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May 24, 2006

Lest We Forget!

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Monday is Memorial Day. It was almost 140 years ago that the tradition of setting aside a day to honor our country's fallen heroes began with Gen. John A. Logan's May 5th, 1868 General Order No. 11 to adorn the graves of Union soldiers with flowers.

Since the beginning of our great country, over 42 million men and women have served in uniform to protect our way of life. Over 650,000 have made the ultimate sacrifice in combat. Over 19 million citizens are living war veterans.

Our great nation has earned many privileges because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and fought for our freedoms and our rights.

U. S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: "Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men and women have died to win them."

Setting aside a day to commemorate fallen heroes is noble and important; but, for many of us, our country's veterans are not cold statistics relegated to memorization and obligatory ceremonies at scheduled times of the year.

The Vietnam War has been over for 30 years. The memories of lost friends and loved ones who served are indelibly etched in our minds as permanently as the 58,249 names that are etched in the black granite memorial that was dedicated in 1982.

No doubt, many Tentacle readers actually knew one of the "real" persons behind the statistics and historical facts. For us, everyday is "Memorial Day"

As a young teenager, I remember spending time with Freddy Magsamen. In the mid 1960s, Freddy would work on his Ford at his sister's house - in a garage that abutted our back yard.

I didn't know him well. He was five years older. However, he played bass guitar, excelled in sports, worked on cars and girls liked him. That was good enough for me to want to try to hang out with him.

He was number 11 on the Westminster High Owls' football team where he was a co-captain and excelled as a defensive safety. He participated in many of the school's music programs and was very friendly and popular.

After high school, he worked for Random House until he enlisted in the Army in July 1967. After basic training at Fort Bragg (NC), jump school training at Fort Benning and military police school at Fort Gordon, both in Georgia, he joined the Green Berets.

He began his tour in Vietnam on December 15, 1968, and was stationed in Da Nang, in Quang Nam Province, in the I-Corps Military region - the third province down from the Demilitarized Zone, sandwiched in hell between the South China Sea and Laos. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was to the west, Khe Sanh and Hue was to the north and Pleiku to the south.

U. S. Army Special Forces Sergeant Fred Magsamen earned two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

On May 9, 1969, at 21 years of age, the helicopter in which Sgt. Magsamen was riding crashed. He survived the crash, but when he was being airlifted, the extraction line from the rescue helicopter snapped.

Sergeant Magsamen was the only member of the Westminster High School class of 1966 to die in Vietnam. He is buried at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Brian Bowersox, Sergeant Magsamen's nephew, was only 8 years old when Freddy was killed, but remembers the details well, as do many friends, loved ones and classmates.

Brian remembers: "Uncle Fred because he volunteered to serve his country. I remember attending Westminster High School football games and watching him play. Uncle Fred lived on a farm on Gorsuch Road and I remember playing with him in the fields, the barn, and on a rope swing."

Freddy's sister, Mrs. Janet Magsamen Bowersox, remembers her younger brother Freddy well, "He was a fine upstanding young man who loved life. He wanted to serve his country and he was proud to serve his country, as are many young men today, for whom we are equally proud."

Over 2.7 million Americans served in Vietnam. The average age was 19. Of that number, 300,000 were wounded in action, and 75,000 were disabled.

There were 1,046 Marylanders who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. Of the 58,249 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, Freddy, number 11 on the football team, a great uncle, son, brother and friend to many, who liked to work on cars and play bass guitar is listed on Panel 25W Line 032.

They are not just names on a cold black piece of granite. They were all young men and women who loved and were loved, who laughed and cried, and had their dreams and bright futures cut short so we could have ours.

U. S. President John F. Kennedy once said, "Only in winter can you tell which trees are truly green. Only when the winds of adversity blow can you tell whether an individual or a country has steadfastness."

As our country endures the cold winds of adversity and difficulty upon the occasion of this year's Memorial Day ceremonies, our own dedication to America's spiritual and national values must be steadfast.

As strangers recite numbers, historical facts and statistics, I say a prayer for our country and all the "Freddys" who have protected us in the past.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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