Don’t take their sacrifices for granted

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Editor’s note: The Rev. Armand Jalbert, who was the speaker for the recent Memorial Day program in Newsoms, gave the following speech, which he has graciously allowed to be printed in The Tidewater News.

by Armand Jalbert

I thank you for the opportunity to speak this special Memorial Day service. I feel honored to be asked. To give you a little background about myself, I served 9-1/2 years active duty in the navy. I was a signalman (visual communications) and was an E-6 when I left the Navy to attend college and then seminary. I was homeported/stationed in Japan for a total of 8 years with only one year in the States. It was in Sasebo, Japan where I met and married my wife, Naoko.

Our son was a Marine for 4 years and went to school on the GI bill. Our son-in-law is an officer in the Air Force. My father and uncle were in the Navy during WWII, as well as some other relatives. Serving our country in the military is part of our family heritage where we sought to do our part in preserving the freedoms we so richly enjoy.

I served on two supply ships, a repair ship, an LST where we carried Marines and Army troops in and out of Vietnam. I also served on a guided missile destroyer for seven months. My ships were active in the support of our armed forces in Vietnam and I was in and out of Vietnam from January 1968 through March 1973.

On my first ship, the USS Castor, an old supply ship, we were unloading supplies in Cam Ranh Bay when the Viet Cong attacked the base, but they were repelled before they got to our ship. One night on the Niagara Falls, a refrigerated supply ship, we were off the coast waiting to go into Da Nang in the morning, we hit a mine that did some damage to the hull of the ship, which was repaired enough to go back to Japan. Only one person was slightly injured.

On the LST we brought troops and their vehicles into Qui Nhon, Cam Rahn Bay and Vung Tau. The LSTs gave support to the gun boats and often went up the Mekong River. One of the LSTs in our squadron was in the river at Saigon when one night a sapper placed a couple charges on the side of the ship and killed 26 sailors and injured many more.

One thing I learned: there is nothing glorious about warfare. Lives are lost, people are maimed physically and mentally. Mothers and fathers lose their sons and daughters. There have been close to 1,400,000 military deaths since the American Revolution in 1775. There were approximately 750,000 deaths during the American Civil War. 116,516 died during WWI. 405,400 died during WWII. The number of deaths in Korea was 54,246 and there were 58,209 in Vietnam.

The number of deaths during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars to present are 6,717. That number is small compared to the other wars, but each death brings pain to parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends.

We have some friends in Alabama who were members of our church when I served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Rota, Spain. Jim Torbert was in the Navy. They had a young child, Stephen, whom Naoko taught in her preschool classes. Stephen went to college and joined the Marines. He was a captain and was one of the 16 Marines who were killed when two helos collided in Hawaii. Stephen left behind a wife and a newborn son. Though it wasn’t a combat action but an accident, Stephen died serving his country. His parents were proud of his accomplishments, but are grief-stricken. They take hope in the fact that Stephen had a deep faith in Christ and they are assured of his presence with Christ now.

Serving in the military is dangerous whether in combat, training or routine, but our men and woman who serve do so with pride. Gen. Jim Mattis of the USMC said in an address to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, “You signed blank checks payable with your lives to the American people.”

That is so true.

I did not participate in the actual combat as so many soldiers and Marines had. Many of them suffered wounds and death. When Vietnam vets returned to the U.S., they were not well-received. They were not honored by many in America. One thing though that stands out to me, is that during the Vietnam War, many of the soldiers had been drafted into the army. A number of young men fled to Canada, facing prison if they came back to the States. But, most of those drafted served and fought and many died and many came back wounded. But they served.

Today, we have an all-volunteer military made of people who see the need for a strong military and the need to defend our country against those who seek to destroy us.

We wish there would be no more wars. People around the world want to live in peace, but as long as there are tyrants who want power and control, there will be warfare. We learned that appeasing a tyrant doesn’t work; he will continue to take land and overthrow countries. Even today we have radical Muslims who desire to overthrow governments and set up a caliphate under sharia law. They will kill anyone who opposes their ideals and will terrorize people in order to make them fearful. We have China flexing its military power seeking to control East Asia. We have North Korea run by a vicious madman who kills his own people including family members to keep them under control. The North attacks the South and then denies it, threatening to use nuclear weapons if the South attacks.

We must have a strong military to counter these aggressions. We must have men and women who will stand up against these foes and fight and even die to protect us and the freedoms we enjoy.

Memorial Day is the one day each year this country reflects on the sacrifice made by those who fought to protect our country, homes, and families. It is the one day, as a nation, that we honor the memory of those who died in war.

Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating graves of comrades who died in defense of their county during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

We might ask, “Why would someone even want to join the military in the first place? Why put yourself into that position knowing you are only placing your life on the line?”

Well, this commitment comes down to two things: honor and duty.

Our military personnel serve each and every one of us by defending the nation in which we live today. Before adorning this uniform, they must swear an oath to protect the Constitution, the land, and the peoples of America from any and all enemies. They protect us with their lives.

Americans are willing to fight and die for the freedoms that many people in the world still only dreams about. Those who died in war did not do so because they loved the conflict. Instead they loved the peace and freedom that is our heritage.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds of war.”

Union Army Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman spoke at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879, and declared, “I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine …War is hell.”

By having Memorial Day services, we honor those who gave their all for our country. We also honor their parents who suffer from the loss of their children. We honor the spouses and children who lost a husband, wife, mother, and father.

We honor all who have and are serving by remembering those who died in battle and in the service to our country. We honor those who came back wounded and maimed.

We owe so much to all who fought to protect our land and the freedoms we have.

Someone wrote, “Our beloved country was formed and is protected by the blood of warriors.”

There are many veterans among us today, including myself, but today is not our day. Today is the day that has been made for the ones who left home but did not return. We gather in order to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us and to pay them homage. We show our gratitude honor by making this country something worth dying for.

Let us not commit injustice of taking their sacrifices for granted. These soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died protecting their country and what it stands for. They died defending a way of life that they felt was worth dying for … for families, children, freedom, morality, values, and responsibility. So today let us take a moment out of the celebrations to reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day and the sacrifices that our military personnel make for each and every one of us.

THE REV. ARMAND JALBERT is the pastor of Newsoms Baptist Church. Contact him at 654-6639.