To­day, don’t for­get vet­er­ans

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -


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

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