Baby Boomers and their parents may recognize the title of this piece. It was a classic war film from 1958 starring two of the country’s hottest male stars. The title comes from submarine tactics during World War II. To avoid detection, submarines would dive as deep as possible and operate as quietly as they could. Unfortunately, submarines are not the only things that can run silent and deep.
At this point, you may be wondering why there is a picture of a banged up B-24 Liberator accompanying this piece instead of a submarine. If you are, just remember patience is a virtue. Hang with me for minute.
The picture was taken somewhere in North Africa on October 18, 1942. The Liberator was, as the story has been told to me, returning from a mission, and didn’t have quite enough fuel to make it back to the air field. Accordingly, it ended up in the condition you see in the picture. The good news is most of the crew walked away from the crash with minimal injuries.
The one airman who did not walk away from the crash site was Ralph Marshall Jackson. Jackson survived, but he sustained injuries that would haunt him for the rest of his life. They were serious, but not serious enough to send him home in 1942. He continued to serve his country in North Africa and the European Theater until Germany surrendered.
The photo below is from another war and time. It is late 1968 or early 1969, and the location was Cu Chi, Vietnam. The soldiers pictured here are the 515 Engineer Platoon, 554 Engineering Battalion. One of those young men in this picture is David C. M. Jackson, the son of Ralph Jackson. David is one of the 58,286 Vietnam veterans listed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He is memorialized on Panel 31W – Line 68 of the Wall.
Sometime after this picture was taken, in the early hours of February 26, 1969, David was killed when Viet Cong attacked the base. David was not alone. Thirteen other soldiers died in that attack and at least thirty were injured.
This piece is being written to remember this writer’s father, younger brother and the others who fought for this country since it was founded. Some of those who served came home as David did in a casket. Others came home in wheelchairs, on crutches and in constant pain. Still others came home with injuries and scars no one could see.
Ralph’s internal injuries were beyond the capabilities of doctors in North Africa and Europe. As he would find out later, they were also beyond the scope of medicine in general in the 1940s. The army doctors got him back into the war, but no one could make him normal. The best they could do was give him drugs to hide the pain. He returned home in 1945 addicted to pain killers and facing a life of pain few could even imagine, much less live with.
David’s story ended that night in Vietnam. He was no longer in pain, physically or emotionally. The same cannot be said for some of those pictured with him. One told this writer everything changed that night in Vietnam. He had been prepared to extend his tour, and make a career out of the Army. Instead, he rotated home and left the service. He says he is fine, and he has a great family and a good business in the southeastern part of the U. S. Yet, as with many with whom this writer has worked over the years, he is clearly still haunted by his experience in Vietnam.
He and other members of the platoon have stayed in touch with each other, traded pictures and tried to find other members to see how they are doing. It is clear he and his buddies left a part of themselves in Vietnam, along with the blood of their comrades. He is however, better off than many other veterans of Vietnam and other wars.
Ralph Jackson was another veteran who managed to have a decent life in spite of baggage and pain. He managed to beat the addiction to pain killers, but he never got over North Africa. Even if he did not dwell on it, his mangled internal organs were a constant reminder. Some had grown together during his recovery after the crash, and were not working properly. Doctors repeatedly told him there was nothing they could do because of the condition of his organs.
If he ate or drank the wrong thing, he would be doubled over in pain for hours. Cold sweats in the middle of the night were common, and nightmares haunted his sleep for decades. Only his family knew the depths of his suffering. The physical and psychological scars of the war finally cost him his family and his work. Eventually he ended up a lonely man, old before his time.
Today, Veteran’s Day 2015 and beyond, we need to remember the millions of men and women who have served this country. Whether they died in combat, came home relatively unscathed or have suffered with the aftermath of their service for years, they deserve our respect. They deserve to be remembered.
Finally, they deserve our thanks, and they need our prayers. Many look just great on the surface. The truth is many are like the submariners. They want to avoid notice, and they keep their problems silent and deep.