On February 17, 1967, I was engaged in a military training exercise when a message came down through the chain of command for me to report to my commander at once. There was no further explanation given; however, there was a dark shadow that fell over my heart at that unusual moment. After reporting as ordered, my commanding officer appeared oddly kind, but solemn, when he responded with the salute. He then told me that he had some tragic news for me – my younger brother, Kenneth, had been killed in action in Vietnam. He was participating in a tactical sweep of the Ia Drang Valley with the 1st Cav Division during the Tet of 1967 when his machine gun position was attacked by a Sapper squad (NVA) at the midnight hour. A grenade was tossed into his defense position killing my brother instantly.
As my senior officer spoke, I could feel no emotion, in fact, I felt numb. Even as he spoke, my mind went racing back to years past when my brother and I conducted war games on the mountain overlooking our house at Dug Gap Mountain, Georgia. My brother considered it a special honor to be a soldier in the defense of all for which America had stood. He must have been born with an American flag in his hands for he loved it. It was not the cotton twill, nor the beautiful field of stars, nor the stark red and white stripes that appealed to him so much as the values which, to my brother, that flag represented.
At first opportunity, he tricked my father into signing the authorization for him to join the National Guard at age seventeen and a half – our father refused to sign for him to join the regular Army since he feared Ken would be sent to Vietnam. But that was Ken’s intention. As soon as he was sworn in to the National Guard, he immediately volunteered for active duty in the regular Army. He was sent to Europe for a few months, but volunteered for ‘Nam shortly thereafter. He had high ideals of how the America of his dreams would be helping the Vietnamese people, for whom he came to bear a high regard, to enjoy the same freedoms for which our fore fathers bled and died. Gradually, he became disillusioned with the manner in which the war was being executed. Regardless of our possible good intentions, he felt we were doing more harm than good to the people of Vietnam. Yet, he still took pride in being a dedicated soldier and honoring the flag of America. Since I was older than Ken, I received the higher honor of sonship in my family even if it was expressed in subtle implications; but when I learned of my brother’s death, I immediately realized that it was Ken – not I – who was the better man.
Today at St. Andrews, we held our Memorial Day Service in conjunction with our regular day of worship. My church is comprised now of some of the best young Americans I have ever known. They happen to be Korean youth from college graduates to elementary school age. I love them. For more than twenty years, they have been my constant friends. They are the ones I call upon when I have needed special favors done such as a drive home from hospital. They have always gone above and beyond my best expectations.
Part of our Memorial Day observance was to display American flags, interspersed with the flags of each military branch of service, around the main flag pole at church. I simply handed the bundle of flags to the eldest and asked him to please display those by having the youth place them as indicated. This was done with respect and reverence. I am so proud that these young Koreans are my fellow Americans. Ken would have been proud to know them as well for America is not necessarily a geographic location – it is defined by the ideals which were borne to this continent by men and women who placed the Perfect Law of Liberty above every other national consideration. The flag is not the source of those ideals, but only represents those ideals of the Christian heritage passed down to us.
America’s memory has faded much concerning that Christian heritage over the past few decades, but the ideals have never changed. We need to dust them off and let the Light of Freedom again perpetuate our National fervor and endeavors. That noble old Liberty Bell that graces the grounds of Independence Hall must be made to ring, with incessant tolling, the faith and principles of our God-given freedoms that it has come to symbolize. “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Lev 25:10 KJV
It is the blood and dedication of soldiers such as Ken, and a countless train of others, whose blood and toil have given authenticity to the principles written, and unwritten (but implied,) on that Bell.
On this Memorial Day, this old soldier salutes each and every gallant soldier, for his devotion and sacrifice, as he keeps the night watch at his final duty station on High.
“Prenez en Gré”
In Christ Alone during LENT,
† Jerry L. Ogles, D.D.
Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide & Chancellor, Faith Theological Seminary