For thirty-nine years, every time March 30th rolls around, my mind takes a journey back in time and thinks of the loss of two fellow Soldiers. Every year. Unprompted by anything other than a mental post-it note reminding me that on this day, two brave young men gave their lives for their country.
This year, I started thinking about it earlier – probably because of where I am, with the frequent reminders, especially since the Iraqis started landing Hueys across the street. There’s something about that sound, like the smell of freshly baked cookies, that triggers the memory banks, brings into focus the original circumstances associated with that sound or smell, and makes you stop. And remember.
Part of me said, don’t do it, it could be bad luck. But a stronger urge prompted me to order a flag and then ask the NCO’s in our directorate if they would do the honors and raise a flag for me in memory of Specialists Westcott and Crosby. Of course, once I shared with them the story of Easter Offensive and the last days of the 407th Radio Research Detachment, they were more than happy to accommodate me.
So, on the afternoon of 30 March, 2011, at just a few minutes after 1400 hours here in Baghdad, a flag was raised over United States Forces – Iraq’s Forward Operating Base Union III in memory of Specialist Five Bruce Crosby and Specialist Five Gary Westcott. Fellow Soldiers killed in battle thirty-nine years ago that day during the opening barrage of the North Vietnamese Strategic Offensive – known by us as the Easter Offensive.
Wednesday was quite an experience for me.
Sergeant First Class C (right), Sergeant First Class S (USAR) (center) and Staff Sergeant P (left) walked me through the practice folding of the flag. In the background you can see Colonel G, my current boss, who when he heard about what we were doing asked if he could attend as well. After a review of flag folding, they showed me what would take place, how they’d be positioned, and reviewed the protocol of raising and lowering the flag.
I thought they were just giving me some ideas for when and where I could take pictures, little did I know they would let this old retired Soldier actually participate in the raising, lowering and folding.
Step by step they took me through each part to make sure I was comfortable with everything they were going to do, and then they told me, “you’re doing this, we’ve decided you should raise and lower the flag.” It’s been 21 years since I performed any “drill and ceremony,” and was really afraid that I’d mess something up, but they had prepared me well!
The rest of these pictures tell the story … we marched to the flagpole (I was surprised to see in the picture that I was actually in step with them), and I held the rope as the NCOs carefully attached the flag and I began the flag’s ascent to the top.
As I started raising the flag, out of the corner of my eye I saw the slow hand salutes start, and then I heard, “Specialist Crosby,” followed by, “Specialist Westcott.” It was all I could do to maintain my composure and continue raising the flag.
I kept the flag moving, not looking up, but keeping my eyes on SSG P across from me. Without diverting his eyes, and with no noticeable movement, SSG P whispered across to me, “all the way up, Top … and once it stops, hold it for a second and let her gently down.”
As the flag came down, the NCOs caught her and then repositioned me to help fold the flag. With the flag securely in SFC C’s hands, we began our march back to the edge of the street where SFC C presented it to me, delivering it into my hands “for safekeeping and remembrance.”
The Flag was also flown in honor of another fellow Soldier, Patriot and Friend, and is now in his hands for safekeeping and remembrance. Thanks John.
Wish you all could have been there.
May we always remember.