Fallujah and Memorial Day
The Congressional Medal of Honor
This week the blogosphere is awash in political analysis, including the usual post-election thoughts about "why we won, and why they lost;" and "why we should have won but we blew it." Here's something a little different.
This week American forces are invading Fallujah, Iraq. Their mission is clear: To rid the city (and Iraq) of the assassins and terrorists using it as a base.
There will undoubtedly be great sacrifices by young Americans in Fallujah. Some will lose their lives. Here at home, some families will be visited by armed forces representatives, and then will await the flag-draped casket and the military honor guard.
All of that brought to my mind an e-mail I sent out earlier this year, after Memorial Day weekend. I would have posted it her, but the blog had not been born yet. Here it is. I think it epxresses thoughts that are most appropriate at this time.
In the spirit of the day I wanted to share with you all an experience from this weekend.
Saturday morning, for the sixth year out of the last seven, my sons (aged 18 and 14) and I put on our Scout uniforms (I am a former Scoutmaster and now serve with the volunteer Scouting commissioners in my area) and drove to L.A. National Cemetery to participate in the annual decoration of the veterans' graves there. We take a group from our church every year. (It is a group of congregations within the Granada Hills Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the “Mormon” Church.)
At this annual event there is always a short patriotic program of remembrance and then several thousand Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts swarm over the grounds and plant flags on over 82,000 graves. At the end of the process the sight of all those acres of little American flags is breath-taking, thought-provoking, and downright beautiful.
This year, one aspect of the event stood out in my mind. It was how much my own two boys and others their age wanted to do this. They are normal teen-agers, and to participate in this event they have to get up at 6:00 a.m. on a holiday weekend morning. But the same two teen-agers who are sometimes so hard to rouse out of bed on a weekday got up at 6:00 without any prodding last Saturday. It is like that every year.
I am not the only parent who experiences this; others report the same phenomenon. Another young man in our LDS congregation (who just finished his freshman year at college) heard about our plans and joined us. He is one of my former Scouts and a veteran of several past Memorial Day excursions to L.A. National.
When we got there two other troops from our Stake joined us. After the boys all planted flags at various graves, we held a brief ceremony at the grave of a Medal of Honor winner and remembered his heroism. (The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.)
Why this eagerness to participate in such an event? I'm proud, of course, of my boys' commitment to this type of service and of their patriotism, but there is more to this story. We are not a military family and have no special connection to veterans. What happened is that we took part in this event one year, and afterwards most boys (and girls) who do so seem to want to take part again and again.
My guess is that there is simply something compelling to them about the connection to the past and to the sacrifices of those who have gone before, and about the idea of America. We put flags on graves with names like Munemori (a Medal of Honor winner), Sadowski, Harvey, Cohen, and McCoy. There are Buffalo Soldiers buried at L.A. National (black soldiers, post-Civil War, who fought in West), as well as Tuskegee Airmen (black pilots in WWII).
Every year the boys want to go. This year I was tired from a busy week of travel and could easily have passed on this event. But Friday night, as it is every year, it was, "Hey Dad, what time are we leaving tomorrow for the cemetery?"
So we pulled ourselves together and went, and have another year of great memories-- and deeper appreciation than ever before. Happy Memorial Day to you all. And if you want to add some new awe-inspiring true stories to your collection, visit this web site:
It is the site for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and includes the citation for every Medal of Honor ever awarded. You will find gems like this one:
HERRERA, SILVESTRE S.According to the web site, Silvestre Herrera is still living. He was in his 20's when he lost his feet fighting for our freedom. Let's all think about him today, and about the brave young men in Fallujah and many other places, who stand in harm's way for us.
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company E, 142d
Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Mertzwiller, France, 15
March 1945. Entered service at: Phoenix, Ariz. Birth: El Paso, Tex. G.O. No.:
75, 5 September 1945. Citation: He advanced with a platoon along a wooded road
until stopped by heavy enemy machinegun fire. As the rest of the unit took
cover, he made a 1-man frontal assault on a strongpoint and captured 8 enemy
soldiers. When the platoon resumed its advance and was subjected to fire from a
second emplacement beyond an extensive minefield, Pvt. Herrera again moved
forward, disregarding the danger of exploding mines, to attack the position. He
stepped on a mine and had both feet severed but, despite intense pain and
unchecked loss of blood, he pinned down the enemy with accurate rifle fire while
a friendly squad captured the enemy gun by skirting the minefield and rushing in
from the flank. The magnificent courage, extraordinary heroism, and willing
self-sacrifice displayed by Pvt. Herrera resulted in the capture of 2 enemy
strongpoints and the taking of 8 prisoners.