This is dedicated to all the soldiers in the Armed Forces who have given their lives to protect and defend OUR FREEDOM!!
Monday, May 30th, 2011 we celebrate Memorial Day honoring soldiers who have served their country and who gave their lives so we can continue to live and enjoy the Freedom they have fought and died for. This is a little personal to me because of one young soldier who I never met and have never forgotten.
My brother enlisted in the Army in 1965, he was almost 18. He served in the 25th infantry, 1st batallion 5th infantry..they were called the BOBCATS, and was to go to Vietnam. Before he left, he had one wish and that was to be baptized, should anything happen while he was stationed in Vietnam. My parents and I were there when he was baptized at Immanuel Lutheran church in New York City. It was a huge cathedral.
When he went over to Vietnam, he was with many young men from different states working together for the same goal. How can I forget the letters he wrote telling us how bad things were there and my mother crying over the letters because she feared that she would never see her son again. She even went as far as to call the White House and wanted to speak to the President (ofcourse that was not going to happen). She put her complaint in and as she is crying she said she has only one son and they cannot keep him and to send him back home. Two weeks later she received a letter from the White House saying that she should be proud of her son wanting to serve his country. It was a tall order to ask of a mother who’s son was not even 18 years old to die for his country. So many mothers of all these young men all felt the same way…wondering if the war would ever end and send their sons back home.
A few years went by, I was 18 years old and I was working full time. There was a card store around the corner and I used to stop there everyday and purchase a funny card to send to my brother. EVERYDAY!!..I would go there and buy a funny card and sometimes write just a few lines. The card would make him laugh, I was sure of that. You can imagine what his pile of mail must have looked like after a month. When they received their mail, the other men would look at my brother’s mail and ask him “You must be a lucky guy to receive all this mail”. When he told them they were from his sister and maybe a few letters from mom but no girlfriend..what must they have thought??..Some of them did not even have girlfriends back home and did not even receive mail. BUT my brother did, and that is when he wrote me a letter asking if I would be a penpal to some of these soldiers.
I loved to write and sending cards..a card would put a smile on them in the middle of a jungle..what else could they do or think about? He gave me the name of one. I cannot remember his name..at the time I did, but he stopped writing after a while. Then my brother said to stop writing to that soldier and gave me the name of another. His name I distinctly remember…
I received a 4 page letter from a young man named William (Billy) Strickland. I am not sure if he lived in Kentucky or Louisiana. I do remember he lived on a farm and he talked about his life on the farm and his parents and sisters and brothers. I can feel his excitement of telling me all about himself and the warmth of his writing. He told me he is a christian and went to church every Sunday back home. He had so much to say and was so happy to be the one to write me and wanted to know all about me. I started writing back 4 pages of my life and living in New York City. To a country boy, New York City is BIG!. I was looking forward to his letter so much so that I started writing a letter back because I didn’t want to forget telling him how my day was . He wrote 3 or 4 more times and then the letters stopped coming.
I wrote my brother and asked him about Billy and I never received a reply..kind of ignoring that question as he wrote about what was going on in Vietnam. I even asked my mother if he mentioned in his letter about what happened to Billy and why is he not writing and she said no..he did not mention him.
Time went by and it was time for my brother to come home. He had served over in Vietnam twice and was coming home for good. When he came back he told us what it was like serving in Vietnam, but not all of it because it was very hard for him to talk about it. It was a burden too much for him to bear. I wanted to ask him about Billy and he had not given me a reply. I could not understand but I had a feeling something bad happened. The next day he did decide to tell me and it was difficult for me to hear.
They were all walking through the jungle and going to their next destination when Billy stepped on a mine and was blown up right in front of him. My heart sunk and I could not think of a word to say. All I could think about was not this nice young man..why!!. When I received Billy’s first letter..I could feel the energy he had and the excitement and love for Jesus as he wrote and of his family. Even in this horrible place he was in, he had a good sense of humor and love even for the enemy. Someone you would imagine being polite even to the enemy!. I knew I would never receive a letter from him again.
Years have past by and I had my own family. My oldest daughter was in Junior high school. Their class was planning on their class trip to Washington, D.C. in the mid 80s which was about when they had built the Memorial Wall with everyone of the names of soldiers who had died in the Vietnam war. I had told my daughter the story and had asked if she would put a flower by his name. I gave her a white silk rose to put along the bottom of the wall under his name. When she came home I asked her if she put the rose there and she said that she looked for his name but could not find it so she did put the rose on the bottom like everyone else did when they searched for their loved one. Recently, in 2008, we went to Washington, D.C. and visited the Memorial Wall. I found William (Billy) Strickland’s name and placed a rose there again.
I don’t know why I remembered this one particular young man (soldier). I had never met him or seen his face. My brother had a picture of the whole battalion but it was a small picture and I cannot make out his face too well. Even though we made plans to meet when he was released from his duties, I believe I was never to meet him only be a friend who wrote him letters from home.
As we celebrate Memorial Day, remember all the soldiers who have returned and all the fallen soldiers who have given their lives so we can continue to enjoy the freedom we sometimes take for granted. ..GOD BLESS AMERICA!!