Two hundred and eighty-four combat missions in helicopter gunships over Vietnam, flying in support of the SEALS and River Patrol Boat squadrons along the Mekong Delta, followed by a stint with Air America, the CIA air force in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh trail, qualify a man to comment on the meaning of Memorial Day.
My late friend, Paul Steube, who flew those missions, was rightly proud of his service. Of flying with the Helicopter Attack Light 3rd Squadron (HAL 3) Seawolves, he wrote, “It was sort of like dancing around the sky, hurling thunderbolts at anyone foolish enough to reveal themselves by shooting tracers at us. And they couldn’t touch us. We were too good, too lucky, too cute, and we were so young. Lord, we knew we were something.”
It wasn’t until much later in life that Paul came to appreciate the role of the common, “dogface,” foot-soldier. That’s when he wrote the following tribute.
“I want to tell you something that took me 54 years to learn. And I am so glad that I learned it in time to tell my brother (who was an infantryman).
I was a mustang in the Navy. That’s someone who gets a commission after serving as an enlisted man. After I’d been in the Navy for a couple of years, I was fortunate enough to get into the NAVCAD, or Naval Aviation Cadet, program.
Going to Pensacola! Going to get those wings of gold, the Holy Grail! It was a demanding program, especially difficult for me, but I made it. I made my five requisite carrier landings and got my Naval Aviator Wings and a commission as an Ensign.
Years later, in the observations memorializing the Fiftieth Anniversary of the D-Day landings, I learned about what some other people had done, and still do. And it finally dawned on me that I didn’t amount to a pimple on the behind of the noblest man on the field of battle: The Straight Leg Infantryman.
Usually not much more than a boy.
Usually given not much more than a hunting rifle.
Usually told not much more than, “Go that way and kill anything that tries to stop you.”
And thank God he does.
And that is why, if ever again I were in uniform, walking down a street or through an airport concourse, and I met a private wearing a small blue enamel rectangle with a rifle mounted on it, I wouldn’t stop to explain. He would simply have to wonder the rest of his life, why did that Navy Commander salute me?
God bless you, Dogface.”
Study the killing fields of Pol Pot that ran with the blood of innocent millions after America withdrew from South East Asia and the truth of Scripture will stand: As long as sinful man remains on this fallen planet there will be ruthless aggressors who seek by violence to impose their will on peaceful populations. Thank God for the soldiers past and present who have died to defend them.