Perspectives

Honoring the Spirit of Sacrifice

by Paul Gilanti, Contributing Writer

Paul Galanti

I do not usually forward chain e-mails, but I happily forwarded the one I just received last night titled “Part Boy, Part Man” that described the typical 19-year-old GI fighting today’s War on Terror. That e-mail really applies to any young soldier, sailor, Marine or airman fighting for our and others’ freedoms since the founding of our beloved country.

I was a bit older than those described when I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1962, but I was also called to duty in a foreign land. In my war, we Naval aviators liked to refer to ourselves as “the pointy end of the spear” — always the first into the fight. But on June 6, 1944, the pointy end of the spear was Virginia’s 29th Division’s 116th Infantry Regiment, the Stonewall Brigade. Or, in Korea, those stalwarts who defied weather and tides to storm ashore at Inchon, thereby breaking up the startling advances of the Chinese and North Korean communists.

The same spirit that was shown by the men of Omaha Beach, or Inchon, thrived in the prisoner-of-war camps of North Vietnam. The can-do attitude, excellent leadership and a group of warriors who wouldn’t give up lived the “D-Day/Inchon spirit” that helped us survive under difficult circumstances for longer than most of us who were there care to remember. That spirit and the lessons learned from the Vietnam experience helped set the stage for Desert Storm 18 years later and the War on Terror we now fight. Only a few have ever known that spirit and camaraderie. And you never forget where it came from.

I remember those friends who became closer to me under the stress of combat than my own brothers ever were. And I remember well those who died in combat or in the POW camps under torture and bad treatment. Or those missing in action whose fates may never be known. I am resolved that they will never be forgotten.

The cardinal rule of flying as taught in the first aerodynamics class in Navy flight training is “Attitude plus Power = Performance.” Its “personified” analogy, as applied to life, is “Attitude (Enthusiasm) plus Power (Knowledge and Principles) = Performance (Success).”

That rule can be applied to any of life’s endeavors — including war. It is duty. It values hard principles and sticking to them. Repeatedly since World War II, we have had this lesson driven home — when we forget our principles, it’s like losing power in a single-engine airplane. The plane goes down.

The veterans of D-Day or the Chosin Reservoir or Hue, knew their duty and did it well. And now those in Baghdad and Kabul know it too. No “why?” nor “why me?” They always have a winning attitude, unbelievable power and, consequently, they perform far beyond any reasonable expectations.

The young warriors in Korea and Vietnam were cut from the same cloth as the warriors of “The Big One.” They, too, had their lives ahead of them and many were cut short. Led by a “Me Generation” of political leaders who didn’t have the foggiest notion of duty or purpose, those servicemen of Korea and Vietnam made similar personal sacrifices that went unhonored for too long. In the Persian Gulf, principles prevailed with a result similar to D-Day’s. Today’s war, fighting an enemy who has no scruples killing as many Americans as possible, remains precarious at home because of an increasing lack of conviction as our military forces are sacrificing and dying in foreign lands.

Those who haven’t served their country under difficult circumstances have to struggle to understand what it means. Our youngsters in the Armed Forces today are wearing their country’s uniform in service of our nation and they deserve our respect and support just as did the heroes of D-Day or Iwo Jima or Pork Chop Hill or Khe Sanh.

Never again can we allow the sacrifices of all our active duty, National Guard, and Reserves, nor the military veterans of past service, be forgotten. Never. Not ever. That is why I am proud to be a part of the Virginia War Memorial whose mission is to honor those who sacrificed for our freedoms. Inscribed on the Shrine of Memory’s glass and stone walls are the names of 11,638 Virginians who paid the ultimate sacrifice since World War II fighting so that we and others may live free.

I was one of the lucky ones — I came home. And now, my wife Phyllis and I have humbly accepted that the War Memorial’s new Education Center be named for us. (She’s the one who really deserves it!) But we accepted, under some duress I might add, because the education center will forever educate more students, more tourists, more visitors and even the broad general public about sacrifice. About the men and women who sacrifice serving abroad while their families remain. About the prisoners of war who sacrifice maintaining loyalty to their country and keeping hope alive waiting to be rescued. About the men and women who sacrifice dying on the field of battle at the hand of the enemy. They are all my heroes.

Getting back to that e-mail I mentioned I forwarded, it asked that we pray for our Armed Forces now serving our country — to thank them and their families for their selfless duty and to ask that they be protected from harm’s way. I ask you to also pray for them. And I ask you to thank any of them for their service the next time you see one. You will make an enormous difference with that small act of appreciation.

God Bless our Military Forces. And God Bless America.

Cmdr. Paul E. Galanti USN (Ret.) served 21 years in the US Navy, 6½ of them as a POW in North Vietnam’s notorious “Hanoi Hilton.” He and his wife reside in Richmond remaining active with veterans organizations and issues. One is as a director of the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation at www.vawarmemorial.org.

What’s Your View?

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