Veteran’s Day: "They Didn’t Give Their Lives. Their Lives Were Taken From Them."

New Britain’s tradition of honoring veterans of all wars occurs twice a year on Memorial Day (the real one not the Monday national holiday) and on Veteran’s Day this month.

On Wednesday there will be a full round of remembrances put on by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

With soldiers’ deaths being recorded almost daily in Afghanistan and Iraq. we are reminded that men and women are dying in service of their country. Two days a year are not enough for honoring those who served and those who died. That there is no citizen army (e.g. a draft) shows that the strains of getting in harm’s way are falling on those in uniform who are being sent and re-sent into action. And it tends to obscure the toll being taken on military families.

Whenever these days come up to remember veterans I always recall the remembrance of Andy Rooney, the rumpled CBS commentator, on 60 minutes when he said he thinks of his friends lost in war every day:

No official day to remember is adequate for something like that. It’s too formal. It gets to be just another day on the calendar. No one would know from Memorial Day that Richie M., who was shot through the forehead coming onto Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, wore different color socks on each foot because he thought it brought him good luck.

No one would remember on Memorial Day that Eddie G. had promised to marry Julie W. the day after he got home from the war, but didn’t marry Julie because he never came home from the war. Eddie was shot dead on an un-American desert island, Iwo Jima.

For too many Americans, Memorial Day has become just another day off. There’s only so much time any of us can spend remembering those we loved who have died, but the men, boys really, who died in our wars deserve at least a few moments of reflection during which we consider what they did for us.

They died.

We use the phrase “gave their lives,” but they didn’t give their lives. Their lives were taken from them.

There is more bravery at war than in peace, and it seems wrong that we have so often saved this virtue to use for our least noble activity – war. The goal of war is to cause death to other people.

Because I was in the Army during World War II, I have more to remember on Memorial Day than most of you. I had good friends who were killed.

Charley Wood wrote poetry in high school. He was killed when his Piper Cub was shot down while he was flying as a spotter for the artillery.

Bob O’Connor went down in flames in his B-17.

Obie Slingerland and I were best friends and co-captains of our high school football team. Obie was killed on the deck of the Saratoga when a bomb that hadn?t dropped exploded as he landed.

I won’t think of them anymore tomorrow, Memorial Day, than I think of them any other day of my life.

Remembering doesn’t do the remembered any good, of course. It’s for ourselves, the living. I wish we could dedicate Memorial Day, not to the memory of those who have died at war, but to the idea of saving the lives of the young people who are going to die in the future if we don’t find some new way – some new religion maybe – that takes war out of our lives.

That would be a Memorial Day worth celebrating.

from CBS broadcast 60 Minutes, May 29, 2005 by Andy Rooney

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