Veteran reflects on America's proud warriors


By Robert McHaney

Guest Columnist

We marched out of the mighty snow-capped mountains, we marched out of the vast prairies that were covered in green swaying grass. We marched out of the bustling cities, and we marched out of the rural farms, in response to our country’s call.

We came from a people of many colors and creeds, whose desire for freedom drove them across great oceans, where brave men believe in the fundamental truths, that are so carefuly woven into the undying fabric of the stars and stripes.

For over 200 years, these truths have been challenged, our shores invaded. We have worn a uniform of buckskin and fur, of wool both blue and gray. Olive drab, khaki and camouflage have covered our bloody body. For throughout the history of our country, we have never laid down our arms without first fighting to the last shell.

We marched in the shadows of a makeshift flag at Bunker Hill, we were smashed by cannon at Gettysburg, we were buried in the trenches of France, then we dropped in the bloody waters of Normandy.

We were smashed upon the sands of Iwo Jima, frozen in the snows of Korea, and left in the jungles of Vietnam. We battled in the blinding sands of Iraq, and we attacked deep into the shadows of Afghanistan. Though we were exhausted and battered, we fought to the last shell.

When our fighting ship, its hull twisted and burning, slowly sinks into the sea, its mighty guns will still be pointing at her enemy, for she had fought to the last shell.

With flack bursting in air, and his wings punctured, he fell swiftly from the war-torn skies. With his bomb bay and guns empty, and as the roar of engines accelerate, he knew in his dying heart, that he had fought to the last shell.

Then when death folds its leathery wings, and the heroic dead are put to rest side by side, comrade to comrade, a lonely rifle with bayonet will be thrust into the sacred ground. It will hold a battle scarred helmet up to the heavens declaring that he had fought to the last shell.

When the roar of cannon and bombs subside, and the beating of drums fade with time forgotten, we will still be standing proudly in the early morning mist, proclaiming that on this earth the bravest men, and women, lie peacefully here. Then when a lonely sentinel stands a post on a distant shore, or an icy ridge silhouetted against darkening skies, or on a great eastern desert ablaze with the sun, listen to the mournful cry of the wind. You will hear a ghost of the forgotten past whisper, “We were there, we fought to the last shell.”

Beneath the pale moonlight there lies a lonely piece of hallowed ground, its surface supporting uncounted rows of cold white markers. Inscribed on the surface of these stones is a name, rank, and date. There is never enough room to tell of the courage, sacrifices, and gallantry that these warriors endured. For beneath those stone markers lie the forgotten ghost of men and women whom made the great sacrifice, so that freedom may continue to ring.

When the burning chariot completes its journey across the evening skies, and the moon quietly takes its place, each stone on that sacred ground will begin to glimmer under the moon’s soft melt. In the embrace of the dark purple night, those isolated gravestones will begin to pulsate with the frantic rhythm of a frenzied heart.

A heart that awakens to the echoes of a bugle’s call, and the drums beating to quarters. Echoes from a war gone by that stirs the soul into a kaleidoscope of lost memories. The memories must never be forgotten, and instilled into the minds and hearts of the living, so that the roar of cannon will never repeat itself again.

There beneath each and every stone lies a heroic ghost who fought to the last shell, making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. There are no cowards on the great fields of battle, and when the drums and bugles fall silent, a voice will rise over the clouds of war proclaiming:

“They were intrepid, their cause was great, they gave more than just their lives. They gave the born and unborn a heritage that will live forever, under the undaunted threads of the stars and stripes that wave so proudly, over the greatest nation on earth.”

Sgt. Robert E. McHaney, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, was part of the 75th Infantry 289th Combat Team during WWII. He is a Culver area resident, and is the father of Mike McHaney, the Jefferson County roadmaster, and grandfather of Joe McHaney, the executive director of the Kids Club of Jefferson County.