Friday, May 27, 2005

Memorial Day: Some Flags, Some Boys, and The Medal of Honor

Planting of 20,000 Flags on Memorial Day, by Ellen White
Arlington Cemetery, 1976

Sometimes poignant experiences come our way when we least expect them. That happened to me last Memorial Day.

It's Memorial Day weekend, when our thoughts should turn to those who have served and sacrificed. In that spirit, here is the text of an e-mail I sent to friends and family last Memorial Day, just a few days before I started this blog.

In the spirit of the day I wanted to share with you all an experience from this Memorial Day 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 LDS Stake every year. There is always a short patriotic program of remembrance. 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 flapping in the breeze is breath-taking, thought-provoking, and downright beautiful.

This year, one aspect of the event stands out in my mind. It is how much my own two boys and other young men 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 last Saturday morning at 6:00 without any prodding. 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 ward (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 to the cemetery two other troops from our Stake joined us. 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 freemen who fought in the West), as well as Tuskegee Airmen (black pilots in World War II).

After all the boys had 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 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.

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.

So 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:


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.

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.


Have a happy and thoughtful Memorial Day!

UPDATE: The report from our 2005 visit to L.A. National Cemetery is above.


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