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I have hit the beach at Normandy, and weaved my way up Mount Suribachi, charging full speed into relentless enemy fire. For weeks on end I have been chilled to the bone in Europe and Korea, ate cold food out of cans and slept in trenches I dug myself that day with blistered hands.
I have survived the Tet Offensive and lived underground in caves at Khe Sahn, pinned down and surrounded. I have survived many of the fiercest and most brutal battles in the history of mankind.
For weeks and sometimes months on end I have not had enough water to wash with, a change of clothes, a shave, seen a movie or even been able to stand up straight and walk because the enemy was always close enough to kill me.
I have survived frost bite, malaria, dehydration, jungle rot, gunshot and shrapnel wounds, dysentery and shell shock.
I have suffered daily from the sight of bodies torn violently apart and the awful smell of burnt flesh. I have been splattered with the blood of many good young men, some of whom were my best friends.
I have been captured and tortured in POW camps.
I have found the courage and the strength to endure hardship and violence of combat because I knew that if I lost or gave in, my family lost, my community lost and America lost. I did what I did to serve and represent others.
I have been the leading edge in the cause of democracy; the every human is created equal and is endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I have picked up these ideals, put them on my shoulders and carried them forward no matter what the circumstances.
And when I was through with the battle, I came home and didn’t say a word about it, even though the memories haunt me daily.
These are the things that I learned in my contribution to mankind:
I learned that service is always rewarding and something to be proud of.
I learned that an empty sleeve is better than an empty soul; that cowardice never carries the day.
And I learned that even under the worst conditions imaginable, every human being has an equal capacity for extraordinary courage.
Saturday, Nov. 11 is my day. I ask for your recognition.
When you honor me you honor courage, commitment, perseverance and the indomitable essence of the human spirit. When you honor the human spirit, you honor yourself and all of mankind.
Lou Kern, USMC 3rd Force Recon ’68 Vietnam, is a woodworker in Oakdale.