Chaplain Bill Karabinos
Pack your saddle bags, mark the route on your map and get on your horse. You are a Blackhorse Trooper on a mission.
New year, new challenge, new attractions to see, new adventures to begin … and a chance to relive memories of days gone by. Begin with your regiment, the 11th Armored Cavalry. Begin with your unit and time in country. Remember that guy “who was my buddy over there.”
Then drive your wife and kids crazy by telling them we are going to look for a grave. Or, if they are not interested, go alone.
Every year Blackhorse troopers and many with family members come to Washington to visit memorial sites and yes, the graves of our brothers who bled out in Southeast Asia; or who have succumbed recently, since their return from Vietnam, now wore down by age and their continuing effort to make this world a better place for their family, their friends, their community, their country. They come to The Wall on Memorial Day and Veterans Day in respect for their Blackhorse brothers. Or to reminisce with men they served with, trained with, fought with: their compeers of the regiment … their band of brothers. You come because you remember and appreciate those lads (as we were then) who sacrificed, some with their blood in the Nam, but all with their sweat, their jabber, their shared agony, their care for one another in a distant land far away.
Some of you have come to the Tomb of the Unknown in a winter blizzard and stood on frozen and ever cold marble to honor our entire regiment, and its cadre multiplied by 120 years. You come because you are still a living part of that Legend. We don’t cry as much as laugh, because we all face the same fate; we will all someday be lying in a tomb or grave. We are realists who honor by our presence our fallen brothers; in the hope that someday, one of us, or our children, or children’s children, will come at some future date to pay us homage … and to say or think a prayer. Remember Yogi Berra once said; “If you don’t go to their funeral, they won’t come to yours.”
We all want to believe that “life doesn’t end, but merely changes,” and as we were together in Vietnam or some other foreign turf, we will be together again, in heaven or on Fiddlers Green, or floating above the void. It is what we believe, what we hope. You come out of respect and because your DNA is stamped “Patriot.” You wore the uniform, you stepped up to the plate, you stood tall, and you all want to be “buried with soldiers, for I miss their company … bury me with men like them, till someone else does more.”
So, I am not kidding. Make plans this year to travel to at least one cemetery. I don’t mean your final trip, though it may be a warmup. I used to laugh listening to some eulogies, about how good a Christian the corpse had been, and thought: “yes, he went to church twice in his life, and both times had to be carried in.” Of course, that was too judgmental, that wasn’t my call, it was God’s place to render the verdict. Nonetheless, I was there out of respect.
Out of respect, why not go and visit the grave of one of our KIA’s; maybe a lad you served with, or a lad from your Troop or Battery. Maybe a name picked at random or a Blackhorse Trooper who lived close by, or near a place you are traveling to. You can find one of our troopers’ graves usually within 100 miles of your home, or of your vacation destination. If you look on our web site (11thcavnam.com) you can find a listing of all our KIA’s, as well as a listing of over 9,000 of our troopers who have passed since they returned stateside. You can also find a listing of national cemeteries and military post cemeteries where they are buried. In fact, for so many of our lads, you can maybe find the name of the church yard, community or private cemetery memorial garden, or state veteran cemetery, where our brothers are buried. If you can’t and are looking for one in any location or by any name, call us; we will help you.
Allen Hathaway, Director, Operation Embrace has compiled an extensive list. Allen, and any of the Board Members are more than willing to help, so too, is this chaplain. Call us or email us: we are all listed on the second page of each Thunder Run.
As an example, we lost Captain Clark in late February, of 1972. He was the G Troop Commander and preparing his Troop for the final march from the field to base camp at Phu Loi. The 2nd Squadron was ordered to stand down and was going home. It did clear out by the 27th of March. But the enemy wasn’t ready to let us ride out quietly, so he led a patrol to successfully suppress their harassment den and died as a result of sniper fire. He was one of the last men to die as a result of enemy ground contact with the regiment in Vietnam. Captain Clark was from Florida but is buried at the Fort McClellan Post Cemetery. I owe him a visit. I haven’t talked to him since he was medevac’d out 52 years ago, and I owe him a prayer and blessing in Alabama.
Do me a favor. Go. Go visit the grave site of one of our KIAs or one of our Blackhorse troopers who have passed away in the past few years. Take a picture of the headstone or marker, maybe a picture with you at his marker. Send it along to me, or Allen, or Pete Walter or to any officer. We can match it up or even print it in Thunder Run, and if we get so many, display or talk about them at the reunion. But also note the condition of the gravestone, see that it is properly cared for, in good condition. If not, do something about it. Talk to the caretaker, or let us know, we want that site to remain a well-preserved National Treasure, to remain a bright and shiny memorial to a true patriot. It is your DNA duty assignment; you are still and ever will be a Blackhorse Trooper.
Chaplain Blandin “Bill” Karabinos