Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day when we are supposed to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country. Originally, it was created to honor the war-dead, however, most people choose to remember all the men and women who served and who have passed on (regardless if they died in combat), and many include police officers and firefighters who died on duty.

Notice I said “supposed to.” Let’s face it; most people do little, if any, remembering. For the vast majority of the population, Memorial Day is the official start of summer. Swimming pools open for the first time, there’s always a blockbuster movie or two which opens on Memorial Day, people often go on vacation for the long weekend, it’s traditionally a day for eating outside, gathering with friends, and often drinking, and let us not forget the multitude of Memorial Day sales.

Can you imagine a store in Israel having a Yom HaShoah sale? Let’s memorialize the victims of the Holocaust with 30% off all large appliances! And yet that’s what Memorial Day is in America. Of course, if it weren’t for the sacrifices many men and women made, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy grilling our burgers and hot dogs and washing them down with a cool, refreshing beer or Coca-Cola product, which we purchased buy-one-get-one-free. Still, we could do a better job actually stopping to think about the people who made our prosperous, free existence possible.

Major Richard “Dick” Winters

Major Winters died January 2nd this year. While he was a decorated WWII officer, he rose to fame due to the book and HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” If you haven’t watched the series, do. It’s an excellent series, and a picture of combat that every civilian should see; it makes you truly appreciate what our soldiers went through to preserve freedom in America and Europe. What amazes me is, after everything they went through, those men were able to return to America and live normal lives. It seems impossible that any of them would be sane after everything they experienced, and yet they came back by the shipload, married (or returned to wives), went to school on the GI Bill or took a job, had children, and created one of the most prosperous and stable periods in American history. 

Major Marie Therese Rossi Cayton

Died in service March 1, 1991. Major Cayton was the first woman in United States history to serve as an Aviation Commander during combat, and the first woman pilot in United States history to fly in combat during the Gulf War. She died when the CH-47 Chinook she was piloting crashed in Saudi Arabia, on 1 March 1991.

(Text from Wikipedia)

Chips

Chips served as a tank guard dog, traveling throughout Europe, Africa, and Italy with General Patton’s Seventh Army.

On one occasion, Chips alerted his group to an impending ambush. Then, with a phone cable attached to his collar, Chips ran back to base, dodging gunfire so that the endangered platoon could establish a communications line and ask for the backup they so desperately needed.

One morning, as he and his handler proceeded up the beach in Sicily, they came under fire from a disguised pillbox. Chips broke free from his handler and launched himself into the pillbox. Moments later several bitten and surrendering Italian soldiers emerged, all shepherded by a very determined Chips. Though wounded in the melee, Chips returned to duty that night, and alerted troops to an approaching group of Italians. This allowed his handler and squad time to capture all of them.

Chips was awarded a Silver Star for valor, and a Purple Heart for his wounds. The newspapers heralded his exploits. Unfortunately, the press attracted the attention of the Commander of the Order of the Purple Heart. He complained to both President Roosevelt and the War Department, claiming that by so honoring Chips, they were demeaning all the men who have been awarded a Purple Heart. Chips’ medals were taken away, and he was given an honorable discharge and returned to his family in Pleasantville, NY. No military dog has received an official decoration since.

When the US pulled out of Vietnam, the military dogs were classified as “equipment” and left behind. Despite efforts to bring the dogs home–namely by the handlers who loved them and the units who owed their lives to them–they were left behind. Over 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, but only about 200 came home. Thankfully, America has learned to appreciate its canine veterans more, and today many former service dogs (both military and police) retire to their handlers’ homes.

(Text from Military.com. See also the United States War Dogs Association)

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Arlington National Cemetery)

In cemeteries around the United States and other parts of the world, there are monuments to American soldiers who not only gave their lives for their country, but their very identities.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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