Sally Anderson’s oldest son is an Air Force pilot, her youngest is in the Navy and her brother was in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
“We’re kind of a military family,” the retired state Department of Corrections worker said.
That includes the Yakima woman’s late brother-in-law, Jerome Hagan, who was a major in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division when he completed three tours of Vietnam and was wounded once.
Like many who served in the controversial war that dragged from 1955-75, Hagan’s time in Vietnam left him bitter at the loud anti-war protests of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. It also left him with vivid memories of tragedies, close calls and acts of compassion during his time on active duty.
Anderson recalls him telling the story of camping in a rural village that U.S. forces had occupied. One night a young boy approached the soldiers asking for medicine to help a young friend who was suffering with a fever.
The soldiers had no medical supplies to offer, but Hagan had a few aspirin tablets. He gave those to the boy, who scurried off gratefully to give them to his sick friend.
Later, Hagan and the other soldiers found out that the aspirin had worked — the ailing boy’s fever had broken.
They also found out the sick boy’s father was part of the Viet Cong, a militia that supported the Communist North Vietnamese regime and was fighting tooth and nail against American troops. The father, Anderson said, had planned to set off a bomb in Hagan’s Jeep, but his son — grateful for the aspirin that had cured him — pleaded with him not to go through with it.
The son prevailed, and Hagan and his men eventually made their way out of the village safely.
Maj. Hagan’s service earned him a promotion to colonel before he left the Army, and he died a few years ago, Anderson said.
But the deep impression of his war experience lives on in a poem he wrote sometime in the early 1970s.
“When he showed it to soldiers,” Anderson said, “it made them cry.”
Here’s the poem that Hagan’s family still shows to soldiers and still cherishes, particularly on Veterans Day:
I have seen children who from hunger cry.
I have faced Charlie, and watched him die.
I heard a friend, whose blood spilled bright,
Say against freedom his price was slight.
I was helping stop communism from upping the score,
And felt great pride in the uniform I wore.
The news from home said “Students want more,
and the demands not met bring on campus war.”
They ridicule America with their shows of might,
While it’s for, not against, my country I fight.
They hated, ridiculed, scorned me and more.
Because of my pride in the uniform I wore.
Duty is a word they’ve never learned,
and freedom’s a privilege they’ve never earned.
When my president speaks, they scream lie,
But on his decision, if need be, I’ll die.
And hope by death that I’ve done my share,
Because I’m still proud of the uniform I wear.
I am an American, and proud of my right,
Of having for freedom been able to fight.
You on the campus, you who say you’re not treated equal,
Should see what Communist aggression can do to a people.
Though you burn my flag, and scream “I’m unfair,”
You can’t stop my pride in the uniform I wear.
I think of the men who die here each day,
So you students can continue to live your way.
What thanks do they get for the sacrifice they made?
You burn their flag and spit on their grave.
But if they were alive, their combined voices would roar,
Of the pride they felt in the uniform they wore.
Loyal Americans, don’t look at this trash,
Who burn their schools and with police they clash.
And judge all young Americans by their unloyal way,
For there are thousands who would like to say:
That we love our country and for its future we care,
And we’re all proud as HELL of the uniform we wear.
-- Maj. Jerome D. Hagan, 1st Calvary Division, Vietnam