Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day is about remembering

As many of you were, I was fortunate to be at home for Memorial Day, but only after some finely tuned dispatching, hustling and customer skills. It paid off.

Some goodtime BBQ’ing was in the works, a short ride to St. George Island for a dip in the Gulf waters, a stop at the Blue Parrot for conch fritters. And later, some cold adult beverages of choice (at home), allowed me to catch up on some much needed R&R.

But the real reason for the holiday is not far from my mind.

Nov. 11, 1969, I enlisted in the U.S. Army at the young age of 17, along with a few high school friends.

Scott Schettig was a close bud with whom I shared the dream of being a helicopter pilot. I did not pass the eye exam. Scott did, and after basic training he went off to Fort Rucker, AL, to master the Huey. I chose Signal School to learn motion picture photography. Less than two weeks before I was to report, the school burned down, and I had to choose another job qualification. Big trucks and track vehicles. Smart choice, huh?

Chip Williams, another high school bud, also joined and he went off to be a door gunner and crew chief on helicopters. He proved to be as good with a belt-fed M60 as he was with a wrench.

My neighbor and bud, Ritchie Bowman joined, also. Straight leg infantry, Ritchie was good at what he did. We started out as the Four Amigos, out to save the world, but we became set on different paths. It was 1970 and it was a brutal year to be in the Army overseas.

Scott Schettig was shot down and killed, along with his crew.

Ritchie Bowman and his squad, on a long range patrol, was involved in a firefight and he was killed by small arms fire and a grenade.

Chip Williams is a teacher in our old hometown, has a great family and never talks about his adventures.

Dave Sweetman is, well ... you know the answer to that.

To say that I am fortunate, lucky, blessed, protected by angels, all would be quite true. I never forget that, not even for even one day. I also take great pride in remembering my buds, those I served with, those I never knew who wore the uniform and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In my heart, the phrase, “There but for the grace of God, go I” has more meaning than I can explain. Those who served need no explanation.

That is the meaning of Memorial Day to me. Not BBQs, campers or trips to the beach.