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A Memorial Day Memory

05/26/2013

I was a brash young lieutenant who knew everything and was on my first assignment after completing my Special Forces training.  He was a wise, older Command Sergeant Major (CSM), which means he was an enlisted man and out-ranked by any brash young lieutenant like myself.  Of course, he could have subtly embarrassed me somehow in front of my troops or tolerated me as merely another nuisance.  Instead, he took me under his wing and protected me from my own youth and inexperience.  I knew what he was doing and do believe I showed my sincere appreciation before we were both reassigned in 1969.  I resolved to be more like him and to help mentor younger colleagues during my lifetime.  His name was Wilbur Childress.

Many years later, I was walking in Arlington National Cemetery, paying my respect to the thousands of souls who were less lucky than myself.  By sheer coincidence, I came upon a tombstone of CSM Wilbur Childress who died in combat in 1970.  I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.  I could barely breathe.  How could anybody so professional, so military, and so kind possibly be dead?  At that instant, I realized I actually loved the old guy for the help he had given me and the things he had taught me.  I wanted to thank him one more time, at least!

But, it got worse!  After much digging, I learned he had been “fragged,” which means he was intentionally killed by a fellow American soldier.  An ocean of salt washed into my open emotional wound.  My sorrow became anger.  To my knowledge, nobody was ever charged with his murder.

During this Memorial Day weekend, I will, of course, be respecting the hundreds of thousands of men who laid down their lives for their country.  I will also be remembering one particular solder who had his life taken before he could die for his country.  The world in general and the Army in particular would be a better place if he had lived.

Sergeant Childress, I salute you, I miss you, but I know you are in the good company of genuine patriots on this Memorial Day.

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