Woolwich honors living and fallen veterans of all wars

Charlotte Boynton

Communities throughout the nation held Memorial Day services this past Monday to honor the war dead. The town of Woolwich, in keeping with a 100-year old tradition, held its annual Memorial Day service this year in the historic Nequasset Meeting House.

The program included a tribute to all veterans, prayers, hymns, patriotic songs, and a speaker, Ret. Marine Colonel Jay Collins of Woolwich who joined the Marines as a private, and retired as a colonel. He talked about the impact of war on families, friends, and lovers, for generations to come. Collins is a second-generation Vietnam veteran. His father was there as an advisor in 1958, and he was there, 10 years later, in 1968 as an advisor.

Collins said his first deep sense of Memorial Day was a trip that his father took him on after the war. It was a trip to one of the many U.S. military cemeteries in Europe, with rows of crosses in every direction, marking the gravesite of American war dead.

"If you have not seen it, and you can go, please do, it is a place that overwhelms you with the impact of war," he said. "It is a place where you stand by yourself, even in a crowd. It overpowers you. It was that impact of the seriousness of war came over me."

He said there are 24 permanent American burial grounds on foreign soil, with nearly 125,000 American interred on 24 sites. Over 94,000 American service men and women are listed as Missing in Action or buried at sea.

Collins spoke about the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the turning point in the Civil War, which resulted in 51,000 casualties.

"Someone said after the Civil War, it was a tremendous price to pay, greater than any language can adequately portray: but so too was the reward that followed."

The estimated war dead of all wars the U.S. was involved in is 3.8 million, with over one million in World War II, according to Collins.

"War is measured, not only by the number of casualties or what was secured, but also by what it prevented." he said.

During Collins' tour of duty, he was the casualty officer who notified parents, and wives of deaths, missing in action and serious injuries to their loved ones, and was sometimes responsible for making funeral arrangements and escorting the bodies home.

"Why do they fight?" Collins asked. "From my experience, being around the four services, the one theme I hear and have come to believe is for their country, and a belief in their country. They join - not as a member or a unit or as a Marine - but as an individual. One with a belief that their - our county is worth fighting for."

Collins told a story about the heroic acts of four different Marines, in four different wars.

PFC Jacklyn Lucus, a ninth grader, joined the Marines during World War II, just five days after his seventeenth birthday. He landed in the fourth wave on Iowa Jima. Later that day Lucus and three other men were suddenly ambushed by a hostile patrol which attacked with rifles and grenades. Two hand grenades landed near him. He jumped over his fellow marines and landed on one grenade and pulled the other one under him. He was thought to be dead until Lucus moved his hand.

While a medic was working on him, a Japanese soldier popped up from a hole in the trench. The medic shot him. The stretcher-bearers carrying Lucus were hurrying, because mortars were falling all around them. When they stumbled and dropped him, his head was cut on a rock. As the sailors were hoisting Lucus aboard the ship, they nearly dropped him again, into the sea, catching him by the foot. It took 22 operations and seven months of recovery before he could return home.

In October, 1945, President Harry Truman presented Lucus with the Medal of Honor, the youngest Marine to receive that honor. Lucus had promised his mother if she let him quit school and join the Marines, he would finish school when he was discharged.

According to Collins, he did return to school, a ninth grader, with a Medal of Honor around his neck.

Collins told a story about two Marines he knew during the Vietnam Conflict. He referred to the first Marine as 2 nd Lt. Bobo. He was attacked by a North Vietnamese company supported by heavy automatic weapons and mortar fire when an exploding enemy mortar round severed his right leg below the knee. He refused to be evacuated and insisted upon being placed in a firing position to cover the movement of the groups to a safe location.

"With a web belt around his leg serving as a tourniquet and with his leg jammed into the dirt to slow the bleeding, he remained in this position and delivered devastating fire into the ranks of the enemy attempting to take over the Marine's position."

Marine Captain Harvey Barnum, was serving in Vietnam when his company was pinned down by a hail of enemy fire. The group was quickly separated from the remainder of the battalion by over 500 meters of open fire.

"The casualties mounted rapidly. Finding the rifle company commander mortally wounded and the radio operator killed, with complete disregard for his safety, he gave aid to the dying commander, removed the radio from the dead operator and strapped it to himself. He assumed command of the rifle company, and moving at once into the midst of the heavy fire, gave encouragement to the units, reorganizing them to replace the lost key personnel. He led an attack on enemy positions from which deadly fire continued to come."

"The first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor from action in Iraq was Cpl. Jason Dunham. He and his squad had approached an Iraqi vehicle when an insurgent leaped out and attacked Dunham. Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade.

"Dunham warned his fellow Marines, and without hesitation covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two Marines," Collins said.

"Why do they fight? For God, home and country. We shall never forget those who have gone before. They were not in search of glory, but to protect a fragile peace."

"Memorial Day is a time to remember, and help the young learn about those who have gone before us. A day of reflection on how young men and women sacrificed their lives so that we may live in freedom."

Participants in the service included Jean Willard, who sang "America the Beautiful"; Greg Doak gave a recognition of veterans; The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Robert Mead; Memorial Day Prayer, by Tom Tuck; Invocation and benediction by Pastor John Thorpe; and the welcome given by Debbie Locke of the Woolwich Historical Society.

Next year's Memorial Day service will be held at the First Baptist Church.