Hearts Touched with Fire By Keith Reynolds Peace Corps in Malaysia

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By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 10:06 pm: Edit Post

Hearts Touched with Fire

Hearts Touched with Fire By Keith Reynolds Peace Corps in Malaysia

Hearts Touched with Fire

By Keith Reynolds/kreynold@up.net

Those who give part of their lives to U.S. government service have a special relationship to the flag, and the Fourth of July has special meaning to them. There are all kinds of government service, and one doesn't have to carry a gun or be in an active war to contribute meaningfully. I was in the Peace Corps in Malaysia for two years. The only blood I lost was into a plastic bag in Thailand. Somebody in Vietnam needed it more than I in 1965.

But on two occasions overseas I found myself on the wrong end of a gun in what might have been a lethal experience. As someone once said, the imminent probability of one's death concentrates the mind wonderfully. In any event, once you have lived through experiences like that, the Fourth of July becomes more than parades and fireworks: it is a time for reflection.

But I do not equate my experiences with those of veterans.

My friend Mike Sullivan, an ex-Marine now National Guardsman, said "The Fourth of July always seems for me a time for my personal inventory of the way the country is going. When I look at the flag, the symbolism is real, not imagined or manufactured. In scouting I learned to respect and revere the flag. In the Marines, patriotism took on new meaning, a new commitment. I can't forget it."

I asked another vet, a lieutenant near Hué in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, to give me a taste of that experience and I got more than I bargained for. He spent an hour describing a single 24 hour period in Nam.

During those 24 hours and within two weeks of his arrival in Nam, he conducted a reconnaissance of a forward area. In this period he saw a man blown up and several concussed by a 250 pound bomb used as a booby trap; lost his experienced sergeant to heat stroke; was wounded slightly with another man by another booby trap on the trail; took some sniper fire; confronted one soldier who was so terrified that he threw down his gear and gun, then held off the rest of the platoon who wanted to physically "take care of" the recalcitrant soldier.

Hours later, back at camp, the lieutenant was summoned to the commanding officers tent. The guy who wouldn't carry his gear had disappeared and the 3rd Platoon, who had responsibility for him, didn't know where he was.

"I had to get the 3rd Platoon saddled up to go find this guy. I didn't want to do it, but the man was my responsibility, and the platoon didn't want to do it, but we did," said the lieutenant. "We never did find him."

There were three 24 hour periods that stuck out in this lieutenant's mind. That was perhaps the easiest of the three. He didn't share the others with me.

"When you're young and dumb, trying to anticipate the problems, you can do anything: lead, fight, kill," he said. "What I never reckoned on was the combination of elements that deteriorate, slowly, one's capacity to do... anything. In a classroom on leadership no capacities are weakened. In combat there is responsibility, trauma and depletion of physical reserves to draw on, the tension, the stress, the loss of life, the blood....

"I hope it doesn't disturb you," he concluded, "but to be honest, I never thought of the flag in Nam. I was too busy keeping my men and myself alive. Only after Nam, Memorial Day, July Fourth, have I had time to think about the flag-and the red in it. That gets to me."

One of my hunting buddies was a corpsman who saw a lot of blood, including his own in Vietnam. He was riding the fender of a jeep loaded with men when the jeep hit a mine. My buddy earned a Purple Heart that day. He was one of the few lucky ones on that jeep.

"And what do you think of the Fourth?" I asked him.

"I think that every American should give two years of service to their country," this ex-corpsman said. "Male or female, weak or strong, everyone should contribute, put up with government service for two years. They don't have to fight in a war, but they have to give something of themselves (tax money not included) to building America. You can't appreciate the Fourth of July until you do something personally to earn America's freedoms."

I agree. And every vet I interviewed supported some concept that included two years of national service.

We can watch movies about war and try to imagine how we might respond under the cruel and unusual circumstances of war. But the truth is we can't. It's foreign country. Neither can we know the stress and tension, see, hear, smell, hurt and bleed while doing a job we're ordered to do in the name of our country. How can we appreciate what comes free to us?

One of the WW II vets said that walking on Omaha Beach without tripping over bodies of dead men is an experience that no one should ever have. This vet can hardly believe that it ever happened, but he recalls it every year in June and every Fourth of July-and often when he sees the flag.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July in our parades and fireworks, let's give thought to those many men and women-living and dead-who, because of their unique experience and sacrifice, view the Fourth through different eyes. We cannot walk in their boots or see with their eyes no matter how hard we try. To those who fought for it, freedom is a taste the protected will never know.

Perhaps we cannot taste freedom in the unique way that a blooded soldier can, but God grant that we use that freedom well. It's all those men ask of us, and the least we can do to honor their sacrifices.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Civil War veteran, speaks for soldiers:

"Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambitions, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the golden fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us...."

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By eric walsh ( on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 - 11:46 am: Edit Post

Keith -

Are you the brother of Lynn Reynolds Malkinson from Rye New York? I'm an old friend trying to get in touch with her.

By Donna Sprague McCarthy ( on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 11:58 am: Edit Post

Hey Keith, I'm trying to get ahold of as many Malaysia VIII people to get together in Hilo in Nov. '11 as part of the 50th PC Anniversary celebrations being put on by RPCVs in Hilo. Let me know if you get this and if you have any connections with anyone else in the group. So far have contacted about 15 people in the group and most are interested, about 6 firm committments so far. I'll send you the details when I hear back from you with a current e-mail.

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