Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on Memorial Day from a Navy Veteran

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.

Starting 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.

And last 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.

I think 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.

They 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 culture.

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.

Thank you.

And thank you, Tony, for your service and your words.


  1. Very well written, Susan. I am in constant awe and gratitude to those who serve their countries and the sacrifice they pay for our freedom. We do them a disfavor by not honoring them the way they should be honored.

  2. This is wonderful. I laughed and recognized his concern for his son - I have one just like that! We don't have Memorial Day here, but we remember too.

  3. So very true. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. What a great tribute. Thank you for sharing something so meaningful.

  5. Thank you for your postings today and yesterday. Great writing and wisdom you always pass to us in blogland. My brother-in-law was a SEAL and is retired now. We've all been so proud of him. My father-in-law is a WWII pilot Vet and both my brothers are Vets. They all came home safely, thankfully, and I honor them today as well as the fallen. TFS yourself and your family, Susan.

  6. This is wonderfully written! A very mastered way to get through both the worry of the extinction of freedom and the great worry every parent has when they're young children start to show their interest in the military. I have 2 boys a 13 yr old and an 8 year old. My 13 yr old used to always tell me (from the age of about 5) he will not join the military, and he was dead set on this. Last year (at the age of 12) he started telling me that he is going to join the Marines. His uncle (his fathers sister's husband) is a marine that has been back from Iraq for about 3 years now. He had a very ROUGH 1st year back. He was diagnosed with PTSD and got himself into quite a bit of trouble trying to cope in dangerous ways. For the past two years he has been doing better but is still very much struggling with this horrible PTSD. Even tho my 13 yr old has witnessed all of this through out the years and worried for his uncle greatly while he was in Iraq, it wasn't untill he witnessed all these things first hand and listened to many many stories his uncle has told and continues to tell, that he came to me with the decision he is going to join the Marines. It's irony at its very best in my opinion. Even tho he's learning from tragedy he's learning the importance of this sacrifice his uncle made for our country, he see's or understands his uncles sacrifice was for him, for me, for his younger brother, for his cousins, for all of us!! And I can see the proud on his face when he speaks of his uncle and the Marines. Now of course I'm a mother and like I said I have 2 boys. My 8 yr old looks up to his older brother very much. And all of his interest, oh ... for the past 3 + years now is military! Every toy, book, show etc ... He has or wants is military related. I do not want my babies fighting any war! Do not want them to go away to join the military for the fear that every parent has when it comes to the military and possible war .... the ultimate sacrifice! At the same time I am very aware of the importance and am MOST greatful for the freedom those that have sacrificed have given me and my boys and all of us in this very beautiful country that I am so extremely greatful I was born in. Thanks so much for sharing this read, I very much enjoyed it.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!