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"If There Is Only One Man Left" by R.G. Smith (VT-8 TBD @ the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942)

“If There Is Only One Man Left” by R.G. Smith (VT-8 TBD Devastator @ the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942)

It is perhaps fitting that on the calendar, Memorial Day precedes two signatory battles in our history — Midway and D-Day because each in their own way epitomize what Memorial Day is all about.  Established to recognize those who gave their lives in the Civil War, it has grown to encompass all those who gave their lives in service to this great nation.

Oft times, as was the case for LCDR John Waldron, the odds they faced seemed insurmountable.  Having unsuccessfully argued  in the days preceding Midway for splitting fighter cover to protect the dive bombers and torpedo planes (as had been done at Coral Sea) he had been overruled by Hornet’s CO, CAPT Pete Mitscher – all the fighters would stay high to protect the dive bombers with the Air Group CO, CDR Stanhope Ring leaving the TBD Devastators to press their part of the attack unescorted.  The implications were clear to Waldron as he addressed the assembled crews in VT-8’s Ready Room onboard Hornet, and if he felt any misgivings or second thoughts, they were not in his final charge to his squadron:

“If we find ourselves alone and outnumbered by the enemy planes on the way into attack, we’ll keep boring in toward the carrier,” he said. “If there is only one man left I want that man to take his pickle in and get a hit.”

We all know the outcome of that fated attack – but that diminishes not one iota the dedication and bravery the crews of VT-8 displayed in pressing home the attack.

A decade or so later, a writer who cut his teeth in the Pacific War would write of another war, in another theater, of men who faced enormous odds with these words:

“Where do we get such men? They leave this ship and they do their job. Then they must find this speck lost somewhere on the sea. When they find it, they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?”   – Rear Admiral George Tarrant in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”

Where indeed – for the likes of VT-8, of  V Corps, 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions on bloody Omaha Beach, the Marines at Iwo Jima, and 8th Air Force crews over Schweinfurt; and of those who preceded them at Antietam, Belleau Wood, Saratoga and Cowpens and followed at Chosin Resevoir, who “went downtown” over Hanoi, or building to building in Fallujah.  Or just never came back from patrol – a mystery known only to the sea.

To some, it may seem trite or, God forbid, even cliche, but freedom never comes without cost and it must be vigilantly protected, for there are those who are jealous of our freedom and would seek to terminate it.  President Reagan best summed this state of affairs by saying:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.

and

No arsenal … is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.
This Memorial Day, let us remember those who gave their last, full measure in the service of freedom and protection of liberty  – for us and for our posterity.
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