Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remembering Fred, farmer and soldier

Fred was one of my neighbors; he was a World War II Army Veteran. He died recently at home on the farm.

About ten years ago we had some business to discuss since our farms border each other. I put on the coffee pot and we discussed our business. Then I tried to get Fred to discuss World War II. As usual, he was reluctant. He turned the tables on me; he said “Where did you serve when you were overseas?” I replied, “Clark Air Base in the Philippines.” Fred said, “I was in the Philippines. Did you ever get down to the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila?” I told him I had and as a matter of fact, I visited it with a Danube native, the late Bruce Grosklags, an Air Force Veteran who served in Viet Nam.

Fred had a story about that cemetery. “We were bivouacked outside of Manila. We would march out to the field or jungle, be there about 2 ½ weeks and then march back into Manila for a few days of rest. One time when we were marching out to the jungle, the old Sarge said, “Look to the right boys, they’re starting an American Military Cemetery.” They were already in the process of burying bodies.”

An aside, some facts about this Cemetery: it is the largest military cemetery outside the Continental United States: buried there are 17,202 American soldiers and 514 Filipino Scouts who served and died with them. Listed on the walls are names of 36,285 American soldiers missing in action. If we put just the Missing in Action in a straight line, single file, on three foot centers, the line would stretch to just under 21 miles long.

Buried in this cemetery are 28 Medal of Honor winners, twenty pairs of brothers are buried side by side. All this, a sobering reminder of the high price paid for freedom.

“Two and a half weeks later” Fred said, “we were marching back to Manila. We were tired and disgusted. The old Sarge said to the troops, ‘Tighten it up boys, we’re getting close to the American Cemetery.’"

Then Fred said, “Not another word was spoken. Cigarettes were put out, chin straps tightened, weapons in place. As they walked by the American Cemetery, the only thing you could hear was the in-cadence click of their heels as they hit the road.”

Fred sat quietly at our table and did not say anything for a long time. He then looked up at me and said, “Jerry, there is nothing much left to be said.” I agreed.

Fred Nyquist and his wife Jeanette were both World War II Veterans. Jeanette died a number of years ago. They were active in the American Legion; they worked hard to uphold the high ideals of that organization. It was a job well done. We thank them. Blessed be their memory.

Even though they are dead, freedom lives. Yes, freedom lives and many men and women paid a very high price to keep it. It would do our country well in these not too heady days to remember this. I must admit some days I feel it is already too late. Even though, I have peace, we are in God’s hands.

Note: I was asked by the Legion to say a few words at Fred’s funeral and this was what I shared.

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