Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Monday is Memorial Day, a day that for a lot of people simply means a long weekend and a barbeque. And you know, that's fitting, in a way. That, in a nutshell, is what the people we remember on this day died fighting to protect. They died to protect our freedom. Often in combat. Sometimes after being shot down helplessly by a brutal, merciless enemy, like Flight 60528. Too many times did they die because of training mishaps or terrorist attacks in peacetime, as EagleSpeak points out. Occasionally, as Greyhawk shows us, they weren't even in the military. But today I'd like to highlight the story of one airman who made the ultimate sacrifice. Go here for some background on the story.

Col. Jack Lovell's RB-45C had been shot down over North Korea, and he had been captured. Like so many other airmen shot down and captured during the Cold War, he was not coming home. For the remainder of the story, I'm going to quote directly from the book, By Any Means Necessary.

"Lovell's chief interrogator was the commander of the North Korean air force. What set the general off, suddenly ending any possibility that Fironov (the Soviet interrogator) was going to leave the room with at least some scraps of decent information, was the fact that the defiant Lovell would not stand and show appropriate respect for his chief interrogator. The American colonel, the general barked shrilly, was a captured spy, an intruder on North Korean territory, and an officer of inferior rank. Lovell asked Fironov, who spoke excellent English, to ask the general to spare his life because he had a daughter, and also because executing him would violate the Geneva Convention. Had it not been so senselessly brutal, the scene could have come out of Gilbert and Sullivan.

But it was no operetta and Lovell was not to be spared. The general was far more concerned with losing face than with finding information. As Fironov looked on in disbelief, the stammering North Korean worked himself into an uncontrolled rage. Finally, shaking with fury, he ordered that a sign be made saying "War Criminal" and had it hung around Lovell's neck. The execution order was Lovell's forced march into town.

Jack Lovell stood in the center of a desolate village in a remote part of the world in the dead of winter. There, the former Olympic boxer who had kissed his daughter good-bye on Thanksgiving Day, less than two weeks before, as he headed for the Far East, was reviled by a crazed mob of villagers. They shouted at him and cursed him in a language that he did not understand. Then they beat to death the only American they had ever seen or could get their hands on, with fists and sticks, and left his broken, bloody body where it fell."

He died alone and undoubtedly afraid, beaten to death by an enraged mob in a strange country far from his home. Remember Col. Lovell this Memorial Day. Remember all those, who like him, died for our freedom.