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Tom Finneran: The Real Memorial Day

Monday, May 27, 2013

 

The gratitude we dare not forget, on display here at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Memorial Day, 2013. Just another three day weekend? NOT. Let’s hope not anyway.

At veterans’ posts and halls across the Commonwealth, vets and their families will participate in decorating graves, honoring fallen comrades, and, despite physical challenges, perhaps marching in town parades. It is right that we pause to remember and reflect upon the sacrifices they’ve made.

Over here in Dorchester and Mattapan, all the different veterans’ posts---VFW, AMVETS, DAV---have always marched in an impressive morning parade. Despite numbers which dwindle due to death and disability, and a general public that is less attuned to veterans’ issues than in the past, there will be a big turnout at Cedar Grove Cemetery. Multi-gun volleys will be fired at the Civil War Memorial, Taps will be played, and a high ranking military leader will speak about freedom and loved ones lost. It is always quite moving and, at least to me, a reminder that all the fun we’ll have this weekend and this summer was purchased for us by those who are no longer in our midst. The purchase price was American blood.

During the cemetery exercises, there is a great juxtaposition to observe. Parents and grandparents come to listen to the speeches and to honor the fallen. Of course they bring their children and grandchildren with them, who, being kids, are running, laughing, jumping, and playing for the entire program. Naturally, again being kids, they are squealing with delight as they play with their friends. For the adults, it’s a more somber experience, perhaps remembering a buddy or a brother who never came home from the war. I often think that those who never returned are smiling at the pure joy of those children at play in the cemetery. It’s precisely that freedom, and more, that they bought for us.

A local Memorial Day Dorchester tradition is that our elected officials---state Representatives and Senators, the Mayor and City Councillors---go around to each post after the ceremonies close and offer their recognition and gratitude to those who served. It’s a quiet respectful dignified tradition and I always enjoyed it. It is important that we remember. It is important that we do not forget.

Perhaps most somber and moving of all would be our visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Morrissey Boulevard. There are seventy nine names etched on the Memorial. I personally knew some of the young men whose names are inscribed on the granite monument there. And, most touching for me, would be the presence of the Gold Star Mothers who would come to hear the names of their sons called out in history’s honor roll.

The Gold Star Mothers. I cannot fathom their grief. I cannot fathom their strength. Their hearts are broken into a thousand pieces, shattered on some distant battlefield where bombs or bullets killed their sons. The child they bore a short eighteen or nineteen years earlier became a man and that man became a soldier, answering the call of his country and going far far away to a dangerous place. No mother, no parent, can ever get over the loss of a soldier son or daughter.

War is the ugliest, most vicious, most cruel activity in the entire catalogue of human crimes and miseries. It is often attributable to the failure of politics and diplomacy. And as brutal and senseless as it can be, it is, more than occasionally, absolutely necessary in order to prevent larger evils from enveloping our lives. Perhaps it is the recognition of those hard facts that give Gold Star Mothers the serenity and strength that I’ve seen. It must be a consolation of sorts for them to consider that their fallen child served a large and noble purpose for countless others………….

So as we begin another summer with the celebration of another Memorial Day say a quiet prayer for those who are no longer with us. Think of those Gold Star Mothers nursing not only their child but also nursing a wound that never ever heals. Think of Arlington National Cemetery and the American cemetery at Normandy. Say a quiet prayer and thank your God for the blessings of freedom. And remember that that freedom was bought for us with American blood.

 

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