Tag Archives: Memorial Day

Our heroic warriors do not ‘die in vain’

A social media acquaintance of mine tells me that Memorial Day is a holiday he wishes “we didn’t need.”

Amen to that.

I want to offer a point of view, though, that might puzzle some readers of this blog. If it does, I will try my best to explain.

My belief is that service personnel who die in conflicts that are deemed to be “politically unpopular” do not “die in vain.” I hear that kind of criticism leveled at our politicians and, to be candid, it makes my hair stand up; I bristle badly at the accusation.

Yes, this nation has been involved in armed conflict that has sparked ferocious political debate here at home.

In my lifetime, I suppose you could go back to the Korean War, which began just five years after the Japanese surrendered to end World War II, arguably the nation’s last truly righteous war.

The fighting ended in Korea in 1953 but to this very moment, South and North Korea remain in a state of war; they only signed a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed.

Vietnam ratcheted the political debate to new levels, beginning around 1966. The Vietnam War did not end well for this country. We pulled our troops off the battlefield in early 1973, only to watch as North Vietnamese troops stormed into Saigon two years later, capturing the South Vietnamese capital city, renaming it after Ho Chi Minh and sending thousands of enemy sympathizers off to what they called “re-education camps.”

The Persian Gulf War was brief and proved to be successful. Then came 9/11 and we went to war again in Afghanistan and less than two years later in Iraq.

We have lost tens of thousands of young Americans in all those politically volatile conflicts since Korea. Yes, there have been accusations that those warriors “died in vain.”

They did not! They died while answering their nation’s call to duty. They might have been politically unpopular conflicts — but the orders that came down to our young citizens were lawful.

I will continue to resist mightily the notion that our heroic military personnel died in vain. I know better than that. I only wish the critics of public policy decisions that produce misery and heartache would cease defaming the heroism of those who died in defense of the principle that grants citizens the right to complain about our government.

I join my social media acquaintance in wishing away the need to commemorate Memorial Day. But we cannot … as long as young men and women answer their nation’s call to arms.

Here is to you, our national heroes

To my fellow veterans, I am sending you a note in a form I usually reserve for politicians. This is an open letter to you, our heroes.

You know who you are, even if you won’t acknowledge it. You are the individuals who paid the ultimate price for defending our nation against its enemies.

I want to share some thoughts with you on this Memorial Day. Your heroism hasn’t been forgotten.

Our nation has been honoring you since the Civil War. They used to call it Decoration Day. It morphed into Memorial Day. These days, of course, we spend a lot of time grilling outdoors, taking advantage of the unofficial start of summer. We play with our families, laugh and carry on.

But this holiday carries a deep and somber meaning. Your loved ones, those who still mourn their loss, always commemorate your heroism on battlefields far away. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

I once had the honor of taking part in the development of an exhibit intended to honor you. It’s in Amarillo. They call it the Texas Panhandle Veterans War Memorial. The then-head of the Vets Center in Amarillo — Pete Garcia, a U.S. Air Force veteran — asked me to write some narratives that would be engraved on one side of stone tablets; the narratives gave a brief history of the conflict to be memorialized. I did so, along with two other fellows who lived in the Amarillo area.

On the other side of the tablets contain the names of those Texas Panhandle residents who fell during those wars. Some of your names are engraved on the stones.

I was proud to play a small part in that project. It’s up now and is growing. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell — a Vietnam War veteran — has added wonderful new exhibits to the memorial site: an F-100 fighter jet; a UH-1 Huey helicopter; and most recently, a piece of the battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk by Japanese war planes at Pearl Harbor. The memorial board has acquired the now-abandoned county annex building next to the memorial and hopes to turn the annex into an interactive museum.

The centerpiece of that memorial, though, is the names etched in stone. Two of them belong to Medal of Honor recipients: Marines Thomas Creek (who died in Vietnam) and Charles Roan (who died in World War II). They all are your brothers.

You’re all heroes. We owe you eternal thanks because you paid your last full measure of devotion to the nation we all love.

Optics, Mr. POTUS … optics!

I cannot take credit for this, as I got it from a social media friend.

But the picture of Donald Trump yukking it up with a sumo wrestler, in Japan, on Memorial Day weekend sums up quite nicely this president’s utter lack of understanding of what this memory is meant to commemorate.

My social media friend wonders whether it would have been better for Trump to visit, oh, a Japanese military cemetery or perhaps visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, two Japanese cities to suffer the only two atomic attacks ever launched during wartime.

Oh, no! Instead, the former reality TV celebrity and real estate mogul decided to attend a sumo match in the land of our former mortal enemy (and current important ally) on a weekend intended to honor the memory of Americans who died in battle, thousands of whom died at the hands of Japanese fighters.

Yes, the president and first lady went to Arlington National Cemetery the other day to lay flowers on graves of American service personnel. I appreciate that gesture.

But . . . we set aside this weekend to pay somber tribute to those who died fighting for our way of life, for our freedom, and against tyranny and the tyrants who seek to assert it.

Is there irony, given this current president’s relationships with strongmen? Yeah. I think so.

Let us commemorate the sacrifices made on our behalf

My life has been filled with good fortune. Sure, there were obstacles to overcome as I came of age, but through it all I have been blessed beyond measure.

One of the blessings of my life has been that — to my knowledge — none of the people with whom I graduated from Parkrose High School in Portland, Ore., were lost on foreign battlefields. No one died during the Vietnam War, which was raging during the Summer of Love, in 1967, when I walked across the stage to receive my diploma.

Many of my classmates certainly could have “bought it.” They endured unimaginable combat hardship. I am thinking at this moment of Jack Estes, a Marine who has written about the terrible loss and post-traumatic stress he endures so many years later. Then there’s Dudley Young, an Army helicopter pilot who I am certain faced death many times during his time in the war zone.

There were others from our class who ventured forth after high school to do their duty for God and country. They all came home and for that I am eternally grateful.

I think, though, today of a young man I met during my own Vietnam War tour. Jose De La Torre hailed from Fullerton, Calif. I didn’t know him well. He extended his tour several times. Then he got his orders to go home. He was excited, thrilled, ready to return to “The World.” He came into our work station to give us the good news. We wished him well.

Fate got in the way.

In the spring of 1969, he scrambled for one final mission aboard his Huey helicopter. He flew into a tragic mistake. The troop lift mission wasn’t supposed to include a “hot” landing — but it did. His flight of “slicks” and gunships was hit by intense enemy fire.

De La Torre died that day.

I’ve had the high honor of seeing his name etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in D.C. I have sought to honor his memory and the memories of all the men and women whose names are on that wall. Fifty-eight thousand-plus of them gave their “last full measure of devotion” to this great nation.

Memorial Day isn’t a holiday to celebrate. It is one in which we commemorate the sacrifices of those who fell in defense of our nation. They go back a long way, to the founding of this republic more than two centuries ago. They’re still falling today.

We should all count our blessings. I know I do. they are rich and plentiful. We also should thank the Americans who died to preserve them for us.

Trump demonstrates unfitness constantly

Donald J. Trump’s idiotic tweet on Memorial Day has provided critics — such as yours truly — with ample grist to suggest what many of us have said all along.

Not a single thing in Trump’s background prepared him for the public service career he chose the moment he rode down that Trump Tower escalator to declare his presidential candidacy in 2015.

The president took to Twitter to say the following:

Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!

As Chris Cilliza of CNN reported, Trump — with that message — managed to “put the ‘me’ in Memorial Day.”

I have noted repeatedly on this blog that Trump’s entire professional career, every waking moment of it, was centered on one thing: himself. He sought to build a business empire. He aspired to immense wealth. He sought self-enrichment. He lavished self-aggrandizement all over himself. He surrounded himself with opulence, glitz, glamor and gorgeous women.

Nothing he did, said or demonstrated during all those years offered even a hint of understanding of what it means to serve others. He was — and still is — wrapped tightly in his own cocoon of self-worth.

Thus, the tweet in which he boasted about the economy and “rebuilding our Military and so much more” speaks volumes about why this man is so hideously unfit for the office to which he was elected.

Yes, the president did go to Arlington National Cemetery and he spoke some fitting words while paying tribute to the Americans who have died on battlefields all across this and around the world.

However, it’s that first instinct, the president’s Twitter message that went out at early in the day, that reveals this individual’s love of self that supersedes everything — and everyone — else.

Public service means to pay tribute to others without regard to yourself. Those who choose a life in politics and government ought to understand that basic tenet. If only the president of the United States could grasp the simplicity of that concept.

There’s this from a former Joint Chiefs chairman …

Donald J. Trump’s self-congratulatory tweet about Memorial Day seems to have produced a fascinating reaction from another prominent American.

This comes from retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey tweeted:

This day, of all days of the year, should not be about any one of us. No matter how prestigious or powerful, no matter how successful we perceive ourselves to be. Rather, this day should be about those who gave their lives so that we could live ours in freedom.

Do you think Gen. Dempsey had anyone in mind when he wrote about how the day “should not be about any one of us”?

Sure he was!

Here is what Trump said:

This is how you honor fallen heroes? Nope

You figure it out.

This is how you honor fallen heroes? Nope

Donald John Trump posted this item today to commemorate Memorial Day.

It came via Twitter … of course:

Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today. Best economy in decades, lowest unemployment numbers for Blacks and Hispanics EVER (& women in 18years), rebuilding our Military and so much more. Nice!

Does anyone else see the hilarious aspect of this tweet? He turns a statement that should honor Americans who died in battle into a self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory homage.

That it would come from this carnival barker with zero understanding of public service — and who, um, avoided military service during the Vietnam War — makes it all the more hilarious … except that I’m not laughing.

Bizarre.

America falls back in love with its veterans … thank you

Grave sites are going to be decorated with flowers. Americans will flock to cemeteries to pay their respects to their loved ones.

These are special loved ones, though. They are Americans who died in battle. They died protecting the rest of us. They gave their “last full measure of devotion” to the nation they loved.

We set aside this time each year to pay tribute to these Americans. It’s Memorial Day, everyone!

It’s no secret that not that long ago, Americans didn’t always respond with love and affection for its veterans, let alone those who fell in battle. Just a couple of generations back, American servicemen and women returned home from Vietnam. At the very least they were greeted with what I have defined as raging indifference; the worst of those times came in the form of outright rage at young Americans who did their duty by fighting halfway around the world.

You’ve heard the stories about spitting on returning servicemen. Perhaps you were a party — in one form or another — to that kind of shameful conduct.

Those who didn’t make it home from the Vietnam War? Well, we didn’t honor their sacrifice — or the pain and grief their loved ones endured — with anything approaching the kind of love that pours forth today.

I am glad to see the nation’s attitude change. I am gratified at the maturing that occurred in this country. We weren’t used to armed conflicts ending the way the Vietnam War did, nor were we used to the domestic tumult and turmoil that preceded the end of hostilities.

Thousands more young Americans have given their lives since those dark days. These days we honor them, just as we give thanks to those who have come home, those who returned to their lives on the “outside.”

That’s how it should be. It is how it always should have been.

Memorial Day is the time we call extra attention to those grave sites and the names inscribed on them. They represent the best of a great country. We honor them.

We should thank them daily for the sacrifice they have made to keep the rest of us free.

Happy 97th birthday, Dad

I play mind games with myself on occasion. One of them involves the man in this picture. He is my father. This weekend would be his 97th birthday. He didn’t live much beyond the date of this picture.

He was 59 years of age when fate intervened. Dad was fooling around with some friends and business associates in British Columbia when their speedboat crashed. Dad died on the spot. That was in September 1980.

The mind game involves asking myself what kind of old man Dad would have become. Pete Kanelis could be a complicated man. He was well-educated and well-spoken; he often was the life of any gathering he attended; he came from a large family with many siblings, to whom he was devoted beyond measure; he was the eldest of seven children born to my grandparents and on occasion had to assume the role of family “leader.”

Dad also had some heartache in his life. He sought to run a business, but it didn’t work out. He and my mother faced financial ruin in the early 1950s.

How would he have aged? I cannot know this, but my sense is that he would have traveled a difficult journey into his so-called “golden years.” Dad didn’t take good care of his body. He was an “old” 59 when he and his pals crashed that boat.

I am left, thus, to merely speculate.

Today, though, I want to call attention briefly to another key aspect of Dad’s life. He was part of the Greatest Generation. I salute his service in the U.S. Navy today — and always. He went to war just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor.

He joined roughly 16 million other Americans to fight the tyrants in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo who sought to conquer the world. Dad would have none of it. He saw the bulk of his combat in the Mediterranean Sea theater of operations. He fought the Germans and the Italians from the deck of a ship, firing his anti-aircraft weapon at fighters and bombers flown by men intent on killing him and his buddies.

We’re going to honor those who didn’t come from various battlefields over the course of our nation’s history. Dad, of course, did return home after World War II. So this Memorial Day holiday doesn’t honor his sacrifice precisely. I choose to honor it here and, yes, I am likely to say something again on Veterans Day.

Fate dealt Dad a mortal blow 38 years ago when left this world without warning. I am proud of and grateful for the role he played in keeping us safe from the monstrous tyrants who sought to enslave an entire planet.

Thank you, Dad, for saving the world. And happy birthday.

Paying tribute to those who fell in battle

My sappiness is a pretty well-known quantity to those who read this blog.

It was on display again today as my wife and I attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial.

The event drew a substantial crowd, which is no surprise to be sure. Many of the men in attendance sported their gimme caps proclaiming their own service to the nation. I wore one of mine and did so with considerable pride.

The aspect of the hour-long ceremony that brought a lump to my throat is the kind of thing one sees these days at events commemorating military service.

It’s when the band strikes up the anthems identified with various military branches. The emcee asked those who served in that particular branch to stand and be honored while the music played the pertinent anthem. That part of the service began with “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” I got to stand. It does fill me with pride. I am unafraid to acknowledge it.

It was a great way to start a day full of remembrance and honor for those who paid their last full measure of devotion.

We owe them everything. I am grateful them all now — and for eternity.