Goose bumps quickly formed on my arms and legs from the water.  How the water could be so cold in such a hot country was beyond me, but it did serve as inspiration to soap up as fast as possible.  And then, as if on cue, the water pressure suddenly dropped and reduced the shower to a slow trickle.  When that occurred, which was more often than not, I knew it would only be a matter of a few minutes and that trickle would be gone as well.  So, what did I do?  I did what I had always done.  I moved as fast as humanly possible to rinse the most soap sensitive parts of the body.  What a sight that must have been.

A few months earlier I would have considered that to be an unacceptable imposition worthy of complaint.  But things were different now.  I was three months into a twelve month tour in Viet Nam and had just returned from a grueling sixteen hour day aboard my UH-1helicopter.

I was a member of the famed Sea Wolves, the name given to HAL-3, US Navy Helicopter Attack Squardron (Light) Three.  Our responsibility was to patrol the rivers and canals in the delta of South Vietnam. It consisted of two parts; the PBR’s, (Patrol Boat River), which were small, well armed and fast.  They patrolled the canals and rivers looking for suspicious activity while the helicopters above provided cover and engaged the enemy as the PBR’s came under attack in the narrow water ways.  Together they were a formidable and successful team.

That was my day job for twelve months of my life in 1969-1970.  But  before laying my head on the pillow I always wrote Shirley, my bride of just over a year at that time, a letter.  For all of you too young to know any different, we actually wrote with pen and ink and in cursive.  No email, cell phones, or websites, just pen and paper and snail mail.  However, once the pipeline was full, we received letter from each other nearly every day even if they were a week or two old.

I seldom wrote about the specific events of the day except perhaps when we did something unusual like land aboard a Coast Guard Cutter off shore.  Mostly, my letters were about missing her and our plans for the future.  They were probably very similar to those written by thousands of men spanning centuries from the war of independence in 1776 to the battles that our soldiers are still fighting in the Middle East.  I was young and felt invincible in those days and the thought of not getting home alive, well, it never crossed my mind.

Of course, many didn’t make it back from Viet Nam.  Over 58,000 American men lost their lives, 153,000 were wounded and another 1,700 are still missing in action.  That was my war, and although it has been over for forty years, it’s the one that is forever burned into my memory.  For those who served in World War II, it was the Great War they can never forget.  For those now fighting in the Middle East, that is the war that will live in their mind forever.

No matter which war, or the part of the world it’s fought, some never come home alive.  For that reason, today we are honoring those who have given their life in service to this great country.  They paid the ultimate price and all of us are thankful.  However, as we remember them let’s also remember those they left behind.  Fathers and mothers suffer in silence from the loss of their son or daughter.  Many widows have and are raising children alone and thousands of children will never again be able to embrace the father or  mother they lost in war.

It’s time to remember.  It’s time to be thankful.  And it’s time to look forward to the day when Jesus will rule and reign on this earth and there will be no more war.

God bless you,

Jim Ertel

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