Today I had the privilege of carrying a banner for PFC Rocky Snyder who was killed in action on March 30, 1967 in South Vietnam. I carried the banner in a Veteran’s Day celebration here in St. Johns, and have been grateful to one of my parishioners for inviting me to do so.
Last year was the first time I participated in carrying a banner for a fallen soldier from St. Johns. The parishioner I mentioned, Al, asked me if I would like to come down and take part in the parade. Al lost his son, Andrew, in Iraq 10 years ago this coming Christmas. He is a Gold Star father. Upon arriving to the meeting point prior to the parade last year, I was handed a banner for Rocky Snyder. There was no particular reason I got his, other than each of us carried a banner and his was given to me.
I immediately noticed that Rocky died in South Vietnam and that struck me. My father fought in Vietnam. Dad came home. Rocky didn’t. Dad has told me that sort of thing is difficult for those who survive. And so, I carry Rocky’s banner, aware that he did not get a future. He did not get to be a father. He didn’t get to be a Grandfather. It brings to mind Clint Eastwood’s line in “The Unforgiven,”
“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
As I carry Rocky’s banner, I am thankful for my own father, who did get to come home. He, like many in his generation, fought and endured the horrors of war, and then came home to try to live as productive citizens in our country. Many carry emotional scars and baggage that I know I’ll never understand. Dad was just a kid, really, in the jungles of Vietnam, with his life in danger. How do you go from that to coming home and working a job to provide for your wife and kids? How do you shift from the savagery of war, to being a father to young children a few years later? It’s a head trip. I think perhaps the greatest thing my father has done is to endure war as a soldier, and then to return home and help raise my sister, brother, and I. So as I carry Rocky’s banner, I am proud of my dad.
It became important to me to learn a bit about Rocky, though. Here was this young man, who was more than a name on a banner. Last year, I noticed someone point to the banner as I walked past. I caught up with them after the parade. I learned a little about Rocky. He could get in a bit of trouble at school. But he also helped care for his mother who was very ill when he was in high school. Rocky was a Marine. He was a machine gunner, and apparently running the gun he did, made him a prime target for enemy fire. I heard that his particular job had a high mortality rate. Rocky reported to that dangerous position on March 30, and on that day he gave his life for his country.
When you carry a banner for a fallen soldier in a parade, there comes a point when you round a corner and walk down a street lined with people, and they begin clapping. It is honestly a tremendously humbling experience. I become acutely aware of my unworthiness to be in the midst of this, but also moved by the respect and honor people are showing towards Rocky and the many others who gave their lives. I was surprised by how emotionally moved I was the first time I carried the banner, and I have not failed to be moved each subsequent time I have been in the parade. Furthermore, I am glad to be part of a community that sets aside space to remember Rocky. This coming spring, it will be 50 years since he died. And people in his hometown will see his name, remember his sacrifice, stand up and say thank you when his banner is carried in the Memorial Day parade.
This year as I was waiting for the parade to begin marching, a gentleman ahead of me came up and asked me if I knew Rocky. I told him I didn’t, but that I had started carrying his banner about a year ago. The man told me he went to grade school with Rocky. “And he was a pistol,” he told me. Then he told me, “Thank you.” Which was nice, but really I find that I am the one filled with gratitude. I am thankful for our community. I am thankful for Rocky’s sacrifice. And I am thankful for my father, who served with honor.
I hope you had a blessed Veteran’s Day.