Veterans embody the best in all of us

On Veterans Day, a bell rings out in a small church in Gilroy.
Candles are lit in the sanctuary of St. Mary’s. A rifle salute is
given and

Taps

is played at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6309 on Sixth
Street.
On Veterans Day, a bell rings out in a small church in Gilroy. Candles are lit in the sanctuary of St. Mary’s. A rifle salute is given and “Taps” is played at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6309 on Sixth Street. Two-hundred people come out to publicly thank the local men and women who have served America in all wars and to give special remembrance to those who never came home.

William Alexander Percy wrote a poem that goes like this, “I have seen Mary at the cross, And Mary at the tomb, And Mary weeping as she spread her hair, In a leper’s room. But it was not in Bethany, Or groping up Calvary hill, I learned how women break their hearts to ease another’s ill. Compassionate and wise in pain, Most faithful in defeat, The holy Marys I have watched and loved live on our street.” As City Councilmember Bob Dillon said Monday of the veterans who were on hand, “Did you see Superman or Superwoman? No, you saw your friends and neighbors. These people are the bricks of our democracy.”

May we never forget the men and women who gave everything in serving their country and acting on their ideals – young men such as Margaret and Everett Wentworth’s son, John. After graduating from Gilroy High, he signed up to join the Army on June 26, 1961, his father’s birthday. Little did he or the Wentworth family know what was to come: Vietnam and three tours of duty. Johnny had a big smile and a lot of nerve. He thought of the other soldiers as family, and he was a little older than a lot of the fresh young troopers being sent. All the kids who fought with him called him “Pops,” and he treated them like his own. There were new faces each time he returned to Vietnam, and he felt protective toward them. When he finished a tour, he would always say he had to get back “where the kids were.”

One day Johnny learned that his buddies were pinned down by machine gunfire, trapped behind enemy lines. Johnny pulled rank and managed to get a helicoptor to bring him to the field. He led the men to safety behind some rocks. But that wasn’t all. He went back. Gunfire found its mark as he went back to put out the enemy machine gun. John Wentworth died in that lonely field on April 12, 1971. He was 28 years old. In an old newspaper clipping, his many medals can be seen, including the silver star, which he received for saving his friends.

Vietnam vet Dennis Stauffer was a senior radar operator for field artillery in combat zones who survived but lost his younger brother in the war. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., he found that “It didn’t matter whether you were dressed in the remains of combat gear, leather jackets or three-piece suits, whether your hair was conservatively trimmed or shoulder length and braided. Comrades still, we shook hands and embraced, saying to one another with sincerity and emotion, ‘Welcome home brother.’ ” After visiting the memorial, he talked about his experience for the first time. “I had friends … over there, young men I knew as laughing, youthful buddies who died because they didn’t shirk their duty, regardless of the morality of the war.”

In Philip Caputo’s book, “A Rumor of War,” he says of those who didn’t make it home, “So much was lost with you, so much talent and intelligence and decency … you embodied the best that was in us. You were a part of us, and a part of us died with you, the small part that was still young, that had not yet grown cynical, grown bitter and old with death … whatever the rights or wrongs of the war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do … you were faithful. … As I write this … after your death … there are a few of us who do remember because of the small things that made us love you – your gestures, the words you spoke, and the way you looked. We loved you for what you were and what you stood for.”

It has been 31 years since that April day when John Wentworth lost his life saving his friends. On a recent Sunday morning, the names of Gilroyans who are gone but not forgotten rang out in a small church in Gilroy as Charles Krahenbuhl read their names to everyone at the 11 a.m. United Methodist service. As he read the name of John Wentworth, he choked up and tears welled in his eyes as if John had just been lost yesterday. Tears fill my own eyes now as I write this and each time I think of the courage and sacrifice of such brave and beautiful souls. May those who gave their all never be forgotten. May we remember to honor those veterans who are still here with us, whether it’s Veterans Day or not.

Kat Teraji’s column is published every Thursday in The Dispatch. You can reach her at [email protected]

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