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Topic: Memorial Day (Read 1166 times)
May 28, 2007, 09:44:03 AM »
The stories behind Memorial Day.
BY PETER COLLIER
Monday, May 28, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.
Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict--a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent's grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham's Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.
Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers--honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless--in our midst.
In my own boyhood, figures such as Jimmy Doolittle, Audie Murphy and John Basilone were household names. And it was assumed that what they had done defined us as well as them, telling us what kind of nation we were. But the 110 Medal recipients alive today are virtually unknown except for a niche audience of warfare buffs. Their heroism has become the military equivalent of genre painting. There's something wrong with that.
What they did in battle was extraordinary. Jose Lopez, a diminutive Mexican-American from the barrio of San Antonio, was in the Ardennes forest when the Germans began the counteroffensive that became the Battle of the Bulge. As 10 enemy soldiers approached his position, he grabbed a machine gun and opened fire, killing them all. He killed two dozen more who rushed him. Knocked down by the concussion of German shells, he picked himself up, packed his weapon on his back and ran toward a group of Americans about to be surrounded. He began firing and didn't stop until all his ammunition and all that he could scrounge from other guns was gone. By then he had killed over 100 of the enemy and bought his comrades time to establish a defensive line.
Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they'd lost but also the enemy they'd killed.
Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.
Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, "Dear God, please let me get just one more man." By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.
Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn't let their buddies down.
Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.
He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas's finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he'd promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck.
The men in World War II always knew, although news coverage was sometimes scant, that they were in some sense performing for the people at home. The audience dwindled during Korea. By the Vietnam War, the journalists were omnipresent, but the men were performing primarily for each other. One story that expresses this isolation and comradeship involves a SEAL team ambushed on a beach after an aborted mission near North Vietnam's Cua Viet river base.
After a five-hour gunfight, Cmdr. Tom Norris, already a legend thanks to his part in a harrowing rescue mission for a downed pilot (later dramatized in the film BAT-21), stayed behind to provide covering fire while the three others headed to rendezvous with the boat sent to extract them. At the water's edge, one of the men, Mike Thornton, looked back and saw Tom Norris get hit. As the enemy moved in, he ran back through heavy fire and killed two North Vietnamese standing over Norris's body. He lifted the officer, barely alive with a shattered skull, and carried him to the water and then swam out to sea where they were picked up two hours later.
The two men have been inseparable in the 30 years since.
The POWs of Vietnam configured a mini-America in prison that upheld the values beginning to wilt at home as a result of protest and dissension. John McCain tells of Lance Sijan, an airman who ejected over North Vietnam and survived for six weeks crawling (because of his wounds) through the jungle before being captured.
Close to death when he reached Hanoi, Sijan told his captors that he would give them no information because it was against the code of conduct. When not delirious, he quizzed his cellmates about camp security and made plans to escape. The North Vietnamese were obsessed with breaking him, but never did. When he died after long sessions of torture Sijan was, in Sen. McCain's words, "a free man from a free country."
Leo Thorsness was also at the Hanoi Hilton. The Air Force pilot had taken on four MiGs trying to strafe his wingman who had parachuted out of his damaged aircraft; Mr. Thorsness destroyed two and drove off the other two. He was shot down himself soon after this engagement and found out by tap code that his name had been submitted for the Medal.
One of Mr. Thorsness's most vivid memories from seven years of imprisonment involved a fellow prisoner named Mike Christian, who one day found a grimy piece of cloth, perhaps a former handkerchief, during a visit to the nasty concrete tank where the POWs were occasionally allowed a quick sponge bath. Christian picked up the scrap of fabric and hid it.
Back in his cell he convinced prisoners to give him precious crumbs of soap so he could clean the cloth. He stole a small piece of roof tile which he laboriously ground into a powder, mixed with a bit of water and used to make horizontal stripes. He used one of the blue pills of unknown provenance the prisoners were given for all ailments to color a square in the upper left of the cloth. With a needle made from bamboo wood and thread unraveled from the cell's one blanket, Christian stitched little stars on the blue field.
"It took Mike a couple weeks to finish, working at night under his mosquito net so the guards couldn't see him," Mr. Thorsness told me. "Early one morning, he got up before the guards were active and held up the little flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We turned to him and saw it coming to attention and automatically saluted, some of us with tears running down our cheeks. Of course, the Vietnamese found it during a strip search, took Mike to the torture cell and beat him unmercifully. Sometime after midnight they pushed him into our cell, so bad off that even his voice was gone. But when he recovered in a couple weeks he immediately started looking for another piece of cloth."
We impoverish ourselves by shunting these heroes and their experiences to the back pages of our national consciousness. Their stories are not just boys' adventure tales writ large. They are a kind of moral instruction. They remind of something we've heard many times before but is worth repeating on a wartime Memorial Day when we're uncertain about what we celebrate. We're the land of the free for one reason only: We're also the home of the brave.
Mr. Collier wrote the text for "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty" (Workman, 2006).
Memorial Day is NOT on Sale
Reply #1 on:
May 24, 2012, 11:43:33 AM »
Alexander's Essay – May 24, 2012
Memorial Day Is NOT on Sale
Millions of Patriots Have Already Paid the Full Price
"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States." --John Adams
Memorial Day provides a stark contrast between the best of our nation's Patriot sons and daughters versus the worst of our nation's civilian culture of consumption.
Amid the sparse, reverent observances of the sacrifices made by millions of American Patriots who paid the full price for Liberty, in keeping with their sacred oaths, we are inundated at every turn with the commercialization of Memorial Day by vendors who are too ignorant and/or selfish to honor this day in accordance with its purpose.
Indeed, Memorial Day has been sold out. And it's no wonder, as government schools no longer teach civics or any meaningful history, and courts have excluded God (officially) from the public square.
In his essay "The Contest In America," 19th-century libertarian philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
It is that "decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling" which accounts for why so many "miserable creatures" have downgraded Memorial Day to nothing more than a date to exploit for commercial greed and avarice. While units large and small of America's Armed Forces stand in harm's way around the globe, many Americans are too preoccupied with beer, barbecue and baseball to pause and recognize the priceless burden borne by generations of our uniformed Patriots. Likewise, many politicos will use Memorial Day as a soapbox to feign Patriotism, while in reality they are in constant violation of their oaths to our Constitution.
That notwithstanding, there are still tens of millions of American Patriots who will set aside the last Monday in May to honor all those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen who have refreshed the Tree of Liberty with their blood, indeed with their lives, so that we might remain the proud and free. My family, which humbly descends from generations of American Patriots from the American Revolution forward, will honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's fallen warriors by offering prayer in thanksgiving for the legacy of Liberty they have bequeathed to us, and by participating in respectful commemorations.
Since the opening salvos of the American Revolution, nearly 1.2 million American Patriots have died in defense of Liberty. Additionally, 1.4 million have been wounded in combat, and tens of millions more have served honorably, surviving without physical wounds. These numbers, of course, offer no reckoning of the inestimable value of their service or the sacrifices borne by their families, but we do know that the value of Liberty extended to their posterity -- to us -- is priceless.
Who were these brave souls?
On 12 May 1962, Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, delivering his farewell speech, "Duty, Honor and Country." He described the legions of uniformed American Patriots as follows: "Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures -- not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless."
"His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast.
"But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
"In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
"I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light."
Duty. Honor. Country -- these are not for bargain sale or discount.
Reagan, 1982 Memorial Day; Jefferson
Reply #2 on:
May 24, 2012, 11:47:59 AM »
second post of day:
On Memorial Day of 1982, President Ronald Reagan offered these words in honor of Patriots interred at Arlington National Cemetery: "I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."
"Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves.
"It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. ... The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery.
"One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GIs of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way.
"As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. ... I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: "O! say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" That is what we must all ask."
Thomas Jefferson offered this enduring advice to all generations of Patriots: "Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them."
Last Edit: May 24, 2012, 11:52:05 AM by Crafty_Dog
Re: Memorial Day
Reply #3 on:
May 25, 2012, 07:35:16 AM »
Every year, I love the front page of the website around Memorial Day. That is such a powerful picture. Thank you for the reminder, Guro.
A short article on the history of Memorial Day:
WSJ: Why they serve
Reply #4 on:
May 25, 2012, 08:15:15 AM »
Tom Manion: Why They Serve—'If Not Me, Then Who?'
After more than a decade of war, remarkable men and women are still stepping forward..Article Comments (57) more in Opinion | Find New $LINKTEXTFIND$ ».Email Print Save ↓ More .
.smaller Larger By TOM MANION
I served in the military for 30 years. But it was impossible to fully understand the sacrifices of our troops and their families until April 29, 2007, the day my son, First Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq.
Travis was just 26 years old when an enemy sniper's bullet pierced his heart after he had just helped save two wounded comrades. Even though our family knew the risks of Travis fighting on the violent streets of Fallujah, being notified of his death on a warm Sunday afternoon in Doylestown, Pa., was the worst moment of our lives.
While my son's life was relatively short, I spend every day marveling at his courage and wisdom. Before his second and final combat deployment, Travis said he wanted to go back to Iraq in order to spare a less-experienced Marine from going in his place. His words—"If not me, then who . . . "—continue to inspire me.
My son is one of thousands to die in combat since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Because of their sacrifices, as well as the heroism of previous generations, Memorial Day 2012 should have tremendous importance to our entire nation, with an impact stretching far beyond one day on the calendar.
In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of American troops continue to sweat, fight and bleed. In April alone, 35 U.S. troops were killed there, including Army Capt. Nick Rozanski, 36, who made the difficult decision to leave his wife and children to serve our country overseas.
"My brother didn't necessarily have to go to Afghanistan," Spc. Alex Rozanski, Nick's younger brother and fellow Ohio National Guard soldier, said. "He chose to because he felt an obligation."
Sgt. Devin Snyder "loved being a girly-girl, wearing her heels and carrying her purses," according to her mother, Dineen Snyder. But Sgt. Snyder, 20, also took it upon herself to put on an Army uniform and serve in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan as a military police officer. She was killed by an enemy roadside bomb, alongside three fellow soldiers and a civilian contractor, on June 4, 2011.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Douville was an explosive ordnance disposal technician, doing an incredibly dangerous job depicted in "The Hurt Locker." He was a loving husband and father of three children. "He was my best friend," his wife, LaShana Douville, said. "He was a good person."
A U.S. Marine in Kajaki, Afghanistan
.Douville, 33, was killed in a June 26, 2011, explosion in Afghanistan's Helmand province, where some of the fiercest fighting of the decade-long conflict continues to this day.
When my son died in Iraq, his U.S. Naval Academy roommate, Brendan Looney, was in the middle of BUD/S (basic underwater demolition) training to become a Navy SEAL. Devastated by his good friend's death, Brendan called us in anguish, telling my wife and me that losing Travis was too much for him to handle during the grueling training regimen.
Lt. Brendan Looney overcame his grief to become "Honor Man" of his SEAL class, and he served in Iraq before later deploying to Afghanistan. On Sept. 21, 2010, after completing 58 combat missions, Brendan died with eight fellow warriors when their helicopter crashed in Zabul province. He was 29. Brendan and Travis now rest side-by-side in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
"The friendship between First Lt. Travis Manion and Lt. Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day: brotherhood, sacrifice, love of country," President Obama said at Arlington on Memorial Day 2011. "And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond."
But the essence of our country, which makes me even prouder than the president's speech, is the way our nation's military families continue to serve. Even after more than a decade of war, these remarkable men and women are still stepping forward.
As the father of a fallen Marine, I hope Americans will treat this Memorial Day as more than a time for pools to open, for barbecues or for a holiday from work. It should be a solemn day to remember heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, and also a stark reminder that our country is still at war.
For the Rozanskis, Snyders, Douvilles, Looneys and thousands more like us, every day is Memorial Day. If the rest of the nation joins us to renew the spirit of patriotism, service and sacrifice, perhaps America can reunite, on this day of reverence, around the men and women who risk their lives to defend it.
Col. Manion, USMCR (Ret.), is on the board of the Travis Manion Foundation, which assists veterans and the families of the fallen.
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