This is Second Lieutenant Richard Vandegeer. I think of him often, and for sure every Memorial Day. Here is a link to an unforgettable recording  of him and others describing the last days of pulling out of Saigon, piloting the helicopters filled with desparate people.

There is so much about this program that has become lodged in my heart; Second Lieutenant Vandegeer’s eloquence, sheer exhaustion, and drain of emotion is really gripping and unforgettable.

When the recording was made, he was 28. He had no idea, or perhaps he had every idea, his days were numbered. Lt. Vandegeer’s helicopter was shot down in 1975, and he never returned to his Ohio home. His remains were not recovered until twenty years later.

I honestly do not get the romance for war. Listen to this soul-weary young soldier. All his talents, dreams, courage, and labor made it possible for so many other soldiers to return home. But the numbness in his voice tells the hard truth that some part of every single soldier who made it home died on the battlefields with their fallen brothers and sisters.

Enjoy your BBQ, your beers, your day off, and this fine summery holiday. But also? Be sure to take the time to deeply ponder all those soldiers who never made it home. And those who will never be the same.

Being citizen of a country aspiring to greatness is not a right to take for granted, but a call to service and active citizenship. Our best thanks to our fallen soldiers is for us to tend and mend the ideals they died for, and to strive our hardest to be Americans worth fighting for.

A heartfelt thank you for your service, Veterans, and deep space for the memories this day brings you.