Hopefully, you and your family will pause this Memorial Day to remember those men and women in uniform who have gone before us and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and our way of life.
For many, Memorial Day is a special holiday in which we honor our military – soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force veterans. We owe a great debt and responsibly to remember and honor these heroes in our hearts.
Over 2.7 million Americans served in the Vietnam War. Of the 58,200 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, 1,046 are Marylanders who gave their lives for us in that conflict.
President John F. Kennedy once said: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
On Monday, after the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Westminster Cemetery, many of us will also gather at the nearby Carroll County Vietnam Memorial. There we informally pay our respects to all the patriots who have gone before us; but we are particularly drawn together to share the memories of the 18 names that are etched in the black granite memorial that is the centerpiece of the memorial park.
One such hero, whose face is indelibly etched into the cold stone memorial, is that of Staff Sgt. James Norman Byers, of Westminster.
Sergeant Byers had been deployed to Vietnam for five months when he was killed by a Viet Cong sniper on January 20, 1967. He was born on March 2, 1942, in Union Mills and was the son of Norman and Sarah Shorb Byers.
He was just 24 years old when he died serving our country. Sergeant Byers, who had decided to make a career of the Army, was a squad leader attached to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Company B, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry and stationed in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam.
On Memorial Day in 1967 Carroll County marked the 100th anniversary of Westminster’s observances of this day.
The annual tradition of the parade and ceremony was first organized by Mary Shellman on May 30, 1868. That was when Ms. Shellman followed General John A. Logan’s May 5th, 1868, General Order No. 11 to adorn the graves of Union soldiers with flowers.
According to local Carroll County and United States Army War college historian Jay Graybeal, who wrote about the occasion for the Historical Society of Carroll County in 1997: “Participants came from sixteen states and one newspaper estimated that the crowd numbered 15,000 people.”
A somber portion of the 1967 event in 1967 was the recognition of the ultimate sacrifice of a recent Vietnam War casualty, Sergeant Byers, Mr. Graybeal noted.
Furthermore, an article in the May 31, 1967, Hanover Evening Sun gave the 1967 ceremonies additional gravity. “Adding reality to the Vietnam situation,” Lt. Col. Charles G. Rose of the Military Science Department of Western Maryland College, presented the posthumous award of the Bronze Star to the widow of Sergeant Byers, Patricia L. Byers.
The citation for the Bronze Star reads:
“For heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force. Sgt. Byers distinguished himself while serving as a Squad Leader with Company B, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry.
“On 20 January 1967, [his unit was on a search and] destroy operation in Tay Ninh Province, Republic of Vietnam, when it encountered intense enemy small arms fire, temporarily halting its advance. He realized that to be effective against the enemy his squad must move immediately to gain fire superiority.
“Disregarding his own personal safety, Sergeant Byers exposed himself to enemy fire to rally his squad and coordinate their fires, forcing the enemy to withdraw.
“On the same day, the platoon was attacked while setting up a base camp. Sergeant Byers again exposed himself to intensive enemy fire to maneuver his men to neutralize the enemy. While so exposed, Sergeant Byers was mortally wounded.
“Inspired by his actions, his squad forced the enemy to withdraw. Sergeant Byers' actions reflect outstanding professionalism and devotion to duty and bring great credit upon himself, his unit, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, and the United States Army.”
We'll never forget Sergeant Byers’ service and sacrifice for our country, and will forever hold him in our hearts. Today, he rests at peace in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Silver Run.
He may also be found on Panel 14E, Line 055, on the granite Vietnam Memorial, in Washington.
All of the good we do in the world today is because of the legacy of men and women in uniform who gave their lives in the service of our country.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said on May 22 at a commencement address delivered at Notre Dame University:
“If history – and religion – teach us anything, it is that there will always be evil in the world, people bent on aggression, oppression, satisfying their greed for wealth and power and territory, or determined to impose an ideology based on the subjugation of others and the denial of liberty to men and women.”
Secretary Gates elaborated by saying that President John Adams once wrote to one of his sons that: “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
“To this I would add,” said Secretary Gates, “if America declines to lead in the world, others will not.”
Ordinary citizens such as Sergeant Byers answered the call of our great nation at a difficult time, for we were what was then a thankless nation. It is the legacy of heroes like him to whom we bear a great responsibility.
We must honor his service and all those who went before and have followed – by continuing to serve.
. . . .I’m just saying…