Seems the older I get, the faster time flies by. How is it that this year's Memorial Day is upon us? Last year's commemoration of America's most poignant day of remembrances seems like just yesterday.
I'll grill some burgers and will have cold beer handy to help manage the flames. And it won't matter how hot the weather is, or if smoke gets in my eyes. Because every time I fire up the grill, I think of those Americans who bought this day for me with their last full measure of devotion. How I wish they could smell the burgers sizzling and knock down a few cold ones with me while I try to thank them for their sacrifice.
Well, I can't thank them all. But I can tell you that in my heart they're all of them heroes. And this Memorial Day, I'll celebrate the lives of five men - one from each branch of America's armed forces - and will honor them as I consider specific verses of the 1940 Episcopal version of "The Navy Hymn."
Capt. Sam Dealey, at 37, was truly "the old man" to crewmen aboard his World War II submarine, USS Harder. Through five war patrols, the fearless Texan had sailed into history by taking on Japanese destroyers. Dealey and his men were lost off Luzon, Philippines, on their sixth patrol, but "Hit 'em again, Harder" became a Silent Service battle cry. Dealey was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross with three gold stars, and the Medal of Honor.
"Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm hath bound the restless wave; Who bids't the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep. O, hear us when we cry to Thee for those in peril on the sea."
Luther H. Story, from Buena Vista, Ga., had just turned 20. He found himself in the U. S. Army, a Private First Class, Company A, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. As Aug. 2, 1951, dawned, three divisions of Chinese engulfed Story's squad near Agok, Korea. The Georgia boy grabbed a heavy machine gun and single-handedly stemmed two attacks. As his men found higher ground, Story took out an ammunition truck with grenades, being wounded himself several times. Overwhelming enemy forces eventually forced a retreat; Story, knowing his wounds would hinder the squad, refused evacuation. When last seen, he was firing every weapon at his disposal, buying time for his comrades. Story was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Christ, the Lord of hill and plain, o'er which our traffic runs amain; by mountain pass or valley low, wherever, Lord, our brethren go. Protect them by Thy guarding hand from every peril on the land."
Air Force Capt. Steven L. Bennett, 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron, Vietnam, was flying a light aircraft over Quang Tri June 29, 1972. From Palestine, Texas, Bennett had a rear-seat artillery observer calling in fire support as enemy troops massed. When a surface-to-air missile crippled his plane and destroyed the observer's parachute, instead of ejecting to safety Bennett nursed his ship to the Gulf of Tonkin. Knowing no pilot had survived a water landing in that type of aircraft, Bennett ditched to save the life of his observer. Steven L. Bennett was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
"O Spirit, Whom the Father sent to spread abroad the firmament; O wind of Heaven, by Thy might save all who dare the eagle's flight. And keep them by Thy watchful care from every peril in the air."
From Scio, N.Y., Cpl. Jason L. Dunham was a rifle squad leader in Karabilah, Iraq, during America's War on Terror.
Assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Dunham sprang into action when his commander's convoy was ambushed. His squad neutralized seven truckloads of enemy soldiers, but suddenly a grenade landed in their midst. Without hesitation, Dunham threw himself on the grenade, saving his squad.
He died April 14, 2004. He received the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
United States Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal was involved in a waterborne assault during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The native of Smithtown, N.Y., serving with Tactical Law Enforcement Team, South Detachment 403 in the Northern Persian Gulf, was killed Aug. 24, 2004.
"O Trinity of love and power! Our brethren shield in danger's hour; from rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them where so'er they go. Thus evermore shall rise to Thee, glad praise from air, and land, and sea!"
I'm unspeakably grateful for the countless Americans who bought my freedom with their very lives.
And, on this Memorial Day, I'm grateful for these beautiful and familiar words which shape their fitting epitaph:
"Oh, beautiful, for heroes proved in liberating strife; who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!"
May God bless them, and these United States of America!
Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column appears Sundays.