On Memorial Day 2012: Speech at the Hopedale (MA) Parade

When soldiers fight, soldiers die. It is the unfortunate calculus of conflict. Evidence of that most extreme sacrifice is etched in the granite and marble of so many monuments in town squares and cemeteries in America.

Why do soldiers fight? A frequent response is, “to preserve our freedoms.” I think the answer lies within the document that is the foundation of our democracy. I believe
that answer is embodied within the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

To form a more perfect union. To secure the blessings of liberty not only for ourselves but for our posterity. We, in this audience today, are the posterity for whom our forefathers fought. The WWII veterans from Milford VFW Post 1544, fought for the posterity of my generation as their fathers fought for theirs. My generation has fought for the posterity of the next. And we send our sons and daughters into service so that they might fight for the posterity of the babies in this audience today and for the generations of Americans yet to be born. It is the way of America.

My son, John, stands beside me today in the uniform of his country, still in training and willing to follow in the footsteps of generations of family before him. I have served; my brother has served; my father has served. John will serve. This unbroken line of succession in service to country is a luxury.

Three of my mothers’ brothers served in WWII. Uncle Ben was a crew chief and ordnance man in the Army Air Corps. He returned from England with his new bride Margaret. I remember his witty sense of humor and Aunt Margaret’s British accent. They eventually settled in California where my cousins remain today.

The story of the other two brothers ended differently. I never got the chance to meet them but I have read their names etched in marble in American cemeteries in faraway lands.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Manila contains the name “Gunners Mate Third Class Anthony J. Lajkowicz, US Navy.” Uncle Tony was Lost at Sea after his cruiser USS Vincennes was ultimately torpedoed and sunk off Guadalcanal in the dark, fiery morning of August 10, 1943. The battles were fierce and the losses heavy. That area was to become known as Ironbottom Sound.

The Wall of the Missing in the American Cemetery in Margraten reads “Staff Sergeant Joseph P. Lajkowicz, US Army Air Corps.” Uncle Joe went Missing in Action after his B-24 Liberator was shot down while on a bombing mission over Poland on December 26, 1944. No one saw a parachute. No one found a body.

They left no spouse; they left no children. No aunt to pass on the stories; no cousins for me to play with in the backyard; no great grandchildren for my mother to bounce on her knee. We are left with etchings on a wall.

Recent events found my family at a happy occasion reunion. We got a chance to take a photo portrait that covered four generations starting with my mother. I will cherish that portrait forever but I can almost see the silhouettes of my missing uncles and the children that never came. This is the continuing cost of their sacrifice long ago.

President Herbert Hoover addressed the Republican Convention in June 1944. It was just a few short weeks after the allied invasion of Normandy that would eventually spell the end of war in Europe. He said, “Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” The second part of the quotation is not as often heard. He went on to say, “And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”

Building a more perfect union always takes courage. For civilians it sometimes involves great risk to their lives, fortunes and sacred honor. In the case of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines placed in harm’s way, it too often asks a far greater cost. And when their life is taken too soon, ours is forever affected, as well.
Today we honor the memory of those who gave their lives for no other reason than their nation called. The nation asked them to do their best to preserve the Union, to make a more perfect Union. To paraphrase a well known expression: All who served gave some. And some who served gave all.”

And so do us, survivors of the aftermath of war.

May they rest in eternal peace.

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