Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Bridge over Hades

My father, as a veteran of the Korean war, attended a special dedication today. The Aiken street bridge in Lowell Mass. is now officially known as the Joseph R. Ouellette Bridge. It was named after the posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Pfc. Ouellette distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy in the Makioug-Chang River salient. When an enemy assault cut off and surrounded his unit he voluntarily made a reconnaissance of a nearby hill under intense enemy fire to locate friendly troop positions and obtain information of the enemy's strength and location. Finding that friendly troops were not on the hill, he worked his way back to his unit under heavy fire. Later, when an airdrop of water was made outside the perimeter, he again braved enemy fire in an attempt to retrieve water for his unit. Finding the dropped cans broken and devoid of water, he returned to his unit. His heroic attempt greatly increased his comrades' morale. When ammunition and grenades ran low, Pfc. Ouellette again slipped out of the perimeter to collect these from the enemy dead. After collecting grenades he was attacked by an enemy soldier. He killed this enemy m hand-to-hand combat, gathered up the ammunition, and returned to his unit. When the enemy attacked on 3 September, they assaulted his position with grenades. On 6 occasions Pfc. Ouellette leaped from his foxhole to escape exploding grenades. In doing so, he had to face enemy small-arms fire. He continued his resistance, despite a severe wound, until he lost his life. The extraordinary heroism and intrepidity displayed by Pfc. Ouellette reflect the highest credit on himself and are in keeping with the esteemed traditions of the military service.

After the service, my father and I had lunch at the Mandarin in North Reading.


So, dad, did you ever find yourself in a grave situation, like Pfc. Ouellette, in Korea or Vietnam.


No. I was in several situations, under heavy fire, where the line kept shifting over me. The closest I ever came to hand to hand combat, was the slipper of a Chinese soldier, stepping on me for an instant, during a full run.


I know you get asked this a lot, but was fear a big factor in your behavior in battle?


Everybody is afraid under fire. You pray to yourself. You talk to yourself. You think of the friends around you. You think of your family, your home and your country. You tell yourself you are going to make it and you focus on the job. You can't win unless you are convinced that you will win. A few shrink away. Most just want to be told what to do, step by step. A few make the big decisions, fast and confident.


Do you think Ouellette acted, wounded as he was, knowing he was going to lose the battle for his life?


All I can say is the The MOH is awarded for a rare breed of character. A recipient is saluted all the way up to General, regardless of his rank. They don't hand them out to every John Kerry that walks by. The Army gives you the tools of war, for your mind, your spirit and your body. Not everybody has the skill to build a church with those tools.

Pfc Ouellette was just such a tradesman.

Rose B. Ouellette, Joseph's mother, had a somber and respectful pose at the bridge dedication. She had lost her husband 18 years ago, in a drowning in the Merrimack river. It is the same river spanned by the bridge of her son's name. The flag that draped Joseph's coffin, flew at half staff, at the humble Ouellette home on Cabot street. Her quiet, shy and graceful acceptance of the honor given to her son, strikes quite a contrast to the likes of Cindy Sheehan.

This was not a life spent frivolously at the orders of a religious Imam, with the selfish promise of pleasure in the afterlife, with other selfish brothers in death.

This was one life spent to desperately save the lives of friends. This was one life spent, to shield all of our families from tyranny abroad.

This was one man, deliberately spending every one of his young tomorrows, to build a bridge over a river in Hades. With that bridge, he simply brought his friends home, so they could hug their wives and cuddle their children in freedom and prosperity.

Now there is a real bridge of steel and rivets, to remind us of Pfc. Joseph R. Ouellette. May we always cross it in freedom and safety.



RT said...

Thank you for sharing the special moment you had with your father. Also, thank you for telling PFC Oullette's story and sharing his mother's dignified presence. WOW!

Insolublog said...

Thanks, RT. I hope this reply makes it. Blogger seems to be screwed up again.

RT said...

Blogger does seem to have gremlins lately, huh?