This blog was written by CSM (Ret) Rick Lamb, the Director of Government Relations for the Global SOF Foundation.
This year Memorial Day offered me an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of all those who paid the Butcher’s Bill for the freedoms myself and many Americans take for granted. I started the weekend with my running buddy AC Coley, and it humbled me! I was reminded of his story, and it made me grateful to be an “Old Soldier” and proud to be an American. I’ve known AC for decades and AC is fond of saying, “We were Salt and Pepper before it became a condiment”.
SGM (Ret) AC Coley
Sergeant Major (Retired) AC Coley grew up in Dunedin where Jim Crow Laws faded slowly. He remembers his first day in a newly de-segregated grade school. It wasn’t easy! It was not one of our Nation’s finer moments! His family and community, along with coaches, policemen from the Police Athletic League, and teachers – many of whom were former military – kept him grounded.
They kept him from getting angry and becoming vengeful. They honestly explained what was happening with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and told him change was on the horizon. They told him the military was desegregated and color blind; it was a place where a talented man with skills, like himself, could forge his own future…and so he did!
If you’re in Special Operations and have talked on any communications device from tin cans, telephones, computers to radios, chances are good that AC had something to do with identifying the requirement, obtaining the technology, establishing the infrastructure, and implementing the network that enabled your communications – on land, sea, and in the air.
He’s a trailblazer, but remains a humble guy, so you’d never know there was a Leadership Award named in his honor at Fort Bragg. I’m honored to have him as a friend and a mentor.
Compelled to Learn Something
So how does my Bromance with AC Coley connect to Memorial Day? It made me reminisce. It compelled me to learn something. It forced discovery.
AC Coley and I started Memorial Day Weekend at a local tailor shop. We were getting our “Union Blues” fitted for a Bay Area School project next year. Since those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it – AC and I will teach the history of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment to the up and coming generation. Authorized by the Emancipation Proclamation, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry fought for the Union during the American Civil War. They lost Forty Percent of their Unit on an assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Their struggle for legitimacy and the assault on Fort Wagner is featured in the Movie “Glory”.
The prominent Abolitionist Frederick Douglass had two sons who served in the 54th Massachusetts. His oldest son, Lewis Henry Douglass, rose to the rank of Sergeant Major, just like AC. During next year’s Living History classroom instruction, AC will assume the persona of Sergeant Major Douglass as we tell the story. Future endeavors will include the 369th Infantry Regiment also known as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” from World War I; the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion “Triple Nickels” from WWII; and the 2d Ranger Company, assigned to the 7th Infantry Division during the Korean War.
We may even enlist Steve Jones to play the part of a “Tuskegee Airman”, since he’s got a Tuskegee Pilot in his lineage!
Over One Million, Three Hundred and Fifty Four Thousand Men and Women have died in Combat, and combat related accidents and disease, since the founding of our nation in 1776. Many died far from home, dirty, exhausted, frightened and in pain. They were men and women from all walks of life, all races, and creeds. Some died to form a nation free of tyranny, some died to form a more perfect union, others to liberate the oppressed and vanquish evil.
The nation has been at war for more than twenty years. Less than one percent of the population will ever serve in the military. Within this warrior caste, all have lost someone. Many of the names are inscribed on the SOCOM Memorial, or on Memorials at Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Hunter Army Airfield, Eglin Air Force Base, and countless military bases around the globe. It’s good to walk among the names! It’s good to touch the stones!
I thought about it more this year and opened the aperture to include heroes I never knew, who died young, so that I can live free! I began to question why as a nation have we become forgetful and lazy? Why have we given up their hard won freedoms so easily? I promised myself to do more, to help educate, to be a better steward.
Take a minute this Memorial Day to research one name, one battle, or one conflict. Make a point to remember the sacrifice and pledge that it was not in vain!
De Oppresso Liber!