Are you leaving your legacy?Published 5:34pm Monday, May 31, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Teachers ask a lot of questions.
Col. Don Alsbro, the former Lake Michigan College athletic director who still teaches at the LMC fitness center, posed a few Monday as Dowagiac’s keynote Memorial Day speaker.
Like how many veterans in his audience have written their military story?
“When a veteran dies without telling his story, a library burns,” Alsbro said. “Every veteran has a story, even if they stayed stateside or was a mechanic in the motor pool.”
Veterans belonged to the armed forces whether they saw combat or not and “wrote a blank check made payable to the United States for an amount up to and including their life. Military is nothing more than a smoothly-functioning team.”
Alsbro held up a photo of his own father, who died with his story unpreserved.
The World War I veteran quit high school and died when Don was 7. It wasn’t until 1982, when his mother passed away, that he began to wonder about filling in the gaps of photographs.
He wrote the Army only to learn that in 1972 a fire raced through a St. Louis records center, destroying service records up to 1933.
In 2000, Alsbro and others approached the Berrien County Intermediate School District about publishing veterans’ stories, inspired by Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” book.
Produced was a volume of 55 stories from Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties.
In 2006, the 115-member Lest We Forget formed.
You don’t have to be a veteran to belong – just a patriot.
This year a second book of 93 veterans’ stories came out that includes Harvey Ross’s account of being a Marine company commander in 1966 in Vietnam.
Jim Corbit wrote about his service as an ambulance driver on Iwo Jima, logging 1,500 miles ferrying wounded and dead soldiers to ships on the seven-mile-long island.
Another account is by Wilber Breseman of Marcellus, former chairman of the Cass County Board of Commissioners.
“These stories are recorded for posterity,” Alsbro said. “I already have about 25 names for the next book.”
This year Lest We Forget brings a 400-foot replica of the Vietnam Wall that will be toured 100 miles around Berrien County escorted by hundreds of motorcycles from New Buffalo.
The Wall will be set up June 17-20 at the football field at St. Joseph High School.
Thursday night will be a presentation at Celebration Cinema about 4,000 Vietnam war dogs credited with preventing 10,000 additional American casualties.
“We’ve got about 50 handlers who are coming from as far away as Texas,” he said.
Friday evening features a memorial service for 48 Berrien County soldiers killed in Vietnam.
There will be parachute drops on Saturday and a military flyover.
In attendance will be two Medal of Honor recipients – one from Iwo Jima and the other from Korea.
A Huey Medevac that saw action in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971 will be on hand.
How many patriots composed the crowd?
“We need 100 percent on that, which is any person who will stand up for his or her country. I see some young people raising their hands, and that’s really important. That’s the best way we can honor comrades – making sure their memories are passed on to future generations.
“President Reagan once said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’ Every generation has to learn how to protect and defend it or it’s gone for a long time. Winston Churchill said, ‘A nation that doesn’t remember its past won’t have a future.’ ”
Yet high school students “get a very short course in American history” because of public pressure put on test scores.
No questions on state tests concern patriotism, a high school administrator told Alsbro, “and schools teach to the test.”
History “takes a back seat to science, math and other courses. Therefore, it is important that groups like Lest We Forget, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Rotary, Lions, Masons and many others teach about patriotism.”
“Maybe they spend a day or two on World War II,” Alsbro said. “Korea and Vietnam are seldom mentioned. How can we expect our future generation to lead the greatest nation on earth if they do not even know basic history, such as the differences between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Or who we fought in World War II. Or who bombed us at Pearl Harbor.”
Each year Alsbro helps Berrien Springs’ VFW chapter sell poppies.
“I ask students, ‘Who brought us into WWII? They think a while and say, ‘Russia?’ No, Russia fought with us. We fought the Cold War against Russia. ‘Germany?’ Those are questions that should be common knowledge and they’re not. Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but beggared (despicable) is the nation that has and forgets them. Heaven help us if we forget our Washingtons, Pattons, Eisenhowers and especially the young boy or girl next door who dies in some far-off land. These are the true heroes we recognize today.”
The 1962 Western Michigan University graduate grew up in Plymouth.
Entering the Army in 1963, his 31-year military career encompassed two Vietnam tours.
He founded and serves as president of the patriotic organization Lest We Forget, which has produced two World War II re-enactments of beach landings at D-Day and Iwo Jima.
He has been inducted into the WMU ROTC Alumni Hall of Fame and the LMC Athletic Hall of Fame.
In 2008, Alsbro received the Berrien County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award.
In 2009, the Margaret B. Upton Volunteer Leadership Award was bestowed on him.