Posted by: johnhourihan | May 17, 2013

Memorial Day politicians

I wanted to post this early so politicians can prepare themselves to not give stupid speeches on a day that is supposed to be set aside for someone else. If you know a politician feel free to send this to him or her.
On Memorial Day, talking heads spouting politics anger me.
The day is not for political pandering. It is not for garnering votes by saying “Thank you for your service,” with about as much sincerity as a department store greeter saying, “Have a nice day.”
It is for Tom Davies who was just a kid trying to put off going to Mass with his parents one Sunday by playing in the backyard on Ford Island with his brother when the first Zeroes flew over, headed for Pearl Harbor. “They were so low I could see their faces,” he told me over coffee at his home in Massachusetts one afternoon.
“I was never so scared in my life. . . . One of them could have killed me if he wanted to. He looked right down at me. I could see his face, so I guess he could see mine. We hid under the mattresses in the bedroom, as if that would have done anything.”
Davies’ ordeal for the next few days of watching his mother wrap bandages in a bunker on Ford Island expecting every second to be overrun, chills your bones when he tells it. “We had one sailor, just a kid, outside with a machine gun. I don’t know if he would have stopped them if they came, but I bet he’d a tried. . . but I didn’t like his chances.”
Davies wasn’t killed, but his childhood was.
And it is for Medal of Honor recipient Tom Hudner who belly-landed his fighter at the Chosin Reservoir to protect a downed pilot. The pilot who had crashed into the frigid wasteland in Korea, was Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator.
I stood with Hudner on a street corner a handful of  Februarys ago when my home town was dedicating a corner to him, and he told me through the biting cold that “color wasn’t even a thought.”
He said Brown had taken his share of trouble, “and then some,” because of his color, but “There was a man down” Hudner said, and the only second thoughts he said he had were “when I landed a lot harder than I expected…thought I may never get back out.”
A helicopter had been called to rescue Brown, but the 15 or so minutes it was going to take to get to him would have been too long, and Chinese soldiers would have gotten to him. Hudner flopped in, and saved Brown’s life.
Hudner didn’t die either, but his sacrifice should be remembered.
This day if for Jose Ortiz, who is still listed as missing in action in Vietnam. Jose was a Puerto Rican buck sergeant who was leaving the Army after several years in grade because he realized, through no fault of his own, he would probably stay a buck sergeant. He was headed back to San Juan, where he had thoughts of becoming a history teacher, when the C-130 he was riding in hit the side of a Central Highlands mountain and the bombs it was transporting in its belly exploded. Jose once told me over a glass of straight gin, the Army wasn’t such a bad place, “It’s just some of the people that are a problem.”
And the day is for Joe Schiapucci one of the survivors of the Bataan Death March.
When Joe decided to talk about it 40 or so years later, he told me “I still hate rice. . . We survived on rice and water and grass . .. for flavor.”
But it is for the rest of the veterans too, the ones who lived and brought back the baggage of war to a civilian life that never quite understood its weight.
Memorial Day is not just to honor the dead. It should also be for the uninitiated to remember that very common men did very uncommon things in the service of their country, and that we owe them for that too.
Yes, we owe them for that.
It is a day of reverence, and when I compare the talking heads who will be out trying to get our support by pandering to people they sometimes know nothing at all about, with men such as Hudner, Ortiz, Schiapucci, and Davies and with that lone teen sailor at a machine gun, who was determined to protect a bunker full of service dependents in his T-shirt and shorts on a Sunday morning, I get angry.
It is a day to remember those who died and those who sacrificed part of themselves for us, and it is a day for us to remember what they did.
Do them a favor.
Don’t muck it up with your politics.

Anyone who would like to see what bravery is, why we really celebrate Memorial Day, who this is really about, go to the following links to see the heroes of Iraq and Afghanistan.


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