Radigan: ‘It’s our job to preserve the nation’

Radigan: 'It's our job to preserve the nation' Matt Williams and John Ring were two of approximately a dozen volunteers who arrived at BluffView Cemetery in Vermillion at 7 a.m. Sunday to create a wondrous dedication to war veterans buried there. When the volunteers' work was complete, the narrow gravel roads in the cemetery were lined with 241 flagpoles, each sporting the stars and stripes. Leonard Bottolfson, quartermaster general of the VFW Clay Post #3061, helped get this project off the ground in 1983 by making the flagpoles. "We started in 1983 with 33 flags," he said. "We add a few every year if people want the flags out here." After clamping a flag to each pole, and putting the poles in place, Bottolfson and other volunteers carefully clipped name tags of deceased veterans on each of the poles. People who visited the cemetery over the weekend to view the flags and the decorated graves got a true sense of the sacrifices made by local men and women in defense of freedom. by David Lias Vermillion Mayor Bill Radigan describes himself simply as "an ordinary person."

He believes he was invited by Leo Powell, commander of VFW Clay Post #3061, to address Monday�s Memorial Day service in the Vermillion National Guard Armory because he�s simply a common citizen of the community.

This "common citizen" told people from Clay County about the men and women who have died in the service of their country.

It was a formidable task. Radigan himself noted that people began sacrificing their lives so that others may live free in this nation more than two centuries ago.

But his audience of approximately 80 people � the largest public turnout at a local Memorial Day service that Powell can remember � heard Radigan do more than speak his mind.

He spoke from his heart.

"Back in 1774, people decided they didn't want to be slaves for the rest of their lives, they didn�t want to pay taxes they didn't have anything to say about, they didn't want to be an instrument in making other people rich," Radigan said. "They wanted to be free. In 1774, they started to die for this country. And today, they're still dying."

Radigan said historians estimate that 1.3 million people have died in defense of freedom in the United States.

"I'm so proud that you're here, in my hometown, to take a few minutes to pay our respects for those people who died for us," he said.

Radigan, who himself is the veteran of two wars, knows how ugly battle can be.

�Combat is a nasty thing,� he said. It�s easy, he said, from watching television or reading certain books, to get the mistaken impression that with combat comes glory.

"War is war, and it's terrible," Radigan said. Ask veterans from any of the country's conflicts of this century, ranging from World War I to Operation Desert Storm, and you�ll get the same definition of war, he added.

"It�s dirt, it's death, it's blood, it's hurt, it's crime, it's fear and there's very little glory," Radigan said.

The Memorial Day audience also learned that Radigan's own assessment of himself as just "an ordinary person" is rather questionable.

During World War II, Radigan was a crew member aboard a B-17 flying a mission over the Caribbean to hunt submarines.

"We caught fire," he said. The pilot steered the plane toward the airfield at Miami. "We had just a couple of minutes to plan and save our lives or die," he said.

Radigan was aboard another B-17 that crashed in Iceland.

"I can remember the lieutenant saying, 'We're going to crash,' and I remembered thinking, 'This is it.' There's wasn�t a whole lot of glamour about it," he said. "I was scared. Really scared."

During a bombing mission in Europe, Radigan's B-17 couldn't make it home because it ran low on fuel. It was forced to land in Yugoslavia. Partisans of that nation, fortunately, provided them with enough fuel to make it back to base. But their aircraft was not whole. The crew counted 54 holes in the ship.

Radigan is still witnessing the terrors of war through the eyes of a son, who has served in Thailand, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia and now in Yugoslavia.

"He called me before I came here this morning, and he said, 'Dad, tell them there�s no glory in any of it. But the thing is, we have to win. Because if we don't, the price is too terrible for any of us to imagine.'"

Radigan also spoke proudly of another son, who died just a few months ago. He, too, served in Vietnam, and received over 75 decorations in the 39 months he was there.

A third son, he said, got hurt in basic training. "I watched the military hustle all it could to get him discharged on his 178th day of military service, because if he stayed in over 180 days, he was entitled to a lot of veteran�s benefits," he said.

Our freedom today, Radigan said, is the result of people who were willing to serve their country. Without those people, the nation wouldn't have been founded, it wouldn�t have survived a civil war, and its citizens wouldn�t be living in peace today.

"I love this country, but sometimes I wonder how we can forget so quickly the sacrifices made by so many that we may have so much," he said. "We are so fortunate."

He asked the Vermillion audience to remember not only those who died in war, but also those who were maimed physically or mentally by battle.

He also asked citizens to come to grips with the fact that today�s politicians are sending ships to sea with crew rosters that are hundreds of people short. Military pilots, Radigan added, are being trained by civilians because of a shortage of aircraft and personnel.

"I can't get excited about politicians who won't take care of this nation's veterans when they come home," Radigan said, "because they made veterans a promise: You get hurt, and we'll take care of you."

Radigan asked the audience to remember not only the soldiers who died, but also their families who still feel the pain of their loss.

"To preserve our nation, they all paid a terrible price," he said. "We must be active in making this the great and wonderful nation that they envisioned and were willing to die to provide. It�s our job to preserve the nation."

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