Remembering Memorial Day


A Memorial Day Message:

Staying Faithful to the End
by Colonel Don Martin, Jr., AUS (Ret)
Deputy Executive Director, Officers’ Christian Fellowship

In January of 1968, while serving as the executive officer of the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, I had the task of inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of a young Army corporal. He had been killed by enemy fire while leading an assault on bunkers concealed in the jungle near Loc Ninh, Republic of Vietnam.

My squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Garland McSpadden, instructed me to interview the members of the corporal’s platoon who had observed his actions that day. I did so, and reported my findings to him.

Two years later I was a faculty member in the Department of Command at the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. One day as I walked past the department’s bulletin board, I noticed a new award. When I stopped to read it, tears filled my eyes. The testimony of his comrades, reported through the Army chain of command, had led to the posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Corporal Jerry W. Wickam, U.S. Army, for “. . . conspicuous bravery above and beyond the call of duty.”

My only knowledge of Corporal Wickam had come through hearing his fellow soldiers speak of his behavior on that fateful day. I can still hear the inspiration in their voices as they described his courage and leadership. I don’t know if he knew and loved Jesus Christ. I do know that he exhibited at that moment of crisis the utmost faithfulness to his comrades-in-arms, to his unit and to his country.

Webster’s Dictionary defines fidelity as “. ..strict and continuing faithfulness to an obligation, trust, or duty . ..” It is a quality military professionals and Christians hold dear. We want to be men and women who are faithful to the ideals of our military services and our nation – and as Christians, to our God.

Christians know, however, how quickly human beings can be tempted away from their ideals of fidelity. Mere human willpower is insufficient to guarantee steadfastness in the spiritual warfare. Only the power of God’s Spirit will suffice. After His resurrection, The Lord Jesus, speaking to that small band of disciples who would one day be described as “having turned the world upside down,” said, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8a)

To stand fast in the spiritual warfare, we must cultivate the presence of the Sprit in our lives. Open-hearted communion with Almighty God not only refreshes our spirits, it also give us an eternal perspective on the circumstances and conflicts of our lives an the power to deal with them in accordance with God’s purposes for us.

That is why recognition of sin and repentance – turning away from it – are dynamic necessities for all who desire to remain faithful to the end. As we set aside our sins and receive Christ’s forgiveness for them, God’s Spirit empowers us to live with integrity. We need an infusion of the Spirit each day, moment by moment, so that we can “. . . run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

I don’t know what went through Corporal Wickam’s mind as he faced a determined, well-armed enemy manning camouflaged bunkers only a few meters in front of him. I do know that he ran the race of a soldier with honor, leading the assault on bunker after bunker, even when severely wounded, until he collapsed on the field of battle. On this Memorial Day, we remember the bravery and sacrifice of Corporal Wickam and many others like him.

May it be our constant prayer that God will enable those who follow Jesus Christ to show similar courage, both in the physical realm of warfare and in the spiritual realm.

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Chaplin Angelo J. Liteky

Rank and organization: Chaplain (Capt.), U.S. Army, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 199th Infantry Brigade. place and date: Near phuoc-Lac, Bien Hoa province, Republic of Vietnam, 6 December 1967 . Entered service at: Fort Hamilton, N.Y. Born: 14 February 1931, Washington, D.C.

Citation: Chaplain Liteky distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving with Company A, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing 2 wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 meters of an enemy machine-gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men. When there was a brief respite in the fighting, he managed to drag them to the relative safety of the landing zone. Inspired by his courageous actions, the company rallied and began placing a heavy volume of fire upon the enemy’s positions. In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began moving upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. pausing for breath momentarily, he returned to the action and came upon a man entangled in the dense, thorny underbrush. Once more intense enemy fire was directed at him, but Chaplain Liteky stood his ground and calmly broke the vines and carried the man to the landing zone for evacuation. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Chaplain Liteky stood up in the face of hostile fire and personally directed the medivac helicopters into and out of the area. With the wounded safely evacuated, Chaplain Liteky returned to the perimeter, constantly encouraging and inspiring the men. Upon the unit’s relief on the morning of 7 December 1967, it was discovered that despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky had personally carried over 20 men to the landing zone for evacuation during the savage fighting. Through his indomitable inspiration and heroic actions, Chaplain Liteky saved the lives of a number of his comrades and enabled the company to repulse the enemy. Chaplain Liteky’s actions reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

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Thank you to all who have served and who serve to protect our country and our beliefs. May God cover you with his blanket of protection and love. — doug