Tag Archives: memorial day
Just yesterday I took an early morning walk through this beautiful cemetery. The grounds are perfectly kept; the grass green and trimmed; the leaves on the trees are in full bloom. We can always count upon that.
What struck me in the morning mist was the abundance of American flags that mark the graves of each veteran who is interred here. We may thank the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for that respectful act of kindness each year.
Then I came to this very spot and reviewed the names inscribed on our War Memorial. There are 26 names listed here. They are citizens of Hopedale, Massachusetts, who gave their lives in service to this country during time of war. The list dates back to the Spanish American War. There were several
Hopedale residents who fought with valor in the Civil War.
Our town was settled in 1842 and, ever since, each generation has been touched by war. As I looked at the flags yesterday morning I was taken by the fact that those young Scouts who decorated the gravestones have never known peace in their lifetime. During the course of their short lives Americans have died in conflicts in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their parents’ lives have been touched by war deaths in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Grenada, Panama and Vietnam; and their Grandparents by Korea and the Second World War.
Even in times absent of conflict we are never far from war, the recollections of war and the consequences of war. It is our oral history that connects the generations. The last survivor of the American Revolution died just after the Civil War and the last survivor of the Civil War died just after I was born. We have ceremonies such as this to honor our war dead, to be sure. But in so honoring them we are ensuring that our present and future generations never forget how high a cost our freedom demands.
Plato reminds us that only the dead have seen the last of war. That axiom has stood the test of time for 2500 years. But it does not mean that peace is defined as the absence of war. There are things worth fighting for. And if they are worth fighting for then one must be ready to bear the highest price of all, death.
For the names etched upon these granite tablets I wish I could tell you that each death was meaningful. I cannot attest to that for they were sent into battle by mere mortals. But I can attest that each life was meaningful. We can tell the stories of how they lived and how we loved them; stories of how they touched our lives and those of others; stories of how they left their mark on society, even if only for a short while.
We, of course, honor our war dead this day and it is right that we do so. But just as cemeteries are for the living, ceremonies are for the living, too. We use them to connect with our past and to stay faithful to our traditions. They serve to bind us in a common heritage. Sometimes that heritage is not fully recognized.
For instance, the National Honor Society at Hopedale High School just inducted their newest members this past week. Did you know that the National Honor Society chapter is named in memory of Second Lieutenant Francis Wallace? Francis was the class president and Valedictorian of his high school class in 1937. He lived on Inman Street, graduated with distinction and went on to the US Naval Academy. He entered active duty in the Army Air Corps on December 13, 1941, less than one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One year later on New Year’s Eve 1942, he was dead; killed in action when his plane went missing in the South Pacific. Little more is known about the circumstances.
It has been 77 years since Francis Wallace graduated from Hopedale High School. For you many Hopedale High School students in the band or in the audience today, you share a common bond now with one of the names on this tablet. You are fellow alumni.
The dead that we honor here today answered the call of their country because their country asked. Some died in conflict, some died in training; some died alongside a comrade in arms, some died alone. All died in noble service to their country.
To serve this country in uniform is a mighty experience. To serve alongside people of honor and courage is a privilege known by too few of us. This brotherhood was described by William Shakespeare in the now famous St. Crispin’s day speech from Henry V written more than 400 years ago:
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
I will close with a quotation from the great American General George S. Patton:
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Thank you. And may God bless the souls of our fellow countryman.
July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.
How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?
I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.
By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:
Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.
Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.
Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.
Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.
In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:
Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’
That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.
Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.
This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.
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.