Wile, Wit, Wisdom & Weaponry

Ruminations, Opinions & Debate about the world as I see it and the toys that make it bearable!

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Location: TEXAS, United States

-Defender of the Second Amendment, the "little guy", free market system, liberty and freedom from government!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Yesterday I was sitting in our small church service thinking about what I would write as a simple commemoration for all those who serve- or have served- as America's military heroes.  One of our church elders got up to speak and decided to specifically address his fellow Marines in the audience while introducing the next part of the morning's service in honoring our military.  He said, "My wife told me not to call out to my Marines when I got up here, but I just can't help it....SEMPER FI, Marines!"

And it struck me in that moment:  I didn't know this man well, but I did know every member of his family and not once in the past year did anyone mention that he served in the armed forces- much less the Marine Corps.  He is a very quiet, humble and soft spoken individual.  He is also very thin for his 65+ year, 5 foot 10 inch frame.  He might weigh 150 lbs.  Not your typical Marine.  This got me to thinking...how many other men had I known over the years at different churches, schools, businesses that served their country in honorable and admirable ways?

The list started to come pretty easily.  Family, friends, church leaders, ministry leaders, people I worked with over the years.  Before I knew it, I easily had 40+ names written down.  Most of these were men I had gotten to know through our church in Temple, TX.  These men had a very positive affect on me.  Some more than others, like my Dad, but nonetheless- each and every one of them left an indelible mark on my life.  They served as older role models, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, husbands, brothers, sons and siblings.  Each of them has a distinct relational grip on my life. I'm forever grateful to these men and their constancy in putting up with a brash young man who loves and appreciates them all for their unique gifts and their presence in my life.

In no particular order of importance:

Maj. Gen. Leon J. Laporte (US Army, Retired)
Brig. Gen. Jerry Strader (US Army, Retired)
Capt. John C. Stevens (US Army, Retired/Deceased)
Col. T.D. Smith (US Air Force, Retired)
Col. Jim Morgan (US Army, Retired/Deceased)
Col. Jim Holmans (US Air Force, Retired)
Maj. Craig Smyser (US Air Force, Retired)
Capt. David Henshaw (US Air Force, Active)
Petty Officer Mike Ricker (US Navy, Retired)
Mike Murphy (US Air Force, Retired)
Maj. Brian Golden (US Air Force, Active)
Col. Malcolm Coco (US Air Force, Retired)
Maj. Tim Townsend (US Air Force, Active)
Sgt. Roger Carraway (US Army, Retired)
Lt. Jeff Whitt (US Army, Green Berets, Retired)
Robbie Smith (US Marine Corps, Retired)
Lee Kinsey (US Navy, Active)
Capt. Marc Van Wert (US Air Force, Retired)
William "Bill" Craig (US Army Reserves, Active)
Evan Chrane (US Army, Active)
Commander Hunter J. Haltom (US Navy, Active)
Eric Dyson (US Navy, Retired)
Bob Pikna (US Army, Retired)
Kevin Clinton (US Army, Retired)
Maj. Grant Seabolt (US Marine Corps., Retired)
GSgt. Sean Trembley (US Marine Corps., Retired)
Petty Officer Markus Netzel (US Navy, Retired)
Troy Vaughn (US Marine Corps., Retired)
Harold Tidwell (US Marine Corps., Retired)
Sgt. Mike Stirman (US Army, Retired)
Robert Medlock (US Navy, Retired/Deceased)
Larry Matthews (US Army, Retired)
Ron Scott (US Army, Retired)
Capt. William "Bill" Goforth (US Army, Retired/Deceased)
Sgt. Jim McKinney (US Marine Corps, Retired/Deceased)
Eddie Lester (US Army, Retired/Deceased)
Henry Browning (US Air Force, Retired)
Neil Haney (US Army, Retired)
John Hopewell (US Air Force, Retired)
Capt. Jack Morgan (US Army Air Corps., Retired/Deceased)
H.C. Mann (US Army Air Corps., Retired)
Grant Smith (US Army, Retired)
Jerry Secrest (US Navy, Retired)
Johnny Usrey (US Army, Retired/Deceased)
Capt. Wesley "Wes" Fortenberry (US Army, KIA)

And every one of these has a story to tell.....every.blessed.one.of.them.  Some have several stories to tell.  These were men who saw combat up close and personal.  Men who were trained to secure beachheads, hills, hedgerows and towns without a thought's notice. They are/were men who consisted of grit, determination, valor, honor and integrity.  They were also patriotic- a word that has unfortunately turned into a lightening rod in some circles in the 21st century.  Let's examine the lives of three of these men.

Captain (and Chaplain) John Christopher Stevens.  Former President of Abilene Christian University (1969-81) and faculty emeriti of ACU's History Department.  His specialty was European History.  In the following famous WWII-era photograph you will notice a long column of 28th Infantry Troops marching down the famed Champs d'Elysees in Paris on VE Day in France.  Leading this column is non other than Capt. John C. Stephens. (Center of photo, tallest man in the first row.)

The 28th Infantry troops entering the Champs-Elysees in Paris during a victory parade after the city’s liberation from the Germans. 

He was often asked about the photo and always responded with self-deprecating humor, telling one reporter in a March 2001 Abilene Reporter-News story, "Never were so many led by one so unaware of where we were going!"  (This was typical JCS humor- and very much like the response of many men from that era.)

William "Bill" Goforth. Bill was one of my elders at the Western Hills Church of Christ in Temple, TX where I grew up.  (Some would say I never grew up, but I digress here...)  Bill was probably one of my favorite men in that congregation.  He had a very sonorous bass voice and I always loved to hear him read scripture during the worship assembly.  To me it was as if God himself and ordained that voice to speak His words.  He was quiet, dignified, always an encouraging word to those around him, and ferocious about those whom he loved.  He was a true family man in every sense of the word.  Bill was also our resident fisherman who loved to catch fish on Saturday/Sunday afternoons and then drive all over Temple looking for someone who might be home who liked crappie.  We were the recipients of Bill's bounty numerous times.  Sometimes it took me 2+ hours to clean all the fish that Bill caught!  Here is Bill's story as told by my father, Mike Stirman:

"Bill served during WWII and Korea.  He started out as a Combat Infantryman.   Because Bill was an officer at the end of WWII, he was still eligible for duty when Korea started up but a new law had just been passed by Congress that would have exempted him.  But someone messed up and sent him a "Report For Duty" notice anyway. After getting to Korea and being assigned to a combat battalion, Bill's business partner back home, Mr. Dalos Cobb, contacted his congressman and got Bill released from duty. Bill's C.O. was really angry, thinking Bill had pulled some personal or political strings to get himself released from active duty. As a result, Bill had to arrange his own transportation home. Bill called his wife, Betty, to tell her that he would be home in a certain number of days and went to the Flight Shed to bum a ride home. The transport he was assigned was a DC 3 that had engine trouble twice before reaching Hawaii. The mechanics worked on the engine, delayed another day, and then headed to San Francisco. On the way not one, but two engines quit over the Pacific (this model only has 2 engines!). When they finally limped into San Francisco, Bill phoned Betty once again to tell her what happened and that he was trading in his flight voucher for a train ticket back to Temple and that he would be home in 3 days. As luck would have it, out in the middle of northern Arizona, a blizzard and avalanche covered the train tracks and he sat on the train for 2 days until a snow plow-enabled train could get them out."

Jack Morgan.  Jack was another one of my elders at the same church in Temple and was a WWII veteran who flew B-29's (8th Air Force) over Europe for his entire tour.  Jack was stationed outside Paris on V.E. Day. He and a friend finagled a light reconnaissance plane during the massive parade in downtown Paris and flew it under the Eiffel Tower.  No one ever figured out who pulled off the stunt!

On this Memorial Day, I hope all Americans- no matter where they live- find themselves reflecting on the service of these brave men and women.  Many serve in quiet, unassuming ways and in distant lands far away from their respective families.  They still need our support and our prayers for their safety and for the successful conclusion of their mission so they can return to their homes. Those who are retired, serve as a reminder of past generations and their sacrifice during some of our greatest conflicts.  These are the sentinels who stand on the walls of Freedom.  Walls which are built with course after course of sacrificed souls mixed with gritty determination and a true sense of pride, duty and honor. Our largest and most visible national monuments stand as silent witnesses to those who can no longer speak for themselves, but whose patriotism lives on because we who remain appreciative continue to remember and reflect on such a price paid...

American Cemetery- Normandy, France