The Memorial Eulogy Speech written and delivered by Tom Hewes during the Reunion in Reno.
We are gathered here this evening, the tenth time we have done so since the end of the Vietnam War, to renew old friendships, swap a few lies, and most importantly, to pay homage to all the Marine helicopter crewmen who lost their lives during the War. Though it has been nearly thirty years since the War’s sad conclusion, some of you may still feel this as an occasion for pain and sadness. For others, the occasion may engender feelings of deep bitterness. It should be none of these because I am confident that those we left behind would not want us to feel any of those emotions. Rather, we join together this evening simply to celebrate their memory. Yes, celebrate – celebrate in the sense of a traditional wake delayed for nearly thirty years.
We honor the memory of not 10, or 20, nor even 100, but a total of 809 Marine and Navy brothers who were lost in helicopters during the Vietnam War. Most of them died as result of direct enemy action. Others tragically died from other causes. Some perished while performing night medevacs in bad weather and on other equally hazardous missions. Still others were lost in mid air collisions and other accidents. All died heroes.
But it is neither the circumstances of their passing that distinguishes these men nor is it what gives them a special place in our hearts. What speaks to us today as loud and clear as our drill instructor’s first call to "Attention" is that they died performing their duty as Marines in the service of their country. True to the motto of our Corps, “Semper Fidelis”, they died for something they, and we, believed in. And believe in still because it is the sacrifice of men such as these that our nation won its freedom and grew to greatness.
If we have been faithful to the tradition of a wake, our lost brothers have been quietly in our thoughts as we were here renewing old friendships, quaffing a cool one, and telling war stories. And perhaps as we thought of them, we could visualize their young faces, hear their voices, and remember them - and ourselves - as we were back then.
We remember them at Marble Mountain, Ky Ha, Phu Bai, and Quang Tri straggling out of the hooches, barracks, or bunkers to greet the rising sun of the Vietnamese day.
We remember them in the mess hall flicking away the countless roaches that bedeviled us as we wolfed down our early morning meal. We remember them sweating out seemingly endless days in the hanger, shop, and ready room, and later perhaps drinking a lukewarm beer at the club. Certainly we remember them in the air where each of us used up eight of our nine lives doing Troop and Recon inserts, Day and Night Medevacs, Ammo & Chow Resupplies, Emergency extracts, and the dreaded SOG and Delta missions.
We remember the roar of the engines or the whine of the transmission, the pounding of the Ma Deuces and M-60s, and a largely unseen enemy. We remember the sweltering heat and humidity, the unlighted landing zones, the crack of passing rounds, and the fear that gripped us all. We remember them, who were so much a part of our lives, as we all were back then. We celebrate them in this way because we can bestow upon them no higher honor than simply to remember them.
We Marines like to think of ourselves, as the Corps taught us all those years ago at Parris Island, San Diego, or Quantico, as a band of brothers. I believe it was Commandant General, John A. Lejeune, who first applied Shakespeare’s words from the historical drama, King Henry the Fifth, to our Corps of a few good men. The quotation he drew it from refers to the moments just before the battle of Agincourt when the King says to his Marines: “.... we in it shall be remembered, – We few, we happy few, we band of brothers: For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother....”
It is this central thought, the idea that ”.... he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother....” that bonds us together as tightly as though we were sons of the same father. It is an unbreakable bond forged in the furnace of combat, a bond that makes us a family in the noblest sense of that word. And like all large families who experience tragedy, today we put aside our rivalries, our politics, and our differences to remember. To remember, and to honor, and to express our love for our departed brothers.
Yes – just like their widows, their brothers and sisters, and their children now grown, who are with us today – we miss them still. Yet, as profoundly as we wish them back among us, that is not within our earthly powers. Just as we did all those years ago in Vietnam, we are obliged to entrust their souls to God. Their resurrection is reserved for Him alone. Let us not mourn them then, but honor their sacrifice by our presence here – by taking care of our own as it were – through the simple act of remembrance.
It should not matter then to us “band of brothers,” the faithful and now aging Marines assembled here, whether other families remember them, or even whether a once divided nation remembers them, so long as our family remembers these men with whom we shared the fear and the fire. Let us then solemnly pledge that so long as one of us survives, the names, the faces, and the deeds of our lost brothers shall not be forgotten.
That shall be our memorial to them. Not a memorial of marble or a brass resting on some grassy knoll to be visited once a year, but a memorial of something infinitely more enduring – the imperishable memory of the twenty-three hundred brothers who comprise this great Association.
Semper Fidelis, Marines
The MS-Word Doc containing Tom's speech can be downloaded here:
(right click on link above and "save target as" to your computer)