I'm a traditionalist and believe Memorial Day should be a solemn occasion to honor those who have died in service of their county and not an excuse for a three-day weekend.
So, today, May 30 - the real Memorial Day - I would like to pay tribute to the men and women who, as any grunt knows, count the most in combat: the Navy corpsman and Army medic known as "Doc," both of whom too often sacrifice their lives so others may live.
Based on information furnished to me by the Military Health System, the Army Medical Department and the Navy Bureau of Medicine have lost about 180 Army medics and 32 Navy corpsmen serving with the Marine Corps in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002.
Sing A Song of America
Reading their names on the "Remembering Them Always" section of the Military Health Systems Web site is to sing a song of the American melting pot: Bradfield, Cannon, Woods, Jaenke, Mendez-Aceves and Nguyen. Their hometowns make up a litany of America worthy of Walt Whitman as they scroll past the eye: Chula Vista, Iowa City, Lubbock, Urbandale, Madison and Sugarland.
They range in age from the painfully young to the prime of life. Some were reservists and others were on active duty, but they all had one thing in common: When a wounded soldier or Marine yelled, "Corpsman Up" or "Medic Up" they responded without hesitation.
I can't list all the fallen medics or corpsman, so here's my abbreviated honor roll.
Army Specialist Rachel Hugo
Hugo, a medic with the 303rd Military Police Company, 97th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve in Jackson, Mich., died in action on Oct. 5, 2007, in Iraq when insurgents attacked her unit with small arms fire and improvised explosive devices. An Army Reserve spokeswoman told the Associated Press she believed the 24-year-old Hugo was treating a wounded soldier when she was killed.
Hugo's parents told the AP that she was credited with saving another soldier's life after an IED-attack early in her tour and told them in an e-mail, "Being a medic is what I live to do."
Hospital Corpsman 3rd ClassMark Russell Cannon
Cannon, described by his hometown newspaper, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, as a hulk of a man at 6 feet and 3 inches tall and 250 pounds with the heart of an angel, died in action on Oct. 2, 2007. He was caring for a wounded Marine while on patrol with a unit of the 3rd Marine Regiment (which was my unit in Vietnam) in Lagham Province, Afghanistan.
The 31-year-old Cannon joined the Navy after 9/11 and served a tour in Iraq before volunteering for a hitch in Afghanistan. He gave his life for what he believed in, according to the Rev. Margaret Austin, the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Lubbock, who officiated at his funeral.
Austin, in her homily, described Cannon as a "full angel to those felled in battle who lay aground alone and afraid." But, she said, "On Oct. 2, 2007, in the words of that great Texas theologian, Willie Nelson, Mark was an angel flying too close to the ground. . . . Rest in peace Mark Cannon, corpsman, 'Doc' Angel."
Pfc. Eric Woods
Woods, an Army medic from Urbandale, Iowa, was serving as medic with Grim Troop, Sabre Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar, Iraq, on July 9, 2005. He was taking a wounded soldier in an armored ambulance when they were hit by an IED, killing Woods.
Earlier in the tour, Woods earned the Bronze Star for valor for treating a wounded comrade while under fire.
The link to the Woods memorial Web site carries a message worth remembering on this real Memorial Day: "Don't Let the Memory of Them Drift Away."
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Fernando Mendez-Aceves
Born in Mexico City and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Mendez-Aceves was serving with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Ramaldi, Iraq, on April 6, 2004, when a patrol from Golf Company came under attack.
Mendez-Aceves was rendering aid to a wounded infantryman in a Humvee when he was shot and "died trying to save a Marine," according to another corpsman, Adam Clayton.
Another corpsman friend, Shervic Crouch, described Mendez-Aceves, a resident of Chula Vista, Calif., before he deployed to Iraq, as a gentleman and so devoted to his family that he took his mother to the annual Corpsman Ball in 2003.
Specialist Dan Nguyen
Nyugen, of Sugarland, Texas, died of wounds sustained in combat on May 8, 2007, while on an operation with the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division near Baquoba, Iraq.
One of his commanders, Capt. Alexis Rivera, said Nguyen "joined the Army for the honorable profession of a combat medic with a zest to save lives. . . . He did this gladly and accomplished every mission without complaint. His ability to save lives is a tribute to his skill."
Nguyen's family fled South Vietnam for a new life in the United States after the Vietnam War,. A family member said, "Over 58,000 Americans give their lives fighting for a free South Vietnam. Because of the United States' involvement we were able to flee our country and come to America. Dan wanted to repay some of that debt, and he made the ultimate sacrifice doing so."
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jaime Jaenke
Jaenke, a reservist who served with the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, headquartered in Fort McCoy, Wis. lived in Iowa City, Iowa. Jaenke, who intended to become an emergency nurse, was the first woman from Iowa to die in Iraq when her Humvee was hit by an IED on June 5, 2006.
Jeff Hauswirth, a friend and fellow corpsman, called Jaenke an "awesome" doc who completed 25 combat missions in Iraq before her death. Another Navy friend, Petty Officer 3rd Class Esteban Burgoa, described Jaenke as "caring and giving . . . the type of person you want to be around."
Thanks to All the "Docs"
Grunt-type docs are, based on my experience, the kind of person I always want to be around. So, from one who has been there (though a long time ago) my heartfelt thanks to those who dash into battle armed with a life-saving medical kit, no matter the odds.