Helen's eruption.

Hugh Thompson Jr., died January 17, 2006
On the morning of March 16, 1968, Army helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr. was flying a reconnaissance mission over the south Vietnamese village of My Lai when he saw a horrific scene of carnage.

"We kept flying back and forth, reconning in front and in the rear, and it didn't take very long until we started noticing the large number of bodies everywhere. Everywhere we'd look, we'd see bodies. These were infants, two-, three-, four-, five-year-olds, women, very old men, no draft-age people whatsoever. That's what you look for, draft-age people," Thompson once said.

Upon landing the OH-23 helicopter, door-gunner Lawrence Colburn, crew chief Glenn Andreotta and Thompson began picking through the bodies and placing green gas markers near the Vietnamese civilians who were wounded, but still alive. As they returned to the helicopter to call for additional aid, however, a U.S. soldier in Charlie Company, 11th Brigade began shooting the marked civilians. When Thompson found another GI preparing to blow up a hut filled with Vietnamese, he told Andreotta and Colburn to point their weapons at the Americans and shoot anyone who tried to kill the villagers. With his two-member crew providing cover, he went searching for the platoon's leader and ordered a cease fire.

Thompson then radioed for two other helicopters to transport the injured Vietnamese to safety. He and his crew were flying away from My Lai when Andreotta spotted movement in an irrigation ditch filled with dead bodies. Once they landed the helicopter, Andreotta hopped out to search the mass grave for survivors. He returned a few minutes later carrying a wounded child.

Up to 500 people were killed in My Lai that day by approximately 80 American soldiers. Not every member of Charlie Company participated in the slaughter, neither did they do anything to stop it.

In 1969, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published an expose of the My Lai massacre and its subsequent cover-up. The series of articles, which included comments about the incident from Thompson, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970. It also helped change the public's opinion of the Vietnam conflict and led to the conviction of the platoon's leader, Lt. William L. Calley. Calley received a life sentence for his role in the killings, but served just three years of house arrest after President Richard Nixon reduced his punishment. He was the only soldier to be convicted in the massacre.

Thompson later testified before the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Army Inspector General and at every one of the My Lai massacre court-martials -- and suffered retribution for doing so. Strangers phoned him with death threats and left mutilated animals at his home. Members of the armed services called him a traitor for turning on his own countrymen, and one congressman allegedly labeled him as "unpatriotic." David Egan, a professor emeritus at Clemson University, felt otherwise and in the late 1980s launched a letter-writing campaign to encourage the government to honor Thompson's heroism.

Still, it wasn't until 1998 when the Army decided to award the Soldier's Medal, the highest award for bravery not involving conflict with an enemy, to Thompson, Colburn and Andreotta. Andreotta was honored posthumously; he was killed in a helicopter crash three weeks after My Lai. Thompson and Colburn returned to the village that same year to dedicate an elementary school. There they met some of the villagers they saved, including the 8-year-old boy pulled from the irrigation ditch. In 1999, the two veterans received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award.

Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1961 and in the U.S. Army in 1966. The Atlanta native was shot down five times during the Vietnam war, broke his backbone in the last attack and suffered from psychological scars for the rest of his life. Despite this, he continued to serve his country as a counselor for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

Thompson died on Jan. 6 of cancer at the age of 62. He was buried in Lafayette, La., with full military honors.

Alfred Anderson, the last survivor of the World War I spontaneous Christmas Truce
Alfred Anderson was only 18 years old on Dec. 25, 1914, when the "eerie sound of silence" fell along the 500-mile Western Front. On that day, British and German troops stopped shooting each other long enough to share a moment of peace.

Anderson, who served with Britain's 5th Battalion - The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), would eventually become the last known surviving Allied veteran to have experienced the spontaneous "Christmas Truce" of World War I. The unauthorized ceasefire spread along the Western Front as enemy troops shook hands, swapped cigarettes and food, sang Christmas carols and even played games with each other.

In some places, the impromptu truce lasted for several weeks, and actually alarmed army commanders who feared the fraternization between the troops would interfere with the need to resume fighting. For Anderson, however, peace lasted only a few hours.

"All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices," he once said. "But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted 'Merry Christmas,' even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war."

The yule armistice was not repeated during the remaining years of the war, a global conflict that left 31 million people dead, wounded or missing.

Anderson was born June 25, 1896, in Dundee, Scotland. He and many of his classmates enlisted in the Territorial Army in 1912 and were among the first British soldiers to serve in France during the Great War. Anderson reached the rank of sergeant, and briefly served as the valet to Capt. Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother of Queen Elizabeth.

He continued to serve until 1916 when a shell exploded, killing several of his friends and seriously wounding him in the back of the neck. Anderson lay in his trench all day, and only received medical attention after darkness fell. The injury ended his active service, but he still helped the Allies by working as an infantry instructor.

Anderson aided the Home Guard during World War II and also ran his family's building and joinery business. In 1998, he was awarded the Legion of Honor from the French government. Anderson's life was chronicled in the 2002 biography, "A Life in Three Centuries," and a bust of his visage is on display at the public library in Alyth, Scotland.

Anderson died in his sleep on Nov. 21 at the age of 109. His wife, Susan Iddison Anderson, died in 1979 at the age of 83. Alfred is survived by four children, 10 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

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