Chaplain Bill Karabinos
Words have a way of haunting me. They stick in my head. Before I realize where they came from, I am humming or mumbling them. My eyes pop open and I look around and ask “where did that come from?” It is like when someone mentions Gettysburg and you think “four Score and seven years ago …” or, a politician starts talking about patriotism and you think the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident … “. Or even better for those of us who made the pledge, “I do solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic ….”
On Memorial Day, this past May, words from the prayer/poem we recite at each reunion at our Memorial Service struck me as loudly and as sharply as the sound of a .50 caliber discharge. Those words “… their father had and their fathers had before” played on my mind. Like the machine gun round, that poem, Bury Me with Soldiers is so explosive with meaning that over the years, many of us have had to pause, catch a breath, and dry our eyes before we could continue the reading. It is such a great meditation, a heart throbbing prayer, a lyric poem and an endearing message of brotherhood. I get to read it a number of times each year at the burial of a soldier, even once read it at Arlington. It doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times we read it aloud.
We had a nice turnout this past Memorial Day in Washington. Troopers who served in Vietnam, as well as 11th ACR people from the Fulda Gap era and even veterans of the Gulf War gathered, many with family members. “Their father had, and their father had before…”. Loren Klink, son of Robert (D Company 69/70) brought his father and mother, Luann, from Frostburg, Maryland. John Boland, Gulf War Blackhorse veteran, came up with his children from Stafford, Virginia. Eamon McGready, who served in the Legion in Germany reunited with both Brian Butcher and Glenn Snodgrass of Cold War days, and my son, Michael and his children, Savannah and Jacob, came up from beyond Richmond to honor their “Papa.” The two brothers of Raymond Crowder (K Troop), Steve and Gary brought their families, including sons and daughters to trace their brother’s name off the Wall. Ray was killed in action on June 19, 1967. Their dedication and presence, honored all Blackhorse veterans of Vietnam killed in action and all of us as well. They all came because their fathers had (and their brothers too), and their fathers had before. And so too did many of our regular participants from the metropolitan DC area and from as far away as Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and distant hamlets in Virginia. They come, because they honor the words: “their father had and their fathers had before...”.
A lot of other people pass by our gathering: we don’t put up fences or tape, we don’t have a reserved space, we just seem to have inherited an honored place next to the statue of the Three Grunts. From there we look down a slightly sloping hill to view the names chiseled into that Wall. Names that will always be there to remind us, and all future generations that “their father had.”
After a bit of camaraderie and a few moments to lie and laugh, we gather in a widened circle, introduce ourselves and our family members, get a few updates and an encouraging message, then pause in respectful silence for a short prayer, before we carry our Blackhorse Wreath in procession down to the Wall’s center point.
As it so often is, our gathering and introductions are interrupted by the loud yet familiar noise of circling helicopters. No one can be heard, so while we pause, some of us recall that same noise from Vietnam. This past May was no different … except for some reason when it came time to pray a momentary silence surrounded us. So we prayed:
Long ago on night watch, staring into the darkened sky, maybe behind a machine gun on top of an M 48 “Patton Tank,” a Blackhorse trooper prayed all alone. He whispered - “I hope dear Lord that I will not too quickly forget that you are an awesome God. That you reign from heaven above with wisdom, power and love. That you will protect my brother troopers – and me as well. But if you decide that it is my time to come home, bring me to your embrace and comfort me with your grace.”
Eternal God, let Your Grace and mercy rest upon us as we, with grateful affection, remember those warriors listed on that Wall. We may not be able to remember all 58,000 plus names. We may not be able to remember even our 740 Blackhorse brothers listed there, but we do know some … or at least one name.
May that remembrance of that one life, or of the several lives recalled, remain long among us and be a source of guidance and strength. Give to those who miss them deeply, wells of consolation from which to draw comfort, let them also draw strength and mercy to serve others in time of need. We don’t know them all … but we owe them all. They wore the uniform, that stood tall, they stood up for America … they are our brother and sister warriors.
After the prayer we did an about face and looked down at The Wall. We stiffened our sagging spines, stretched our legs, stood tall, and held our salute of that Wall. No that’s wrong. We saluted the warriors, those names on that Wall. We saluted our Vietnam and Cambodian KIA’s.
Then as proud troopers we marched behind our Blackhorse wreath to place it at the base of that Wall. “They fought because their fathers and their fathers had before. They cursed and killed and wept. God knows, they’re easy to deride. But bury me with men like these; they faced the guns and died.”