“He said that if we truly want to honor their service and sacrifice, we will work hard and live up to the values and ideals that they fought for – not just on Memorial Day, but every day.”
By Raymond V. Mariano
It was a cold, rainy Memorial Day morning and I was rushing off to the 7:30 am Mass – late as usual. I wanted to attend Mass on that particular morning to honor all the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country.
As I got ready and as I drove along in my car, I was thinking about my father, a World War II veteran. Twice wounded, I remember my mother telling me that long after the war was over my father continued to fight its battles as he slept in his bed. She told me that years after he had returned home to his loving family, while he slept, my father would relive some of the worst battles of the war in the fox hole in his mind.
Like so many of his generation, my father almost never talked about his service. One day, when I was Mayor, I called my dad and asked him to accompany me to a speech I was making to a group of veterans. When I picked him up, I told my dad that I was speaking to veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.
On the way to the speech, my dad told me about his experience in the Battle of the Bulge and how he had been wounded. Years later, we would drive through the Ardennes Forest together where the battle had been fought without saying a word.
That morning at Mass, the pastor focused his Homily on the meaning of Memorial Day. Father Tom Frechette spoke eloquently about those who had served and given a full measure of devotion for their country. But the pastor reminded all of us in attendance that many had given their lives but also had returned home.
He talked about men and women who had seen the savagery and horrors of war and whose minds had been lost on the battle field. He talked about a sweet young man from his parish that came home broken, unable to defeat his demons. Ultimately, he lost his battle with opiods.
The pastor said that while it is right that we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we should also remember and honor those who served and came home with life changing battle scars – those that lost arms and legs and had traumatic brain injuries.
Father Frechette said that most of the men and women who served so valiantly did not want any special recognition for their service. But to honor them we should live up to the values that have made our country great – values they had sacrificed so very much for.
He said that if we truly want to honor their service and sacrifice, we will work hard and live up to those values and ideals – not just on Memorial Day but every day.
As he spoke, I started thinking about all of the wonderful people in our community who give so unselfishly of themselves and their time to help others.
Of course there are many that we all know. Father Madden and Monsignor Scollen are well known for their charitable works. They have spent a lifetime helping the most needy in our community.
There are people like Bill Riley and Frank Carroll who help lead hundreds of volunteers at the St. John’s Soup Kitchen.
And people like Pastor Richie Gonzalez whose church offers comfort to addicts and the homeless. Pastor Gonzalez also operates the “Net of Compassion” outreach program providing food and clothing to residents in Main South.
But there are so many others whose names we do not know. They volunteer silently. They serve as youth athletic coaches and mentors for children in our poorest neighborhoods.
They serve the elderly and the despondent.
They care for neighbors who are struggling and friends who have lost their way.
They are teachers who take students into their homes because they have no place else to go.
They are police officers who, on their own time, visit at-risk children in the hopes that they might provide them with an example to follow.
They are the best of America and they honor the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform by their quiet service to others here at home.
As much as it makes everyone feel good when we stand at an airport and applaud for service men and women who are getting off the plane that is not what these patriots fought for.
As good as it makes you feel to fly your flag outside your home that is not what these patriots fought for.
Of course we should applaud our heroes in uniform. And I love the flag pole and the large American flag flying outside of my house.
But the truth is that the men and women who sacrificed so much for our country did so because they believe in the promise of America – not for the applause they might get. They fought because they believe in the greatness of our country and its people.
They believe in a country where neighbor helps neighbor, where honesty is a cherished value and where tolerance and acceptance is given freely.
As the Mass ended, Father Frechette asked that we sing “America the Beautiful” as we processed out of church. Normally, as the priest exits the church, the members of the congregation follow closely behind and exit the church before the song has been completed.
But on this morning, the priest left the church and everyone in attendance remained standing while they completed the words to the song. When the song was ended, overwhelmed by the sacrifice of so many of our fellow citizens, I walked to my car with tears in my eyes.