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From all accounts, Robert Vincent Damon was one of the good guys.
He’d enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, fighting at Saipan and Tinjan before serving in the occupational forces in Japan after the war.
Following his service, Damon returned to Washington state. A minister and professor, he was working toward completing a master’s degree at the University of Washington when the Korean conflict broke out. Damon was recalled to active duty with the Marines.
In early 1951, Sgt. Robert Damon was part of Dog Company, leading a rifle platoon fighting Chinese troops in the hills and valleys of central Korea. The experienced Marine was revered by his fellow Marines.
“Sgt. Damon had to be the most caring and righteous Marine I ever met,” Fred Frankville wrote in his memoir, “Running with the Dogs in Korea: Memories of a Dog Company Combat Marine.”
“We all called him ‘Mother Damon’ because he worried about all the young Marines in our company,” Frankville wrote. “He helped the exhausted young Marine carry his pack.He always seemed to have a swallow of water left in his canteen to give a Marine who was dying of thirst.He got the wounded down the hill in the dark.He said the right words to a troubled Marine.”
Dog Company crossed the 38th Parallel in early April 1951. On April 10, Dog Company platoons attacked Chinese positions dug into Hill 491.
Damon was leading a Marine squad that attacked a Chinese bunker that night. Some of the squad members would later write accounts of the action.
Under fire from machine guns, small arms and grenades, Damon reached the bunker.
“I looked to my left and saw Sgt. Damon standing on top of a bunker and firing a .38 revolver into the entrance,” wrote Perry J. Dickey, a member of Damon’s squad. “(Damon) fired several rounds and then I think there was more than one shot, possibly a volley, from the bunker and Sgt. Damon was fatally shot in the chest at a range of a few feet.”
Sgt. Damon was gone.
The nation lost a hero. His wife, daughter and son lost a husband and father. That son is Robert Vincent Mommsen of Ketchikan.
For Damon’s actions that day, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Citation.
“His great personal bravery and outstanding devotion to duty so inspired his comrades that they swept forward and rapidly secured the objective,” according to the citation. “Sgt. Damon's heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
His willingness to uphold those traditions, to perform his duty, to faithfully serve, cost Sgt. Damon his life.
Sgt. Damon has not been alone in that sacrifice. Many thousands of United States servicemen and women have lost their lives while serving to protect and preserve this nation.
This fact bears repeating: They gave their lives.
Memorial Day isn’t about a day off from work. It’s not about a day of fun in the sun.
No. Memorial Day is about respect, honor and gratitude.
We who remain, who enjoy the freedoms and lifestyles made possible by those who have sacrificed everything, owe a debt that cannot be fully repaid.
Memorial Day is opportunity for us to at least pay our respects, honor their memories and show that we as individuals and a nation are grateful.
We should make good use of that opportunity on Monday.
Ketchikan’s American Legion Post 3 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4352 are involved with Memorial?Day events. These include an 11 a.m. walk from the American Legion hall on Park Avenue to Centennial Square for a wreath-laying ceremony; and a noon ceremony at Bayview Cemetery. There also will be a national minute of silence observed at 3 p.m. local time.
We hope that Ketchikan residents who are unable to attend a formal Memorial Day event can still take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of the day.
May the Sgt. Damons of our nation rest in peace, assured that their sacrifice has not been in vain.