SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY
by T L Epton
Ed Note: This originally appeared in the Clinton Avenue Baptist Church Bulletin in Richmond California where T L Epton was pastor until his death April 16, 1989.
It was past midnight in June of 1951 when my plane landed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. Combat in Korea was behind me and I was coming home. I had been wounded in battle and had undergone several corrective surgeries in a hospital near Fukuoka, Japan.
No band played and no one was there to meet me when I hobbled off the plane at Travis that night. But it was so good to place my feet on American soil once more! If I could have done it on my crutches, I would have bent down and kissed that precious ground. These words which I had learned as a child came to me: "Breathes there a man with soul so dead, Who never to himself has said, ĎThis is my own - my native land!í" After having gone through hell on earth and a lot of suffering, deep emotions surged through my soul when I realized that I was HOME AT LAST in MY OWN COUNTRY - the "SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY."
Now, it is thirty-three years later. Thatís a long time - a third of a century! The invitation came to meet with the men I had served with in combat in Korea. The "L" Company of the 21st Infantry Regiment was having its reunion just outside of Washington, D. C. "We have tried to keep expenses as low as possible and still make sure you have the best four days of your life here in the nationís capital," wrote Janice and Volney Warner who were co-hosts of the reunion. Volney was a second lieutenant fresh out of West Point when he joined our company in Korea. He went on to become a four-star army general.
Should I attend the reunion? I had mixed feelings about it. I had been invited to four previous ones but for one reason or another had not been able to go. Just two years before, the group had presented me with the "Service to Mankind" award when they learned that I would be celebrating my twenty years of service as pastor of Clinton Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, California. I was not aware that I would be receiving the award at our anniversary service that Sunday morning. I was moved deeply and could not hold back a few tears that trickled down my face as a church leader gave me the award and read these words from the plaque which had been shipped to him in secrecy:
We were that which others did not want to be.
We went where others feared to go,
and did what others failed to do.
We asked nothing and reluctantly accepted
the thought of eternal loneliness should we fail.
We have seen the face of terror,
felt the stinging cold of fear;
and enjoyed the sweet taste of love.
We have prayed, cried, pained, bled, and hoped...
But most of all, we have lived times
others would say were best forgotten.
We say that we are proud of what we used to be,
A soldier in Company "L" of the 21st Infantry.
Throughout the thirty-three years I had always had a warm feeling toward the men I had served with in combat. I had seen them on many occasions when their lives were at stake and they had passed the supreme test and had come through. Reality had proven what they were made of and none had flunked the course of life in combat. Together we had suffered the almost unbearable heat of summer and the extreme cold of winter on the outside. We all knew what it meant to see good men fall about us when the bullet or shrapnel had hit them instead of us. Together we had heard the screams of enemy soldiers and smelled the stench of burning flesh when they had been bombed with jellied gasoline. We had lost sleep together, we had been hungry together, we had been afraid together, we had laughed together when we had felt like crying, we had spent Christmas together in foxholes which were over 6,000 miles away from the ones we loved at home. All of this "togetherness" of the past had blended us into one closely knit fellowship which was known as Company "L" of the 21st Infantry Regiment. But that was what it was like then - what would it be like thirty-three years later?
Many of the men who would be attending the reunion would have made a career of the army. The lieutenants I knew back then would now be retired colonels and one an army general. Hugh Brown, who had kept me informed about the reunions, had insisted that I attend and promised that he and the others would not get drunk until after Norma and I went to bed each night. And unless the bunch had changed greatly over the years, that is a big promise. (By the way, Brown kept his promise, even though Norma and I had to go to bed by 7:30 each night.) And Brown went on and insisted, "We want you to come. After all, you are the only Ďreverendí we have in the outfit."
I knew Brownís concept of my being a "reverend" was a wholesome one. But, dammit, what about the concept of the others who would be at the reunion? It bothered me a bit as I tried to decide whether or not to attend. I get so tired of being placed in the same category with a lot of emotional jackasses who are in the ministry - Baptists or otherwise. Measure me by what I am! Donít dump me in with all of the rest. Iím not like anybody else. The chances are that I dislike the same counterfeits in the ministry that you donít like. If you must categorize me, donít put me in with the bunch of half-cracked jerks like the ones you sometimes see on television or hear on the radio. Put me in with a group of Baptists like Art Linkletter, Senator Mark Hatfield, President Harry Truman, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Earl Warren, John Davidson, Bill Moyers, or my own late brother, Hicks Epton who held the most prestigious position in the legal realm, President of the College of Trial Lawyers in America.
Maybe I should not try to go to the reunion this year. After all, Norma and I spent four and one-half weeks in Hawaii in February and March. Thatís a long time to be away from your work and we were just beginning to get caught up on things. Should we be gone for two additional weeks so soon?
And besides, Washington, D. C. is 2,869 miles from San Francisco. Thatís a long way! Maybe the reunion will be closer next year. On and on the excuses began to pile up. To heck with all of them! I want to go and Iím going. After all, we do pretty much what we really want to do in life. We go this way but once. Yes, Iím going!
I shared my plans with my church. They were excited that I was planning to make the trip. In fact, in previous years they had insisted that I go. When you have been pastor at the same church for twenty-two years, the very thought of being able to get rid of you for even two weeks, excites the people. All on their very own, the church voted unanimously to give me a bonus of $100 a year for each of the twenty-two years I had served as pastor, and this was to be used toward the expense of the trip to the reunion.
The day came for our departure. United Airlines flight 50 left on time that Tuesday morning. We decided to go two days early so we could visit for one day with a college roommate and his wife who lived near the reunion hotel. We had not seen them since 1948. And we wanted an extra day for resting up, getting settled in the hotel, and adjusting to the three-hour time change before the reunion schedule started.
Once airborne, our thoughts began to focus on a lot of specifics at the end of our flight. Marvin Gennings, the roommate, and his wife, Rena, were to meet us at Dulles Airport. Would I recognize them after these thirty-six years? I remember that he had a gold-tipped tooth. If only he would have his mouth open I think I could recognize him. After these years though, he has probably learned to keep his mouth shut. If this is true, I may not know him and he surely will not recognize me for I know I donít look like I did in 1948.
And just suppose that Gennings and I do recognize each other - what about the Company "L" bunch? I saw Carl Bernard one time several years ago when he was in Berkeley and I will recognize him. Iíve talked with Hugh Brown over the phone many times but he wonít have on fatigues, a helmet, and combat boots like he did when I saw him last. And what about Norma? She has never seen any of the men I knew in Korea. And come to think of it, I have never seen any of the wives and neither has Norma. Will Norma fit in and be accepted? Did we bring the right clothes? After all, we have never attended a Company "L" reunion! Maybe we shouldnít have come. Maybe I volunteered for the wrong patrol. Would it be possible to turn this plane around? I think Iím beginning to get cold feet!
Our flight was pleasant and we were scheduled to land on time. However, when our plane reached Dulles Airport at Washington, D. C., we were told that we must take a holding pattern for about eight minutes before we could get a clearance to land. The holding pattern time was extended to eighteen minutes. What was wrong as we circled around Dulles at 13,000 feet in the clouds? Did Company "L" know that I was on that plane? Had L. P. Henderson arrived early and started a riot on Dulles airstrip by waving his array of flags as he had done in Korea? Was Short-round Hardy still practicing at a nearby military base and had some of his artillery rounds gone astray as they did in Korea? Had all of Company "L" come early and had the liquor ration come in and had they thrown a big party at Dulles and shut down the joint? I was relieved when word came from the flight captain that tornado-like weather at Dulles prevented us from landing and we were running short on fuel and must go to Pittsburgh (250 miles away) and land and refuel. We did that and later returned to Dulles and landed three hours later than scheduled.
Marvin and Rena were waiting for us. His mouth was shut just as I expected. But I recognized them and they did us. We had dinner at the airport and went to their lovely home in nearby Fairfax for the night. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them in their home. Next morning Marvin gave us a birds eye view of the area by car. We ended up at Blackieís House of Beef, a famous restaurant in Washington, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner. About the middle of the afternoon we checked in at the Marriott Hotel at Tysonís Corner where the reunion would be held. We enjoyed a good day of rest and "looking" at a nearby shopping center with one-hundred and thirty-four stores.
The next afternoon we had been out walking and returned to the hotel lobby. Norma nudged me and said, "That was Brown who just went out the front door." "How do you know? You have never seen Brown?" I said. "I know him from his picture" she replied. These women are hard to fool! It was Brown. Warner and his wife, Janice, were standing at the registration desk. I immediately recognized him and went over and introduced ourselves and met his wife. He looked the same - just a few extra miles on him since that day when he and Dreisonstok reported into the company as second lieutenants from West Point. A few extra miles and a lot of extra rank - now a general.
The CP (Command Post) opened at 4:00 in the afternoon.
It was a suite of rooms on the sixth floor with a bar and a place where everyone could meet and visit. Display boards on the walls held approximately two-hundred pictures which were taken by Henderson in Korea and were developed by Brown and made available to those of us who wanted copies. The CP was sort of a headquarters for reunion activities. We went to the CP a little after 4:00 expecting to walk into a room filled with strangers. It was not that way. Carl Bernard, the only officer I saw when I reported into the company in its defensive position on the hill overlooking the Naktong River on the Pusan Perimeter in Korea, was the first person I saw when we entered the CP. He gave me a big bear-hug and Norma and I felt welcome. Hugh Brown came next and we embraced like long-lost brothers. The third person I met in the CP was Herman Ludwig. He said, "You remember me? How is your left leg and hip? I was the medic on the special patrol with you when you got it through the left leg. Remember I made a tourniquet to help stop the bleeding? I improvised a litter (stretcher) out of a field coat and a field jacket and we carried you some distance on it. And remember, I broke a small plastic vile of morphine and gave you a shot when the pain became so severe?" Yes, I remembered it all. And Ludwig had remembered for thirty-three years exactly as it had happened - with one minor exception - it was my right leg and hip - not the left one.
Katsumi Yagura was the next one to greet me. We called him "Kats" for short. He was my jeep driver and a member of my platoon. From him we went on and met many othersóabout fifty in all. When I saw the individuals, I began to remember them. Sometimes their names were hard to remember. Little by little it all seemed to come back to me. The voices had remained basically the same. Most of the men had put on some weight and of course were thirty-three years older. I was surprised that I met no strangers among those I had known in Korea. It just seemed that we picked up where we had left off a few weeks before.
Norma was received warmly by both the men and their wives. She fell in love with everyone. Her response was, "These people are genuine. They seem more like family members than strangers." One of the first women she met was Virginia Chandler, the wife of Hap who was our company commander for quite some time in Korea. Hap was a good guy and you always felt he had the welfare of the men at heart. He carried a little pearl-handle pistol and could draw and fire it in a split second. Hap passed away a few years ago and when I learned of his death, I felt a deep personal loss even though I had not seen him since Korea. I wrote his wife in North Carolina and expressed my concern and deep sympathy to her. When we met her in the CP, she told Norma and me how much the letter had meant to her at a time when she really needed it. After seeing her, we felt as if we had always known her. And by the way, she made some of the best lasagna I have ever eaten, which was served at Warnerís home on the evening we visited there.
The entire group had breakfasts together each morning in our own private dining room at the hotel. (With one exception when we had a lovely brunch at the Cafe Mustache near Alexandria.) On two nights we had dinner in the same private room in the hotel. Introductions, the memorial service in honor of those who died, and other program activities were conducted before and after the evening meals at the hotel. Two highlights of the reunion were getting to be in the home of Janice and Volney Warner in nearby Vienna, and Edith and Carl Bernard at Alexandria near Mt. Vernon. Both couples had lovely homes and were gracious hosts as we had an evening meal with them.
Janice Warner deserves the "Host of the Year" award. She did such an excellent job in planning and keeping activities on schedule. I suggested to her husband that he give her a three-day pass after the reunion was over because she deserved it. I donít think she should even be required to pass inspection before leaving on the pass. (I guess army generals have enough administrative authority to grant a three-day pass, donít they?)
We had our own tour bus and tour guide for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Our well-planned tours included the White House, the Capital (including going into the House and eating in the Senate Dining Room), Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute, Viet Nam Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Library of Congress, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Washington Monument, Iwo Jima Memorial, Embassy Row, Georgetown, the "Awakening", Christís Church at Alexandria, Washingtonís home at Mt. Vernon, and many other places of interest which are too numerous to name.
At the Tomb of the unknown Soldier, Company "L" presented a wreath in a very impressive ceremony. Olin Hardy represented the company in the presentation. He was tall, well-dressed, and looked very distinguished in the ceremony. He did an excellent job and we were all proud of him.
We ate together, rode the tour bus together, walked on tours together, and spent time together in the CP. What did we talk about? Nearly everything. We re-lived many of our experiences in Korea. We recalled how dangerous it was at Sasebo, Japan, where everybody was trigger-happy in this last port before getting to Korea. We remembered how concerned the medical authorities were when they found out that we had bought and killed a cow and cooked steaks and ate them. We remembered the Pusan Perimeter and the many uncertainties related to it. We recalled the Taegu apple orchard experiences. We thought of the body lice and how they began to move around in our winter underwear when we would get warm. We remembered the slick ridges of the rice paddies where you would always slip off both sides at the same time. We talked about the artillery flares that would light up the Naktong River so we could see the self-made rafts of the enemy as they sought to cross the river and get behind our lines. We thought of "bed-check Charlie," the small enemy plane-that would make its rounds at night and drop its home-made bombs. We remembered warm rides on the back of tanks on cold nights. We thought of ice and snow and frost-bites. We remembered the good and the bad, and I donít think much escaped from our collective minds over the last thirty-three years.
The discussions at the reunion led me to come home and dig out from an old cedar chest, a box of letters from Korea which I had written to Norma in 1950-51. The following are excerpts from some of the letters and are examples of situations and incidents upon which many of our reunion discussions were based.
16 August 1950: "This section of the world is the hottest and filthiest place Iíve ever seen. Flies swarm all throughout the day and mosquitoes at night. Every imaginable insect and disease is prevalent. Most of the people are living primitively. Every village has a terrific and sickening odor. However, I suppose if I stay here long enough, everything will smell like Chanel #5."
"I have just finished censoring twelve letters written by men in my outfit. An officer must censor all letters before they can be mailed."
"One of the men in a foxhole about twenty feet away from me just remarked while eating the large round crackers in his "C" rations, ĎIf my wife were here, she sure would give me hell for eating these crackers in bed.í"
16 September 1950: "We have three new officers in the company. Two are second lieutenants straight out of West Point. (Warner and Dreisonstok.) They are fine guys and I like them a lot."
19 October 1950: "At the present time we are well up into North Korea. Day before yesterday we marched twelve miles. Yesterday we marched twenty-six miles. The opposition along the way has not been too great, only occasional roadblocks. One outfit had forty killed and forty-five injured but we only lost two men. We should have troops in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, by now. This war should not last too much longer."
"Iíve never seen so much heartless action and cruelty. Just three days ago we took a large town where the people met us with open arms. The North Korean soldiers had come in and taken the young men of the town outside the town, tied their hands behind them with rice ropes, and killed all of them. They had taken several hundred of these dead ones and put them in a cave in the side of a hill. After we arrived, the people of the town began taking the dead bodies out of the cave. It was certainly pitiful to see the young wives, sweethearts, parents, and others, as they moaned and wept over their murdered loved ones in the stench of decaying human flesh as these were removed from the cave. My! how our own great America should pause and be grateful for all that we have. I for one, have determined that I will be one American who will do less complaining when I return."
25 October 1950: "We are about forty miles north of Pyongyang. Our final mission will probably be to clear out the area between here and the Manchurian border. Hope we are through within another two weeks - at least we hear rumors to that effect."
"Guess what? I had steak to eat tonight! Some of our men killed a cow and fried some steaks. Although we had no bread or anything else to go with it, it was certainly good. All of the meat we ever get is hash or stew in cans and that gets old pretty quick."
7 November 1950: "We had thirteen casualties yesterday. Seven of these were killed immediately. All of the enemy we have killed during the last few days have been Chinese. It is pretty certain that over 100,000 of them have crossed the Korean border. I had hoped that we would get out of these foxholes by Christmas but it is a bit doubtful now."
15 November 1950: "This afternoon my interpreter went out and got me two chickens which he dressed. The company commander and I fried the chickens and ate them. They were good even though we had no bread or anything to go with them."
15 December 1950: "The civilians have certainly suffered much here in this war. Just today I had to run all of the people out of a village in front of my position. It is pathetic to see both old and young leaving their homes. I was supposed to burn the village of about fifty houses in order to keep enemy troops from hiding in them. I put off the burning until tomorrow, hoping that we might move tomorrow and then I wouldnít have to cause these hundreds to be homeless. Oh, that good old America could realize what she is missing by not having this war fought on her own dear soil!"
16 December 1950: "Upon orders, today I drove the remaining civilians from their homes in the village to our front and burned their houses with all of the peopleís belongings. It makes a person feel heartless to do such things, but after a time, one wonders if he even has a heart at all. I guess it is natural for war to make one hard, and cold, and bitter."
"All of the days are about the same here. After a time they just become gaps between two nights."
28 December 1950: "Yesterday we had a man deliberately shoot a big hole in his leg, bone and all, in order to get out of here. This isnít the first time this has happened."
13 January l951: "The sun is shining brightly here this morning over eight inches of snow. The temperature is eight degrees below zero!"
The sharing in the above experiences and thousands of others similar to them, has brought members of Company "L" into a bond which has not been broken by thirty-three years.
It is a bond that will never be broken. Even now, the spirit of the unit is such that causes me to think that if there were enough intelligence in Washington to assign us the task, Company "L" could capture the Kremlin any time and stop the communist threat to the world. (Provided, that is, that we would not have to go through any electronic security checks which would, of course, stop many of us who have metal screws, steel braces, and silver wires to help hold our bodies together.)
I am reminded again of the letter from Janice and Vol Warner before the reunion which included these words: "We want to make sure that you have the best four days of your life here in the nationís capital." Well, you did make sure, and we did have them! Thanks to you Warners, Dreisonstoks, and Bernards, for all you did to make the reunion so great as you co-sponsored it.
The good day we spent in the Genningsí home and the four days at the reunion, provided an excellent foundation for the remaining ten days of our trip. After the reunion we rented a car and drove nearly a thousand miles to key places between Washington and Boston - places which played such important roles in the birth and beginning of our great nation.
We stopped in Baltimore, Maryland and had a wonderful evening with a nephew, Bill Epton, and his lovely wife, Carolyn, and their son, Alexander. Bill and Carolyn are artists. He majors in sculpturing and she in painting. We had not seen them in many years.
We enjoyed Philadelphia. Our hotel was in walking distance of all of the great historic spots. Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell - and so many other historic places! The Bookbinders was recommended and we had a wonderful eating experience there. The people in Philadelphia were so friendly and helpful to us. I had the feeling that many recognized us as tourists and said to themselves, "This is the heart of your country, and we are going to help you enjoy seeing it." And they did and we are grateful.
New York City - I loved it! It looked and acted and felt like a big city should. My bite of the "Big Apple" was so satisfying. The Empire State Building was all and more than I expected. We went to its top and could see as far as eighty miles away on the beautiful clear day. And who can adequately describe Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations building, Chinatown, and hundreds of other exciting buildings, and places, and over seven million exciting people!
The streets of New York City are large boisterous parking lots which move forward when the traffic signal changes. People cross the streets whenever and wherever they desire. Thousands of yellow cabs, each with at least two horns, zip from one empty space to another in the traffic. (Flagging a cab is an experience in itself!) Why are there double center stripes in the middle of the streets, and why are traffic lanes marked off? - no one ever uses them in New York. And yet, everyone seems to get where he wants to go quickly.
In walking distance of our hotel in New York was Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue - not far from Central Park. It is the newest and most glamorous of the commercial buildings around the city. The walls and floors are made of Italian marble. It has waterfalls, greenery, and cafe tables for lounging. A variety of shops include Bonwit Teller, Buccellati silversmiths, Boehm porcelain, Asprey luxury gifts, and fashion designer Lina Lee. Few price tags were evident in the stores. People who can afford to purchase in such places are generally not concerned with prices. Some T-shirts did have prices on them in inconspicuous places. Norma thumbed through these, hoping to find a hummingbird. I was relieved to learn that no humming bird had perched among the T-shirts because they were priced at $126 each. We could afford the restrooms which were equipped with well-dressed attendants whom we were expected to tip. Mirrors were all around the walls in the restroom and I had trouble locating the wall with the real urinals on it. Maybe the attendant really earned his tips from people who used the wrong mirror.
From New York we drove to Providence, Rhode Island, and visited the oldest Baptist Church in America. This First Baptist Church was established by Roger Williams in 1638. We were impressed by it. In fact, we were impressed with all of the great cathedrals in Washington, New York and Boston. We were amazed by the many high church spires on old, old white church buildings in all of the New England towns and cities. These have all played such a vital part in the development of America.
I am concerned that our churches continue to undergird our great land as they have in the past. We were a bit disappointed in our visit to a First Baptist Church in one of the suburbs of Boston on one Sunday morning. Our hotel directory of church services showed services to begin at 10:45 and we went early. But the church bulletin said 10:00, so we were thirty minutes late because of the discrepancy. The minister had a good personality and attitude, and sense of humor. He brought a good message which we appreciated. He was personable and greeted us at the door when we left after the service. We wanted to meet some of the people but none seemed to want to be met. We stood around, cleared our throats, went to our car and returned with our camera and took pictures at the church entrance, but not a single person spoke to us, said "Goodbye," "God bless you," "We are glad you came," "Go to hell" or anything else. This was such a contrast to a previous night when we returned to our hotel room and found a lovely basket containing special crackers, exceptional cheese, choice chocolates, and a bottle of expensive wine. Included in the basket was a note signed personally by the hotel manager, welcoming us and expressing his hopes that our visit in his hotel would be a pleasant one. Sure, you might expect such treatment after you had paid well for a nightís lodging. But when in the hell are some church people going to wake up and act as friendly and as Christian as the people of the business world. Maybe thatís why the hotel was filled to capacity that night and the church house was half empty that Sunday morning. Come on, people, donít pin on the Christian name tag unless you are willing to act a little bit like Jesus!
Boston was a special experience. I visited with a niece, Vivian, with whom I grew up but had not seen in forty years. I was her uncle, but she was nine months older than I. I always thought that was funny. We met her lovely children, Bill, Bob, and Jean, and their families. We sat down to one of the most beautiful tables and ate as delicious food as we have ever experienced. It was really a Thanksgiving dinner in May. We were just forty miles from Plymouth Rock and I expected John Alden and Priscilla to walk in any moment. Vivian lost her wonderful husband of over thirty years through death. Though very difficult, she had worked through the grief process and has a good outlook toward the future. We look forward to a good visit from her. We became aware that people miss so much in life when they get out of touch with loved ones as we had done with these wonderful people.
Boston held so many interesting things for us. History dripped from nearly every rooftop. We visited Old North Church (1723) which was made famous by Paul Revereís signal lanterns. I stooped over until my shoulders hurt as we went through the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) which was launched in 1797 and engaged with the British in the War of 1812. It was built for men whose average height was slightly above five feet in those days. We shopped at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, ate at Durgin Park, visited the location of the Boston Tea Party, went up on Bunker Hill, went to Concord and Lexington and visited Old North Bridge where the Revolutionary War began. We went to Plymouth and saw Plymouth Rock and toured Cranberry World which was of interest. In Cambridge we visited Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I think we saw everything in the Boston area - at least our feet felt we had. No family has ever increased as rapidly as ourís did during the two-week period while we were on our trip. We added Marvin and Rena from Fairfax. We adopted every member of Company "L" and their wives who were at the reunion. Bill, Carolyn, and Alexander from Baltimore were new additions. Vivian and her three children, Bill, Bob, and Jean, and their families were added to our family roster. After returning home, our first long distance telephone call came over a line from Boston that had been silent for forty years saying, "I just called to see if MY RELATIVES had a safe trip back home in California." Our first mail had a "Thinking of You" card from Virginia Chandler in North Carolina and it started out, "Hi, Loved Ones, I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed both of you. This reunion made me feel like I was a part of one big family." Gina, it made us feel the same way!
Yes, our trip to the birthplace and early childhood of America ended too soon. We turned in our rented car with our additional nine-hundred and eighteen miles on it and flew back from Boston to San Francisco. We arrived in time to settle down before observing Memorial Day. What a day to climax such a trip! I donít think I have ever been as well-prepared for the observance of a day in memory of some five-hundred thousand men and women who have given their lives to make America possible and to keep it strong. I could hardly wait until Memorial Day arrived when I could display my American flag on a staff and suspend it above the center front entrance of my own little "White House" in Richmond, California. The flag was unusually beautiful as it waved in the California breeze all day. It represented to me everything thatís good and great about America - including those with whom I had fought and the many who have died. On Memorial Day I re-lived the previous two weeks and felt a renewed sense of gratitude to God for my country and my people. Throughout the day, these words written by Samuel F. Smith in 1831, kept going through my mind, and continue to do so:
"My country, ítis of thee,
SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrimsí pride,
From every mountain side
Let freedom ring!
Our fathersí God to thee,
Author of liberty,
To thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedomís holy light;
Protect us by thy might,
Great God, our King!
And now, from the San Francisco Bay area on the West Coast of this "SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY," in the words of the old Irish verse:
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His Hand."
T L Epton was an ordained baptist minister -- even in Korea. But we did not know that because he had sworn the only man in the outfit that knew it to secrecy. When he was called back up when the Korean War began he had had a conversation with a man who would later be a battalion officer. He had told that man who was a contact point for reservists returning to duty "I'm qualified as a line officer or chaplain. Which do you need?" The answer "My god man we need line officers." Epton replied "Very well but you have to promise me you will not tell anyone that I am an ordained minister." And that secret held until Epton was seriously wounded and evacuated to the states. Even then we the members of his platoon were not told and it was some 35 years later before I would learn this fact. jf