Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day: the reason for it is unchanged

This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat this past Monday. I did raise my flag and think of friends, personal heroes, and all of the others who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, our freedom.

Memorial Day: the Reason for it is Unchanged

SAN DIEGO – This past week as usual, I received emails relating to Memorial Day.
Retired military officers send each other missives honoring our late comrades-in-arms around this holiday. But many of last week’s emails came from friends with no military service.
This increased interest in honoring our patriots who died in defense of our country gives me a good feeling, especially considering how it used to be.
As a junior officer, it seemed I carried some stigma because I wore the Navy uniform. It did not bother me personally, but I did feel separated from society, particularly my age group.
It also incensed me when protestors took it out on personnel returning from defending their right to protest. Regardless of the political posturing, those who received the abuse were no more responsible than me.
In my youth, I was awed by the World War I veterans honored at the various parades. I read enough to know of the horrors of trench warfare.
About two years ago, my oldest daughter gave me a copy of The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon. The poems are brutal and describe the gore of that war in grisly detail. Although some of the poetry is darkly beautiful, the overall effect makes one wonder at the logic of war.
Sassoon’s poetry confirmed my feeling about our heroes from that war.
The Second War
Born during the Second World War, I grew up respecting the previous generation’s sacrifice. I have studied pre-war history and am amazed so many can forget so much about where isolationism and non-intervention can lead. I wonder how many United States citizens might not have died had we joined the Allies earlier.
We do not learn from our historical mistakes.
World War II cemeteries across the nation and throughout Europe with thousands and thousands of crosses in military formation and the United States flag flying over them are testament to the honor we bestow on those military dead.
It became my generation’s turn. Initially as I was going through Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, I was too busy learning steam engineering, small boat operations, ship handling, deck seamanship and damage control to be very much aware of what was going on the other side of the world.
But before I went to OCS, I learned Parks McCall, my big brother as a Kappa Sigma pledge at Vanderbilt, had been killed when his aircraft was shot down in Vietnam.
Later while at home after Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer training and en route to my first ship, the U.S.S. Hawkins (DD-873), I found out Bobby Bradley was killed when his A6 with Bobby flying as Naval Flight Officer (NFO), crashed in the Atlantic.
Bobby and I played baseball together and were good friends for as long as I could remember, but I remember him most for volunteering to go on a five-mile hike with me so I could get a merit badge to advance from the Boy Scout’s tenderfoot classification.
Sacrifice hit home and my service took on an entirely new meaning for me.
Remember the Heroes
Over the course of twenty-one years in the Navy, there were very few incidents when I stepped into harm’s way. When I did, I remember them clearly. But overall, it was not much more dangerous than crossing a street in downtown New York. Others from Lebanon, like Bobby and Jim Harding, served in real danger.
Wikepedia, the on-line, open contribution encyclopedia, states General John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization, issued General Order 11 in 1868. The order designated May 30 as Decoration Day, which evolved into today’s Memorial Day.
So for almost 150 years, the citizens whom we honor for dying in defense of our freedom have grown astronomically. Even though more folks are honoring our heroes more than in my early Navy days, Memorial Day ceremonies compete with car races, picnics, and backyard barbeques.
But this morning in the Southwest corner, I will go to the top of my hill and raise my flag at 8:00 a.m. along with all of the ships in the harbor, and I will pause and remember my friends who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, for me.
I hope you do something similar. Those heroes earned this much.

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