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Let's face it. We all want to be seen as courageous, but courage is a virtue. It must be practiced over and over again until it becomes a habit, something you no longer have to think about, you just do. Even
then, because we are not perfect beings, we will sometimes fail. Failure must not be seen as a permanent state.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. In 1968 I was a Navy Corpsman attached to Bravo Company, 3rd Recon Bn, 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam. I arrived in country just before the Tet Offensive began in January of that year. I was assigned to the 3rd Recon Battalion, which was at that moment stationed at the Marine forward airbase at Khe Sanh up in I Corps. The day after I arrived the Tet Offensive began and we were surrounded for the next 77 days.
During the siege we endured daily artillery bombardments, sniper fire, mortar attacks and the occasional probing of our perimeters by the North Vietnamese troops surrounding us. As this went on, we began to live underground in dug out bunkers piled over with sandbags, dirt, whatever was handy in hopes of being protected from the artillery and resulting shrapnel. Then we developed a trench system to get from one company bunker to another. We lived like moles under the constant thump of exploding shells.
As a corpsman with the Marines, we are trained to respond to the call, "Corpsman up!" whenever someone is wounded. On one occasion I heard the call, grabbed my medical bag, flak jacket, and helmet and left my bunker to run down the trench in the direction of those calls for medical aid. We were under fire at the time and shells were bursting nearby, throwing dirt and shrapnel in all directions. When I arrived at the bunker where the wounded Marine was, I began to treat his wound, which was on the inside of his elbow and had opened his brachial artery. After applying several battle dressings and finally an elastic bandage tight enough to make for a wide tourniquet to stop the arterial bleeding, he was carried away to the Regimental Aid Station for the more careful care of doctors and surgeons.
As I was cleaning up my garbage after they left, I suddenly noticed that there was another Corpsman sitting in the dark interior of the same bunker, just a few feet away. For whatever interior reason this happens, he had frozen. He had been overwhelmed by what he saw. I felt bad for him as this would not go well for him among his Marine buddies.
It was only a week later, when under an intense probing of our perimeter with heavy artillery, mortar and rifle fire coming at us from enemy positions not far from our own, I saw that same Corpsman run across the open ground along the airstrip to get to a wounded Marine. You could see the dirt kicking up around him from rifle fire as he ran. It was one of the most daring things I saw there at Khe Sanh.
My point? Courage in we imperfect human beings is not a given. Sometimes, without thought, we can act bravely. Sometimes we fail. Our veterans then and now are tested under fire. They learn the habits of courage well. They get it. They have developed the habits of courage. Still, they too are human beings. They are not perfect, but they have been tested, and have come out of it better in matters of courage.
This is only one of the values that our veterans bring back to us. They bring it to the demands of their daily work, to meeting the needs of their families, and to their further duties as citizens. We need to honor them for their service and for what they bring to all of us on their return. We need to help them re-enter society in every way we can, because they will return the gift a hundred fold.