Today, don’t forget veterans
During combat, I saw many of my brother Marines wounded or killed. Although I only realize this looking back, I truly believe I felt the pain of every young Marine that I watched the blood leave their bodies.
These images are burned in my mind: The blood, the cries of the wounded, the explosions, the smoke and the smells of war. In one battle, after it was over, my sergeant and I walked among the many who God took and those he spared for another day.
We came to a Marine, I don’t believe he was 22 years old. He lay on his back, his chest covered with blood, but he was still alive. He looked at me. He knew me and I knew him. I had trained with him for five months at Camp Pendleton before going to Korea.
As life was slowly leaving his body, he asked in a quiet voice, “Why is God taking me when I’m so young? What did I do wrong?” As he closed his eyes, I whispered, “Nothing.”
Wars don’t kill old men, they kill young boys who never get the chance to get old. Most of those I saw in Korea were boys who were 18, 19, 20 or 21. I was a Marine, but we were no better than any soldier, sailor, airman or coast guardsman.
In war we all became brothers: Each depending on the other to survive. We would talk together, laugh together and sometimes we would die together.
I am constantly reminded of a very close friend I met in Korea. Jackie Kilmer was a Navy corpsman. Corpsmen were, in combat, our first and sometimes, only hope to come home alive.
I was wounded one time while carrying my flamethrower. During a night-time fight, a Chinese soldier bayonetted my left arm. I was losing a lot of blood. I somehow managed to turn and kill him, firing the sawed-off shotgun I had taped to the handle of the flamethrower. I hit him with both barrels.
I still can see his face and smell the garlic on his breath.
I fell on my back and as the battle raged on, I heard the crying of other Marines. It was dark except for the bursts of shells landing all around. I kept seeing dark figures all around me as I lay there.
Seconds seemed like hours. I believed then I was going to die. Then I heard a familiar voice saying, “Joe, I got to stop this bleeding!”
On this mountain side, our Corpsman Jackie Kilmer found me. God must have told him where I was lying. I could barely find the strength to sit up and take the flamethrower off. Jackie removed it and wrapped a large bandage over my wound.
He helped me into a bunker. He told me he couldn’t give me anything to stop the pain but he would have to stop the blood.
I said, “Do what you have to do.”
In his medical bag he pulled out some kind of thread and a needle. He cleaned the wound and began to sew it closed. He packed the wound with gauze and then bandaged it up. I didn’t feel a thing.
On a mountain covered with blood and death, I could have died that night. But I guess God said, “Joe, it’s not your time.”
I survived eight more months in Korea after that night. Less than a month after Jackie saved me, I learned that he was killed saving the lives of two badly wounded Marines. Jackie was a few days short of his 22nd birthday. He truly earned his way through the gates of heaven wearing the Medal of Honor that he was posthumously awarded.
I believe someday I’ll see him again and get to pay him back for that night.
I can never forget him.
On this Veterans Day, don’t forget veterans. Please attend a Veterans Day service somewhere in the area.
Joseph Barna USMC Korea 1952-53 Freeland