Remembering Our Nation’s Fallen Heroes, Past & Present

“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” – James A. Garfield, May 30, 1868, Arlington National Cemetery 

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began during the American Civil War when citizens placed flowers on the graves of those who had been killed in battle. After World War I, it became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of America’s wars and became more and more widely established as a national holiday throughout the United States. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established that Memorial Day was to be commemorated on the last Monday of May. 

I originally thought I would take the opportunity to blog here about a book recommended to me recently about a local World War II hero, who just so happens to be the late father of one of our own, Human Resources Manager Bridget Trussoni. Tailspin recounts her father Gene Moran’s experience as a tail gunner on a bomber shot down over Germany. It is an account of duty, patriotism, perseverance, and courage. I tend to romanticize that period in our nation’s history, having watched movies like Pearl Harbor, Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, and the like. I am an avid reader and have poured through my share of historical fiction based on WWII as well as real accounts such as The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw.  Reading Tailspin about someone who served in WWII from our community has been gratifying.  

Then I traveled to visit my daughter, granddaughter, and husband last week at their new home in Fort Hood, Texas – now called Fort Cavazos. My son-in-law proudly serves as a lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Division of the US Army and deploys this summer to Poland.  Patriotism and service run deep in my family, and I enjoyed his guided tour of the base, which facilitates the Tank Destroyer Tactical and Firing Center and supports 217,000 people, including 45,414 active soldiers. While there we visited a memorial dedicated to those lost during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.  These operations spanned the years 2004 – 2014, where 4,418 were killed in action for Operation Iraqi Freedom and 2,462 for Operation Enduring Freedom.  It also includes one panel dedicated to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which took place in Afghanistan, Operation New Dawn, as well as several blank slabs of black granite intended to recognize soldiers who will perish in the line of duty at some point in the future.  Finally, there are panels recognizing lives lost during these operations by our coalition partners, and even service dogs. It was a stark personal reminder of those who continue in this generation – not just wars of long ago – to selflessly serve, protect, and sacrifice for our country and freedoms.  The memorial statue at the center depicts soldiers helping the children of Iraq and brings back memories of daily or weekly news reports of roadside bombs taking the lives of those serving. Sometimes we need that extra reminder – it really was not that long ago, and our nation’s military continues to serve and protect us every single day, here and abroad. Soldiers whose names were on this memorial were part of the 1st Cavalry Division of the Army and represent a fraction of the total lost.  Coins are left regularly near the engraved names on the memorial, paying homage to the fallen by surviving unit members. A penny is left to tell the fallen soldier’s loved ones that someone visited their grave.  A nickel signifies someone visited who served in basic training with the fallen service member.  A dime indicates the visitor served with the fallen service member, and a quarter left at the site of the memorial or grave signifies that service member was with the fallen soldier at the time of their death.  

Memorial Day for me will be a reminder to stop what I’m doing to pay respect to these fathers, sons, wives, daughters, and loved ones of this generation who perished in their service to our country.  I’ll remember them as I pass by cemeteries and attend the Memorial Day parade.  I’ll also pay the same respect and gratitude to those like Gene Moran who served in World War II, and of all soldiers of wars off old, and defended to the end the freedoms we all have as citizens of the United States of America.  

 

Did You Know? 

  • If you are flying an American flag on Memorial Day, it should be held at half-staff until noon, then at its full height from noon to sunset, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 
  • In December of 2000, our government passed a resolution called the “National Moment of Remembrance”.  It asks that at 3:00 p.m. local time, all Americans “Voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and Respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” 
  • Memorial Day is commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery each year with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  
  • It’s still a tradition to visit the graves of fallen soldiers during Memorial Day remembrance and some visit family members. 
  • The Poppy flower symbolizes fallen soldiers. You have probably seen people wear poppies on Memorial Day. It all stems from a poem titled “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant John McCrae. 
  • To find a Memorial Day parade near you: List of Memorial Day events in the area | News | wxow.com  

 

Sources & Links:

Memorial Day: A Commemoration | National Archives 

Casualty Report (defense.gov) for all operations where soldiers were lost or injured since 2000 

Memorial Day 2023: Facts, Meaning & Traditions | HISTORY 

Home :: U.S. Army Fort Cavazos 

Crew of Flying Fortress bomber Rikki Tikki Tavi (johnmarmbruster.com) 



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