As the commander of the Oklahoma City Recruiting Battalion with responsibility for portions of a 3-state area, it was arranged that I would make a presentation to a meeting of high school guidance counselors in Arkansas. The presentation was simple and straight forward; qualified young men and women served their Nation for a variety of reasons: for skill Training, for Education benefits, for Adventure, and for Money. T-E-A-M. To peak the counselor’s interest, I mentioned that high school graduates scoring in the upper half of the population on the ASVAB battery of tests were eligible for a substantial college fund.
The session was concluded with a story I had heard that past August at an U.S. Army Reserve conference in Dallas,TX. The story was a personal experience of an Army captain who commanded an infantry rifle company compliment of 150 American soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Late one afternoon following a ferocious battle to recapture a hilltop from the communist Chinese, he inspected each foxhole as his soldiers prepared for the counterattack that was fully expected that night.
At each fighting position he made sure that each soldier was fed, his weapon was cleaned, fields of fire were cleared, communication lines were in place and ammunition was plentiful. He also checked to see that the troops had a sleep plan and that security was properly set for the night. At one foxhole he was met by a young soldier who was visibly apprehensive about the pending Chinese attack. The captain knelt outside the foxhole and carried on a conversation about Stateside, family, friends, and comrades all the while seeking to reassure the soldier about the unit’s readiness for the attack. As he stood to leave for the next foxhole, he asked the soldier if there was anything he needed. The soldier looked at him, thought, and then asked in a pensive voice, “Can you promise me I will live to see the sunrise in the morning?” The captain knowing that the soldiers were well trained, the defensive positions were well placed, supporting artillery was planned, and there was an ample supply of ammunition, confidently responded: “I promise you will see the sunrise tomorrow!”
His inspection of the foxholes continued until the fading light forced him into his own foxhole from which he would command the fight. After several hours of uneasy quiet, the Chinese attacked. As usual, their attack began with haunting bugles and shrill whistles. The ensuing fight was fierce and at times hand-to-hand. Artillery flares occasionally bursting overhead revealed the slow moving enemy slipping between the shadows. The sounds from rifles, machine guns, grenades, mortars, and artillery rounds split the silence as if to suggest there would be no tomorrow for anyone. Yet, hours later at the beginning of morning twilight, the captain realized that the enemy’s long, fierce and frenetic attack was spent and unsuccessful. His company of riflemen had withstood all that had been thrown at them and the hill remained solidly in American hands.
The captain then climbed from his foxhole and began the same circuit that he had made the evening before, checking each fighting position and the soldiers in them. Casualties to his immense surprise and satisfaction had been light. As he rounded the hillside, he approached a foxhole and called out the soldier’s name. Without waiting for a reply he crouched beside the foxhole to celebrate the successful defensive action with the soldier. With anguish he saw that the soldier he promised would see the sun now rising over the mountains lay lifeless against the earthen foxhole wall.
The captain sat at the edge of the foxhole as he had only hours before and spoke a prayer for that soldier and made a new promise, a promise he knew for certain he had the power to keep. To the unhearing soldier he promised that his ultimate sacrifice would not be forgotten; the soldier’s memory would live on as long as he himself remained alive.
In the years since the captain returned from Korea he often gathered soldiers, officers, friends, and associates of all walks of life just before sunrise and relayed the story of that American solider in battle and the sunrise. And so the memory of that soldier remains alive to this day.
Since that day in 1993, sunrise has taken on a different significance for me. Each glorious sunrise reminds me of the story of that unnamed American soldier in Korea – and the many others who have since died in service to America So when you next observe the sun rise on your day, take a moment and remember the American Soldier.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Veteran’s Day, 1993