Usually Memorial Weekend means you have an extra day to relax, plan a BBQ in your backyard or get some gardening done. It’s easy to forget why we celebrate this holiday unless you lost someone close to you in combat or have a family member who served and made it home to tell their story.
Here are a few of our family’s stories.
John J. Kelly
My husband’s great-uncle, John Kelly served in the Marines during WWI at the age of 19. His duty was that of a runner. He carried a stretcher onto the battlefield, picked up wounded soldiers and carried them back to the trenches.
On October 3, 1918 at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, Private Kelly, ran 100 yards ahead of the front lines and attacked an enemy machine-gun nest. He killed the gunner with a grenade and shot another member of the crew with his pistol. He returned through the barrage with eight prisoners. For his bravery and going above and beyond the call of duty, he was awarded both the Army and the Navy Congressional Medals of Honor. He was the last recipient to ever receive two Medals of Honor.
Jay C. McVicker
My grandfather, Jay served in the Navy during WWll. He was a gunner on a Merchant Marine ship that carried supplies from America to Britain.
My grandfather witnessed German torpedoes hit ships around him, but fortunately they missed his ship. The most devastating blow occurred in London, ironically by an ally ship that accidentally ran into my grandfather’s ship and sunk. The American ship sustained serious damage and in order to get it repaired they needed to sail back across the Atlantic. At one point, the front of the ship split in two while they were still hundreds of miles from shore. That was when some men fell apart and panicked because they were certain they were going to die at sea. My grandfather as well as some other men kept their heads and safely docked the boat. While he was away, my grandfather missed the birth of his first child (my dad).
Victor A. Cavallari
My father-in-law, Victor joined the Marines in 1962. He had Basic Training at Paris Island and Basic Infantry Training at Camp LeJune. At the time, his unit was not called in for duty, but if it came he would have gone in a heartbeat. He was in the reserves for 6 years with a summer training camp lasting 2 weeks at Camp Pendleton and Little Creek, VA.
Dennis J. McVicker
My dad, who prefers to be called Denny by his friends, was drafted into the Army in 1968. He served as a Platoon Sergeant in Vietnam. His tour lasted nine months.
There were lots of land mines and what they called “foot poppers” (explosions that were small, but someone always lost a foot when it triggered) over in Vietnam. One morning my dad was standing by a tree near a village and some children came running over to greet the soldiers and a land mine exploded. A girl began screaming because her leg had been blown off. Without hesitation, my dad rushed over to the girl, scooped her up and put her on a helivac. There were mines everywhere in that area and for heroism, they awarded him a Bronze Star. He was also awarded a Purple Heart for sustaining an injury to his right foot in a separate incident, but he declined the medal because there were men who had suffered more serious wounds or lost their lives and he felt it wasn’t right to receive that medal.
The biggest firefight he was involved in occurred in Ho Bo Woods, north of Saigon. Fifty four American soliders walked along a bamboo hedgerow. My dad preferred to walk near the front of the line where he could see better and suddenly, his platoon was hit by a sniper. Their point flank man, who was standing right next to my dad, took 30 rounds in the chest from a Viet Cong in a spider hole. Everyone got down on the ground and my dad tried shooting with his M-16, but it was tough to get a good angle. When the same sniper shot at him with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and missed, my dad tossed a handheld grenade back in his direction. The Viet Cong shot another RPG missing him again. After the third grenade had been tossed in the snipers’ direction, my dad finally “smoked him.” This particular firefight started at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t end until 4:30 p.m. When it was finally over, 8 American soldiers had been killed, 12 wounded and 49 dead enemies lay strewn across the ground. For valor during the firefight, my dad was awarded the Silver Star.
Todd J. McVicker
My brother, Todd joined the Army in 2004. Things were still hot over in Afghanistan and he was motivated to serve in the US Army Intelligence and Security Command as an interrogator. After basic training, he went to Fort Huachuca to begin intelligence training. He then went on to study and pass an intensive course in Monterrey, CA learning how to read, write and speak Arabic.
During the first part of his tour, Todd was in one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, with the second highest fatalities in the country. He interrogated at a detention site on base and rarely left the compound. His living quarters, called a B-Hut are pictured below in the center. The second part of his tour, he was in Nangarhar Province, a safer region. In that area, Todd drove or rode TC (Tactical Commander) in a Humvee to villages to speak to the locals. The terrain there was mountainous and rocky and they needed to drive fast and aggressively to avoid any IEDs that might be planted in the road. Although he still can’t divulge much about what he learned from people while he was over there, Todd did say that hundreds of his reports helped our troops on the ground. He did two back-to-back tours which lasted 18 months in 2007-08.
To say that I am proud of my family who served in the military is an understatement. I admit that I tear up writing about their stories because of their humility and bravery. Our family is incredibly blessed to have each one of our soldiers come back safely.
My dad, brother and father-in-law all seemed willing and even eager to share their memories with me and I think talking about their stories with others has proven to be one good form of therapy. Being a soldier forever changed who they were before they entered the military. All of them became a little quieter, more serious at times and, on a lighter note, “ate whatever that was put in front of me” as my father-in-law humorously recalls.
There are so many great stories that go untold. Regular civilians never get to hear and appreciate whole truth. These men and women who served are real flesh and blood heroes.
Please take the opportunity to reach out to those who served our country. The next time you visit your friends, family, neighbors or see anyone wearing a uniform, look them in the eye and thank them for their service, their sacrifice and their bravery. We live in a great nation because of them.
God bless America.
Acknowledgements: A big thanks to my dad and brother for their patience and explanations after numerous phone calls to them. I learned a lot and hopefully captured everything you explained accurately. XOXO. L
Wikipedia: John J. Kelly
Tropic Lightning Newspaper: Ho Bo Woods