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DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


July 4, 2002

Independence and Bombs Bursting In Air

Norman M. Covert

Each year the Fourth of July conjures up memories, but this year, in addition to a tribute to the Nation, it seems a personal imperative to tell you the story of a neighbor of yours, a man whose love of country defies the wounds he suffered on its behalf. But I must first take you back 226 years to Philadelphia and the Continental Congress then convening.

The July 1776 version of The Tentacle consisted of printing or hand writing copies of ideas and opinions and physically carrying them from town to town, colony to colony, where they were read aloud. Thus were Thomas Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence revealed to a nation aborning.

Mr. Jefferson wrote in the opening two paragraphs of the enduring document:

"When in the course of Human Events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

When Virginian Mr. Jefferson, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin wrestled over the final draft, they knew men, young and old, had been dying in battlefields over the independence dream. The year-old war was not going well and several colonies were reluctant to join the fight.

Nevertheless, the message to King George III concluded, "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

There are many parallels today as we fight our War on Terrorism; we have those who are reluctant to join the fight. Thankfully other Americans are willing. Soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan, in the Philippines, and at risk in several other areas of the world. All in the name of freedom and the independence to be self-governing, free of oppression and fear.

The United States has kept it pledge and its sacred honor on these battlefields. More than 14 million Americans have served from the War Between the States to the present time. Such numbers are not available for the Revolution, War of 1812, or the Mexican War. However, records show more than 1.5 million men and women have been wounded and almost one million more have died in the service of our country.

Mr. Jefferson and his compatriots would have understood the zeal of such men as Forrest E. Knipple, of Rocky Ridge, who as an 18-year-old Emmitsburg High School graduate volunteered in the U.S. Marine Corps. The nation was helping the Republic of Vietnam in Southeast Asia protect its freedom and he felt the need to be there.

Mr. Knipple completed Boot Camp at Camp Lejeune, S.C., and soon found himself deep in the jungle in the vicinity of the legendary Khe San base camp, northwest of Da Nang. He was assigned to a Marine Reconnaissance Platoon where he became a grizzled veteran of the Vietnam bush.

Following an uneventful long-range recon, he and his exhausted comrades slogged into a small base camp, anxious to shed the weight of packs laden with ammunition and take the edge off. Typically the sun shone hotly in the late afternoon, enhanced by the heavy humidity and the constant bother of flies and mosquitoes.

Mr. Knipple shed his shirt, washed up a little in his makeshift hooch, grabbed a C-ration dinner and then a smoke on the surrounding sand bags. The instant he stepped out of the hooch a Viet Cong attack began with mortars, grenades, and automatic weapons fire. Death was within inches of every Marine.

It was a survival moment and Mr. Knipple's Marine training told him to grab his weapon and help repel the invaders, but he never had a chance.

A Viet Cong sapper tossed a satchel charge across the barbed wire at the same time heavy AK-47 rounds began zipping around him. A fellow Marine saw the satchel charge flying through the air and reached for it as it targeted Mr. Knipple and other Marines. The satchel charge exploded killing that Marine, with part of the explosion critically wounding Mr. Knipple, who also suffered wounds from the small arms fire. . The unit fought off the attack and a medical evacuation helicopter lifted out Mr. Knipple and other wounded Marines. He was further transported to the USS Mercy Hospital Ship in the South China Sea.

That's where our Mr. Knipple awoke several days later. He had undergone the first of many hours of surgery and was covered in a body cast. That cast was to be his home for the next two years. The last year he was at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, undergoing rigorous therapy and further treatment of the devastating wounds.

Mr., Knipple has had numerous operations in recent year, and has so much steel in his spine for support that he sets off metal detectors when he walks near them. He has two small plates in his back to keep the remnants of an AK-47 round from penetrating deeper into his spine. Until recently, he has had trouble walking and endures more pain than any of us could ever imagine. Medicine eases some of his pain.

Mr. Knipple seldom complains and hasn't let it get him down, even though he rarely sleeps because of the pain and discomfort. If he does sleep, it takes him more than an hour to get his legs working again. If you need something done, though, just ask him. They know that in Rocky Ridge.

He has been one of the most active veterans in Frederick, dedicated to remembering his fallen comrades. He is Frederick County Commander of The American Legion Department of Maryland, and a multiple commander of the Emmitsburg American Legion Post. He was one of the major players when we developed the Frederick County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1995, the refurbishing of the World War I Memorial in 1996 and a beginning-to-end force in refurbishing Memorial Grounds Park in 1997-98.

Mr. Jefferson certainly had a sense that men of Forrest Knipple's caliber would step forward another day and sacrifice their lives and fortunes for their sacred honor and love of country.

I gratefully salute U. S. Marine Forrest E. Knipple for his uncommon service on this Independence Day. May his spirit inspire Frederick and America today and tomorrow.



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