June 1, 2010
The article in Sunday's edition of The Pilot about Abe Siemens' burial in Arlington National Cemetery brought back memories of my family's own experience in saying farewell to my father-in-law, CW4 William G. O'Brien a decade ago, not far from Seimens' resting place. The ceremony remains one of the most vivid and moving of a lifetime. Perhaps not enough to say a full measure of their service, but enough to at least say we tried to do honor to a life of service to the country. Obie, as his friends called him, served 42 years in the military. He lied about his age and joined the Navy in 1942 where he served in heavy combat in both major theaters of war, including the invasion of Italy, D-Day and several major battles in the Pacific. He piloted troop landing vehicles to the beach at the invasion of Normandy. He got out of service for several years after WWII, then joined the Army during the Korean War. He was an infantry soldier in Korea, before becoming one of two Master Deep Sea Divers in that branch of the service. After Korea, he went to flight school and was a Master Helicopter Pilot for the next 30 years, logging over 8,000 hours in the air and serving three tours in Viet Nam. He retired as the Senior Warrant Officer in the Army, and was the next-to-the-last active WWII veteran to retire. A real hero, his stories were often unbelievable, but true. Like the story of being part of the first naval group to reach Japan after the atomic bomb was set off. And flying into radiation clouds while the US was testing atomic weapons at Red Rock in the 1950s, without benefit of any more protection than a flight suit and a baseball cap. He taught me the meaning of real sacrifice to country, and inspires me to this day. I thought about him, and all the others buried nearby, during the weekend. If you've never visited Arlington, you should go and sit, and reflect on the collective service the men and women there, and their families, gave us. And remember, those sacrifices are still being made every day, by people who live all around us. Regardless of your politics, they deserve our respect.