Most people don’t turn on their televisions expecting to see themselves, but that’s precisely what happened to Warren Fox. Fox was tuning in to the American Heroes Channel when he spotted a documentary about the Vietnam War battle of Khe Sanh in 1968, a fight the former Marine knew all too well.
“I remember hearing the name of my lieutenant, and I thought, ‘Oh, man, I know what this is going to be about,’” Fox said.
Fox was part of a squadron that was ambushed by the Viet Cong while on a routine run. Of the 33 men dispatched that day, only 10 returned to base, and only two, Fox included, were uninjured. The ambush cost them 23 men that day, but it cost their enemy more than 60 men.
Ultimately, Fox’s service record would earn him the Navy Cross, the second highest honor bestowed by the U.S. military. When Fox hears the details of the battle that earned him the medal, he doesn’t doubt the truth of it, but to this day he can’t remember performing any of the heroic deeds recounted to him.
“It’s just a total blank,” Fox admits. “I believe them when they tell me, but I don’t remember a thing. Probably for the best.”
The specifics may best be forgotten, but the service is always remembered. That’s why Fox, now Post Commander of the Pluma Sager Wacek Memorial American Legion post 247, has organized a Memorial Day vigil for the last 10 years.
On Saturday, May 24, Fox, his immediate family and a small band of American Legion fellows planted flags alongside every veteran’s grave in the Blaine Cemetery on H Street. Using color-coded maps, the group walked up and down the rows of weather-beaten stone, leaving flags beside the gravestones of veterans from as far back as the American Civil War.
On Sunday, May 25, the group returned to the cemetery once more for an evening candlelight service, where each branch of
the military is honored separately and the yearly Honor Veteran is named.
The Honor Veteran is an American Legion member, either living or deceased, who has gone above and beyond either in service or in civilian life. This year, the title went to Bill Irwin, a longtime resident of Blaine and adjutant for post 247. Irwin served for six years as a photographer for the U.S. Navy, and has been active in veteran affairs in Blaine for more than 30 years.
Irwin was modest about the honor. “I’m just a guy doing my job,” he said.
The ceremony requires specially made candles that are imported from Holland. The tradition began with Dutch schoolchildren, who set out candles every year to honor the American and Canadian forces that liberated their country from Nazi rule during Operation Market Garden in 1944. Members of the American Legion discovered this tradition and decided to bring it back to America. In the past, Fox and his volunteers would set candles out on every veteran’s grave, but the high cost of the special candles (around $350 each) put that outside the post’s budget.
Instead, seven small candles were set out, one for each branch of the Armed Forces, one to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action, and one for the Honor Veteran. The candles are each placed before small figures near the entrance of the cemetery. The candles are topped with special weatherproof caps to ensure that each candle will burn for 36 hours.
After playing the national anthem and “Taps,” and saying two short prayers, the assembly dispersed.
“It’s simple,” Fox said. “But it’s our own small way of honoring the veterans.”