If you were to vacation in Los Angeles this summer and drive west along Wilshire Boulevard, say, from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica, you would pass through some of the most valuable real estate on the planet. The drive would take you through the wealthy neighborhoods of Westwood and Brentwood, and the even wealthier enclaves of Holmby Hills and Bel Air would be just a few blocks off your route. At no point along your way would you be within a mile or more of even a single home worth less than a million dollars.
You would also pass, very likely without noticing it, the Los Angeles National Cemetery, final resting place for 84,684 veterans of the United States armed forces. Mrs. Dunphy and I were among the 2,000 or so people who visited the cemetery on Monday to observe Memorial Day, and if I’m any judge of social status I’d guess that only a few of them hailed from any of those elite nearby zip codes. What a shame it is that the people who most enjoy the blessings of American liberty seem to be the least grateful to those who through our history have fought to secure those very blessings.
Memorial Day has become, to many, nothing more than a holiday that signals the start of summer, and as the weather in Los Angeles has been spectacular lately, surely many of the drivers passing the cemetery on Monday were bound for backyard barbecues or the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu. How many of them had even the faintest awareness of the heroes buried just beyond the cemetery fence? What a pity.
Just over that fence from Wilshire Boulevard, beneath the spreading boughs of a shady tree, is the grave of Chris Carr, one of the 14 Medal of Honor recipients interred at the cemetery. A special marker bears a facsimile of his Medal of Honor citation:
Chris Carr, (alias Christos Karaberis), Sergeant, Company L, 337th Infantry, 85th Infantry Division, who distinguished himself near Guignola, Italy on 1-2 October 1944. Leading a squad of Company L, he gallantly cleared the way for his company’s approach along a ridge toward its objective, the Casoni di Remagna. When his platoon was pinned down by heavy fire from enemy mortars, machine guns, machine pistols, and rifles, he climbed in advance of his squad on a maneuver around the left flank to locate and eliminate the enemy gun positions. Undeterred by deadly fire that ricocheted off the barren rocky hillside, he crept to the rear of the first machine gun and charged, firing his sub-machine gun. In this surprise attack he captured eight prisoners and turned them over to his squad before striking out alone for a second machine gun. Discovered in his advance and subjected to direct fire from the hostile weapon, he leaped to his feet and ran forward, weaving and crouching, pouring automatic fire into the emplacement that killed four of its defenders and forced the surrender of a lone survivor. He again moved forward through heavy fire to attack a third machine gun. When close to the emplacement, he closed with a nerve-shattering shout and burst of fire. Paralyzed by his whirlwind attack, all four gunners immediately surrendered. Once more advancing aggressively in the face of a thoroughly alerted enemy, he approached a point of high ground occupied by two machine guns which were firing on his company on the slope below. Charging the first of these weapons, he killed four of the crew and captured three more. The six defenders of the adjacent position, cowed by the savagery of his assault, immediately gave up. By his one-man attack, heroically and voluntarily undertaken in the face of tremendous risks, Sgt. Karaberis captured five enemy machine gun positions, killed eight Germans, took 22 prisoners, cleared the ridge leading to his company’s objective, and drove a deep wedge into the enemy line, making it possible for his battalion to occupy important, commanding ground. His conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, and selflessness are in the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.
Just try to imagine it.
Of course, not all our heroes are found in cemeteries. Listeners to Laura Ingraham’s radio show on Friday heard another in her series of conversations with soldiers and Marines recovering from battle wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She spoke with Army Sergeant Major Brent Jerguson, and though I reproduce some of that conversation here, the words printed on a page or scrolling down a computer screen can scarcely do the man justice, for such is the uncommon courage and patriotism that comes through in his own voice. You should click over to Ingraham’s website where you can listen to the clip yourself. There’s something very wrong if you’re not profoundly moved.
“I was injured twice,” Jerguson tells Ingraham. “I don’t usually tell too many people that, but 18 June of 2004 I was in a gunfight, or a firefight in Samara, north of Samara, and I was shot. A bullet struck my M-16 and continued on, hitting me in the face. It penetrated my lip right below my nose, went in and broke out seven teeth, shredded my tongue, and then lodged in the back of my throat. . . [W]e continued the fight for about thirty minutes or so, and then when we finally had that battle pretty much under control, I got [evacuated] just thinking that I just lost a few teeth and I’d be back in the battle. Five days later I woke up in Landstuhl, [Germany]. . .” Four months later Jerguson was back with his unit in Iraq.
“Was that your choice?” asks Ingraham.
“Strictly voluntary,” he says. “My choice.”
Three weeks before his unit was due to leave Iraq, Jerguson was riding in the last truck in a five-truck patrol that came under enemy fire. His truck was hit by two rocked propelled grenades, one which killed his gunner. The other round penetrated Jerguson’s door and exploded. “This time it was a little bit more severe,” he says. “I had an open compressed skull fracture. My right hand was fractured in a couple places and burned. I lost everything off my right knee, and I lost my left leg above the knee. . . I got evacuated to Landstuhl, then back up here to Walter Reed.”
Ingraham asks him if he is bitter or angry.
“No regrets,” says Jerguson. “I talked to my wife about it, I talked to my kids about it. It wasn’t negotiable. They knew I was going to do it regardless of what they said. But it was just one of those things that, you know, they could either support me or not support me, and they chose to support me. And if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it. And if I could go back right now, I’d go back right now. Life over there is a lot easier than it is here.”
“What one thing,” asks Ingraham, “do you think the American people need to remember and understand about Iraq, the mission there, that they might not be getting?”
“Patience,” says Jerguson. “I love my country, probably more than what a lot of people know and see, but sometimes, I swear, our country has attention-deficit disorder. We were all gung-ho when the war started, and as the war drags on and casualties continue to come in, it seems like the American people have lost interest. Not everybody, but it feels like the general consensus. I’ll make this comparison: When I first got injured, January of 2005, every day or every other day there would either be a celebrity, a superstar sports athlete, a politician, or somebody coming through this hospital visiting the wounded soldiers. Now, you’d be lucky if you see somebody once a week or once every other week.”
Jerguson, a 17-year veteran, plans to remain in the Army and attend the Sergeant Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, this summer. Again, just try to imagine it.
I confess to having the occasional bout of attention-deficit disorder myself. I’m ashamed to admit how long I lived in Los Angeles before visiting the National Cemetery. I’m trying to do better. If you visit Los Angeles this summer, take a few minutes to stop at the cemetery on your way to the beach. Sit in the shade near Chris Carr’s grave and thank him and all the others. And the next time you think you’re having a tough day, listen to that interview with Brent Jerguson, and say “thank you” to him, too.
— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.