It was a place called My Canh, Vietnam. You've probably never heard of it.  It was February 7, 1966. A company of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division was pinned down by a superior force. 1st Lt. James A. Gardner was leading his platoon to relieve the battered company when he and his men came under fire from a series of enemy bunkers. Disregarding his own safety Lt. Gardner led his men to destroy two of the bunkers, part of his effort while crawling along the dike of a rice paddy.  As he approached the third position he was gravely wounded but was still able to destroy it with a grenade as he fell at the edge of the bunker. For his action Lt. James A. Gardner of Dyersburg, TN was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. He died on his 23rd birthday.

It was a place called Quang Nam Province. You've probably never heard of it. It was in the Republic of Vietnam, near a place called An Hoa. The time was March 19, 1969. The North Vietnamese launched an attack against an artillery battalion of the 1st Marine Division. There were numerous American casualties. Navy Corpsman David Robert Ray moved from one fallen marine to another, giving emergency treatment. He was injured several times but continued treating the wounded until he could no longer stand. When a grenade landed nearby he threw himself on a wounded marine, saving his life.  Ray's heroism inspired the others and they eventually caused the enemy to retreat. For his action, David Robert Ray of McMinnville, TN was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously. He was 23 years old.

Several years ago I had the privilege of serving on staff with Randall O'Brien at Calvary Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was pastor and I was youth minister. He is currently the President of Carson-Newman University. He was one of the fortunate to return from Vietnam. As an infantryman he was well acquainted with the rice paddies and jungles, having been awarded the Bronze Star and other medals for his service. I remember him saying on more than one occasion that he was not a hero. The real heroes never came home.

Memorial Day will be here Monday. I am sitting comfortably in my office looking out my window.  I can see Main St., lots of green trees, and a partly cloudy sky above. It is a beautiful setting. I can do this because of the sacrifices of thousands of  men and women who have served in our armed forces and are now gone. Many of them never left the battlefield.  I am humbled and grateful when I think of them. I think of their families and I pray for them. I give thanks for them. I am free becasue of them.

Although some do not appreciate it and many take it for granted, this freedom is for everyone.The next time you sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" meditate on these words:

"My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing:Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, From every mountainside Let freedom ring!"

The soldiers who died in battle can no longer hear that song but because of them maybe we have a better understanding of the lyrics. Try to keep a dry eye while you think about the voices who are now silent so you can sing. Memorial Day is about remembering those silent voices. It is because of them that freedom still rings, and it echoes off of places like the wall of the Vietnam Memorial and the crosses at Arlington Cemetery.

 

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