MEMORIAL DAY, 2018 Steve Carpenteri
Continued from Home Page.
|Maine, they say, has one of the highest populations of military veterans in the United States. You’ll see them in diners and cafes all across the state, participating in motorcycle events and old car shows, taking donations and working the booth for children’s causes - places where, it seems, old veterans should be in their declining years.
Sadly, most of our living veterans spent their time in service during a period of war, police actions or international law enforcement on behalf of the U.S., meaning the majority of them experienced, in one way or another, the brutally high cost of democratic freedom. Nearly every veteran you meet on Main Street in Maine knows someone who did not make it back home at the end of his tour of duty, and those are the ones we gather to honor in our Memorial Day celebrations.
Maine’s living veterans participated in wars dating back to 1941 – there are not many WWII vets out there anymore but there are some, survivors of Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, D-Day and all the other campaigns that cost so many lives to win.
Korean War veterans are only recently receiving recognition for their efforts in the early 1950s, when there was one Korea. Those who fought in that bloody conflict know too well the price that was paid to create the Demilitarized Zone and the two Koreas that have been at odds ever since. Soon, history may show that good can come of war if current negotiations, promises and demands are met. Perhaps if Korea once again becomes one democratic nation the sacrifices of our fighting men will have been worth it.
Viet Nam veterans left 58,000 of their friends and brothers behind when that 10-year conflict ended in 1975. It was a miserable time for this country, with continuing conflicts at home and abroad that kept churning well into the ‘80s. Veterans of that war waited decades to be recognized for their contributions on behalf of their country, and at last the hate and anger has subsided. The loss of American lives was great and still causes immense heartache among those who were there and the families of those who died.
Sadly, our contribution in military lives continues as wars in Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere continue to add to the list of America’s war dead. While the politicians, the pundits, the protesters and talk-show hosts, insulated from military reality, continue to debate whether any of these actions were or are worthwhile, Maine’s veterans pause and remember not the political whys and wherefores but the memory of those who paid the enormous price for freedom in our behalf.
Our veterans are getting older every day, with WWII vets in their 90s, Korean vets in their 80s and many from Viet Nam already in their 70s – those who survive go on as best they can but they all have one common bond; they come together today to celebrate and honor the lives of those they left behind.
These days there are increasing numbers of Maine veterans in the hometown crowd on Memorial Day, many of them marching, carrying flags, saluting and standing at attention while the wreaths are laid, the speeches are made and the marching bands pass by. Look closely at these aging soldiers, sailors and Marines and you’ll see a momentary, deep sadness in their eyes as the color guard passes by. Many cannot speak as they remember where they were and all that happened so long ago, but they are filled with pride for having done their part then and now, ensuring that the lives that were lost on their watch will not be forgotten.
It is easy enough for citizens, civilians and non-combatants of all stripes to forget that Memorial Day is not about back-yard barbecues, fun at the beach or a day off from work. We veterans hope that all Americans will take just a moment to reflect on the true meaning of this day; to think about the endless rows of crosses at Arlington, Normandy and cemeteries large and small across this great country and the world. Spend that routine moment of silence that prefaces every event this day to consider the sacrifices made by those heroic souls.
Each cross standing tall around the world represents the life of one American soldier who gallantly and willingly traded his future for those of us who came after. They had plans and dreams, lives and loves to look forward to but fate and the job at hand left them no other choice. They did what they thought was right and good for their countrymen and it is up to us now to show our appreciation for their momentous sacrifice. Could you do it? Would you do it? Hopefully it will never come to that and Americans from now on can go forth, live, love and prosper without the dreadful fear of another war looming on the horizon.
Your life is your own to live as you see fit thanks to the gift that was given to you by those we are honoring today. Enjoy it, embrace it, but don’t take it for granted. The freedoms we value in this country were purchased with the blood, courage and determination of military heroes who boldly and bravely walked onto battlefields around the world knowing that some would never return.
The bravery that began at Bunker Hill continues even today. Brave Americans are risking their lives in our behalf. Honor them, thank them, and promise that their sacrifices have not been in vain. Find your place on Main Street, stand tall as the color guard passes, join in that moment of silence and offer a solemn salute to the veterans of your town as they march past. Take a moment to show that you appreciate and understand the true cost of freedom.
They would not ask for anything more.