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All Gave Some • Some Gave All

What Do You Remember On Memorial Day?

Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie, Chevrolet?

What would you fight for? What would you die for?

My grandfather sailed into New York from Copenhagen, Denmark in 1913. He wasn’t here very long before the United States turned him into a Marine. And then the Marines turned him into a corporal and then a sergeant. They put him back on a boat and sent him, and thousands of other young men like him, back to Europe to fight the Great War, the War to End All Wars. Many died, but not my grandfather. Frederick Andersen grew up in Old Europe. He knew why he came to America. He knew he was fighting, as Abraham Lincoln said, to “nobly save… the last best hope of earth.”

My mother’s father also had a son. High school valedictorian, class president, 4-letter athlete, trombone player in the band. Scholarship to Bowdoin College. Student body president, honor student, etc. He heard the same call his father did. John Andersen was a bomber pilot over Europe. He believed. He also came back.

My father’s older brother left Holy Cross College early, commissioned as a Navy ensign. Soon he was executive officer on a Patrol Torpedo boat in the Pacific. Then he got his own PT boat. By the end of World War II, he was in command of a cruiser. Francis Carrier continued fighting “nobly.” Combat duty in Korea. And Viet Nam. Shortly before his death, we were talking of his service in the South Seas. He saw and did things that are incomprehensible in a world at peace. He was a realist, but not a cynic. He was not overly sentimental or moralistic, but he was committed to his responsibility.

My father was too young for much of the war, but eventually he left high school and enlisted in the Navy. Photographer’s Mate Louis Carrier documented air training accidents. He photographed aircraft carriers, regular sailors, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His service was in the continental United States, but he was ready to serve wherever the Navy would send him.

I joined the Army in peacetime. My carefully accumulated lifesavings of paper route and dishwashing money would last only for one year of college. So, I signed up for the Reserve Officer Training Corps. ROTC gave me a 3-year scholarship and Airborne Wings. The Army let me go for 3 years to see if I could get through law school. On my own dime. In the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, I defended convicted criminals, edited the Army Lawyer, and eventually made it to the Army General Staff at the Pentagon. All desk jockey stuff, true. But I believe and was ready to go wherever they would send me.

One of my younger brothers always wanted to go to sea. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy trained him so well that he stood watches on a Navy tanker during the unpleasantness in Central America while still a cadet. John Carrier earned his degree from the Academy and a reserve commission from the Navy.

One of my own sons graduated college and adventured around the world for a few years. Then he decided that military service was calling. Basic Training, Officer Candidate School, Infantry Leaders Basic Course, and Ranger School prepared him for a long tour in Afghanistan with the First Cavalry Division. Then Fort Hood. Then Korea. His first concern was always for his soldiers, then the mission. He would fight for them. They would fight for him. They all fought to “nobly save… the last best hope of earth.”

Memorial Day is not set aside for any of my family members. We all made it back or, like me, served in a time of peace. Memorial Day is for the “honored dead… who gave the last full measure of devotion…”

For most of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of America’s Summer. Time to open the cottage. Get the boat in the water. Put some air into the bicycle tires. Time to catch your reflection in the mirror and reflect that your Beach Body New Year’s Resolution has vanished with the speed of summer lightning. May as well have some cheese on that charcoal-grilled hamburger.

And that’s fine. But maybe it is not enough, maybe Memorial Day should be a little bit more.

Why not make this Memorial Day your opportunity to think of and honor every young man and woman who died that this nation might live? For each tragic battlefield death, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of people who never were born. What might they have contributed? What if those soldiers, sailors, marines had lived? How would the world be different? What might those millions of people have contributed to our America if their ancestors had ducked their duty?

After the parade, speeches, and songs… enjoy your burgers. Get to the beach. Have fun with your family. Pop the top off a frosty Bud Light, Miller Lite, Smirnoff Vodka Fruit Cooler, fresh-squeezed lemonade and relax, gratefully..

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