In August 1964 I was assigned to 'C' Company, 1st Special Forces Group on Okinawa. As a private first class, I had just left Fort Bragg after graduating as a demolitionist. While waiting for a slot on an 'A-Team' headed for Vietnam, I volunteered for a specialized Army parachute course called HALO. HALO is an acronym for High Altitude-Low Opening, and at that time was a relatively new military parachute technique. By using free-fall insertion from altitude, a 12-man Special Forces A-Team could infiltrate hostile territory undetected by enemy radar. It was there that I met Master Sgt. George Ronald Brown. Ron Brown was the jumpmaster for 1st Group's HALO school. He was quiet, unassuming, non-excitable and detailed in everything he, or we, did. The requirements for graduation were simple. Pass all classroom instruction and ground training and make 25 jumps. The jumps were divided into 10 at low level (5- to 10-second delay) and the rest at 8,000 feet and higher, with at least one of the higher to be at night with weapons, rucksacks and oxygen. During our 10 low-level jumps I managed to: open my chute while upside-down, make a tree landing (the only tree on the drop zone), severely damage a farmer's lattice-covered vegetable garden (he was very angry) and wreck my stopwatch and altimeter while giving myself a concussion. But as I told Brown when he jokingly questioned my acumen, "Top, I think I'm gettin' the hang of it." All of our HALO chutes had a barometrically operated automatic opening device. When armed, it would automatically pull your rip-cord 10 seconds after falling past a preset altitude. It's there in case a jumper is in some way incapacitated and fails to pull his "blast handle" manually. On our first high-altitude (8,000-foot) jump, my device failed in the aircraft. Brown was spotting from the C-130's tailgate. Just before he gave the "go" sign, I felt my backpack open and the pilot-chute spill out. If it got into the wind, it would drag the whole chute out the tailgate. I'd be dead and the plane would probably crash. Instantly, as per our training, I reached around and grabbed the pilot chute while backing into the skin of the aircraft. Brown watched the other trainees free-fall as long as he could, got up and walked back into the aircraft. At first he couldn't see me because I was in the shadows. When he did, he thought I had quit and grabbed me so I couldn't do anything foolish. He tried to say something, but at 150 knots and with the tailgate down, I couldn't hear him. Turning slightly toward the tailgate, I motioned with my eyes to look down. He did and turned white. After he closed the tailgate, I took the chute off and we discovered that the device leaked air. After landing and explaining what happened, we all chuted up for the second drop of the day. Boarding the aircraft, Brown asked me if I would be comfortable skipping 8,000 feet and going straight to 12,500. By skipping that pass we would have time for two more jumps. It was fine by me, and that's what we did. The following Saturday, for our third jump from 12,500, I showed up at our 5 a.m. pilot's briefing with my 35mm camera taped to my right wrist. Brown didn't notice it until we were "chuting up." When he did, he pulled me aside and asked what I planned to do with the camera. I said, "If it's OK with you, I'd like to take some photos in free fall." He thought about it for a moment, then walked away shaking his head. Our 22nd jump was from 20,000 feet, at night, with weapons, rucksacks and oxygen. While on our drop approach and going through our equipment check — disaster — my altimeter's light bulb had burned out. That was it. Brown looked at me, and drew his finger across his throat while shaking his head. I wasn't going. No-go, no-graduate. Everyone crowded around to see what had happened, including the C-130's loadmaster. The loadmaster saw the problem, took out his flashlight and held it to the altimeter's face for a few seconds. Its numbers and hands glowed almost as bright as day. Brown looked at the loadmaster, then looked at me and nodded OK. Ninety seconds later, the last thing I saw as I did my tailgate pirouette while stepping into ink was the loadmaster reaching for the flashlight I had tossed back to him. To this day, I am grateful that Brown let me make that jump. I know it was against regulations, and if something had happened he would have been court-martialed. A master sergeant took a chance on a PFC, and I would never have a chance to thank him for it. In May 1966 I was discharged and went back to school. Twenty-six years later, at a reunion, I was told Ron Brown had been lost MIA in Laos on March 28, 1968. Declassified records show that during the North Vietnamese Army's 1968 Khe Sahn siege, Master Sgt. George "Ron" Brown, Sgt. 1st Class Alan Boyer and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Houston all went missing while conducting a Studies and Observation Group mission as part of Khe Sanh's defense. Compromised, they called for extraction and were on the rescue helicopter's rope ladder when it was severed by heavy ground fire. Seconds later both Brown and Houston were last seen on the ground, running, and appeared unwounded. In May 2003 Brown's daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father's remains had been found. The remains consisted of a single tooth, but dental records provided to her showed that her father's tooth had a filling, and the tooth recovered did not. She demanded a DNA test but it was refused based on the Army's policy of "body desecration." A DNA test would destroy "all of the remains." His remains have since been delivered to her in Dayton, Texas. In the history of our nation's wars there are thousands of stories similar to this one. Each has its dead, maimed, survivors and families. We must never forget that this horrible collective loss was borne to keep the United States free. This is, and always will be, the price of our freedom.  So this Memorial Day, and every day, for that matter, when you see a veteran, stop and thank him for his service. Even if he says nothing, I promise you he will be grateful.  You see, for some veterans and their families, every single day is, or will be, a memorial day of sorts. Roger Albertson served in U.S. Army Special Forces from 1963 to 1966. He lives in Trade Lake, Wis. His phone number is 715-327-4518. His e-mail address is rogeralbertson@centurytel.net.