It is Memorial Day, 2017, and it is raining. On Memorial Day, 1986 it was raining. I remember because I was holding the United States Colors as a wreath was laid in honor of those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who have given their lives for our country. We placed the wreath at the grave of Private First Class Milton Olive, 173rd Airborne Brigade (Separate), who, on the 22nd of October 1965 sacrificed his life in an act of incredible gallantry. His citation reads:
Pfc. Olive and 4 other soldiers were moving through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Pfc. Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body. Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon. Pfc. Olive’s extraordinary heroism, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.
For this act of self-sacrifice, PFC Olive was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. On that Memorial Day in 1986, PFC Olive stood as a representative for all who have given their lives for our country.
I had enlisted in the Army a little over a year prior, and this was the first Memorial Day I had been involved in as an actual member of the Armed Forces. It was an honor. Only because I was taller than the rest of the Honor Guard was I selected to carry the American flag. The rain poured down, we were soaked, water streamed down our faces. I did not realize at the time that the rain streaming down our faces hid the tears of many of the men who were there. Vietnam veterans were still serving in large numbers in the mid and late ‘80s and there were a few there that day who had actually known PFC Olive.
When the ceremony was over we found a place to eat. I felt good. It was an honor to have been a part that day and those that had gone before were held up as men to be revered. Medal of Honor recipients ever more so. I did not know anyone my own age who had died. I noticed, but did not pay much attention to the fact that most, if not all, of the Non-Commissioned Officers (the NCOs – the Sergeants – those who had been young Soldiers – as young as I was on that day – when in Vietnam) were drinking. They were drinking heavily and soon they were drunk.
Now, today, my first Memorial Day since leaving the Army it is raining again. This time I know many men who have died. A few men my age but many more who were younger when they died for our country. Some the age I was when I held the flag that day in the rain. Most in the month of May. I now understand the tears that were shed back then and the attempt to drown those tears in drink. I have seen many in the past few years spiral into alcoholism and worse trying to numb the pain.
Later today we will have a large crowd of young people over. There will be good food and fellowship and people will have a great time. A few words will be said about remembering and honoring those who have died but, as I did not so many years ago, few if any will really understand. They are all aware of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but it has not touched them – they are still blissfully ignorant of sacrifice. So, they will not be sorrowed by the sacrifice but instead enjoy the freedom the sacrifice has gained them. And for that I am truly thankful.
Lord hasten the day that Your Kingdom is fully established, wars cease, and the sacrifice of Your Son is the only one we exult.