The following was written by Tony DeRosa, a veteran of the Navy, who spoke in our church yesterday. He has graciously given me permission to post his thoughts here.
The first known Memorial Day celebration was on May 1,
1865 in Charleston South Carolina, held by newly freed slaves
to honor Union prisoners of war who died there. For years
after, Decoration Day events were held, typically in May, to
honor those who died in uniform during the Civil War.
in the early 20th century, Decoration Day events and parades
evolved into Memorial Day as a remembrance for all Americans
who died serving our country, even for those who served
before the Civil War. If you go to the small cemetery on Factory
Street in old Springboro, where members of the Wright family
are buried, you’ll find the grave of John Mullen, a veteran of the
Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 with a Memorial Day
flag marking his service.
We do honor to ourselves and to
those who fought and died for our country when we pause,
however briefly, to remember.
As I was thinking of what to say about Memorial Day, I
couldn’t help but wonder how we continue to find young
Americans willing to serve, generation after generation, war
after war. For more than 35 years, they have been exclusively
volunteers, stepping up again and again, knowing they may be
sent into harm’s way.
There are many individual reasons for
why people put on the uniform. Adventure, travel, unique
opportunities, escape, all these reasons and more lead many to
fill our volunteer military. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of
my mother’s uncle who was at Pearl Harbor on December 7,
1941. I know I caused my teachers and parents much angst
with my childhood fascination with all things military.
week I became a victim of the mother’s curse – the one where
your mom says “I hope when you become a parent you have a
child who behaves just like you!” Our 8 year old, AJ, brought
home a school project where he wrote about being a
Navy SEAL and drew a picture. His teacher, Donna Miller,
commented that it was “interesting.” And Karen would rather
have bought him any other book from the school book fair
rather than the one about Navy SEALs that he wanted.
she suggested one on sea otters, but he would have none of it.
I don’t think we can simply assume that the
next generation will automatically step up. This is why
Memorial Day is important. Ronald Reagan said that freedom
is only one generation away from extinction. His words are
certainly a warning, but also I think a call to action. Those who
served and fought before us did it because someone taught
them it was important. They learned because someone took
took them to a Memorial Day parade or ceremony in the near
or distant past. It is likely no one told them Reagan’s words
explicitly, but they absorbed the meaning just the same.
learned the importance of serving a cause greater than one’s
self by watching and listening to others remember. They
learned how the service and sacrifice of so many preserves the
freedoms we cherish. And how, some day, it will be the next
generation’s turn to answer the call to keep freedom from
becoming extinct. This is the greatness of America, the ability
to pass these ideals to the next generation for more than 150
years, despite ongoing changes in our society, politics, and
But it’s scary because preventing freedom’s extinction still
requires sending young Americans into harm’s way and no one
wants that. We should pray mightily to avoid that. John
Adams wrote that he studied war and politics so that his
children could study math and philosophy. His dream is yet unrealized.
Until that dream is a reality, we have to do our part to
ready the next generation to prevent freedom’s extinction. So
take your child or grandchild to a Memorial Day parade.
They’ll learn what it means to serve just by being there. And
pray that maybe their generation will know the peace that has
escaped the previous ones.
And thank you, Tony, for your service and your words.