I would share with you the speech I was privileged to give at the Veteran’s Day celebration for our city, November 11, 2011.
No doubt you have heard of the men whom the newspapers called the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne.”
Troops of the 101st Airborne that were surrounded by German Panzer forces in the small Belgian cross-roads community in the early days of the Battle of the Bulge. The US forces held on in Bastogne for seven days, even though, they had little food supplies and medical supplies and almost no cold weather gear to endure one of the worst winters in the history of that area.
On December 23, 1943, the German Officer sent a message into the US forces ordering them to surrender. General Anthony McAuliffe answered the message with one word, “Nuts!” December 27th General George Patton’s 4th Armored Division broke through the siege and the 101st Airborne marched on into Germany.
While you may have heard some about the Battle at Bastogne, you may not know the story of Tiny Mulder.
When she was only 19 years old, the German blitzkrieg overran her homeland, Holland, on May 10, 1940. Almost immediately Tiny joined the Dutch underground resistance. She is credited with rescuing 72 Allied pilots who were shot down over Holland and many Jewish children escaped the Nazi death camps because of the selfless acts of this precious young woman.
Who was your hero when you were growing up as child?
Mine was General Douglas McArthur. I also greatly admired General Eisenhower. But, McArthur was my favorite.
I could sit by the hour and listen as my Uncle Harold told the stories about landing at Leyte with McArthur and fighting across the Philippine Islands.
My uncle carried a Thompson sub machine gun into some of the bloodiest battles. Eventually, he would break down and cry for the buddies he lost and the horror he experienced. But, as a young boy, I greatly admired him and the Commander he served and adored.
Heroes are not born that way. They are simply an ordinary person who happened to be in an unordinary situation requiring extra ordinary measures.
They filled the need with a selfless act of heroism, such as Sgt. John Noble Holcomb, of Baker City, Oregon. He was a member of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, US Army. He was serving near Quan Loi, in the Republic of Vietnam on December 3, 1968. May I read from the citation awarding him the Congressional Medal of Honor?
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Holcomb distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader in Company D during a combat assault mission. Sgt. Holcomb’s company assault had landed by helicopter and deployed into a hasty defensive position to organize for a reconnaissance-in-force mission when it was attacked from 3 sides by an estimated battalion-size enemy force. Sgt. Holcomb’s squad was directly in the path of the main enemy attack. With complete disregard for the heavy fire, Sgt. Holcomb moved among his men giving encouragement and directing fire on the assaulting enemy. When his machine gunner was knocked out, Sgt. Holcomb seized the weapon, ran to a forward edge of the position, and placed withering fire on the enemy.
His gallant actions caused the enemy to withdraw. Sgt. Holcomb treated and carried his wounded to a position of safety and reorganized his defensive sector despite a raging grass fire ignited by the incoming enemy mortar and rocket rounds. When the enemy assaulted the position a second time, Sgt. Holcomb again manned the forward machinegun, devastating the enemy attack and forcing the enemy to again break contact and withdraw. During the enemy withdrawal an enemy rocket hit Sgt. Holcomb’s position, destroying his machinegun and severely wounding him. Despite his painful wounds, Sgt. Holcomb crawled through the grass fire and exploding mortar and rocket rounds to move the members of his squad, everyone of whom had been wounded, to more secure positions. Although grievously wounded and sustained solely by his indomitable will and courage, Sgt. Holcomb as the last surviving leader of his platoon organized his men to repel the enemy, crawled to the platoon radio and reported the third enemy assault on his position. His report brought friendly supporting fires on the charging enemy and broke the enemy attack. Sgt. Holcomb’s inspiring leadership, fighting spirit, in action at the cost of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Heroes are selfless people who do not think of themselves first. They are not looking for credit. In fact, they often shy away from recognition and down play the significance of their contribution. Such as Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.
He was serving as Rifle Team Leader of seven troops in the 1st Platoon on October 25, 2007, doing a day-long over watch of the 2nd and 3rd Platoon, where camp in a valley below them, in Combat Outposts Vimoto and Korengal, on Honcho Hill, Afghanistan, at an elevation of 7999 feet.
Their watch was completed and they started back to camp, it was dark but the moonlight was enough for them to see without night vision equipment. They had only walked about 100 yards when they were attacked by 10 to 15 insurgents, hiding undercover less than fifty feet away. The Taliban insurgents were armed with AK 47s, rocket propelled grenades, and three belt-fed machine guns. Sgt. Giunta said,
“There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards.
They’re above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They’re hitting in the dirt early. They’re going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close—as close as I’ve ever seen.”
The withering gun fire quickly took down three of Giunta’s patrol. He and three others were returning fire and tossing shrapnel grenades 40 feet to the enemy position. Another one of his men went down with a head wound. Giunta stood up and began pursuing the insurgents.
He saw two of the Afghans carrying one of his men away. Running and firing his M4 he shot and killed one of the men.
The other dropped the US soldier and Giunta carried him back to safety. By this time, reinforcements arrived and fight was over. The soldier Giunta rescued did not survive surgery. However, Squad Leader Eric Gallardo did survive and was awarded the Silver Star. Sgt. Giunta received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Gallardo said to Sgt. Giunta, “You don’t understand… but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.”
When Sgt. Giunta was told he was being recommended for the Medal of Honor, he told Capt. Kearney, “He was uncomfortable about being singled out and labeled a hero. ‘If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero,’ he says. ‘So if you think that’s a hero—as long as you include everyone with me.’”
That is so true. I am privileged to be a room full of heroes.
You served your country well; some in time of war and some during the years of the Cold War. Some of you saw combat duty and others, such as myself, was never stationed in the war zone.
Although I put in for Viet Nam three times, the Air Force left me at a SAC base in Montana. Some of the men and women in this room have lived through hell in the jungles of Nam, the desert of Iraq or Afghanistan and some in the European Theater or the Pacific Islands. Most of you received no medals.
But, you are heroes in our eyes and in our hearts. We have the joy and privilege of living in the peace and safety of our homes and to work in the businesses and prosperity of a free nation, because you made the sacrifice to keep the United States of America the freest nation on earth.”
We must never forget.
Heroes are too quickly forgotten, when the danger is past.
Pressure is gone and the troops are home safe.
We move on.
We must not forget the men and women who make our liberty possible.
How can we remember our heroes?
1. When you see a man or woman with a cap, jacket or bumper sticker, stop them and thank them. I stopped two men in ACE Hardware just this week. One of them told me he was a Nam Vet. I said, “Welcome home Brother.” He said, “I’ve been home a long time.” Yes, but most of my Brothers were never welcomed home.”
2. Get names, send them thank you notes.
3. Put up their pictures tell their stories to the next generation.
4. Celebrate them like we are here today
All of the Vets in the room please stand. We want to tell you how much we appreciate you. Please, stand for us. Welcome home Brothers!