Today I sat on the curb and watched the Armed Forces Day Parade as it passed through the city of Lawton and I smiled. You see, I was more interested in the crowd than I was in the parade as I wondered just what was going through their mind. Young and old lined the route, but the most interesting was a fellow who sat next to me. He was a Native American (Comanche Tribe) and was wearing his cap, which indicated that he was from the World War II era. I had a chance to visit with him and he told me of his trip through the South Pacific. He had been drafted and spent over four years in the US army. Near the end of the war he received his purple heart, and he now walks with a cane as the result of the wound. The gentleman must have been in his late 80's, but he was still quite sharp and really enjoyed the parade.
The color guards that led the parade were the representatives of the various services, and carried the colors so proudly -- the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Army. And of course there was “old glory." Their boots were polished to “spit shine” standards, and I realized that most folks have no idea about the term much less what a “spit shine” is. The wind caused the flag to whip around, and of course very few people realized what it took to maintain some kind of control while marching to the beat of the drum while the weight of the flag caused the carriers to sway against one another.
Next were the parade marshals. The city manager (representing the mayor) who had never been in any branch of the service, and a Brigadier General who was Fort Sill commander’s representative (as the commander was out of town) and who was probably in high school while I was in Vietnam.
Then came the “troops.” Hey, they looked so young as they passed the reviewing stand. These kids could never fight a war. Then I realized that we were “kids,” and we did (fight a war). But surely we were more mature and better trained then these youngsters, but then I must laugh. That was us 30 odd years ago.
Then came those things they call the MLRS (Multiple Launcher Rocket System). That three man crew can deliver more fire power than a whole battalion of 175's could deliver. I pray that they will never have to fire them at another human being, but if they should, I am so glad that they belong to the US Army. Their destructive power is almost immeasurable.
Of course the Shriner's clown team was entertaining the kids, but as I look beyond their make-up, I see faces that were engaged in the conflict called Vietnam. They are not still wearing the war on their shoulders. They are productive citizens in the community who are now sharing their talents and expenses by putting a smile on the faces of children and adults alike. These men suffered in the jungles, yet those days, though never forgotten, are in the recesses of their mind to be recalled when other (comrades in arms) want to talk among themselves but not to be shared with those who can never understand.
The bands pass and play their school fight songs, the twirlers throwing their batons high in the air, and the cute little cheer leaders trying to keep smiling after marching almost a mile. This is certainly not what they are accustomed to, as they always have their car, cell phone and other needs at their disposal, and these needs certainly do not include having to walk anywhere. Will they ever understand just how blessed we are that we can live in such a country of plenty?
The VFW's float came by. There on the float where a small group of broken, tired old men, and I salute them with respect, as they were the ones who fought in the “big one.” These World War II veterans were snatched from their home in time of the draft and sent to the islands of the south Pacific and Europe with the understanding that they were to serve until the duration of the war was over. They suffered so very much, and now in the past few months we have been informed that they are dying by the thousands each passing day.
Next I saw those from another era. There was a small group who were wearing uniforms from the time in Korea, another engagement that the United States supported with money and materials, but more importantly, with the lives of thousands of young American men who were also drafted into service. Their only hope was that they could stay alive for 13 months as they were promised that they would be replaced and then they could return to their loved ones. The elements of Korea coupled with the fighting tactics of the communist caused thousands of these great men to come home in body bags, and here were just a few paying honor and respect to those left behind.
And then the rumble of a tracked vehicle got my attention, and soon the long barrel of a 175 cannon came into view. There passing in review was the last known tube that survived the Vietnam War. The gun that rained steel along the DMZ was now being paraded along the streets of America to remind those watching that yes there was another war in SE Asia.
As I looked beyond the track, I see a small group of men who were part of the gun's crew that manned this mighty weapon. They were in town for a reunion, and as it passed their reviewing stand, they stood, trying to pay honor, as the tears rolled down their cheeks. They too were reliving the memories of the jungles of Vietnam, the taste of C rations, the feel of the dirt, the smell of gun powder, the sight of friends dying in the mud and the small protection they had from the incoming rounds of the enemy. But they were also remembering more than 58,000 names which have been chiseled on the “wall” in our nations capital.
Then there were the horse-mounted participants, the street sweepers, and the clean up detail following and then it was all over. Did it have to end so soon, I was wishing that it would last forever, but time does march on.
The last closing event was the retreat ceremony that was then held on the grounds of the local Junior High School at the flagpole. Once again these youngster of today's Army performed this ceremonial task in a very professional manner, and with care they folded Old Glory for the close of another day.
The crowds departed laughing and visiting about the days activities and I pause to watch my new found friend hobble off. God please forgive me if I ever fail to remember that yesterday men died that I might live today.
Joe L. Talley
May 18, 2001