Tag: Memorial Day

The Dead Man in the Background


I was reading Medal of Honor citations and something really stuck with me. The recipient’s heroism is often shadowed by dead men. For example, one soldier’s unit came under fire, and the lieutenant led a counter-charge before swiftly getting cut down. The recipient took over the charge, storming the position and killing several of the enemy. We know little of this dead officer, the dead man fading into the background. Could he have fought side by side with the honored recipient all the way through the end? Would he have risen to the occasion later, saving other soldiers with his service? Could he have been a successful man civilian life — a father, a gentleman, a businessman, a scholar, or even a hero in his civilian life? We don’t know, and can’t know, and he falls into a sea of stories that few remember.

This is not out of neglect or malice. There are literally so many stories of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen lost in battle that no one can remember them all. That’s why we have Memorial Day — a day for the dead men in the background of our country, the people who died so we remain free, since each of their lives matters. This is not a movie with stars and extras, this is a story of people much like us who gave up their lives.

They Also Served: Cold War Casualties


U.S. Army Major Arthur D. Nicholson was called the last Cold War casualty, killed in 1985, 35 years ago. I argue he was not, tell the rest of the story about his death, and offer a brief account of a young soldier who died, as I recall, in 1988. Both Major Nicholson and a number of service members who are known mostly to their families and former unit members died in defense of our nation during the long Cold War.

Major Nicholson was in uniform, accompanied by a sergeant when he was shot dead in East Germany by a Soviet soldier. His sergeant was held at gunpoint and made to watch the major bleed to death. The Soviets were making a point. Major Nicholson was a true hero, not to be confused with “true heroes” as medical personnel who actually face minimal risk of death treating COVID-19 patients.

A Small Memorial Day Ceremony


This afternoon at exactly 3 p.m., a small group of Scouts from Troop 466 (where I have been as Asst. Scoutmaster for 20 years) gathered in the parking lot of Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church in Silicon Valley — joining Scouts around the nation — to hold a short ceremony. Troop 466 is actually quite large — 90 boys and, now, 10 girls in a sister troop — but at the local Council’s request, we kept it to a small group, masked and keeping the proper social distancing.

We began by taking turns memorializing veterans in our own lives. Needless to say, the parents mostly spoke. I mentioned that my family tree is filled with warriors, from the French and Indian War through almost every conflict in American history up to and including Afghanistan. I dedicated the day to my great-uncle John Collins, who died in the trenches in WWI.

We then held a brief flag ceremony. The troop has an elaborate historic US flag ceremony involving a half-dozen flags from throughout our history. But they are stored in the gym and church has been shut down and locked up now for more than two months. Instead, searching for a solution, I decided to bring my father’s funeral flag.

ACF Memorial Day: Patton


So we’re celebrating Memorial Day and I wrote an essay on Patton, the greatest American war movie. It’s a good day to watch the movie again, and to remember the great man. In my essay, I talk about the importance of great men in times of crisis, the limits of institutions and the specific character of the modern executive, and the way this ties to American character.

If I may also recommend VDH on Patton, perhaps as good a starter for conversation as the movie itself:

Learn all about how Memorial Day started and why it’s so important to celebrate those who have given their lives defending our freedom.

On this special Memorial Day edition of the Dave Carter Show, the host takes us back to his days of driving a military show truck to special events across the country.  A veteran himself, Dave tells about his final event in the show truck, during which he accompanied the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to a small town in southeast Texas.  Written from the perspective of that memorial, Dave tells the stories of the men and women who gave their lives for our country, and of the comrades, family, and friends they left behind. Please take about 10 minutes, and listen to this moving account.

Memorial Day: ‘Mort de la Guerre’


Over 40 years ago while bicycling through eastern France, I took a break and walked into a small grove of trees that grew in the middle of a wheat field. There, sitting in a small clearing was a simple stone, inscribed with the phrase “mort de la guerre.”

There was no name, no date, and no means of identification, just a simple stone marking the final resting place of someone who had fallen in defense of Liberty.

Since then, the men and women of the United States armed forces have been sent to the far corners of the world to defend the Liberty that we so often take for granted. It’s only appropriate that we dedicate at least one day a year in remembrance of those who didn’t come back.

Memory and Forgetfulness:Part 2


Seventy-five years ago, Operation Overlord was launched, opening a third land front in the strategic counteroffensive against Nazi Germany. The Germans were already reeling back from their high-water mark in the east (Stalingrad), and had squandered the cream of their veteran force in the Battle of Kursk during the summer of 1943. Predominantly American forces were slowly slugging their way up the length of Italy, where terrain favored competent defenders. It was finally time to open a western front with the sort of maneuver room found on the eastern front. We ought to pay tribute now, while there are still veterans of that great crusade with us.

The note here, dated July 5, was written by General Eisenhower, in case the D-Day landings failed. He praised “the troops, the air, and the navy,” and took total responsibility for the failure: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” His message was ready for transmission to the Allied nations. Mercifully, it never needed to be sent.

Calling out the deeds and identities of World War II heroes, both lost and living, is especially fitting on this, “The Last Longest Day.”

Memorial Day in a Small Town


We stand on the shore of the lake and wait. The shore is steep and spring green, winter having only recently retreated from my small home town in northern Wisconsin. It’s overcast, but still we squint up into the grey clouds, watching and listening for the airplane.

Every year on Memorial Day, just before the start of the parade, a small private plane flies in low over the lake on the edge of town. From the plane drops a single wreath, which falls slowly to the surface where it floats briefly before sinking to the bottom.

Over on main street we can hear the high school band warming up. A few short notes from a trumpet, some squeaking of woodwinds. It’s a small band — it’s a small school — and most of those kids probably don’t want to be there, but this is what they signed up for.

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Reading the many moving Memorial Day tributes/reminders online, there are two I’d like to draw to Ricochet’s attention.  First is Memorial Day tribute by a pastor, Bob Russell. Couple of observations: I recall the same respectful silence in theater after watching Saving Private Ryan he describes; he’s right that it would be good required viewing […]

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Daughter’s Band in DC Memorial Day Parade


I believe it was Senator Steve Daines who nominated my daughter’s school band to play in Washington, DC this coming Monday. The band, which ends its yearly spring concert with a hearty rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” was honored to accept. Glacier High School will be wearing green uniforms, and we can follow along with the event live here.

Of course I’m happy and proud, but I’m also looking forward to having my kid back safe from DC next week, done with plane rides, and ready to graduate on the first of June.

Memorial Day Weekend “To Do” List


You have been bombarded with messages about sales, specials, and entertainment opportunities for this weekend. Please add the following items at the top of your list for the weekend, slipping the big sale a little ways down the page.

If you have not seen the HBO movie Taking Chance (included in Amazon Prime, available elsewhere), watch it. Have a box of tissues or a couple hankies handy. If you had other entertainment plans, watch this trailer, and reassess your priorities for the weekend:

Remembering the Boys of Pointe du Hoc this Memorial Day


Friday’s online Wall Street Journal carried the usual Saturday column by Peggy Noonan. Aside from having been one of President Reagan’s speechwriters, Noonan is not ordinarily one of my favorites, but today’s column, “Which Way to Pointe du Hoc?”  really hit home for me for some very personal reasons.

One of the main reasons I signed up for a D-Day to the Rhine tour was that I wanted to stand on the spot where President Reagan stood when he delivered one of the most powerful speeches ever delivered by any President, “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” with a number of the survivors of that truly miraculous assault straight up a 150-foot cliff sitting on the front row. There is a video of that speech and every time I watch it I realize anew that it represents the very essence of what Memorial Day is all about. I have been trying to read everything I can get my hands on about this particular part of D-Day, and every time I find something else, I learn about one or more miracles which took place that day; courage and bravery beyond mere words. They were The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. Thank God for them. And all their Brothers in Arms.

As I assume this column is behind the WSJ paywall, here are a few of the passages which relate to the miraculous climb straight up those cliffs and the President’s remarks on the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944:

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Memorial Day is a day to remember, a day In Memoriam to those who have died in service to country. Some talented citizens make beautiful tributes with patriotic quotes set to stirring orchestration that never fail to stir my gratitude and grief for those lost and those who love and miss them still. This year […]

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Friday Food and Drink Post: For The Gift I Have Received, I Am Truly Thankful


File:World War I veteran Joseph Ambrose, 86, at the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982.jpgThis Monday, May 27, is the nation’s officially designated Memorial Day. My mother-in-law never called it anything but Decoration Day, and never celebrated it on any day other than May 30 in any given year.

The day has an interesting history, and yet its essence today is simple and can be distilled as follows: Let us remember, in all the ways we can, those members of the United States Armed Forces who’ve given their all, so that we may live in peace and freedom. One of the ways we do that, in context and with love and appreciation in our hearts, is to enjoy the day with our family and friends. We may attend community and church events. Often, we picnic and have fun. Sometimes we mourn a personal and private loss. But always, we remember and are thankful.

I was first introduced to “Memorial Day” in the mid-1960s.  We had moved from the UK and were living in a Pittsburgh suburb, where Memorial Day was commemorated each year with a huge block party.  I don’t know if  they’re such a big deal anymore, but at the time they were very popular get-togethers, and it seemed as though every neighbor and resident, and almost all male family members (and a few women, too), had been actively engaged in the war effort (Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and even a few WWI veterans), most of them in combat.  And everyone had relatives and friends who’d died in battle.  The party itself was always a pleasant event and cheerful event, a day of fellowship and tradition, the start of summer, the day the community swimming pools opened, but it was also a time of somber reflection and remembrance, of flags displayed and of prayer, and of appreciation for those who had paid a price, sometimes with their bodies, sometimes with their souls, so that we and our families could enjoy the day peacefully and freely.  The annual Memorial Day picnics were one of the events that bound us together as friends and neighbors, and as part of a common culture and community.

Code Talkers


We are between Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day. The first is a minor holiday intended to honor those serving in our military. The second is a major federal holiday and is intended to commemorate our honored war dead. A recent conversation with a younger veteran led to talk of his grandfathers’ service in World War II, and that in turn led to a broader reflection on a seldom remembered or only partially understood group of Americans in the two world wars.

The younger veteran’s Hopi grandfather was a tank mechanic. His Navaho grandfather was a code talker in the Marine Corps. As we talked, I mentioned recently learning of the original WWI code talkers, a small team of Choctaw Indians in the American Expeditionary Forces. The Native American veteran replied that there were Hopi and other tribes also used as code talkers in WWII. It is just that the Navajos were the largest group and became the center of historical attention.

A brief exploration of this little known history revealed that I had missed the recent passing of Navajo Code Talker Fleming Begaye, Sr.

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The third Sunday in May on my calendar is called Armed Forces Day. It used to be called “I am an American” Day. It is a day to honor and receive into the American family, all those who choose to come to the United States and become citizens. Turner Classic Movies has been featuring for […]

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