Memorial Day: A Salute to Our Heroes
by Robert Pelton
If you think that you are having a bad day because your TV or phone or computer is not working, then get in your car and go to the nearest VA hospital and see real problems. People bitch and complain and gossip about bullshit all the time. In the hospital you will see men and women of the “Greatest Generation” suffering and coping with things most people can not comprehend. When my family members joined the army in WWII, they signed up for the duration of the war, not for two years or three years. They went over the pond as my uncle used to say and did not come back for over four years. When Lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes was dodging bullets on Iwo Jima he was just trying to stay alive. My Abilene friend William Ervin Sims, who recently died at age 92, carried a BAR, a browning automatic rifle, weighing 16 pounds up the hills of Iwo Jima. Those two men and many others fought 35 days without rest and managed to survive.
Memorial Day has traditionally been a day of observance for the men and women who died in the sacrifice of the cause they were fighting for. This day is different from Veterans Day in that Veteran’s Day is set aside to honor all Veterans. Since many in the WWII and Korean War generation are growing older, I felt it incumbent on me to honor all Veterans by putting forth a short statement honoring those both living and dead who have served this great country.
One good friend and veteran Victor Blaine went away several years ago and I know he would approve of me writing this article now. John Saur is another Houston lawyer who froze for months when in Korea serving his country. When I asked him about the article he was happy and said any one who was worried about the date could come see him and he would have a surprise for them that he brought back in his duffel bag from Korea. John Saur was in the middle of the fighting and came back, finished college and law school and has been a lawyer almost 50 years.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday originally enacted to honor fallen Union soldiers after the Civil War. It was originally known as Decoration Day. Decorating the graves of their fallen soldiers was commonplace by Confederates even before the Civil War had ended, by southern ladies of Richmond and southern schoolchildren. The catastrophic number of dead soldiers from North and South alike meant that burial and memorialization was very important after the war. Townspeople, mostly the women, buried the dead and decorated graves during the war. The oldest national cemetery was created in 1862. After Abraham Lincoln’s death, many events to commemorate the war began. The first such event was in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. Union soldiers who died there were buried in unmarked graves. Freed slaves knew of this and decided to honor these soldiers. They cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground. On that day, nearly 10,000 people gathered to honor the dead and 3,000 schoolchildren and others brought flowers to lie on the burial field. Historians said this was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston. Black Americans, freed from slavery brought flowers and sang songs about the war. Speeches on Memorial Day were a time for veterans, politicians, and ministers to commemorate the war. People of all religious beliefs joined together and the point was made that immigrant soldiers had become true Americans because they had shed so much blood in battle. By 1870, much of the anger was gone and speeches praised the brave soldiers of blue and gray. By 1950, the theme of Memorial Day was to uphold freedom in the world. Today, Memorial Day extends to honor all Americans who have died in all wars.
Tennessee was a divided state during the Civil War. Some of the families that served in the Union Army had family members joining the Confederates. My maternal great-grandfather Abraham George Washington Cox and great-great-grandfather Abraham Cox enlisted with the Confederate Army on the same day. Abraham George Washington Cox was 15 and his father Abraham was 51. They served in the Tennessee Calvary. After the war, Abraham George Washington Cox rode a mule from Tennessee to Cooke County, Texas, got married, and had 12 children and named them after Confederate heroes. My grandfather was named Robert E. Lee Cox. Abraham George Washington established the Mt. Zion School, Church, and Cemetery. Each year in May, our family meets there to attend “Graveyard Working” like the old customs that started Memorial Day. My paternal great-great-grandfather Joseph Washington Mathis fought with the 1st Alabama Infantry. He was captured at Island Tennessee on 4/8/1862, escaped capture at Port Hudson, Louisiana on 7/9/1863 and was captured again in Nashville, Tennessee on 12/16/1864. He was held prisoner until the end of war. His children came to Jones County, Texas in 1899.
My son, who coincidentally was born on July 4, called me from the recruiting station when he turned 17. He said the recruiter would not let him join without my permission and would not let him be a military police officer. I got the recruiter on the phone and he laughed and said you will have to get permission from the Pentagon. I was in Ted Poe’s court that morning and told him. He, himself a Veteran, made some phone calls and at 4pm that day a major at the recruiting station said, “Please don’t make any more phone calls, meet me here at 5pm and your son will be sworn in.” My son went to the US Army and was trained at Fort Anniston, Alabama as a military police officer. He served there and got out but was recalled after 9/11. He served again and left the Army as an E-5 with an Honorable Discharge.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae
…We cherish too, the poppy red That grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies That blood of heroes never dies… – Moina Michael
We all complain about high taxes, traffic, bad government, bad judges, bad prosecutors, bad presidents, and bad everything. The list is long on things we complain about. In America we have the right to complain. Try that in some foreign country and your life will be ended. We live in a free country where opportunity exists for all people. People from all over the world want to come to the United States of America. Members of TCDLA and HCCLA and their family members who have served, or are serving, will be listed at the end of this article. They all need to be recognized for their sacrifices, be it large or small. Some of us were in the military reserve and some were in the middle of battle and saw their comrades dying around them.
Some were brave men who did extraordinary things in battle to fight for our country. One member at a recent seminar in Plano said, “I was only in the Naval Reserve.” I reminded him of the phrase by John Milton, “Those also serve who stand and wait.” Even those who were, or are standing in wait, are serving. As we have seen from recent history, many of those who were standing and waiting were called to active duty and sent to foreign lands to serve and fight if needed. Many of those who were standing and waiting went overseas and never came back.
The problems facing Veterans have gained some attention and in many counties there is now a Veteran’s Court. They recognize that Veterans have special needs. Too many times, when representing a Veteran, I try to point out to the prosecutor that this person served our country and may have suffered some disability or some change that affected the Veteran’s behavior. Too often I have heard the prosecutor say, “Well, everybody has some kind of excuse.” No, I point out everybody did not go through what the Veteran did. This attitude prevails in every court room across the state. Most of these people never served in anything, not even Cub Scouts. Few judges in the Harris County courts were in the military. The exceptions are Judge Mike McSpadden, Judge Jim Wallace, Judge Marc Carter, and Judge Ruben Guerrero.
As lawyers representing Veterans, we need to get the military records and prepare a mitigation motion or motion to dismiss the case. We need to be vigilant in our fight for the Veteran client. If there is a Veteran’s Court, try to get the case transferred there. If there is no Veteran’s Court then try to get other Veterans to help you do your best for the client. Get all the people from the VFW or American Legion to come to court and see what happens. Even bring the members of the Veteran’s motorcycle clubs, the Patriot Guard, and Rolling Thunder. Go to military.com to get a list of Veteran groups. If the Veteran has alcohol or dug problem, bring the AA or NA group too. It has proven to be very effective.
Famous wartime quotes:
A good battle plan that you can act on today can be better than a perfect one tomorrow.
-General George Patton
Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong.
Never trust a private with a loaded weapon, or an officer with a map and compass.
-A Murphy’s Law of Combat
You don’t win a war by dying for your country. You win a war by making the other son-of-a-bitch die for his.
-General George Patton
Richard Grenier said, as George Orwell pointed out, “PEOPLE SLEEP PEACEABLY IN THEIR BEDS AT NIGHT ONLY BECAUSE ROUGH MEN STAND READY TO DO VIOLENCE ON THEIR BEHALF.”
The following members of TCDLA or HCCLA (or their family members or investigators) served in the military and we honor them all:
*Reiffert Riley Evans
Richard “Racehorse” Haynes
Robert Scardino, Sr.
G. Wesley Urquhart
Herman “Hymie” Trichter
Abraham George Washington Cox
Ernest L. Pelton
Wilmer M. Pelton
Joe L. Pelton
Robert C. Pelton
Robert O. Pelton
Joseph Washington Mathis
Robert W. Kelly
Rod Schuh, Jr.
Dr. Phillip Lewis
Dorsie Ray Green
James Matthew Ratekin
Matthew Brent Ratekin
John Hunter Smith
John David Leggington
Charles W. Tessmer
George Miner Jr.
Lorton E. Trent
Arthur Leslie Kagan
James Story Sr.
James Story II
John Patrick Callahan
David Patrick Callahan
John Hunter Smith
George E. Renneburg
John M. Economidy
Byron G, Economidy
John “Bud” Ritenour
Jeusu JD Garza
Benjamin Thomas Hudson Jr.
Dr. William Flynn
Herman “Hank” Lankford
Robert Harold Jackson
Arlan J Broussard
Ralph L. Gonzalez
Charles W. Lanehart
Theodore A. (Tip) Hargrove, III
Travis E. Kitchens
Zachary A. Garcia
Thomas Kelton Kennedy
David G. Ritchie, Jr.
Anne K. Ritchie
*Killed in Action