Part VI: Series Conclusion — Semper Fi; Tribute

Part VI: Series Conclusion — Semper Fi; Tribute

Captain Spencer McDonald, USMC

Son of AnnMarie (Lube) McDonald; Westbury High School
First Graduating Class, 1962, Houston, Texas

Captain Andrew Houghton, US Army

Nephew to Mrs. Karon Houghton; Westbury High School
Graduating Class, 1965, Houston, Texas

Patsy, American Slave

Infant-saving Hero of the Eden, Texas, 1838, massacre.


First, Captains McDonald and Houghton. May I tell you briefly what you've done for me, and through me if I am allowed some latitude in speaking privately like this to you, America?

When walking a battlefield in now another and seemingly for others a far away time, I worked as a Private First Class Marine in carrying our wounded and dead to helicopters. The former went to C Med at Chu Lai or to the Hospital ship USS Repose. The latter were then transported to a place called Graves Registration where they were prepared for burial and sent home to their families. We who carried those men from those places discussed their deaths as we moved them. Someone holding a part of a man would say, "He had three children and a wife." Or "His parents are from Tennessee" or from "Texas," "Massachusetts," or "South Carolina." And I would ask in my mind, "Why him with children?" or "a wife?" while I had no such loved ones was still alive. It was all done diligently and with direct focus and care, although we were often hurried by circumstances of the challenge upon us. And we were tough. We did our jobs well without flinching.

When I came home, I had no means of processing the words being said in our society about those men who I had helped to carry. In fact, I'm saddened to say that I gave up hope for this country. I rarely changed that view until a few years ago when I discovered how many of Westbury High School's young men and women from our first classes had stepped up to serve and defend their country. Faith in my culture began to return for me.

But still I thought, where were the Major Goodsells, LCPL Ray Noras and the likes of them going to be produced out of these new Americans? Even though I saw them on TV die in Beirut, Afganistan, and Iraq, it still was not brought home to me the value as a people that we are until I recently heard two stories.

One is of Army Captain Andrew Houghton, Mrs. Karon Houghton's nephew. When first hearing about him, I had to leave my apartment, withdraw to a bench on my quiet pond. And I cried, not sure why except that the feelings were overwhelmingly good, not just sad, albeit they all hurt deeply. I was imbued with pride in the way Captain Houghton demanded of himself all that was good and best inside of him. How he aspired to excel in good cause. And with all that brilliance, he gave us life. But I still wasn't sure what it was about him that moved me so profoundly to see something differently.

Then, the second story was told to me last night. It was about you, Captain McDonald. It described a boy who in growing up and out of and from a seemingly newer society thrived to excel in school, to make the most of himself in heavy academic competition, and then to seek a profession of dedication to  preserving the natural human and inaliable rights of being. And that finest of students graduating from the core of our culture went on to shine as brightly as any of us who want the same from ourselves, to be of him.

Here again was someone who had surpassed everything that our citizens had asked of him, had achieved everything that a competitive society could denote, to delimit, and to emphasize, and who had done it within a world where it was no longer easy to be a person dedicated to caring for one's greater life, greater family, and to encompass a country, if not the entirety of civilization, instead of just caring first and only for one's self.

But you did that. You were the best there was. To note an example we service men and women understand and admire, you were the best at drill, which requires a whole new definition for what "best" even means to civilians. In the end, it reflects the fact that the way you've represented us has laid the bedrock for nothing less than the grandest pride a nation, a state, a city and high school could have and continue to contain within itself forever, that is, as long as you and your brother Captain Houghton were here to show us that our cause, of caring and making sacrifice for the life and freedom of not just ourselves, but at perilous times others we didn't even know, was still intact. Standing above your world, protecting it in vigilance, you were of the same character that I saw on those battlefields. You were and are of those men. There was no difference between their strengths and yours. And we don't just know freedom, but live because of them both.

So now, when I recollect looking down upon the blood on my hands, wrists, arms and clothing, all coming from those men I carried who were badly wounded and so dead at times, I no longer feel refutation of hope for what I'd found back here when I came home. Instead I have now found you. Your value has sustained theirs. And in the process of realizing your beauty, heart and soul, you restorath mine.

I salute you, Captains Spencer McDonald and Andrew Houghton, and all American veterans — both those still with us in this life, and not — and every American who, like Patsy the heroic negro slave of the 1838 Eden, Texas, Massacre, showed the grandest of courage. With stength and valor, she would, in the face of certain death, risk her life again, and then again, to save those Texas settlers' babies. We are all benefitted for all time from every one of you who has been with us. Because of you, we've not just existed, but miraculously, too, lived lives that know freedom. It has been handed down, surely only  from your goodness and grace. We honor you.

Semper Fi,

Jesse W. (Skip) Collins II