The Saddest Acre

Published: May 31, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Major John Baldwin served as chief of thoracic surgery with the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Viet Nam.  For his extraordinary service, he received the Bronze Star.What follows is John’s own Memorial Day message offered to a home town crowd. It’s a message of remembrance, frustration and hope.

“Welcome to Twain Harte’s Memorial Day Flag Dedication, Parade, and Picnic.  We are most fortunate to live in this wonderful community under the blue Sierra sky where values still exist and flags still stand for freedom…

“My name is John Baldwin, and like many of you, I served in our armed forces, in combat, in Viet Nam…but as a surgeon.  I join everyone here in offering our utmost thanks to you veterans, men and women, and especially to the families who sent sons and daughters when their nation called.

“I don’t wear this vest very often, but today is special.  I appreciate being asked to speak, and would ask that you let me, just this one time, express some personal opinions on where we are.

“Memorial Day, as you know, is not to celebrate those of us who were fortunate enough to return home alive.  There is another day for that, called Veterans’ Day, November 11. This is a day to honor those who gave the utmost sacrifice. It has evolved into a giant BBQ, car race, baseball games, picnics and a three day weekend; which is probably just what those who died would be doing if they were here today, because they are the freedoms we Americans find dear to our hearts. But let us, just for this moment, pause to remember those who missed it all, who perished in service to this nation, right or wrong.

“Do not hasten through this Memorial Day. Remember that as we stand in this glorious Sierra sunshine, over 200,000 men and women are still serving in Korea, and in the hell of Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.

“There is now just one living U.S. veteran, out of the original 5 million boys from the USA of World War I, 109 year old Frank Buckles of W. Virginia, living independently and still sharp! About 1,000 U.S. vets of the original 16 million from World War II die every day and soon they too, will be gone. Of the original two and one-half million In-Country Vietnam Veterans, about 1 million remain alive and we are dying at a rate of 400 a day, and by 2016, most of us will be gone.

“A huge price has been paid, in lives, money and natural resources. It is estimated that had we not fought all these wars, the U.S. would have on-shore oil reserves until 2020. There have been three million serious casualties since World War I, 54,000 deaths in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam, and now over 6,000 deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Families have been destroyed and lives ruined.

“Did you realize that the United States has not declared war since December 9, 1941?  All these wars since then, totaling nearly 6 trillion dollars have been UNDECLARED ‘Commander In Chief Wars.’ Viet Nam was presided over by no less than five presidents over 17 deadly years!

“Article I section 8 of our Constitution clearly states, Congress shall declare War, but they have willingly abdicated this responsibility for 70 years, but courageously send our sons and daughters to their wars to defend South Korea, South Vietnam, Bosnia, Kuwait, and now Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Did you know that only a ‘ceasefire’ was signed between North and South Korea?  So, they basically are still at war.  And we have a U.S. Army division – our own kids – on their border, protecting them, not on our own southern border.  I guess I don’t get it anymore.

“I usually correct people when they thank me for ‘fighting for my country’s freedom.’  I often reply, ‘I went when my country called, but it had to do with South Vietnam’s freedom… It had nothing to do, that I can see with our freedoms here at home. It was a 17 year waste of fine lives and national treasure.’

“…None of this of course, reflects upon the glory and the love that those we honor today gave when called, or my Korean and Vietnam or Iraq service brethren here today.

“When others chose not to serve, and others chose to run, you all put your lives and your sacred honor ahead of self when your country called.

“If you visit Arlington National Cemetery, please go to Area 60. It is the ‘Saddest Acre in America.’ It is in this grassy spot overlooking the Potomac in which over half of our now, nearly 6,000 killed in action from the Middle East War are being buried.  Area 60 is crowded with young families in their anguish and grief.  Cemetery officials look the other way as teddy bears, baseball mitts, high school photos, a motorcycle helmet and letters of love are placed by the simple marble crosses.

“There is one other way you can honor those who died and that is by caring for those who are now wearing the uniform or have come home.  YOU see these young kids in airports…whether coming back or going over, in their desert camos or their greens, walk up to them and give them your thanks and encouragement.  They need it, they love it and they deserve it. They don’t make policy, they just do the job. Honor them because not all of them will make it back.

“We are the land of the free for one reason only: We are also the home of the brave.”

Thank you and God bless this land.

John N. Baldwin MD


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