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Pointmen of the American Ideal

By Capt. Douglas (Sandy) Cohn, USA (ret.)

  This year marks the 35th Anniversary of the West Point Class of 1968.

  I received a message a few moments ago asking me to share these words, these memories with you as a tribute to a West Point Class with several members who did not come home.

  I stood one day a few months ago with the man from this class who asked me to run "Sandy's" Memorial Speech as he pointed out who was who in their graduation picture.  Too often during those very poignant moments he said naming one of them after another for me, "He did not come home."

  I feel touched, I feel honored, to post Captain Douglas Cohn's, tribute. These men gave all for Honor, Duty, Country.

  For those of you here to read these words, Welcome Home. For those of you who have gone on I know, somehow, someway you understand how your brothers feel, how very much you are missed and how inadequate words seem to be when it comes to saying Thank You for giving the ultimate for the country you love. We pray that the Lord showers you with His Blessings; we send you our very personal, Welcome Home.

Vietnam Veterans' Memorial

1 June 2003

Pointmen of the American Ideal
By Capt. Douglas (Sandy) Cohn, USA (ret.)

Here is someone's loved one.
Here is someone's friend.
Here are fallen classmates,
Defenders of the American ideal.

And here stand their families, friends and members of the West Point Class of 1968.

Most of our children are older than were our classmates when they fell; a fact that increases the poignancy of their deaths.
For added to the loss of classmates, friends, husbands and brothers, is the empathy we now feel for the almost unbearable burdenwrought by the loss of a child.

But in pain's wake, pride of service and posterity's gratitude remain.

Think back on the life-and-death decisions these young men made and of the selflessness with which they made them, placing country and the men entrusted to their care above themselves.
Now their ranks have swollen to include other friends and classmates whose course on earth has also run.

Some of them survived the ordeal of combat physically unscathed.
But war wounds what it touches.
Memories are permanently seared.

They were the pointmen of the American ideal.
Selfless men fighting for a selfless nation.
Fighting then as we fight today;to liberate, not to conquer;
to build, not destroy.

At the heart of the ideal is decency.
It has been America's greatest contribution to mankind.
What began as a male-dominated Anglo-Saxon nation was set upon a not-entirely-intentional course by our Founding Fathers to become the multi-cultural, open society we have today.

And in 1947, acknowledging the innate goodness in the American character before most Americans saw it in themselves, the Marshall Plan was launched to rebuild the war-torn nations of friend and foe alike.
It marked an evolution of the American ideal.

It is a noble thing to be an American.

I vividly remember a firefight in 1969.
It was brief and deadly, and when it was over, there was relief, for as Winston Churchill said:
There is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at without effect.

But there was no joy in what it wreaked.
It was fighting as close as it gets, and when it was over, the young soldier next to me broke down and cried over the lethal work he had done that day.

I told him I was proud of him, proud of his humanity, proud of his tears.

Everyone who serves in combat is wounded one way or another.

War is a tragedy to be played out reluctantly and soberly.
And war's ultimate objective is to convince enemies to lay down their arms, not their lives.

Unlike the terrorist, torturer or war criminal, the soldier who fights honorably; the soldier whose motives or compulsory actions we cannot know, is honored by all soldiers because inherent in the American ideal is forgiveness.

And when a soldier falls, all we know is here lies someone's loved one.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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