Remembering Those Lost ... Memorial Day
by U.S. Navy Douglas Stutz
NHB/NMRTC Bremerton Public Affairs Officer
May 29, 2023
Since Memorial Day’s inception in 1868, the
date has held special significance throughout our country,
especially with those who have worn the cloth of their nation.
Memorial Day image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Department of Defense graphics/photos.
The backyard barbeques, ballgame bleachers
and marching bands are all mere cosmetic accoutrements to the
hallowed meaning of the day.
Across the entire land, our
populace is afforded the opportunity to take a collective pause and
remember, reflect, and respect those who have been lost to their
country, to their family, to their community, and to their fellow
service men and women.
This day allows us to honor our
fallen, and acknowledge the profound loss of a father, mother,
uncle, aunt, son, daughter, nephew, grandson, cousin, and/or friend.
We gather to remember those who never made it home, thank them for
their service and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of
those who never made it back and were lost serving their country.
Our Memorial Day tradition came
about after our country’s Civil War, 1861-1865, a time of great
animosity between Americans. In the years that followed the end of
that bloody conflict, Americans observed the day and were brought
together in their shared need to mourn those gone before their time.
Even in the Pacific Northwest, far from
the Civil War battlefields, a local cemetery has sustained the
memory of those who fought in the war between the states.
Ivy Green Cemetery, in Bremerton, Washington, has a sizable military
section, with over 2,000 fallen Americans of all services
represented, including U.S. Navy quartermaster John H. Nibbe, a
Civil War hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Nibbe was assigned to the tinclad wooden steamer USS Peterel
patrolling Yazoo River, Mississippi, as part of the Navy strategy to
thwart Confederacy logistic efforts and control the Mississippi
River and its many tributaries. On April 22, 1864, according to his
citation, “the vessel came under fire and was raked by shot. He
assisted in getting all the wounded away and proceeded to get
prepared to fire the ship despite the escaping steam from the
boilers, at which time he was surrounded on all sides by rebels and
forced to surrender.”
Over a century later, that same belief
of service before self was also displayed under fire in the heat of
battle, and during another time of acrimony in our country by
another U.S. Navy Sailor. That Sailor is remembered every day at
Naval Hospital/Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton’s
David R. Ray Health Center located on Naval Station Everett.
The namesake of the health center, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class David
R. Ray, might not be laid to rest at Ivy Green, but he’s out there
in similar hallowed ground, along with all our other fallen.
Navy corpsman Bobby Raya (24) was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor for his ultimate sacrifice going
beyond self for country sake ... when on March 19, 1969 he charged into the melee
of a North Vietnamese Army surprise attack at Marine combat
base at Phu Loc 6 near An Hoa, Vietnam ... to render
emergency aid to the mounting casualties while he was
severely wounded. (Image created by André Sobocinski,
U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery - November 19,
Here’s who he was, and why he ... like Nibbe and so many others
completely encompasses what our tradition, legacy and sacrifice are
all about on Memorial Day.
Ray was born February 14, 1945,
to David F. and Donnie M. Ray of McMinnville, Tennessee. After high
school and three years of college, he voluntarily enlisted in the
U.S. Navy on March 28, 1966.
His first assignment was aboard
Naval Hospital ship USS Haven. From haze gray he went to the green
side requesting a tour of duty with the Marines. He joined Battery
D, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, in the
Republic of Vietnam in May 1968.
On March 19, 1969, his unit,
while defending their fire base at Liberty Bridge, Phu Loc 6, near
An Hoa Combat Base, came under intense hostile fire during the early
morning hours by an estimated battalion-sized (approx. 1,000) enemy
force. The initial burst of enemy fire caused numerous casualties
among the Marines.
Undaunted by the intense hostile fire,
Ray moved from emplacement to emplacement, rendering emergency
medical treatment to the wounded.
Although seriously wounded
while administering first aid to a Marine casualty, he refused
medical aid and continued his lifesaving efforts. Ray was forced to
battle two enemy soldiers who attacked his position, killing one and
wounding the other.
Even though he was rapidly losing
strength as a result of his severe wounds, Ray still managed to move
through the hail of enemy fire to other casualties.
again, he came under intense fire and despite grave personal danger
and insurmountable odds, succeeded in treating wounded Marines and
holding off the enemy until he ran out of ammunition, at which time
he sustained fatal wounds.
His final act of heroism was to
protect the Marine he was treating. He threw himself upon the
wounded patient, thus saving the man's life when an enemy grenade
He was awarded the Medal of Honor
A friend of Ray, Hospital Corpsman Tommy
Vickers, who was also in Quang Nam Province, wrote a letter back to
his family, describing that fateful time. The letter was received by
Mr. and Mrs. Tom Vickers from their son the day before the Rays’
were notified on their son being killed in action.
in part, “They - the Vietcong - ran over An Hoa. This is the story I
got from a Marine that Ray patched up, ‘They started when one got
through the wire and pulled a satchel charge under a hutch. When it
went off everyone ran outside. They started mowing them down as they
ran out. Bob got hit but was still treating wounded when he was hit
the second time.’
‘The Marine said Bob knew his job and was
doing it. He said that the enemy was all over them, plus rockets and
mortars as thick as flies.’
Vickers worked late in the night
and well into the next day helping to treat and care for mass
The next morning choppers from An Hoa landed.
Vickers still could not locate his friend and began asking Marines
from Ray’s outfit if they knew his status.
“Everyone said he
had been hit, but no one knew how badly. Then this one kid told me
what happened. I couldn’t work. All I could do was sit and stare,”
Such sacrifice and a call to duty for fellow
man and country are emblematic of our Memorial Day lineage.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, many a
generation have suffered from loss, especially during major wars:
In our nation’s Civil War, 1861-1865, the union lost 140,414
in battle and another 224,097 in theater [referring to the
geographic area in which wartime operations occurred and resulting
from accidents, disease, injury. Confederate losses were 74,524 and
another 59,297 in theater, and that figure does not include the
estimated 26-31,000 who died in union prisons.
In World War
One in the years 1917 and 1918, there were 53,402 battle deaths with
an additional 63,114 fatalities.
In World War Two, 1941
through 1945, America suffered 291,557 battle deaths and another
113,842 fatalities in service.
In the Korean War, there were
33,739 battle deaths and another 2,835 other deaths in theater and
17,672 fatalities non theater.
During the Vietnam War, 1964
to 1975, battle deaths totaled 47,134 with another 10,786 deaths in
theater and 32,000 other deaths in service, non-theater, that
actually cover the period from 1955 to 1975.
During 1990 to
1991 Desert Shield and Desert Storm, there were 148 battle deaths
with another 235 deaths in theater and 1,565 other deaths in
There have been well over 6,000
fatalities over the past two decades, specifically in Operation
Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
country has suffered upwards of 655,000 deaths in battle, along with
310,000 other deaths in theater and more than 230,000 fatalities
non-theater over our nation’s history.
We pay homage to all
our men and women such as Nibbe and Ray on Memorial Day, who embody
strength of character, service before self and courageous sacrifice
for their ideals, nation and brothers-in-arms.
David Ray Medal of Honor Citation |
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