Following originally posted on Memorial Day, 2013:
About a decade before I was born, 2,400 American men and women lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor, drawing us into World War II. By the end of the war that number would exceed 400,000.
Veterans Day is a tribute to all who have served our nation, Memorial Day commemorates those whose service includes the ultimate sacrifice, life itself.
Service. Sacrifice. The very words define patriotism. Democracy. America.
Memorial Day took root during the Civil War (early 1860’s) as Decoration Day, when local townspeople decorated soldiers’ graves.
The name Memorial Day gained popularity after World War II and was made official by Congress in 1967. A year later Congress moved it to the last Monday of May.
To some it’s a time to shop for mattresses, watch the Indy 500 and barbecue.
I got the following email from a place called Union Ale House:
Veterans Get 50% off your Meal this Memorial Day! We are Grateful for Those Who Are Serving, Served & Given Their Lives to Protect Our Country & Our Freedom. Thank you. Claim and share this coupon with your friends to get an additional incentive!
I’d never heard of the place, so I googled it and found out it’s in Prospect Heights, IL. Not that I would ever go there, but think about it. They’re offering a 92-year old guy who stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day 50% off a cheeseburger.
How about some half-priced onion rings for the 23-year old kid who got his legs blown off in Afghanistan?
Tom Brokaw describes the people who lived through the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II as the the Greatest Generation. Having met many of those who returned from that war, I don’t see how anyone could argue with that.
Survivors of World War II are a national treasure and they are leaving us at about 900 per day. Soon, there will be none.
Not-for-profit groups like Honor Flight and VetsRoll bring World War II veterans to Washington, DC to visit the memorials and tributes to those who not only wrote history, they preserved it.
It is because of these groups that I have met amazing men and women and through them, I have been afforded glimpses into the lives and deaths of their fallen comrades.
One can only imagine an America where those 400,000 would have passed on their strength, their principles, their humility and their humanity. An America in which those fallen heroes would have participated in the growth of their nation.
Every year I try to take a moment to think about those lost during that horrific time in human history.
One of the soldiers I’m going to think about is a guy named John who landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day with the 29th Infantry Division.
As his landing craft’s ramp was lowered, John turned to his best friend, John Chrenka and warned him to be careful. John Chrenka survived that day and received a Silver Star. Chrenka’s friend, the guy on his left who warned him to be careful was killed moments after stepping off the ramp, as was the soldier on Chrenka’s right.
Listening to Chrenka re-live that day, you know that it is as clear in his mind as if it happened yesterday.
It is through John Chrenka and others re-telling those moments that keep the memory of their fallen comrades alive. It is through their re-telling of those moments that we can memorialize those who sacrificed their lives for ours.
Sometimes I wonder what they would think if they had the chance to come back and see how it all turned out. Would they think it was worth it?
I wonder which of the current presidential candidates would they think represents the freedom, tolerance and opportunity for which they fought and died?
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve done enough in my own life to live up to the legacy of that unfathomable level of sacrifice. How about you?
If you’d like to help send some very deserving World War II veterans to Washington, DC this summer, click here .
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