By DENNIS WYATT
James Layton grew up in Escalon just 10 miles to the east of Woodward Park as the dove flies.
As a kid he did what kids were doing Sunday at the park: laughing, yelling and expending energy on everything from traditional playground equipment to bounce houses.
Those kids Sunday seemed oblivious to the solemn remembrance going on nearby as people from throughout Northern California gathered before 6,665 white crosses to make sure the sacrifices of the fallen in the Global War on Terror won’t be forgotten. But that’s OK. It was a fitting tribute to Layton and the 6,664 others being remembered.
You see, Layton gave everything so kids can fill the air with the sounds of freedom. It’s not that he wanted to die. It’s just that he valued something much more that he didn’t want to see die - freedom.
James Ray Layton was killed in Afghanistan doing what citizen-soldiers have done since the beginning of the republic - preserving freedom for their families, friends, strangers, and for generations yet to come.
The Hospital Corpsman Third Class was pinned down with the Marine unit he was assigned to while on a mission in village of Ganjgal in Afghanistan on Sept. 8, 2009. When the ambush started, Layton fought fearlessly alongside the Marines and their Afghanistan National Army counterparts. The battle raged for nine hours. At one point the team leader was hit. Layton - in a Navy Corpsman tradition immortalized in statue of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima during World War II - showed complete disregard for his personal safety to rush to the side of the wounded.
There he worked feverishly to try and save his fallen comrade while using his body as a shield against enemy fire. Layton died trying to save a life.
Pastor Mike Dillman knows all too well that words can’t replace the life of a son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister , friend, or fellow soldier who falls in battle. The Vietnam War veteran has been there. He understood that when he launched the first Memorial Weekend Commemoration 10 years ago. His goal was simple: Give some comfort to the families that lost a son or daughter defending the country by letting them know that fellow Americans are grateful for the sacrifices they made and the freedoms that helped secure.
He has vowed that we shall never forget.
So has Allen Clark.
Clark served as director of the National Cemetery System for the Veterans Administration during the George H.W. Bush Administration.
The 1963 West Point graduate lost both legs on June 17, 1967 while serving in Vietnam with the Fifth Special Forces Group. But he’ll tell you he lost something more precious - 20 of his classmates died in that war.
“A lot of elitists make money off the system,” Clark told the gathering on Sunday, adding “they never spill their blood to secure the freedoms” that make it possible for them to be rich.
It is why Dillman and others vowed Sunday never to forget what the blood of American soldiers have made possible: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of dissent, and freed to pursue liberty and happiness.
Unfortunately we can’t just wish for those freedoms. As Rear Admiral Donald Gintzig noted prior to presenting the Bronze Star with the Combat V with the help of Congressman Jeff Denham to Layton’s parents, there are people in the world who are trying to take those freedoms from Americans right now.
That’s why as we go about our day-to-day lives there are 1.4 million citizen soldiers on active duty and another 850,000 reserves. They may one day have to pay the price that Layton did. And when that happens, their blood will be spilled on behalf of all Americans so that they can be free.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org