It’s Memorial Day.
As a retired U.S. Navy veteran, I don’t much like hearing people say “Happy Memorial Day”. I avoid saying those words, choosing instead the greeting, “Have a GOOD Memorial Day”. If you think about it you may come to understand why I prefer to use the latter rather than the former. That first greeting is so often and casually used by the media and by people who say such things to each other (and to me) without thinking. There is often confusion between the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day where there should not be. Many people – particularly those who never served in the military or who didn’t know someone who did serve or who never lost a loved one or friend in military service, simply don’t have an understanding of the true meaning of the Memorial Day holiday. Still, I and many of my fellow veterans appreciate the thought and the sentimental greeting and don’t make it a big deal when people say to us, “Thank you for your service.” We know people mean well. Some of us simply remind them that Memorial Day is actually for those men and women who died while in military service.
Sadly however, many other people have a certain amount of ignorance or worse, a form of disrespect for Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) and just don’t give a damn. Those particular people (some whose comments I’ve encountered on Facebook) tend to think of this day as “national BBQ day” and/or ignore the meaning of Memorial Day completely. They attack or speak ill of both my deceased and living brothers and sisters in uniform. They try to write comments or verbally attack anyone who chooses to put on a military uniform, who willingly subjects him or herself to the authority of some elected or political-appointed civilian and/or and higher military ranking as being war mongers, “baby killers” (yes, that old anti-war term is still being used) and destroyers of lands and the way of life of other nations and cultures. They also say that anyone who would intentionally put their lives at risk for capture or death in some foreign ocean, land or air space while serving in the military deserves their fate. There are some very nasty people out there and it’s sad that so many are on social media. People with that mindset probably ask of themselves – and I know they’ve rhetorically have ask others, “Why should they give a fuck about what Memorial Day is, let alone bother to give recognition to people who wage war?” I shake my head at these people for therein lays one of the first signs of ignorance. You see, admirals and generals – and the men and women who take orders from them, do not wage or start wars; they fight them. Only CIVILIANS wage war.
Allow me to digress.
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You know, the very reason people can ignore Memorial Day and have their “national BBQ day” in the first place is due to the efforts and ultimate sacrifices of this country’s brave men and women in military service. The military in many ways is indeed a society and an environment unlike no other. However, some aspects of the military job are awfully shitty. Let me repeat: some aspects of the military job are awfully shitty. Somebody goddamnit, has to got to do that job! Often that means the military service person has to go in harm’s way and take in some burning bullets or fiery explosions from some fired, thrown, dropped or hidden grenade or bomb. People who feel so damn strongly against the military ought not to attack those Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen or Reservists who put their lives on the line nor should they disrespect any date on the calendar designated to give remembrance and honor to those servicemen. Instead such people ought to use their First Amendment right to free speech and the rights and privileges they have as Americans to communicate their concerns and objections to their elected leaders; rights and privileges – which by the way, were protected by thousands of servicemen and women who are now deceased – and the very same rights and privileges which continue being protected daily by many living military personnel on military bases, ships and joint foreign command posts all over the world.
As I said, many people tend to do certain things out of ignorance. Am I bias towards the side of the military because I served in the military? You goddamn right I am! I will call to task any person who shows and/or expresses disrespect for those men and women in our armed forces who have served and died in honorable service to our country! I will call to task any person who shows and/or expresses disrespect for those who are now serving honorably!
**For my hearing impaired readers, here is the clip transcript that starts at point 0:40 with the camera on Nicholson.
The part of the movie speech I like and which I want you to pay attention, is in bold.
A Few Good Men (written by Aaron Sorkin)
Jessep: (Jack Nicholson) You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I’m entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.
Kaffee: Did you order the code red?
Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!!
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When I saw that movie upon its release some twenty-two years ago, me and every military person in the theater shouted in unison praise! It was wonderful! You just had to be there!
Anyone who appreciates their American freedoms usually knows and understands what it took – and what it takes to keep much of what is and has been happening over there (in some foreign country) from coming over here to American shores. They understand that freedom, while taken for granted by so many in the United States, is indeed not free – and is an expression that is more than some easy cliché. One does not have to be a veteran or someone serving on active duty in order to be supportive of our men and women in the military who now protect and who have once protected that freedom. They simply need to know and be thankful that someone is always on the front line as they sleep at night!
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During my military service, I’ve participated in my share of military burial details – both on land and at sea. I’ve done the full military honors thing that included being in full military dress, giving the 21-gun salute, folding of our nation’s flag, carrying the coffin to a burial site or committing the body or the ashes of the deceased serviceman’s body at sea and I’ve endured the playing of Taps afterwards. Each and every one of the ceremonies in which I’ve participated, while beautiful in performance – and which I was honored to have been a participant for that fallen Sailor or Marine, is still ominous and sad.
I will always know the history of – and recognize and respect the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who served in our military long before me, during my period in service and the period after. As a veteran, I too have lived through periods of loss of brother Sailors and Marines during my years of service. I’ve either known personally or were once acquainted (since we served in the same command) with some guys who lost or gave their lives in the honored service of America. May those men continue to rest in peace.
At this writing, I’m remembering a few incidents during my twenty-year career span in the U.S. Navy where servicemen gave/lost their lives:
- the U.S. Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers who, with other friendly foreign military servicemen, lost their lives when the barracks in Beirut, Lebanon was bombed October 23,1983. Some 241 lives were lost;
- the 37 lives were loss on board the USS Stark (FFG-35) on May 17, 1987. I commissioned and had served on two ships built of the same design as the Oliver Hazard Perry class/type guided-missile fast frigate Stark. I’m therefore intimately familiar with the location on the 453-foot ship where two Iraqi Exocet missiles, fired from an Iraq Air Force jet, struck her. That was during the Iran-Iraq war…what many like to refer to as the “First Persian Gulf War” (1980-1988). The Stark incident touched me deeply and personally. Perhaps someday I’ll tell that story.
- the 47 Sailors who died from a gun turret explosion on board the great battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) in 1989. Though she was not attacked by an enemy there were still innocent lives which were needlessly lost on Iowa because of a mixture of carelessness and other factors I won’t dare get into in this article. However, it needs to be noted that there simply are things that cannot be loosely tolerated, short-changed or – to use a Navy term for slacking off, “gundecked” on any warship – for the crew on any warship must first and foremost always prepare and ready that ship to rely on itself for support when at sea until help – if needed, arrives.
…and a year after my retirement from the Navy…
- the 17 men who died on the destroyer ship USS Cole (DDG-67) when Al-Qaeda suicide terrorists bombed her in Yemen – specifically in the seaport of Aden in October 2000. I recall my ship USS Nashville (LPD-13) having moored there years earlier during Operation Desert Storm, which is one reason that incident – in that area, means something to me.
I could go on with more stories regarding the sacrifice of the American military serviceman which occurred during my career and shortly after I retired, and of course, about the thousands of American military lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions before and after 9/11 but these few instances will do for the purpose of this article. I encourage you to click on the links of each to read or refresh yourself of the history regarding those examples of great military sacrifice.
Let me close with this reminder about Memorial Day:
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day which is in November. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while in military service to our nation, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans in wartime and peacetime. While I and many of my fellow veterans appreciate people giving me/us thanks for my/our military service, I must tell you that such greeting and salutations is [officially] about six months early. Don’t get me wrong; we understand your well-meaning but the focus on Memorial Day needs to be on those military servicemen and women who died in battle, from battle wounds and even those veterans who later passed on to the next life years after their honored service.
Since it is Memorial Day, here’s another reason it’s important to observe the day this year! July 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. Click World War I Centennial Commemoration to learn more about events happening in the U.S. to commemorate this point in our country’s history that lead up to America’s entry into what was called,“The Great War”. Click First World War Centenary to learn of other events happening around the world to commemorate the occasion. Many considered World War I to be “the war to end all wars“, a catch-phase created after author H.G. Wells’ book with a similar name was published shortly after WWI started. You may begin seeing and/or hearing media ads and promotions about the centennial of World War I.
If you happen to see a military serviceman/woman in uniform on the street or know a veteran, by all means, please express your appreciation for what they do. Such genuine, impromptu greetings often make that servicemen’s or veteran’s day. Trust me! Stop by a military or veterans memorial cemetery or park and
look at read the engraved names of our deceased brave military service men and women on markers in the ground. Take your children with you!
Finally, remember that America –with all her problems, is still the land of the free. Let’s not forget there are thousands of nefarious people who plot everyday to take away our freedoms and change and/or destroy our way of life! With that in mind, I’m aware that there are many people who have stated repeatedly that they would like to move out of this country due to their distaste in current political leadership, intolerance with certain social issues, conflicts with religion regarding those social issues and a host of other issues which are things which any free republic has to endure. Meanwhile, hundreds of people all over the world are trying to move to this country. People want to live in a place where they can be free to be who they are and where they can [legally] express themselves without fear of retribution. America seems to be that place – to some extent, more than any other country on the globe. If you’ve never visited or never had an extended stay in another country there is little doubt that you will ever truly appreciate nor completely understand the many freedoms we enjoy and often take for granted here in the United States – even though we still have a very long way to go with regard to issues of equality covering race, gender and sexual orientation, just to name a few.
America is a free nation because of the sacrifices of thousands of brave men and women in military uniform and those in that particular sub-culture who died protecting that OUR freedom. Remember that… and again, be sure to teach your children!
Have a good Memorial Day!