Veteran's Day – It began as a fight for freedom in lands far away

It began as a fight for freedom in lands far away

The basic load for an American solider in Vietnam. Phil Ridge/Submitted

The basic load for an American solider in Vietnam. Phil Ridge/Submitted

Tom Williams/Eagle Correspondent
Veteran Jean Lefebvre of Isles of Capri.

Tom Williams/Eagle Correspondent Veteran Jean Lefebvre of Isles of Capri.

Phil Ridge/Submitted
Landing Zone in Veitnam was any place to land where Americans were in trouble.

Phil Ridge/Submitted Landing Zone in Veitnam was any place to land where Americans were in trouble.

When the Great War ended Western Europe was wrecked. It was the end of the horrible beginning of modern warfare and the first time poisonous gas was used against an enemy.

It was known as the "War to End all Wars," because no one at the time could ever imagine that such a mechanized, complex, and horrific destruction of humanity would ever be allowed to happen again.

To signify and honor this hopeful and auspicious occasion in American history, Armistice Day was officially brought forward as a day of homage and commemoration and formalized by the words of President Woodrow Wilson on Nov. 11, 1919.

"To us in America," President Wilson declared, "The reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory."

In May of 1938, Armistice Day was officially sanctioned as a legal holiday to honor the heroic and disabled veterans of World War I, but after the end of the World War II, and America demanding more from her sons and daughters than at any other time in history, and after the Korean War was another episode in conflict that for many was worse than anything ever faced, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veteran's Day proclamation in 1954 to honor all veterans.

The new day of commemoration would be to honor all the American veterans that served in all of the wars. Nov. 11, was chosen because of the earlier tribute to Armistice Day and the significance of the ending of the first World War. Regardless of the day of the week, Veteran's Day will always be honored on the 11th day of the 11th month.

Veteran's Day today is a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

The first American to give his life in the Vietnam War was James Davis. He was killed in 1961 while serving with 509th Radio Research Station. The radio station made famous by Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam!" was named after James Davis.

Over 9 million American military personnel served during the Vietnam War. During the tumultuous years between 1961 and 1975, in a far away land called the Republic of South Vietnam, 58,148 American soldiers gave their lives to defend the freedom of a region. Many historians agree that if America had not taken a stand in Vietnam; the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore might have become communist nations. The Soviets were banished from Indonesia in 1966 because of the dedication and commitment of the American soldiers in Vietnam. *

On average, an American infantryman in the South Pacific fighting the Japanese during World War II saw about 40-days of combat in four-years. Because of a new age in warfare and the mobility of the helicopter, the average American in Vietnam was airlifted and delivered into action almost on a daily basis. The Veterans of Vietnam experienced on average, 240-days of combat within only one year. *

Jean Lefebvre's experience

Today, Jean Lefebvre of Isles of Capri looks to Veteran's Day as a special event, but for the 22-year-old squad leader Lefebvre, who was serving in the First 9th Air Calvary on Feb. 15 in 1969, there is another day of homage that must always be remembered.

The day started out like normal – or as normal as a day of war could be in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam – but when the three helicopters took off from the base camp and began what was believed to be a routine mission to locate a cache of enemy weapons, no one aboard the three Air Calvary transports could ever imagine what was waiting in the jungle ahead.

"Every year on the 15th of February," Jean Lefebvre recalls, "I stop and think about what happened and the guys that were lost, those that survived, and the volunteers that came back to get us."

When the landing zone was sighted between two tree lines of jungle and a tall field of elephant grass the three Air Calvary helicopters touched down but the rotors on the helicopters were still spinning and ready for anything. After the helicopter pilot with the "God is my Co-pilot" painted on the back of his helmet raised his arm and gave a thumbs up – signaling a good landing zone – the American soldiers with the average age of 23-years-old picked up their weapons, stepped down from the open doors of the idling gunships, and fanned out away from the helicopters in a circular and defensive position to get ready for the mad moment.

The mad moment was necessary because in Vietnam ammunition got wet and wet bullets were never good. When the mad moment started everyone began shooting off their old and perhaps faulty ammunition into the jungle for about a solid minute. There was no evidence of any enemy until the mad moment was over and the North Vietnamese infantry knew it was time for the Americans to reload.

When the Russian-made AK-47's began to fire it was always with such a distinctive sound that no American veteran will ever forget the sound of an enemy attack in Vietnam.

After the American casualties began – among hastily reloaded weapons and returning fire – a Russian shoulder launched rocket streaked out of the jungle and exploded into the tail rotor of one of the gunships as the three helicopters were trying to take off.

This was when everything slowed down for 20-year-old squad leader Jean Lefebvre.

"The most thrilling and the most exciting time in my life was in Vietnam." The former squad leader explained. "It was also the most heartbreaking and the saddest."

When the tail rotor exploded on the squad leader's helicopter, the gunship spun around and hit the third helicopter trying to take off and the two aircraft came down together. During the crashes and the following explosions, the situation was as bad as it could be for the young Americans that were killed in action and the six survivors on the ground, but as Lefebvre and his companions made it to the shelter of an old bomb crater and began to return fire, they wondered how long anyone could last as the AK-47's continued to bark and the firefight raged around them.

Meanwhile, on the first helicopter that made it out of the ambush the pilot found a nearby landing zone and asked if anyone would volunteer to go back and help rescue the Air-Calvary soldiers that were down.

"I found out later, "Jean explained, "That when the helicopter that made it out landed a mile away and asked for volunteers to go back and get us; everyone every single American volunteered t go back."

After more Air Calvary gunships were called in for air strikes and after six hours of fighting for their lives on the ground, Jean and his remaining five brothers in arms were once again air born and skimming over the jungle tree tops at 130 miles-an-hour . . . and once again . . . on their way to defend the freedom of the people of South Vietnam.

Today Jean Lefebvre is the horticultural and grounds manager of Marriott's Marco Island Beach Resort. For his service, wounds, and outstanding bravery in Vietnam he was awarded two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.

"This nation shall remain the land of the free, only as long as it is the home of the brave." – Elmer Davis

* research resource:'s events

Veterans Day Ceremony: Marco Island Veterans of Foreign Wars, 11 a.m. until noon, Sunday, Nov. 11 at Veterans Community Park, 901 Park Avenue, Marco Island.

San Marco Catholic Church Remembrance Mass: On Saturday, Nov. 10, a day prior the official celebration of Veterans Day, Very Rev. Tim Navin, pastor of San Marco Catholic Church, 851 San Marco Rd., Marco Island, will offer a Mass of Remembrance at 8 a.m. to honor those who have served and continue to serve our nation and all first responders who protect and serve. The Knights of Columbus, who are sponsoring the Mass, are requesting all veterans and active duty members of our armed forces and their spouses, as well as widows of loved ones who have served, all fire/rescue personnel, all police personnel regardless of their faith to join in paying tribute and offering prayers to our beloved military personnel, veterans and all first responders. Special recognition will be given to our WW II warriors. Nov. 10 is also the 237th birthday of the Marine Corps. Complimentary refreshments will follow at the Parish Center on the San Marco Campus.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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