By Luis Cantu
On this Veteran’s Day across the nation, while parades marched down the Main Streets of cities and small towns and parties were thrown honoring today’s enlisted military personnelI, there were other observances happening as well — much somber ones in cemeteries.
Veterans eulogized their fallen comrades on this Veteran’s Day. One such veteran is Luis Cantu of Lawton, Oklahoma. Originally from Alice, Texas, Cantu served 28 years in the Army, served two tours of Vietnam and was discharged with the rank of Command Sergeant Major.
The following speech was delivered at Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Lawton, Oklahoma.
(Editor’s note: The following is an edited version of the original.)
It was May 2, 1968 and he lay in an unzipped body bag covered with his own blood. He had over thirty-five puncture wounds covering his body. His intestines were exposed. He had held them in place with his right hand while being evacuated in the medivac helicopter.
Medal of Honor recipient, and deceased, Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez
(Photo: U.S. Army)
He could not speak because his jaw had been broken, clubbed by a North Vietnamese rifle. He could barely see because his eyes were caked with blood, but he could hear. He was aware of what was going on around him.
When the doctor arrived, he placed his hand on the injured man’s chest to feel for a heartbeat. He pronounced the man dead. As the doctor bent over to zip up the body bag, the patient did the only thing he could think of — he spit in the doctor’s face.
The doctor changed his condition from dead to — “he won’t make it.”
Just a few hours before, the soldier had boarded a helicopter with only a bowie knife and a medic bag to help a 12-man team that was surrounded by a North Vietnamese battalion.
He was immediately hit by an AK-47 slug in his leg. He kept running, helping some of the men when an exploding hand grenade knocked him down and ripped his face with flying metal.
He shouted a few Hail Mary’s, got up and kept moving. Again, he was shot in the same leg. As he continued to help the wounded, a bullet struck his stomach and a grenade shattered his back. Coughing blood and getting hit again several times, being a devoted Catholic, he kept making the sign of the cross.
Thirteen years later, as he was getting ready to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, President Reagan said, “If the story of what he accomplished was made into a movie, no one would believe it really happened.”
Part of his citation read he had seven major gunshot wounds, 28 metal holes made by exploding grenades, both arms had been slashed by a bayonet and his right lung was destroyed — but he had won the battle and lived.
Thirty years later, on November 29, 1998, he died with a quarter-pound of metal still in his body. He was laid to rest in the shade of a live oak tree at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.
A fitting place for someone who gave so much of himself to this great nation so that the rest of us can live in the land of the free.
Yes, this was a boy that was a seventh-grade dropout and an orphan who grew up being called “Dumb Mexican.”
Yes, this was a combat military veteran and a deceased Green Beret, Roy Benavidez — a soldier who is still a military veteran.
I cite this example because several years ago, a person asked me why we held ceremonies in cemeteries on Veteran’s Day. His point was that Veterans are living military persons and not deceased military persons.
My sarcastic response was, “I guess I can no longer call my mother, Sara, “mother” because she is dead.” Yes, deceased military members are also veterans, and of course so are those who are still alive.
Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. On the other hand, Veteran’s Day is to honor both those who have died and who are still living.
I challenge each one of you to pay tribute to our American servicemen and women, both living and deceased. Remember our lives are great because of the sacrifices of these veterans.
What would America be without these men and women?
Some people live a lifetime and wonder if they made any difference in the world — but military veterans never have that problem.