APRIL 9, 1997 - ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
(reprinted from 09/97 Pointman)
Many of you know through the mailing we did that on Wednesday, April 9th we paid our final respects at Arlington National Cemetery to the three returned members of 25th Division's LRRP Team #3A, lost on May 31st, 1967. A few people have e-mailed me wanting "my take" on the experience. This is mine, excerpted from a post I sent to a couple of our guys the other day . . .
. . . I had not realized how much all the cross traffic, phone calls, etc., concerning McGar, Jakovac, and Fitzgerald had affected me . . . that is until Corky pointed out how "nuts" I had been acting. Thought I had a handle on that by now . . . silly me. Our turnout was something less than I had hoped for, but still it worked out to be just about right. In attendance besides myself were (our guys): Bill Mrkvicka, Jeff Sandell, Rich Martin, Marshall Huckaby, Eugene Simpson, Dan Nate, Nancy Smoyer (my favorite Donut Dolly), and Bill Shanaman. Some of you might remember Shanaman--he was Company Commander from early '68 til around the end of July/early August '68. Jeez, the guy still fits into his uniform! Most of us had dinner together Tuesday evening, then ran over to the Wall. Got back around 11pm or there abouts . . . in time to greet Marshall then return to the Wall for his first visit. Bill Shanaman made his first the following day escorted by our own Nancy Smoyer, and his two handsome sons.
Roy Boatman, Steve Crabtree, and others were there to represent the 75th Ranger Regiment. There were also a couple of Colonels from the active duty--I think one of them was the deputy commander of the Ranger School. There were two representatives from each of the three families. We met and spoke with them prior to the service at the chapel. Joe Fitzgerald's sister, JoAnne, is a sweetheart, I'm sure you will like her. "Crabs" told her about the bricks, and she wants to come to Benning next summer (while we are there) to see the Ranger Memorial and visit with us. They were somewhat impressed that we were there so many years after the fellows were listed as missing that they made the funeral director put our vehicle up at the head of the line, right behind the van provided for the family members to move from chapel to grave side.
We were (and honored to be) asked to be "honorary pallbearers." Our duties were to line the walkway as the casket was brought into, then out of the chapel, and to "stand by" at the grave site. Our little group was called to attention, then told to PRESENT ARMS each time the casket passed, by the NCOIC of the OLD GUARD during the ceremony. Naturally the ceremonies were emotionally taxing. I can tell you that none of this was especially "easy" for me . . . I was afraid I was going to burst out in tears right in the middle of everything. My plan was to stare off at a distant fixed point over the shoulder of the fellow standing directly across from me (you know, the one who seemed to be studying my face for the slightest evidence of a "chink" in my armor). That, and a cold brisk wind blowing telltale wisps of moisture from my eyes (barely) got me through it.
We were last to leave after the services at the grave. We were walking right behind JoAnne, when she stopped suddenly, turned to say something to us but was unable to speak momentarily then began to cry. Huck immediately hugged her, and I (big dummy that I am) patted her back and held her hand. She finally was able to say that she wondered if she could have the banner from the wreath of flowers the 75th had sent. Without a word, Huck shook his head in the affirmative and calmly walked over to inform the funeral director of the request . . . he returned with it in no time. I can not tell you how much I admire this guy.
After saying goodbyes to the family (and after Dan finished his interview with a newspaper reporter), we met at the NCO Club again for about an hour of picture sharing and filling holes in our collective memory banks.
Afterward we headed for our respective homes--Dan and I riding with Rich back to New Jersey. I need tell you that I believe we represented F Company well! I am proud of those able to be there, and equally proud knowing those that weren't had a prayer in their hearts or a special thought for the families McGar, Fitzgerald, and Jakovac on that day . . . this is all anyone can ask of themselves, and the most we can expect of one another. They are finally home at last! God bless them and their surviving loved ones who must carry on.
I asked that any and all in attendance send me a couple of sentences, or a paragraph reflecting any thoughts or feelings regarding their experience, for the Pointman . . . And that is what follows here. Later my friends. David R.
. . . The feelings about last Wednesday are kind of hard to express. The ceremony was impressive, well done, and well attended. It was a great honor to stand in as honorary pall bearers for our fallen brothers. I am proud that our F Company guys could make it to Arlington to honor three LRRPs who were not known well to us. This is the comradery that we have come to know in our special group. We are different from other soldiers, our mission was, and still is, unique. We can still count on our brothers in arms now as we did then, almost thirty years ago. Where needed we will again rise to the challenge and group together to do what needs doing. Rich M.
. . . Even though I have been far removed from it, I have been watching and I think you all did a gallant thing, and you are to be commended for it. I am to far away to have been involved in it, but we did pray for you guys and for the families. To some of you this probably doesn't go to far, but I know in my heart that it does. It had to be bittersweet for sure, just knowing that after all these years, there they were, and they were going to rest in the land of the free, and you and their families were there to witness this event. I personally thank every one involved in this and I hope that this attitude would continue in the future. Richard E.
. . . I have had some strong feelings about the three men recently buried, but I'm comfortable that I really know their stories very well. I mostly hear about McGar and his family. What can you tell me about Fitzgerald, Jakovac and their families? Dennis P.
. . . Your last statement just placed you higher on my "Guys I respect list". I tried to put David and Bill on it but couldn't spell Renganthal,. . Rigenthul, . . .Reagonthal, nor Mikverka. .Myrkvica, . . Mervika,. . . well I guess you can see my problem . . .
All B.S. aside, after Nam I did not have a lot of friends that I felt I could be honest with, and knew what I really felt, that is until I went to my first reunion in Tacoma. Now things have changed for me. While in Arlington, David gave me one of his " you gotta go to the Wall and now is a real good time" tours of the place. I didn't know if I really wanted to see it or not, but now I have the rubbings of the names of two LRRPs I knew and whose bodies I had to identify. I have them framed and hold them very dear. They are my tie with the past and release for the future. We can truly say" Been there, done that!" Huck
. . . well you know what I am very touched by the recent events and I feel very bad I was not there but I was in spirit . . . oh hell, I know I misspelled it but you are doing a great job and I love you for it. Harvey L.
. . . You asked that we write to you after the service for our Brothers who had finally returned "home." As I said that day, for me, it was also an opportunity for me to pay my final respects, not only to Joseph Fitzgerald, John Jakovac and Brian McGar, but also to Ray Sullivan, Harjo, Babb, De Vega and all the others that were taken from us at such a young age. I found it very difficult (back then) to walk over to the 3/4 Cav and have some "sky pilot", who didn't even know these men, try to put into words what their life meant and how great their sacrifice. B.S.! The loss that I felt on those days was beyond words . . .
On April 9th, 1997 I was able to put another piece of baggage into a special part of my heart where I am able to deal with it on another level. The loss of these men, as well as all of our brothers, will never be forgotten. I was proud and very honored to have been asked to attend and participate on this day. Sandy
Most of us came home to no special greeting. Some of us came back to scorn for having served our country. Team 3A, No one in the company really knew them, and three members of Team 3A didn't come home for 30 years.
By the time the three were found and returned their parents had passed. The remaining family members seemed cool to anyone other than family participating in services for them. The news leaked out that they were coming home and that they were to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. Damn! At least fellow LRP's should welcome them home. The word began to pour out. On relatively short notice, 8 members of the 25th Division LRRP's / Co. F planned and attended the ceremonies.
The word continued to spread. Representatives from the 75th Association, representatives from the active Army, veterans from associations in the home states of members of team 3A, and others came to Arlington Cemetery. Appropriately it was a cool day. The ceremonies by the staff at Fort Meyer were impressive and the type one would expect for heroes. The history of the old chapel on the base, and the meaning and membership of Arlington Cemetery both gave a dignity to the occasion which was warranted. The burial in Arlington was impressive, sobering and showed the respect of the country for these men - a respect they deserve. Yet, for these three who gave all, it was somehow not enough.
The members of Co F were asked to be honorary pallbearers. While we didn't speak of it, while standing at attention during the ceremony, the wind and cold kept us mentally sharp. And those damn tears wouldn't stop sneaking out.
In spite of all that, Team 3A is finally home. Bill M.