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Memorial Day

For most of us, Memorial Day is a day for parades, flag waving, and cookouts. For the nation, it is a day to remember those who gave their lives to protect our freedom. For me, it is the day I remember the soldier who lost his life to save mine…

I know the story because it was told to me. I was too young to remember on my own, but my parents thought this story was so important they told it to me again and again. At the time, we lived in Saigon, Viet Nam, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. Back in the early 1960’s Saigon was called the Paris of the Orient- beautiful tree-lined streets, museums, concert halls, and stunning architecture. My mother loved the street markets. She enjoyed the local delicacies and found the people fascinating. She would take us on walks through the city to drink in the rich culture of the orient. My younger brother loved chasing the lizards that populated the nooks and crannies of the city. My brothers and I went to a French school, making our way in a multi-lingual environment with the ease only young children can have. We lived in Saigon in the early 1960’s because my father was stationed with a Marine unit sent to protect the city. Our family was allowed to accompany him in-country because the war was “up north” and not a threat to Saigon. But that reality changed quickly as the vagaries of war often do. Within months of our arrival, the danger grew as the war moved south.

By year’s end, a coup forced a change in government- a change many Vietnamese blamed on the Americans. The details of that night are another story my mother told us again and again. We lived four blocks from the palace among other families of diplomats and military officers. To live so close to the center of government gave my father a sense of security for his young family. But that night, the proximity to government made us sitting ducks as armored vehicles descended on the palace, and mortar fire broke through the walls. My mother huddled with us in the basement of our home with only a large candle for light. She read stories to try to drown out the sounds of war that pounded the streets around us. I don’t remember being afraid, but I am sure that my mother was terrified. That night, my father was somewhere out in the battle with his men- to this day, I do not know which side they were on. All I know is that in the morning the power in that nation had changed hands and the city would never feel safe again. You might wonder why the American families were not sent home. My father always told us that to send us home our government would have had to admit that the war was escalating, and we were losing ground quickly. So, they left us in Saigon… in the danger… for appearances sake. It would take my father a year and a half to secure safe passage for his young family back to the States.

During those months, my mother tried to give us a sense of normalcy. She continued to take us to school, but always stayed in the halls ready to scoop us up if danger came too close. She still went to the market, but always with us in tow, fearful lest we ever be separated. Our little chapel gathered for worship on Sundays, but always with Marines standing guard at the door. The Easter sunrise that we had celebrated in the fields outside Saigon the first year, was celebrated on the rooftop of a hotel that second year with snipers on the surrounding rooftops for protection. When a Disney movie was brought to the local theater, my mother took us to enjoy a moment of normal American family fun. The theater was full that day with families of servicemen and diplomats, all hoping for a momentary escape from the stress of war. But war found us that day as planes began to drop bombs on the city. A man from our chapel community burst into the theater shouting for us to take cover. He ran up and down the aisle making sure that every young head was protected under a seat. When the bomb hit, he was the only one without cover, and the only life lost that day. My mother always wanted us to remember the man who gave his life to save ours.

I know his story, but I am sad to say I don’t remember his name. I’ve always wondered if he had a family back in the States. Did he have children who grew up hearing the story of his act of heroism? Did our nation honor him posthumously with a medal for his act of bravery? Was he buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors? Years ago, my son found a New York Times article that detailed the theater bombing. How shocking to see my childhood story splashed across the pages of a major newspaper. The article described his act of bravery, but never gave his name. He was just known as “the Marine who gave his life to protect the children.” My mother told me that his sacrifice honored the One who also gave His life for us. Even now, the story brings me to tears… So today I remember and give thanks for the man who gave his life to save mine. I know that the Savior knows his name.

With you, remembering…
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