Pastor Michael Dunaway’s speech: A Memorial Day Perspective

Submitted by Pastor Michael Dunaway

Good Morning. Thank you, Lt. Colonel Locher for that warm introduction. Before I begin, I’d like to also thank Boy Scout Troop 77 (in Sabetha), the local VFW and American Legion posts and all the wonderful volunteers who made this and all other Memorial Day Celebrations possible. Most especially, I’d like to thank all of you who came out here today, who by your very presence are honoring the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our county, its people and the freedoms we hold so dear.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow veterans and families, fellow Christians and all who are now listening to or later perhaps reading these words; greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I am both humbled and honored to have been asked to speak to you on such a solemn and special occasion as this – one set apart by both conscience and presidential decree as an opportunity for us as grateful Americans to take time to acknowledge and commemorate our nation’s fallen military service members – those who gave their last full measure of devotion for the sake of those who lived on.

That you are here today is no little thing, for across America, way too many people do not even know what Memorial Day is all about. A fairly recent poll by the University of Phoenix revealed that only about half of the people polled could correctly describe Memorial Day as a day to honor the fallen from all the nation’s wars. That in itself suggests either a flaw in our nation’s history and civics class curriculums or a shameful indifference on the part of many of our citizens.

As LtCol Locher said, I served in the Marine Corps for over 20 years, most of the time as an Investigator attached to various Marine Corps Base/garrison units. I was attached to Division or MAU deployable units only a couple times in my career, but never deployed.

Veterans like me, who never were called to serve in a combat role, naturally have great respect and admiration for those whom we honor today, as well as those who served with them when they died. It’s been accurately said, “Freedom, for those who fought for it, has a taste, or flavor, the protected will never know.” So, although all veterans each sacrifice to some extent in their service to our great country, not all of us receive an opportunity to serve to the same degree that our combat veterans have. This is not a personal affront against us, the popular phrase ‘all gave some and some gave all’ speaks to the fact there are differences in what is requested of each of us. Consequently though, our appreciation for the full sacrifice of those we honor today, although very, very, high, is perhaps not exactly the same as those battle hardened vets and Purple Heart recipients who know, and know all too well, that it could very easily have been them being honored here this morning as one of our nation’s fallen heroes.

That is a humbling thought to all servicemen and women and perhaps, even a haunting thought for those who struggle with survivor’s guilt…those who find it hard to reconcile why they made it home while their fallen friends and comrades did not. I pray for them to look at their survival like Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez.

Now, I will not read Roy’s entire citation (you can find a copy of it on-line by typing his name (ROY  B-E-N-A-V-I-D-E-Z, Medal of Honor); but I will offer on the basis of that citation and Sgt Benevidez’s own personal verbal account of what occurred, the following summary.

[Roy was trained for airborne operations in the U S Army. He later joined the prestigious Special Forces and was sent to Vietnam in 1965 as an Advisor.  Injured by a land mine a short time later, he was hospitalized for his serious injuries, which included nearly total paralysis from the waist down. When it appeared he would never walk again he was processed to be discharged. Not wanting to accept that, Roy would literally crawl to a wall after hours and work at climbing up that wall until he was standing and then, with his back to the wall, he’d move his toes back and forth as far as he was able for as long as he able. The pain he said was excruciating, but after months of such hard work, he was able to demonstrate to his Doctor that he could stand and walk far enough that the Doctor thought recovery was possible. The Doctor changed his recommendation accordingly and Roy was allowed to remain on active duty. After a prolonged recovery period, he not only regained his ability to walk but eventually was cleared to return to duty and then to go back to Vietnam.

On the morning of 2 May 1968, Sgt Benevidez heard that a 12-man Special Forces Recon Team which had been inserted into a dense jungle area west of Loc Ninh, Vietnam, to gather intelligence information about enemy activity, suddenly met with heavy enemy resistance, and requested emergency extraction. Three helicopters attempted to get them out, but were unable to land due to intense enemy anti-aircraft and small-arms fire.

Benavidez was at the Forward Operating Base in Loc Ninh when these helicopters returned to off-load wounded crewmembers and to assess their aircraft damage. He voluntarily boarded a returning aircraft to assist in a second extraction attempt. Realizing that all the team members were either dead or wounded and unable to move to the pickup zone, he directed the aircraft to a nearby clearing, jumped from the hovering helicopter, and ran, under fire, to the crippled team. Prior to reaching them, he was wounded in his right leg, face, and head; but despite these injuries, he redirected fields of fire to facilitate the landing of the extraction aircraft and the loading of the wounded and dead team members. Despite his severe wounds and while under intense enemy fire, he had thrown smoke canisters to direct the aircraft to the team’s position, where he then carried/ dragged half of the wounded team members to the awaiting aircraft. He provided protective fire by running alongside the aircraft as it moved to pick up other team members. As the enemy fire intensified, he hurried to recover the body and classified documents on the dead team leader. As he reached the leader’s body, Sgt. Benevidez was severely wounded by small-arms fire in the abdomen and by grenade shrapnel in his back. At nearly the same moment, the aircraft pilot was mortally wounded, and his helicopter crashed.

Although critically injured from multiple wounds, Sgt. Benevidez secured the classified documents and made his way back to the wreckage, where he aided the wounded in getting out of the overturned aircraft and in setting up a defensive perimeter. Under increasing enemy automatic-weapons and grenade fire, he moved around the perimeter distributing water and ammunition to his weary men, re-instilling in them a will to live and fight. Facing a buildup of enemy opposition with a beleaguered team, Benevidez mustered his strength, and began calling in tactical air strikes from supporting gunships to suppress enemy fire and so permitted another extraction attempt.

Roy was wounded once again by small-arms fire while administering first aid to a team member just before the last extraction helicopter was able to land. His indomitable spirit kept him going as he began to ferry his comrades to the craft. On his second trip with the wounded, he was physically attacked by an enemy soldier and sustained additional wounds to his head and arms before overpowering and killing him. He then continued, under devastating fire, to carry the wounded to the helicopter. In the process, he spotted and killed two enemy soldiers as they rushed the craft from an angle that left them undetected by the aircraft door-gunner. With little strength remaining, he made one last trip to bring in the remaining wounded. Only then, in extremely serious condition from numerous wounds and blood loss, did he allow himself to be pulled into the extraction aircraft.

Sgt. Benevidez’ gallant choice to voluntarily join his comrades who were in critical straits, to expose himself constantly to crushing enemy fire, and his refusal to be stopped despite numerous and severe wounds, saved the lives of at least eight men. For his actions, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (MEDAL OF HONOR PRESENTATION  BY PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN ON FEBRUARY 24, 1981).

Yes, all veterans who did not give their life for their country, those who either weren’t sent into combat or those who were sent, but came through it alive, should view their good fortune like Roy Benavidez, who humbly stated after all his heroic actions, “My life was spared for a reason.” He goes on to say, “A lot of people call me a hero, I appreciate that title; but, the real heroes are the ones who gave their life for this country.”

The question ‘Who is the hero’ is debatable. I’d say they both are, people who fight and people who die; but, to die in the line of duty stands in sharp contrast with all other degrees of service…because, to die – to give up one’s very life – is a sacrifice one can only make once, and in making it, one trade’s their entire life – up to that point – for all of their worldly tomorrows. That’s a huge price to pay…and that is who we honor today…for their sacrifice truly deserves to be remembered and cherished. Those who have ever stood ready to make such a sacrifice themselves certainly remember and cherish those who did make that supreme sacrifice.

My friends, our Lord Jesus Christ recognizes the making of that supreme sacrifice as not just as an act of great love for another, but as ‘the ‘greatest exemplification of love’ which one can make.’ He says in John 15, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Although one person’s definition of a ‘friend’ may differ from another’s, the scriptural use of the term clearly shows that at its lowest level, a ‘friend’ “loves at all times…” (Proverbs 17:17a).  In the eyes of God, friendship is an outwardly-focused concept. It’s about service to others rather than service to one’s self. In fact, it’s even more than that. God has specific expectations of what a friend must be willing to do for a friend. These include: 1) remaining loyal and helpful during good times and bad, 2) speaking the truth (in love) even when it hurts, 3) demonstrating the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13, (a love that is both sacrificial and enduring) and 4) being willing to lay down one’s life for another should the need arise.

I submit this is the understanding of friendship embodied by nearly every serviceman or woman who ever gave up their life in the line of duty. For they well knew their mission didn’t involve self-service, but rather self-less service and potentially,  great sacrifice, as we see set forth in their Oath of Enlistment as well as in Article 1 of the Code of Conduct, which they all ascribed to. That Article states: (1) “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.”

That they make this oath in acknowledgment of a Higher Power is implied by Article (5) of the same code, which states, “I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.”

Dear brother and sisters in Christ… I pray that every Gold-Star parent finds as much comfort in those words of faith as I do. For their child’s faith in God, like ours, changes everything.  That faith which enabled them to serve something bigger than themselves – that faith in the transcendent ideals that make America the greatest country ever, give their death even more meaning, and us the sure and certain hope we will see them again.

Hear what God says about those who die ‘in the faith.’ From John 3:16, (1) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. From Psalm 116:15, ( 2) “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” And from John 11: 25-26 (3) “Jesus said (referring to Martha, one of Lazarus’ two sisters) I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die… “

What this means, dear friends, is that someday, we can thank these brave young men and women who gave up so much for our sake and that of our children, grand-children and  country… face to face. They sacrificed their bodies, and a good part of their future, for you and I…their friends and neighbors…but many, if not all of their souls are even now with their Savior Jesus Christ, who Himself paid the ultimate price in battle for the sake of all of God’s people. Thus He, Jesus Christ, is the example and the motivation and the power for all such acts of service and sacrifice for others.

Yes, we will see them again, these brave steadfast warriors of ours; but, until then, let us continue to honor their sacrifice and hold their patriotism and courage up as a shining example for all future generations to praise and emulate. Let us here today dedicate, or re-dedicate, ourselves to keeping their memory alive.

[We can do that by teaching our children, grandchildren and all who will listen about the true meaning of Memorial Day. We can start with the acronym L.O.V.E.

Think of the Letter ‘L” and teach that Memorial Day is celebrated the LAST Monday of May…

Think of the Letter “O” and teach that Memorial Day was ORIGINALLY called Decoration Day … but was re-named Memorial Day and dedicated to be a day set aside to honor and remember all those who died in faithful service of the United States and its people.

Think of the Letter “V” and teach that on Memorial Day we VARY the height at which the flag flies… across the country our flags are ordered to remain flown at half-staff from morning until noon, to symbolize all the soldiers we’ve lost over the years. And then, at noon, the flags are to be raised to full staff, to represent our remembrance and appreciation of the lives of those who died in service to our country.

Lastly think of the Letter “E” and teach that at 3:00 P.M., EVERYONE is to take a moment to stop what they are doing and remember those who died in battle for the sake of freedom. They are to remember that America is the home of the free, because of the brave.]                                           

Thank You once again, for coming and for caring. God Bless You and God Bless the United States of America!

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