…only the brave answer…

“If not me, then Who?” I think most of us prefer to ignore the question, for ourselves and our loved ones.

My husband barely missed being shipped off to Vietnam in the late 60s, when the lottery was in place. The fact that he was in college may have gotten him a deferment. By the time he graduated, the war was winding down. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, and got married.

From age 13, my daughter knew she wanted to dance professionally. The military held no fascination for her. My mom’s heart skipped a beat, happy that my only child had also escaped the possibility of ducking bullets for a living.

afghanistan

afghanistan (Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

It is with awe that I read of those who willingly put their lives on the line so that we might do whatever it is we do. It’s difficult to wrap my brain around the sacrifice made by these brave men and women, and the families they leave behind, anxious for the safe return of their loved ones.

Memorial Day is a time to honor these brave Americans. But let’s remember them everyday, as we go about our own busy lives. The following has helped me do just that.

English: ARLINGTON, Va. (Oct. 4, 2010) Members...

English: ARLINGTON, Va. (Oct. 4, 2010) Members of the Naval Special Warfare community pay their final respects to fallen teammate and friend Lt. (SEAL) Brendan Looney by pounding their Tridents into his coffin at Arlington National Cemetery. Looney was one of nine service members who died in Zabul Province, Afghanistan after the helicopter they were traveling in crashed on Sept. 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Syberg/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why They Serve: ‘If Not Me, Then Who?'”
by Tom Manion
   I served in the military for 30 years. But it was impossible to fully understand the sacrifices of our troops and their families until April 20, 2007, the day my son, First Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq.
   Travis was just 26 years old when an enemy sniper’s bullet pierced his heart after he had just helped save two wounded comrades. Even though our family knew the risks of Travis fighting on the violent streets of Fallujah, being notified of his death on a warm Sunday afternoon in Doylestown, Pa., was the worst moment of our lives.
   While my son’s life was relatively short, I spend every day marveling at his courage and wisdom. Before his second and final combat deployment, Travis said he wanted to go back to Iraq in order to spare a less-experienced Marine from going in his place. His words–“If not me, then who…”–continue to inspire me.
   My son is one of thousands to die in combat since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Because of their sacrifices, as well as the heroism of previous generations, Memorial Day 2012 should have tremendous importance to our entire nation, with an impact stretching far beyond one day on the calendar.
   In Afghanistan, tens of thousands of American troops continue to sweat, fight and bleed. In April alone, 35 U.S. troops were killed there, including Army Capt. Nick Rozanski, 36, who made the difficult decision to leave his wife and children to serve our country overseas.
   “My brother didn’t necessarily have to go to Afghanistan,” Spc. Alex Rozanski, Nick’s younger brother and fellow Ohio National Guard soldier, said. “He chose to because he felt an obligation.”
   Sgt. Devin Snyder “loved being a girly-girl, wearing her heels and carrying her purses,” according to her mother, Dineen Snyder. But Sgt. Snyder, 20, also took it upon herself to put on an Army uniform and serve in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan as a military police officer. She was killed by an enemy roadside bomb, alongside three fellow soldiers and a civilian contractor, on June 4, 2011.
   Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Douville was an explosive ordnance disposal technician, doing an incredibly dangerous job depicted in “The Hurt Locker.” He was a loving husband and father of three children. “He was my best friend,” his wife, LaShana Douville, said. “He was a good person.”
   Douville, 33, was killed in a June 26, 2011, explosion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, where some of the fiercest fighting of the decade-long conflict continues to this day.
   When my son died in Iraq, his U.S. Naval Academy roommate, Brendan Looney, was in the middle of BUD/S (basic underwater demolition) training to become a Navy SEAL. Devastated by his good friend’s death, Brendan called us in anguish, telling my wife and me that losing Travis was too much for him to handle during the grueling training regimen.
   Lt. Brendan Looney overcame his grief to become “Honor Man” of his SEAL class, and he served in Iraq before later deploying to Afghanistan. On Sept. 21, 2010, after completing 58 combat missions, Brendan died with eight fellow warriors when their helicopter crashed in Zabul province. He was 29. Brendan and Travis now rest side-by-side in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
   “The friendship between First Lt. Travis Manion and Lt. Brendan Looney reflects the meaning of Memorial Day: brotherhood, sacrifice, love of country,” President Obama said at Arlington on Memorial Day 2011. “And it is my fervent prayer that we may honor the memory of the fallen by living out those ideals every day of our lives, in the military and beyond.”
   But the essence of our country, which makes me even prouder than the president’s speech, is the way our nation’s military families continue to serve. Even after more than a decade of war, these remarkable men and women are still stepping forward.
   As the father of a fallen Marine, I hope Americans will treat this Memorial Day as more than a time for pools to open, for barbecues or for a holiday from work. It should be a solemn day to remember heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, and also a stark reminder that our country is still at war.
   For the Rozanskis, Snyders, Douvilles, Looneys and thousands more like us, every day is Memorial Day. If the rest of the nation joins us to renew the spirit of patriotism, service and sacrifice, perhaps America can reunite, on this day of reverence, around the men and women who risk their lives to defend it.

Col. Manion, USMCR (Ret.), is on the board of the Travis Manion Foundation, which assists veterans and the families of the fallen.

An Officer and a (Little) Gentleman

An Officer and a (Little) Gentleman (Photo credit: JakeBrewer)

These men and women are not just wartime statistics. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, close relatives and friends, co-workers, neighbors and friends. Their loss leaves a hole in their communities. Their legacy is that they died so that others’ lives might be better, abroad and at home.

A simple “thank-you” might seem a pittance by comparison to the gift bestowed upon us by these brave Americans. Behold a wildflower in a field of green. Its beauty still manages to captivate, although it stands alone.

Ohio Wildflower Along Interstate 270 in Columb...

Ohio Wildflower Along Interstate 270 in Columbus, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…so thank-you…

………hugmamma.

Advertisements

cemetery parties

“More than a century ago, cemeteries were social hubs. They were often the greenest spots around. Families would visit on weekends for carriage rides, boating, or picnics by a loved one’s grave. Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery drew half a million visitors a year in the mid-19th century, on par with Niagara Falls.” According to an 8/12 Wall Street Journal article, cemetery socials are experiencing a resurgence. With more Americans opting for cremation, sales of burial plots are on the wane. All around the country prospective buyers have been lured to events on cemetery gounds, in the hopes that they might one day be chosen as final resting places. “In a marketing move that has drawn some criticism, graveyards across the nation are opening their grounds to concerts and clowns, barbecues and dance performances–anything that might bring happy families through the wrought-iron gates.”

At the Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, Big Band tune “Swinging at the Savoy” rocks out while couples boogie in the aisles, chowing down  hot dogs, fried chicken and brownies. Cedar Hill Cemetery of Hartford, Connecticut “holds regular scavenger hunts.” Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles projects films on mausoleum walls during the summer, drawing thousands. Disabled children are invited to fish in “a serene pond amid the headstones” at Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Michigan. “So Davis Cemetery in Davis, Calif., plans poetry workshops, bird walks and art shows. Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Neb., hosts a Shakespeare festival and rents its quaint chapel for weddings. In Wheat Ridge, Colo., Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery staged a Memorial Day party with fireworks and sky divers. And Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., recently hosted its first fair, drawing a crowd of 700 for face painting, live rock and In-N-Out burgers.”

While cemetery superintendents want to become a greater presence in their communities, there are naysayers who feel that cemeteries are strictly for the dead. But with very few complaints being registered, festivities on burial grounds seem destined to remain a permanent fixture. As an attendee at a recent concert at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, entrepeneur Ken Katuin explained ” ‘People tend to go to places they’re familiar with…That’s why McDonald’s has Happy Meals. You start out there as a kid, you have a happy memory of the place, and then when you’re an adult, you keep coming back.’ …Standing outside the mortuary, Mr. Katuin looked at the couples strolling through the darkening graveyard to hear jazz. ‘Maybe this,’ he says, ‘is their Happy Meal.’ ”

On a recent trip to Orange County, California, to see our daughter perform as part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative, my husband granted my only wish for my 61st birthday, which occurred while we were there. We visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I’d wanted to see Michael Jackson’s burial site, but also glimpse where stars from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood were buried. I’d picked up a thick paperback from Barnes and Noble, which was like an encyclopedic “map” of historical celebrity sites, hangouts, studios, homes. Hollywood: The Movie lover’s Guide – The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. by Richard Alleman, even detailed the specific locations where the famous were entombed. Book in hand we went on our very own scavenger hunt, seeking out dead people.

While we went scavenging, we saw families here and there, quietly laying out assorted picnic goodies for luncheon feasts. I also saw a young woman, sitting peacefully among some trees, eyes closed, in deep thought or maybe meditating. I felt such calm as I strode about, or glanced out the car window, thinking that this would be a wonderful place to rest in eternal peace. But I’m not convinced I’d move to traffic-ridden, smoggy Los Angeles just for the privilege of being interred in Forest Lawn.

but it does take your breath away, literally…hugmamma.