Tag Archives: Memorial Day

Memorial Day: not a ‘happy’ holiday

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Many millions of Americans are taking an extra day off from work while the nation honors the sacrifice that allows them to take day off.

I am retired, so I don’t get that extra day; indeed, every day is a “weekend” for my wife and me. But I digress.

Memorial Day came into being as Decoration Day. We honor the sacrifice given by those who fell in battle over the course of our great nation’s history.

I came of age during the Vietnam War. I graduated from high school in 1967. Many of us went to Vietnam not long after walking across the stage at our high school football stadium. To the very best of my knowledge, we lost no one in our high school class in that war. Thus, none of my classmates paid the ultimate price in defense of our country and for that I am grateful.

However, I do know about the significance of this holiday. It’s not a happy occasion. So, when a gentleman saw my “Vietnam War veteran” ballcap over the weekend, and extended his hand to thank me for the service I performed, I was a bit taken aback when he wished me a “happy Memorial Day .” He meant well and I hold no hard feelings toward him.

I just want to express my own sincere gratitude for the millions of Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country we all love.

Yes, I am a happy fellow today because I can enjoy the gift that those men and women bequeathed to me when they fell in battle.

VP goofs with Memorial Day greeting

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

This news item came from Fox News, but you know what? The right-leaning news network makes a point in mentioning an error of omission that came from Vice President Kamala Harris.

The VP offered a Memorial Day greeting that wished us all a happy “long weekend.” The criticism comes from those who wondered why Kamala Harris didn’t mention the significance of the “long weekend,” which is the significance of the fallen warriors we honor each year.

The critics are correct. The vice president certainly understands the significance of the Memorial Day weekend. Yet for a sitting VP to fail to recognize it publicly with a social media greeting just makes many of us a bit chapped.

This is a somber weekend. Yes, we should enjoy each other’s company, the fellowship we are engaging in as we come out of the COVID pandemic. Let us also pay tribute to the Americans who paid the supreme price so we can enjoy “the long weekend.”

Happy 100th birthday

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The sailor in this picture would be turning 100 years old today.

He is my Dad. It is a strange juxtaposition that he would be celebrating this landmark birthday on Memorial Day weekend.

To be sure, Dad did not die while fighting the tyrants who sought to destroy the world during World War II. So, the Memorial Day holiday doesn’t honor his service during that time of mortal peril. Nevertheless, I do want to call attention to the service he performed while fighting for the country he loved with a passion.

Dad didn’t make it to 60. He died more than 40 years ago in a freak boating accident.

However, he was my favorite veteran, but you know that already about him. What I have shared already, too, is that he volunteered for service to his country on the very day that Japan attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Dad was 20 years of age on Dec. 7, 1941. He was attending the University of Portland (Ore.) when he decided that his college education could wait; he had another, more pressing “education” awaiting him in Africa, Europe and then the Philippines.

I wish I could offer birthday greetings to Dad directly today. I cannot. I can honor his time on Earth by recalling the service he performed heroically during our nation’s darkest time.

So that is what I will do. I also will offer a birthday greeting to a man I miss every day.

They have earned our eternal gratitude

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This piece was published initially on ketr.org, the website for KETR-FM public radio based at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Jose De La Torre would be about 75 years of age today. I don’t know how he would have lived his life. I don’t know about his family history or what he aspired to do after he took off his Army uniform.

Indeed, our acquaintance was fleeting. We served in the same aviation battalion briefly in Vietnam. I worked as a crew member on an OV-1 Mohawk fixed-wing reconnaissance airplane; De La Torre served on a UH-1 Huey helicopter crew … as a door gunner.

I arrived in Vietnam in March 1969. One day in June of that year, Spc. De La Torre ventured into our work station to boast a bit. He was going home. He had been in Vietnam for 30-something months, extending way past his scheduled return to The World. But he was going to call it quits. He was a bundle of energy that day, bursting with palpable excitement.

Later that day, his Huey company scrambled on a “routine troop lift” into a landing zone; they were to drop soldiers off on a recon mission. The intelligence prior to the mission indicated a smooth delivery and departure.

It was nothing of the sort. The LZ was “hot,” meaning the enemy was waiting for our ships. They opened fire. Our guys suffered grievously.

Jose De La Torre died that day in “the bush.”

His name now is among those etched into that black stone edifice in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – known colloquially as The Wall – contains the names of 58,000-plus men and women who perished in that terrible conflict.

These are the men and women, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans who perished in other conflicts over the course of our nation’s journey through history, we honor on Memorial Day.

I graduated from high school in Portland, Ore., in 1967. I joined the Army a year later and the year after that I reported for duty in South Vietnam at a place called Marble Mountain, a jointly operated Army-Marine Corps airfield just south of Da Nang in Quang Ngai province. I am fortunate to be able to boast that no one from my high school graduating class died in service in Vietnam … at least not to my knowledge.

This essay, though, is about the individuals who did die in service to their country. We owe them all that we can muster up to bless their souls for the devotion they had for their country and for the principles for which they fought and died.

We shouldn’t conflate this day with Veterans Day, which will come up later this year. We honor those who did not come home, those who died in battle. And yet some of us do tend to mix these holidays. They’re both worthy of our commemoration, but we always must pay tribute exclusively to those who perished in battle and those who served in the military.

I learned a little about Jose De La Torre when I found his name on The Wall in August 1990 during my family’s first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I learned he hailed from Fullerton, Calif., and that he was born in 1945. My lasting memory of this “forever young” fellow, though, will be of his unbridled joy at the thought of going home. The rest of his story will remain known only to those with whom he was much closer.

Still, it is fitting for me – a mere passing acquaintance – to offer a sincere “thank you” to this hero’s memory and to all Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country they loved.

President spoke eloquently on this battlefield

We’re going to honor our nation’s fallen warriors on Monday. We set aside Memorial Day to remember and salute the supreme sacrifice they gave to those of us who remain.

I want to share a brief statement that a president of the United States delivered on a battlefield in the midst of a war that took more young Americans’ lives than any other conflict in which this nation became involved.

The president was a man of few words. But those words he spoke that day will ring for eternity.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Memorial Day 2020 … like no other

Memorial Day is upon us as the nation honors the memory of those who have died in service to the country, primarily on battlefields.

This year’s Memorial Day looms like no other in our nation’s storied history. We ought to include thousands of Americans who also have died in service to our nation, but also in service to their neighbors, their loved ones and even to total strangers.

We are about to reach a ghastly milestone: the 100,000 casualty mark of those who have died from the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe.

Many of them — and I don’t know the precise number — are those who wear uniforms. They are firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, EMTs. They drive police cruisers, fire trucks and ambulances. They expose themselves unwittingly to those who are infected by the killer virus. Many of them become infected themselves. Tragically, many of them draw their final breath … most often alone and without the loving touch of a spouse, a child, a parent or a sibling.

Yes, we set this holiday aside to pay tribute to those who have died in battle. Yet we are waging a battle here at home, as other nations are fighting similar battles within their borders.

This battle is inflicting a terrible human cost. No matter the happy talk we hear about the “progress” we’re making in this fight, many of our countrymen and women are still dying. We are losing them at a tragically unacceptable rate.

They should remain in our place of honor forever.

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.