Those We Remember

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Maybe you’ve already got plans for Memorial Day — three-day weekend and all. And maybe you haven’t lost anyone in war. Once upon a time, they called up everyone. Now, a small group and their families shoulders the burden of our defense. So maybe you don’t have anyone to pray for when the hush falls.

So we thought we’d remember a couple of Arizona boys you might think of on Monday — winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Private Billy Lane Lauffer threw himself behind cover when the Vietnamese machine gunners dropped the lead man in his patrol in Binh Dinh province on Sept 21, 1966. In moments, the entire platoon was pinned down — including helpless, wounded soldiers on stretchers. Lauffer, a Phoenix boy, opened fire on the two hidden bunkers with his M16, hoping to provide cover. But every time the soldiers moved toward the stretchers, the gunners shifted fire. So Private Lauffer charged the bunkers, sacrificing his life to buy the time to drag the wounded to safety.

He was one of 58,286 American soldiers who died in Vietnam, whose memories we will honor on Monday.

Platoon Sergeant Manuel Verdugo Mendoza, from Miami, Ariz., was already wounded in the arm when he reached a ridge on Mt. Battaglia, Italy on Oct. 4, 1944. He there confronted 200 Germans advancing up the slope with flame-throwers. He emptied five clips — killing 10 enemy soldiers. He switched his carbine, then his pistol. Out of ammunition, he ran to an abandoned machine gun, balanced on his hip and advanced, firing. When the machine gun jammed, he started throwing grenades — holding off the enemy attack while his platoon organized their defense. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

He was one of 405,000 Americans who died in the Second World War, whose memories we honor Monday.

Pilot Frank Luke Jr., of Phoenix, had already shot down a host of German observation balloons over the trenches of Muraux France in September of 1918. On his last mission, he shot down three more, despite the pursuit of eight German fighter planes. Badly wounded and his plane crippled, he strafed the enemy trenches and crash landed. Surrounded by German troops who demanded his surrender, he drew his pistol and fought until they killed him. Luke Air Force Base is named for him.

He is one of 116,000 Americans who died in World War I, whose memories we honor on Monday.

So maybe you can set aside some time to attend the Memorial Day Tribute at Green Valley Park at 10 a.m. on Monday, now that you know someone whose memory we shall ever honor.

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