Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Ron Benzing and I was the chaplain for the 3/1st battalion from November 68-69. It is a privilege for me to be here today.
Many years ago there was a singing group known as the "Up with America Singers." One of their popular songs was Freedom Isnít Free. As I stand here today before this granite wall, I am profoundly impressed with those words. Inscribed on its surface is that stated cost, painfully etched by millions of drops of bright red blood. Each dripped from the veins of a young soldier willing to sacrifice a promising future for duty he was called to perform. Scattered about here are countless tears shed by families and friends with broken hearts and shattered dreams. And today, you and I stand here in the presence of these comrades to pay our tribute to these comrades whose youthful faces are forever etched in our minds.
The Hebrew Scriptures read today from the 90th Psalm, challenge us to number our days so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. For our fallen buddies, the number of their days was cut short by the viciousness of the rice paddies, the mountain jungles or the sandy beaches. A bullet or a booby trap, a firefight, an ambush, a mortar or rocket, they were alive one minute and gone the next. Yet, you and I stand here today. Thirty or more years have passed. Our children have grown up and given us grandchildren. The Psalmist still advises us to use wisdom in light of all this and count our numbered days. The wise person is that one who prepares for the inevitable. Life can be very brief and uncertain.
As we were walking into the Bronco Base Camp mess hall one day, LTC George Ellis said to me, Chaplain, I am going to meet every new soldier that comes into this battalion and tell him how to stay alive. I want you to tell him how to be ready to die. By that time I had already seen four battalion commanders. LTC Lauter moved to the division, LTC Coverdale was wounded on LZ Cork. LTC McCluskey was relieved and LTC Pritchard was killed in action. I took those words from my new battalion commander seriously. On LZs Debbie and Liz, Hill 4-11, Bronco Base Camp and LZ Cork, Radar Hill and Chu Lai standown area. Anywhere I could find soldiers I went to tell them that life could be brief and uncertain. The message of this Old Testament Scripture reminds us of the BREVITY AND UNCERTAINTLY OF LIFE and we should apply that knowledge to prepare ourselves for the inevitable: DEATH.
The New Testament reading records the words of Jesus to His disciples. This is my commandment, that ye love one another. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
On the back wall of the 3/1st chapel on Bronco Base Camp was a sheet of Plexiglas with over 140 small brass plates when I left in November 1969. On each plate was the name of a soldier and the date he was killed in action. We dedicated that chapel on 3 June 1969, several weeks after LTC Pritchard was killed in action. SSG Jones, from B Company, did the design and construction of that battalion chapel.
I think the words of Jesus are clearly displayed by those names that were not only on that memorial wall in Duc Pho, but on this wall in Washington, DC. A man lays down his life for a friend. You and I are here today because one of these young soldiers gave his life in your place. Who knows why these things happen? One manís life is snuffed out while the other returns to see his family? This kind of love is not self-centered. It is other-centered. It is selfless not selfish. I saw this again and again while with the 3/1st. Privates, specialists, sergeants, lieutenants and captains taking care of one another. Rank did not matter; color did not matter.
As an Army Chaplain for almost 28 years of active duty, I have never forgotten the dedication of these soldiers to one another. It is the noblest example of love that we can experience.
But even that cannot compare with the great message I have been privileged to proclaim in Army Chapels and field services over the years. It is the message of Godís love to us that caused Him to give His very Son for us. The bagpipes played one of the great hymns of the Christian Faith-Amazing Grace. When I asked soldiers to give me their favorite song to sing at the field services, whether in the mountains, rice paddies, or rear area, two songs were often requested: Amazing Grace and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Those two songs go wonderfully together.
If the Psalmist reminds us of the brevity and uncertainty of life, then Jesus reminds us of the ETERNITY and CERTAINTY of life in Him.
We cannot bring these men back from their graves. Neither can we forget the sacrifice they made. What we can do is allow this wall and these names to bring us to the God of love through personal faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.