Each and every day and most assuredly on Veteran’s Day, we boldly express our heartfelt “thanks,” to the military men and women we encounter who have served and still serve our America, our beloved land of the free. We also remember those veterans whose names we see on tombstones and wonder who they’d be today if their lives had been spared, if they hadn’t given them for us.
I have a cousin who served with the U.S. Army in Viet Nam. He came home a hero and yes, safely, but forever changed. Sometimes Orlan talks about his combat experiences. Very often he’d rather not because in order to speak of such things, you need the right setting and the right listening ears. He’s found there are people who just don’t understand.
Orlan grew up on a farm near Upham, N.D., where he graduated from high school in 1962. He is especially dear to me because he’s my double cousin: our mothers were sisters and our dads brothers.
While in the Army, Orlan earned (if I’m counting correctly) 30-some badges, ribbons and medals. Among them: Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal. US Viet Nam Service Medal with Bronze Star, Viet Nam Campaign Medal. Because of his strong work ethic, which goes hand-in-hand with growing up on a farm, and because of his kindness to a fellow soldier, he was promoted to Sergeant.
Recently, another cousin of ours, Dale Niewoehner, Rugby, N.D., gathered all of Orlan’s medals and beautifully arranged them in a shadow box.
Max Zurcher, a good friend and neighbor who also hails from our neck of the woods (Newburg and Upham) presented Orlan with the shadow box. Max also served in Viet Nam and came back with his own stories, awards and badges. Both Orlan and Max live in Minot now and because of their back-home ties and their military service camaraderie, these two veterans will be forever friends.
Both Orlan and Max are featured in a new book titled, “Minot, North Dakota and Area War Years and War Heroes,” by Bruce Anderson. Online I see that in his first of several photo history books on Minot, Bruce has skillfully crafted a tribute to the patriotic sacrifices so many have made to guarantee freedom as the cornerstone of our American way of life, and he has done so with dignified respect and reverence. To order the book call: (701) 852-5604 or (866) 302-8885.
Near the beginning of this post, I mentioned that on Veteran’s Day and other days of the year we often stop at veterans graves and thank them for their service. But, have you ever wondered what a fallen soldier might say to us, if he or she could?
Twenty some years ago, with Viet Nam still fresh in his mind, Orlan sat down and wrote a poem titled, “Freedom’s Sacred Call.” It is as if his words are coming from a soldier who gave his life for his country. Orlan prefaced the poem by writing: “The Bible admonishes, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ a reflection of God’s love and teaches, ‘No greater love hath one man for another than that he be willing to lay down his life for him.’ The names inscribed on the war memorials across America and around the world are the names of men and women who have done that, laid down their lives that we might live ours in freedom. They are heroes. They are the source of our freedom.”
Here is Orlan’s poem, “Freedom’s Sacred Call.,” Just imagine it as emitting from a Hero’s Place of Rest.
As you read my name,
That I did not for freedom fall.
As you see it here,
“The awful shame,
His life is lost; He died in vain.”
For everywhere man lives,
He seeks a sacred treasure.
He lives and works, fights and dies,
For freedom in full measure
Before I lived, others died
That I might be born free.
A strife to win that prize for others,
Drew life’s last breath from me.
Too much to give that others live?
Too much to sacrifice?
Which of you would bear the cross;
Take the place of one whose loss,
Paid your freedom’s price?
Rather say then as you read,
“A hero’s name is here inscribed.”
Rather say then as you see,
“I feel the pain endured
I mourn his death, I live with pride,
In the freedom he secured.”
As you stand here awed,
That you stand here “Free.”
Remember all of those who’ve died,
For this blest reality.
Though my battle’s now still,
I’ll not be the last to fall.
The world’s free men ever will rise,
To “Freedom’s Sacred Call.”
Guess there’s no more to say – on this blest Veteran’s Day.