Steve Carpenteri
Continued from Home Page.
Mention “Memorial Day” to most folks and thoughts turn to having the day off from work, enjoying family barbecues or relaxing get-togethers with friends. It’s easy to forget that this day has been set aside to remember and honor American soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in the service of their country.
New England and Maine in particular are tragically unique in that many of our small-town cemeteries contain the remains of combat casualties dating back to the Revolutionary War. Maine’s sons and daughters have been dying for their country since before there was a country and before Maine separated from Massachusetts and became a state.
The spirit of honor, loyalty and sacrifice has run through the blood of Mainers since 1776. It’s safe to say that none of these fallen heroes expected to be considered as such, and in fact most made little mention of their investment in America’s future or bewailed the price they had to pay to make it happen. Many folks talk the talk, proudly shouting about unity, integrity and American values but very few are willing to put on a uniform and put their lofty, righteous rhetoric to the ultimate test. In the final moments on the front lines of any battlefield stand but a few who were willing to go there, be there and, sadly, die there. These are the ones we gather to honor and applaud on Memorial Day. It’s also safe to say that they have earned the honor we bestow upon them with our wreaths, speeches, parades and solemn salutes.
Because Maine is a small state our lives are intertwined with those around us, near us and beside us. There are military families in every county and every town, and far too many of them have felt the loss of a loved one who volunteered, marched into battle and felt the ferocity of enemy fire. There are lists and monuments in town squares across the state that include the names of sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, mothers, wives and sisters who lay down their lives for the sake of those they left behind. Not one of them would ask us for special treatment, to honor or applaud them, but every one of them deserves such recognition – certainly it is the least we among the living can do for what they did, so willingly, for us.
Our most recent losses in war are certain to be freshest in our minds but on this day we should also pause to remember all of our country’s volunteers who were cut down way too soon, way too early, at such young ages. Many Mainers who were killed in America’s wars, conflicts and police actions were barely 18 years of age; some were 17 in WW II and many were only 14 or 15 during the Civil War. One might imagine that soldiers so young would be moved to run when faced, for the first time, with the prospect of certain death, but many of them stood fast and approached their enemies with stalwart determination, knowing that this day may well prove to be their last. Yet onward they marched, shoulder to shoulder into Hell, and far too many of them were destined to return home to their beloved Maine in flag-draped caskets.
These heroes of the past fill our cemeteries now, as evidenced by the memorial flags set out for them by town committees and volunteers all across our state. Each of those flags represents a life lost in dedication to a way of life we now enjoy.
While we can all agree that there are far too many veterans’ flags fluttering in the breeze we can also admit that without them we would not be where we are today, able to take a day off from work or relax in the yard with those we hold dear. We have our challenges but it’s more than certain that life in America would be far different if not for the sacrifices made in 1775, 1860, 1941 and beyond. Someone had to do it and they stepped up to accept the challenge and the consequences.
Although we can never repay them we can show our support today by honoring them in some small way. Attend a parade (or march in one), salute a flag or raise a glass, but take a moment to give our war dead their due. Visit a local cemetery and spend a moment near the graves of your community’s war dead. Read and remember the names you see engraved in slate, granite and bronze and give a word of thanks for what they did so willingly for you... and us.
Memorial Day is not meant to be a sad day, nor is it a time to reopen old wounds or political arguments. In celebrations large and small there must be an element of pride and appreciation for those who gave their all in our behalf. Remember that these were our ancestors, our neighbors, our friends and fellow Mainers. They loved life, home and family just as much as we do today. They knew that preserving these benefits would cost them just a little bit more and they were willing to pay the higher cost. All we need to do is be willing to thank them for it.
Each of us must recognize and understand that the cost of freedom is, in fact, buried in the ground all around us. If we all pause for a moment this Memorial Day to cheer the sacrifices of those who came before us those sacrifices will not have been in vain. Enjoy the life you have and strive to make it better every day, and remember the long, hard road it took to get here. If we all show up to honor our fallen heroes today then the price they paid in our behalf will have been worth it.