In memory of my uncle, Charles Counts, 1947-1983.
As Veteran’s Day nears, I think of my Uncle Chuck. Living on Little Shawnee Creek outside of Eminence, Missouri, he never lost his love of fishing. Adored by his three older sisters, my mom among them, he was their baby, and they carried him on their hips until his feet dragged the ground.
In 1964, Uncle Chuck volunteered to join the U.S. Army. Because he was 17, my grandmother had to give permission. Excited to serve his country, he went to Ft. Carson, Colorado and trained to be a helicopter mechanic. In Vietnam, he was the crew chief of a helicopter gunship.
Although I was just four when he shipped out to Vietnam, I somehow understood the danger he was in. My mom tells me that I recommended that we say our daily prayers for him in front of the largest window of our home. “I want to make sure that Jesus sees and hears our prayers.” I said.
On June 5, 1966, during a routine search and destroy mission, my uncle’s crew located a VietCong battalion. In the action that followed, the helicopter gunship was hit and went down right in the middle of the enemy position. The crew, now on the ground came under direct fire. All the crewmen were wounded. My uncle was hit in the side, leg, and hand.
The rest of the company was receiving fire, and had no knowledge of the fate of the downed ship. Directly responsible for saving the lives of two crew members, my uncle also crawled back to the gunship where others had taken cover. He slowly, painfully ignited a smoke grenade. When the smoke was spotted, the company dove their aircraft to keep the enemy off the downed fliers. Soon, Special Forces from Vinh Long flew in to rescue the wounded men.
Uncle Chuck went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to recuperate. It wasn’t easy. His lips were so chapped the first time my mom and I visited him that it was too painful for him to eat the cheese burger that she bought him. I will never forget when he finally came home and I saw my Uncle Chuck’s body. Covered in shrapnel wounds, his scars numbered over 200.
What makes a winner? What makes a loser?
Does my uncle’s two Purple Heart Medals, his Silver Star Medal, his Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, his Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service, and his four awards of the Air Medal (each one for 25 missions flown in support of ground troops) make him a winner? Would he have been a loser, if, instead of being rescued that day, he had been captured and tortured by the Vietnamese for five years like Senator John McCain?
While many of his physical wounds healed, Uncle Chuck never recovered from the moral wounds of war. Memories of the war and killing hundreds with a machine gun from the side door of his helicopter haunted him. At age 35, my beloved Uncle Chuck took his own life.
Our president considers men like my Uncle Chuck and Senator McCain who were shot down in service to our nation suckers and losers. My Uncle Chuck was not a loser. Senator McCain was not a loser. Men and women who die in battle, aren’t suckers or losers. And neither are the ones who die from the war long after the treaties are signed.
A winner is not always the person who prevails in a fight, but someone who sacrifices for others. A winner is a person who answers the call of duty and country, no matter what the cost. A winner thinks of others, and risks his life for the greater good. A winner does not put people he has power over in harm’s way unnecessarily. A winner does not shirk his duty.
Our president does not understand honor or valor, and never will. Denigrating men and women in service to our country is beyond disgusting. It is an obscenity that shows the president is unfit for one of his most important duties, commander-in-chief. He will never understand what it takes to be a winner. It is time to send the president, the real loser, packing.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Joseph Morgan, Jr.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!