Memorial Day……From 2008 Newsletter

Sgt. Grit,

 

Thank you for your continued support of connecting Marines, past, present and future with your newsletter. It is read almost as religiously as Leatherneck magazine when it arrives. Shortly, Memorial Day will be upon us, not the artificial one where everyone gets a long weekend by having a Monday off, but the true Memorial Day, May 30th. I know this to be true as I was born on Memorial Day, 1951. My father use to tell me he arranged to have all the kids at school to have the day off just because it was my birthday. Then, as now, I was pretty easy to fool. Each year around this time the memories come creeping back and my thoughts turn to those I had the honor of fighting with in Vietnam and those who did not make it back home. Following is an article I wrote for the company newsletter a couple years ago and thought it was worth “re-publishing” for my fellow Marines and their families.

 

As Memorial Day approaches it carries with it great significance for me personally as it represents a celebration of two very special anniversaries. The first, my safe return from Vietnam 35 years ago. The second, (June 5th), the 35th wedding anniversary to my high school sweetheart, Barbara Jean Best. Neither could have been possible without the other, we were married within five days of my return home. That one week in time began the healing and shaped our future. Without it we wouldn’t have the truly wonderful children we do or the grandchildren that bring Barbara and myself such joy. Time heals all wounds, our nations, our loved ones, and with compassion, understanding and space, those who served during difficult times.

While cleaning out closets in preparation for new carpeting I came upon an old shoe box on Barbara’s side of the closet. To my surprise, contained within it were letters, poems and keep sakes I had sent her during my tour in  Vietnam 35 years ago. Memories long forgotten began flooding back as waves of emotion ran through my thoughts as I read the letters of a frightened, then courageous, then paranoid, then frightened again, young boy who arrived in a hostile country, 19 years old and returned home a year later, a 40 year old man. Since meeting on a blind date, at a high school “sock hop” when we were 16, Barbara and I have shared every facet of our lives. Vietnam was no different. Barbara experienced it through my letters and the evening news, which went out of their way to provide footage on the worst of every situation while soothing her fears by providing “body counts” at every opportunity. My experiences were somewhat more up close and personal. Although returning safely, Barbara’s love, patience, and devotion brought the spirit of the man she loved home many years later, for good. Now, as then, her love breaths’ life into me.

 

Memorial Day was created to remember and pay respect to all those who have given their lives so that peace and freedom might prevail. Knowing peace for decade upon decade is certainly more honorable than war, unfortunately the horrific price, in human life, is forgotten one generation to the next, until mothers once again, give up their sons to bear arms to defend someone’s freedom.

In remembrance of those who have given their lives, so we, or someone in some foreign land, might be free, the young girl who waited faithfully for my safe return, and the memories kept in an old shoe box in a closet, this Memorial Day I would like to share with you the story of  Sergeant Walter K. Singleton, a supply Sergeant who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his fellow Marines, as published in Leatherneck Magazine.

 

Marines have a term for it:   Leadership.

In business, where success is measured by profit, those making six-figure salaries often tend to equate leadership with management. Other disciples of the dollar, not so high on the salary scale but aspiring to work their way up, look for leadership formulas—books they can pull from the shelf, guidance lists they can put under glass and slogans they can hang on walls.

The Marines will tell you that leadership has nothing to do with the dollar. In the Corps, leadership comes from that hinterland of combat where life is a five paragraph order and noncommissioned officers—corporals just out of high school and sergeants who barely rate a hash mark—daily make life or death decisions. Non-commissioned officers, such as Sergeant Walter K. Singleton.

The year was 1967, and it was near Gio Linh in northern Quang Tri province along Vietnam’s Demilitarized Zone that Singleton, at age 22, made a statement on leadership through his actions. He was on his fourth month in country when “Alpha” Company’s  lead platoon was pelted with a heavy and deadly shower of lead from communist gunners. Fire from a village cut down more Marines than corpsmen and others could drag to safety.

By rights, Sgt Singleton along with the reserve platoon shouldn’t have even been involved, but he heard a call for help in evacuating the wounded. Through small-arms, automatic weapons, and rocket and mortar fire, Singleton waded back and forth carrying wounded leathernecks to safety. He could have stopped at any time, and no one would have blamed him. But Singleton had also spotted the source of the enemy fire coming from a hedgerow.

“He picked up a machine gun and charged forward, firing as he ran. He forced his way through the hedgerow and jumped right in the middle of the North Vietnamese Army squad.

His Medal of Honor citation states the rest: “Although mortally wounded, his fearless attack…drove the remainder of the NVA from the hedgerow. Sgt. Singleton’s bold actions completely       disorganized the enemy defense and saved the lives of many of his comrades.”

There’s an important part of being a Marine that we fail to examine. Very simply, it is the spirit of being a Marine. “Leadership is by example, but even more, it is selfless devotion to duty.”

Walter Singleton didn’t wake up that morning  in 1967, in a foreign land,  knowing he would be sacrificing his life by the end of the day.  He didn’t question or whine or complain about what had to be done, he knew he was the only one who could make a difference in a very bad situation.  And he acted with courage, honor, and commitment.

While the letters, along with the memories, are once again returned to the old shoe box in the closet, this Memorial Day, as each, is special because there is so much to be thankful for, due in part, because of the Walter K. Singleton’s, and the other brave men and women, in years gone by, who have made the ultimate  sacrifice, so that we may live and raise our families under the veil of freedom.  Think of them as you enjoy the holiday, the freedom we enjoy and take for granted depended upon their sacrifices.

 

Respectfully,

 

CPL. Tom Gillespie

RVN 70-71

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