Tag Archives: Memorial Day

Nothing ‘happy’ about this holiday

A good friend of mine this week posted a message that resonates loudly with me, as it should with all Americans.

Don’t wish David Norris a “happy Memorial Day,” he admonishes us. It is a holiday of commemoration, of honoring those who gave their lives in service to this country.

Norris told the story of a fellow Marine who died while serving the rest of us. They were good friends and every Memorial Day, he remembers his friend’s sacrifice.

We should remember and honor all who paid the ultimate price in service to the great nation.

I served a tour of duty in Vietnam while employed by the U.S. Army for a couple of years in the late 1960s. Every Memorial Day I recall the sacrifice of a young man who was slated to go home after he had extended his ‘Nam tour a couple of times. Jose de La Torre served in the same aviation battalion that I did; he was assigned to a Huey helicopter company and I served in a Mohawk company.

He took off one day on a mission to drop sone troops off in a landing zone. It was “routine,” or so they thought. The LZ was hot and the enemy was waiting for our ships, De La Torre died that day.

I’ve seen his name on The Wall. It still fills me with sadness to recall the exuberance of the then-young man who was going home.

So … let us honor all the men and women who paid the steepest of prices.

And as my buddy David Norris said, don’t wish anyone a happy Memorial Day.

Life’s blessings recalled on this holiday

My life has been blessed beyond measure in more ways than I dare list.

I married the girl of my dreams at a tender age; I am fond of saying, “I hit it out of the park on the first pitch.” We brought two sons into this world and they have grown into caring, productive, well-educated and industrious men. I managed to pursue a journalism career that gave me modest success, a nice living and enabled me to see and do things and meet people that not everyone is able to do.

I graduated from high school in 1967, aka the Summer of Love. The Vietnam War was raging at its bloody worst. Uncle Sam summoned me to that conflict in the spring of 1969 … which brings me to another of my life’s many blessings.

To the best of my knowledge, no one in my high school class fell on the battlefield during that war. Many of us did our duty there. We came back and we pursued out lives.

Accordingly, I lost only one fellow soldier during my time in-country. He and I were assigned to the same Army aviation battalion; he served in a Huey helicopter company next to the OV-1 Mohawk fixed-wing company where I served. He died while flying on a troop-lift mission into a hot landing zone.

Therefore, I have been spared much of the war-related grief that many people of my age have suffered over the years.

It doesn’t lessen, though, the honor I bestow on those who have fallen in defense of our great nation. My late father, a World War II combat veteran, taught me the lessons of patriotism and what it means to serve your country with honor.

The men and women who have fallen fit the description of hero at any level one can imagine. I honor them on this — and every — Memorial Day.

In fact, their heroism, as I see it, has contributed to the many blessings I have enjoyed.


Honor the fallen

Americans take time each year to honor those who died in battle. They died to protect our freedom at home. I join in honoring their sacrifice and thanking them for the liberty I continue to enjoy.

I was fortunate at many levels. I came of age in the 1960s. My generation faced the prospect of fighting a war in a faraway land. I found myself answering the call to duty in Vietnam, arriving there in the spring of 1969 to maintain Army aircraft in a place called Marble Mountain, just south of Da Nang.

One level of good fortune is that no one in my high school class died in service in Vietnam. We have lost many of them over the years to an assortment of accidents and illness.

Nor did I lose any “buddies” in Vietnam, although one young man with whom I was acquainted died in June 1969 while ferrying soldiers on what intelligence said would be a “routine” troop lift. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. Jose De La Torre died that day in a horrible fire fight.

I honor his sacrifice and truth be told, I am wondering at this moment how his loved ones in California are feeling this weekend as the nation honors his supreme sacrifice.

My hope is that we honor these Americans every day, not just a single day or a single weekend. I try to do my feeble part simply by offering quiet expressions of thanks for the service they performed.

I am doing so at this very moment.

With that, let us all go forward and enjoy the Memorial Day holiday while remembering why we’re still able to do so.


Juxtaposing two dates

I am going to juxtapose two commemorations with this blog post saluting a man who (a) didn’t die in service to his country but who (b) remains forever my favorite military veteran.

We’re going to honor the memories of the more than 1 million Americans who died in battle during the course of our nation’s storied history. Memorial Day is set aside for the laying of wreaths at cemeteries and for quiet remembrances of those who gave their last full measure of devotion to the country they loved.

I honor them continually throughout the year. I love watching the pageantry associated with the president of the United States laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. I am struck by the tradition of soldiers marching back and forth at the Tomb and I am awestruck by the precision of their movements.

We should honor these individuals — the men and women who died defending us — whenever and wherever we can.

My favorite veteran, of course, is my Dad. He died prematurely nearly 42 years ago. Indeed, today would be Dad’s 101st birthday. He came into this world on May 27, 1921. He left it on Sept. 7, 1980 at the age of 59.

What perhaps is most remarkable about Pete Kanelis’s devotion to his country is the impulse he exhibited in seeking to serve it. On Dec. 7, 1941, when Dad was just 20 years of age, he was listening to the radio broadcast of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was so incensed at what was happening in real time that he left the house where he lived in Portland, Ore., with his parents and six siblings, ventured downtown and sought to join the U.S. Marine Corps … on that very day!

The Marine Corps office was closed. He walked across the hall and enlisted instead in the U.S. Navy.

Dad would experience his share of war’s hell in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. He would survive a ship being sunk; he would shoot down a Luftwaffe medium bomber and would participate in three amphibious landings in Algeria, Sicily and Italy.

He fought like hell against tyranny and was among the 16 million Americans who suited up during World War II to comprise the Greatest Generation.

This weekend belongs chiefly to those who fell in battle. I also want to wish my favorite veteran a happy 101st birthday and honor his memory for the service he delivered to the country he loved beyond measure.


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.