As our nation prepares to celebrate yet another Veterans Day, I try to find the words that will reverently and with compassion capture the true meaning of the sacrifices of men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States. What I have found is, I am incapable of doing justice to the many who have been a part of the world’s greatest and most formidable military force.
When I think of friends in the military who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, the first name that comes to mind is James Stanford, an outstanding classmate who served on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington. James was a Marine who was killed when a launching catapult exploded and also killed 101 fellow crewmen. I will always remember James as a leader of a group of young individuals trying to find validation. James was held in high respect by all his classmates.
Capt. Jerry McNabb was tragically killed on June 27, 1966, as the pilot of a rotary wing aircraft in Vietnam. Jerry was the commander of a rotary wing aviation unit in Southeast Asia and was a member of my wife Connie’s Gadsden High School class and true leader of men. Jerry left, all too soon, his wonderful wife, Anne, and three children who have given her five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Jerry’s service, dedication and sacrifice for our country is special and will never be forgotten.
Another of my good friends was Col. Jerry D. Heard. Jerry was killed in an auto accident June 23, 2016, while attending to military responsibilities. Jerry served 30 years in the U.S. Army with tours of duty in Korea, Germany and Vietnam, along with several other domestic postings. Along with being another great leader of men, Jerry was a poet and published a collection his work. I have read over and over a poem I am sure he wrote while in that hellhole called Vietnam. It has 15 verses and all are beautiful and forceful. I am sure the verses captured the thoughts of U.S. soldiers in combat. Here are some of Jerry’s verses:
When every day could be your last
You think of home and friends
And how you’d like to change the past
If somehow today it ends
And whether your faith is in God or not
You start to think of death
And the chance of going to heaven you’ve got
If today you take your last breath
When Sunday comes up you think really hard
About church and the chance to repent
But today it’s your turn for perimeter guard
So you grab your rifle and head for the fence
As you pass the mess hall you see a new face
And he smiles and says “Come on in”
The chaplain has somehow come to this place
And the service is about to begin
A chaplain is a soldier just like you
With victory his number one goal
His mission is the same but different too
He’s there to comfort your soul
So whether you happen to be gentile or Jew
Catholic, Baptist, or none of the above
The chaplain is there just for you
And will gladly share his God’s love
I looked around the tent at the other guys
And saw the Captain and the First Sergeant there
I would swear I saw some tears in their eyes
As the chaplain led them in prayer
As I picked up my rifle and started to leave
The chaplain smiled and shook my hand
He said to me “Soldier, I hope you believe
In God and the promised land”
For the rest of my tour I remembered that night
And the chaplain who opened my eyes
With the message that said “The real war we fight
Has heaven as the winner’s prize”
I’ve left out several paragraphs because of the length of the poem, but the verses poignantly demonstrate the mindset of America’s warriors.
Another true American military hero who left us in 2016 was Sgt, 1st Class James Shawn Davenport. He was a member of the 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the Alabama Army National Guard. He served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.
May God bless the U.S. military as they serve and protect our wonderful country.
John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at email@example.com. The opinions reflected are his own.