The single most tragic event of my life took place in 1970. It was the day I heard my younger brother Wieland was killed in Vietnam. It was a day like no other. No family should have to feel what my mother, my other brother (Aaron) and I did that day. And yet so many do, every day, in every year.
At the height of the Vietnam War, both of my brothers, Wieland and Aaron, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Aaron was stationed in Korea, and Wieland was sent to Vietnam. As Wieland headed off to Nam, I hugged and kissed him and said: "I'm going to miss you. Be careful."
In 1970, I was refereeing a tournament in California, when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker: "Chuck Norris, you have an urgent call." I hustled over to the phone. I recognized the muffled voice of my mother-in-law, and she was crying. "What's wrong, Evelyn?" I asked her. "Your brother Wieland has been killed in Vietnam." If I had been kicked in the stomach by a dozen karate champions at the same time, it would not have impacted me more. I staggered back away from the phone, hoping that somehow would make Evelyn's words untrue. It didn't.
I hung up the phone, moving in what felt like slow motion. For a long time, I couldn't function. I simply sat in shock, thinking about my little brother Wieland, my best friend, whom I never would see again in this life. Right there, in front of anyone who cared to see, I wept uncontrollably.
When Wieland was 12 years old, he had a premonition that he would not live to be 28. Wieland died June 3, 1970, one month before his 28th birthday. As Jesus said, "There is no greater love than the one who lays down his life for another."
It's fitting that every year, Memorial Day falls a week or so before the anniversary of when a soldier like Wieland gave his life in action. (It was to my brother Wieland that I also dedicated all my "Missing in Action" films.)
I've been honored over the three decades since that day to show my support in a host of ways for our veterans and service members from every war since World War II. Thanking our military is why, in 2006 and 2007, I also visited our troops in the Middle East. I went to 28 bases and shook hands with nearly 40,000 troops. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
I'll be honest with you. I understand why people are against the wars we're in. But I simply don't understand how anyone could neglect to support the fine men and women in our armed forces. It is not only unpatriotic. It is unjust.