Chaplain Bill Karabinos
Chaplain Bill Karabinos
4th Quarter, 2022
go. It doesn’t matter.
My Marine friend, Bruce Doran, often challenges me with the question: “What’s your point?” His question stops my rambling and forces me to focus. My point is … show respect. Showing respect, makes this a better world. That includes respecting the living and the dead, those we love and those we don’t, those we are closest too and those far away. Those whose memory can only be recalled by a monument, a flag or a gravestone. A gravestone pressed down, sunken in and overgrown like that of Charles Hamner.
At 1324 hours, 9 November 2022, the name of Specialist 4, Charles Hamner, KIA, 31 July 1968, will be read at The Wall of the Vietnam Memorial. His name is engraved on panel 50 W, row 38. In Birmingham, Alabama his grave in New Grace Hill Cemetery, may now be located in the swampy land of an overgrown grassy field.
Charles is our brother, a Blackhorse Trooper and the only KIA of our Regiment from Birmingham, Alabama. His grave was found; his spirit, his soul, was embraced and honored during our reunion this past September.
Operation Embrace is a standard of the 11th ACVVC. A standard as fitting as our annual reunion, as sacred as our memorial at Fort Benning, as noteworthy as our newsletter, Thunder Run, or our scholarship program that has contributed over $2,200,000 to our children and grandchildren.
Operation Embrace salutes our fallen brothers, our KIAs and those who have passed since. It locates men who fought with the 11th Cav in Nam and invites them to join our brotherhood, it offers comfort and consolation to their widows and children, it salutes at the graves of our veterans: at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at The Wall, and in National Cemeteries, church graveyards, memorial parks and private burial grounds all over America; maybe too in Europe and Southeast Asia. At the heart of Operation Embrace is President Emeritus, Allen Hathaway --- and not far behind is his beautiful wife, Pam. Allen and Pam have visited and found gravesites all across the country. No matter where they travel, they take time to pay their respects and honor our brother troopers. They often go to great lengths, to pull weeds and cut grass, remove debris and wash headstones. They do this because the grave sites they visit indicate the remains of a gallant warrior, a Blackhorse Trooper.
In Birmingham, on Friday of our reunion, Allen mentioned that one of our KIAs was buried in the city and he was going out to visit the grave of Charles Hamner, a SP4 in G Troop who had died from wounds received while on a combat operation. Charles died in 1968 and was buried in New Grace Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama. I joined Allen (a poor substitute for his wife, Pam) and together we found the cemetery on the fringe of Southwest Birmingham.
Not what I expected. The location was more like Boot Hill in a Clint Eastwood western. Most of the grave markers were below the top of the weed/grass growth. We were greeted by a large dead oak whose branches had fallen and lay across headstones. Locating a grave requires section and plot markers; we couldn’t find any. There was no cemetery building in sight. The sparsely graveled road was mostly washed out and looked more like abandoned trails, but Allen pulled in and we got out at the first crossroad. There were a couple of men making an attempt to cut the grass and expose the granite to the light of a bright Alabama sun. While Allen went up to ask their assistance, I noted a half-buried section marker at the crossroads. It would be the only one we would find. One of the workers pointed to a far valley that he thought was Section 7, the section where our veteran is buried. Back to the truck and a bouncing ride to the far valley, which was even less well kept than the front section.
We parked in the middle of the valley and started to tromp through the high grass looking for a military headstone. Few were located. We found a couple of WW II markers, a Korean War veteran’s grave when we overturned a fallen headstone and even a recent Iraqi Freedom soldier’s marker. Realizing the futility of our search, Allen walked across the highway to a Granite and Monument Company in the hope that they might have a record of burial locations. He had to squeeze through a chain and padlocked gate to get to the road. I continued to look, all the time expecting to uncover black or green snakes in the deep grass and praying that none would be venomous. In about twenty minutes two employees from the monument company drove him back to where we had been looking. The lady had a map, and the gentleman, a weed-wacker.
The search for the grave required locating a landmark, and their first choice was futile. After searching for a while, he moved to another landmark, and this one proved to be correct. Walking in about 50 yards from the road almost to the woods, we found a military headstone, well weathered and sunken so deep into the ground that the date of death was covered by red clay - which they have in Alabama, as well as Georgia. The good folks from the granite company, used their weed wacker to cut a swatch around the grave, while Allen and I pulled it up as far as we could. At least far enough to expose the date of death line and positively identify the grave of Specialist Charles Hamner. Charles was a G troop, 2nd Squadron, Blackhorse Trooper who died bravely in combat; making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Once the gravestone was erect, we steadied it, brushed it off and cleaned it as best we could. “Welcome Home Brother”, we both muttered. Then we stood silently and thought, that this is his reunion too. We knew Charles couldn’t laugh with the rest of us in the Bunker, so we paused to pray over his remains in the field.
With heads bowed, we stood and gazed at the gravestone of Charles Hamner and thanked God for such men. Charles was a Blackhorse Trooper and one of us, one of our own. Momentarily we were with him at Fiddlers’ Green; he had come back again to fill his canteen. His memory touched our hearts. We couldn’t embrace him physically, but we could remember his sacrifice and honor his grave. We placed a challenge coin atop the headstone and pushed a reunion pin into the soft granite.
Returning to our reunion site at the convention center in Birmingham, we couldn’t help but feel anger that his grave and that cemetery were so poorly kept; so, neglected. We had grown used to the precise lines of headstones at Arlington or Andersonville or the well-groomed grounds of so many church yards and community cemeteries, that it was such a shame that our brother’s grave was not as well kept. But our anger abated as we smiled with honor at the memory of this good man: “Where do we get such men?”
We need to continue to search out, salute and honor our fallen comrades as an organization, as a program called Operation Embrace, and as individuals. We are Blackhorse Troopers, and we leave no man behind. Trooper Charles Hamner, rest in the peace, even as the marker of your passing crumbles into oblivion, you deserve a glorious location in God’s well-kept estate.