I grew up in a patriotic family that regarded military service as a personal honor and a duty. We never thought to question the judgment of our government regarding military conflicts or the justness thereof; it was simply our duty to serve in whatever capacity we were called upon to serve. My great uncle was a Major General in the United States Army and served throughout WW I and WW II, and was awarded four (4) Silver Stars. I remember wearing his dress uniform officer's cap while I was a child, and the pride I felt when I put that large cap on my small head. My father was in the United States Navy during all of WW II and served with distinction in the Pacific Theater. My family has always been fiercely patriotic; recognizing that we, as Americans, are exceptional people with exceptional abilities and great responsibilities.
At 19 years of age, I did not understand the politics of the Vietnam War, nor the rationale for America's involvement in the war. I was, however, keenly aware of the anti-war protests, the draft card burning episodes and the individuals who fled to Canada to avoid the draft. While I was aware of such, I did not understand how one could deny his country or question the judgment and decisions of our duly elected leaders. Rather than protest, burn or flee, I decided to join the Army and do my part. My decision may have been influenced by recent news that my best friend's brother had been killed in Vietnam.
In October 1969, I joined the Army. After basic training and AIT, I received orders for Vietnam and was subsequently stationed in various parts of South Vietnam during 1971 and 1972. The last few months of my service was at a place called "Khe Sahn" which had, prior to our arrival, been completely overrun by the North Vietnamese Regular Army during the Tet Offensive. Everyone who served in Vietnam and those who have studied the Vietnam War know "Khe Sahn" and the drama that unfolded there. We were the first to occupy the fire-base after its evacuation. The mission was on a volunteer basis and was named "Lam Son 719". The objective was to rebuild the airstrip at Khe Sahn and to provide support in the effort to cut the Ho Chi Mihn Trail that ran through Laos, and used to transport supplies to the Vietcong in the south. The event was pretty scary for a 20 year old soldier, and an experience that proved to be life altering in many respects. It was at Khe Sahn, in a dug-in position watching the perimeter at night for enemy penetration, that I experienced a spiritual awakening. I had always considered church as the place you attended every Sunday to be with God, and that if you were not in church you couldn't truly be with God. While peering through the darkness at shadowy figures along the perimeter (whether real or imaginary), I realized that God was right there with me in that dug-in position. Suddenly, the apprehension and fear was gone. His presence and comforting hand gave me the strength and assurance that not only would I survive the night; but I would return home to my family. I went to Vietnam a religious young man who attended church literally every time the door opened. I came home a spiritual man. I recently came across a saying that brings the distinction into focus. It goes like this: "a religious man is one who goes to church and thinks about fishing; a spiritual man is one who goes fishing and thinks about God".
I came back from Vietnam in May 1971 as a Sergeant, E-5, with the customary service medals and banners, including the Army Commendation Medal. Over the years, I have spoken little about my military service as my sacrifice was very small compared to many I knew and know. I am simply proud to have been able to serve, and am ready and willing to go again should my country call upon me. It was an honor and a privilege to be in the service of the greatest representative democracy the world has ever known. I hope that all Americans will, through their thoughts, deeds and prayers, honor our service men and women this Memorial Day, and that we remember to thank our living veterans for their service. When we see a young soldier, sailor or marine in uniform, we should take the time to shake his or her hand and thank them for their service.
It should never be forgotten that we owe our liberty to the selfless sacrifices of our service men and women.
Mark Morefield is our Republican Candidate for Judge, in the Liberty County 75th Judicial District.