Memorial Day 2012

May 28, 2012

I recently had a discussion with a friend (a veteran) regarding an email he received. It was an email full of glurge, about how birds could can exhibit bravery, compassion, loyalty, etc. The message was entitled, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow“, and was quite touching; the included pictures were heart-wrenching. The problem we both had was the way the email opened:

While many use this holiday weekend to celebrate war and those who engage in it, there are other forms of courage, kindness, tragedy, and other innocent hearts filled with forever love of for the also innocent…” [emphasis mine]

Ugh! That’s all quaint and warm and fuzzy except that it’s both profoundly stupid and grossly flawed reasoning. It’s stupid in that no one in his right mind celebrates war, and the reasoning is warped because birds didn’t end slavery, demolish Nazism, or stop ethnic cleansing. Most of us observe Memorial Day as a time to reflect on the sacrifices made, to consecrate the blessings achieved in blood, and to say thank you.

This is a photo of  my uncle Horace. He was born in 1920 and died by his own hand in 1945. He was wounded while serving as a machine gunner on a B24 Liberator. From what I’ve been told, he never did get over his injuries and chose to end the suffering.

Look into his eyes. His skin tore and burned just like yours might. His bones broke just like yours might. And his mind no doubt went wild in horror, just like yours would. But there was a terrible cancer upon this earth, and he rose to try to help excise it.

Dear readers, have a safe and happy holiday, and if you could be so kind and respectful, amidst the car races and the hot dogs and the beer, stop for just a moment and think of my uncle’s face. He never got to have a career, children, or grand kids. He never got to earn his college degree or celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. He missed out on a lifetime of Thanksgivings and Christmases. He never watched humans on the moon, listen to the Beatles, or fuss with the Internet. Gone, baby, gone. Just meditate a prayer and whisper a soft thank you.

With that, we give heartfelt thanks to all who serve, active and reserve. Thanks to the past, present, and future members of the United States Marine Corp, the United States Army, the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the United States Coast Guard.

Alan Speakman

Cross-posted at


Running Out Of Time To Thank “The Greatest Generation”

June 2, 2011

When I was trying to come up with an appropriate tribute to our Vets for Memorial Day, I recalled reading a wonderful piece by a good friend of mine, publisher Curt Scott on the west coast.  I contacted Curt (who is, himself, a Vietnam Vet) and asked if he would allow Grand Rants to publish his tribute as a guest writer and he graciously agreed to let us do so.  It is with considerable gratitude to Curt that I offer his Memorial Day tribute to the rapidly dwindling number of Vets referred to as “The Greatest Generation” – those brave men and women who brought this country through World War II and defined American Greatness.

Gerry Ashley

Photo by Mike Fuller

Colleville Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, looking north towards the English Channel and the southern coast of England. 9,387 American fighting men—representing only about 1/3 of all Americans killed fighting in Normandy in the summer of 1944—are interred here at Colleville. Among them is Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., who was the only General officer to land on any of the Normandy beaches on D-Day (Utah Beach), and whose weak heart finally quit on July 12, five weeks after D-Day. His brother, Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, a pilot who was killed in France in WW1 in July, 1918, was reinterred to Colleville and rests beside him.

Incidentally, each of those 9,387 Americans is resting in American soil. You see, France ceded the cemetery’s elegantly manicured 172 acres (69 hectares) to the United States after the war.

The opening and closing scenes of Steven Spielberg’s epic “Saving Private Ryan” were filmed right here at Colleville Cemetery.

In the spring of 1944 millions of allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen… British, American, Canadian and expatriate Europeans [Free French, Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Danes, Dutch, Belgians and others] gathered, bivouaced, trained and trained and waited and trained in Britain for the inevitable invasion of France to free Europe and the world of the tyranny and the threat of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war machine.

Perhaps the worst-kept secret in the world was that the allied invasion was coming; on the other hand, the best-kept secret in the world was precisely where and when the allied forces would storm ashore. Read the rest of this entry »

For Every Soldier: A Flag And A Nation’s Gratitude

May 31, 2010

The soldiers came in a convoy
And each one had a bag
The mission: to make certain
Every headstone had a flag

The soldiers who lay silent
From wars that had come and gone
Awaited our remembrance
On Memorial Day’s bright dawn.

For once a year we gather
It’s an honor, not a task
To show our gratitude to them
Is that too much to ask?

For all the freedom given us
It came at such a cost
The soldiers laying here today
Remind us of our loss.

It’s not just to remember
But to thank them once a year
To let them know we cherish them
And their memory we hold dear.
There’s no excuse acceptable
To turn our backs today
Without these brave young soldiers
There would be no USA.

It isn’t just a holiday
But then again to some
They need to be reminded just
How freedom’s prize is won.

But to all of you who know that
Freedom’s fight is never done
Trace Adkins now reminds us why
We all come to Arlington…

(Click to play)

Gerry Ashley – Memorial Day 2010
(Photos: Screen Shots from CNN Video)

Update: After I had written and posted this piece, I noticed that Michelle Malkin has the same good taste in music. See her contribution here

Flanders Fields Are Not Just In Belgium

May 30, 2010

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army


UPDATE: Memorial Day 2009

Why Obama’s Dismissal Of Arlington Is Unforgivable

May 28, 2010

I hear that Barack Obama has better things to do than leading the tradition of honoring the soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery (as is normally the case for a President each year). It’s especially significant during the years we are at war.

And I hear that Barack Obama will stop by a cemetery while he’s on vacation in Chicago. Make no mistake, he will undoubtedly have the Press Corps with him.  Hell, he might even have “Teleprompter One” with him so he can say some well-rehearsed “impromptu” comments which, we all know, won’t really be heartfelt except for how it might help his image.

Maybe this is because Obama has no investment in our freedom.

I detest the message Obama’s actions send our youth. “It’s just another tradition, kids… nothing important.” Especially to someone who apparently finds it necessary to travel the world (at our expense) living lavishly while he trashes the very country he purports to lead. The very country so many hundreds of thousands of young men and women have died in order that the country may endure. It’s more than “just a tradition…” Some traditions are important as reminders to all, and this is one of them.

A real leader doesn’t ignore the thousands of neatly rowed crosses marking the final resting places of young men and women who never got to share the promise of America… but whose sacrifices made sure WE did.

And Obama apparently doesn’t see the importance in that. I do. I have friends lying there. I resent – and I want to emphasize that… I RESENT a President who  chooses not to be there on the one day we set aside to stop and remember the years of life each one sacrificed. It just doesn’t seem right. And do you know why it doesn’t seem right? Because it isn’t. It speaks volumes about his lack of respect for this country… and that lack of respect will continue until he re-makes America into his vision.

The arrogance

But Obama will undoubtedly make a speech wherever he is. No doubt he’ll be impressed with himself. But fewer and fewer of Americans are. And this snub of our heroes will only make it worse. At least it should.

There’s a scene at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” where a now-retired James Ryan travels back to France to visit the grave of Captain John Miller who died making sure Ryan was safely returned to his family… a family that had already  lost  3 sons in World War II. It is a most moving moment that sums up what it’s like for those of us who did survive and got to live our lives because of the sacrifice of others. It also shows the reverence we should all have… especially the President of the United States.

To all of you who have served in the military and, like me, was lucky enough to complete your tour of duty, you know what this week-end means to me, because it means the same to you. Thank you, brothers and sisters.

To those of you who have relatives serving today, thank you and your loved ones. May they come home soon and safe.

And to all of those who never made it home, thank you for your service and may God hold you always.

One final thought: We have been given the gift of freedom thanks to the sacrifice of so many. But it is still up to each one of us to EARN it by being respectful of each other. By being respectful of those who fought, and sometimes died on our behalf.  Live GOOD lives, lives with meaning. Because you/we are not just living our lives, but carrying their share of the American dream on our shoulders. Earn what we’ve been given, so when we pass it on to the next generation, they too will understand and appreciate how special freedom is. And next time, maybe we can elect a President who understands what an HONOR it is to attend the ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and to be the one to lead the display of respect and appreciation.

Have a safe and meaningful Memorial Day Week-end. Please find a way to show respect and appreciation for our men and women in the service of our country.

Gerry Ashley (Veteran, USAF)

Update: Michelle Malkin has a number of moving articles in honor of Memorial Day. Start here.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

May 25, 2009

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye – 1932

UPDATE: Memorial Day 2010

It’s WHO We Celebrate. Not WHAT.

May 24, 2009

Sometimes a story must be told in its entirety to fully fathom its significance.  I believe this is one of those times, so I  hope you will indulge me regarding its length.

I want you to meet Terry. For reasons you will soon understand, I omit his last name. But he was a friend of mine, and those are words I’m proud to write.

Terry was one of those kids you just couldn’t help but like. Tall, gangly, and shy, he was raised by his grandparents when his single mother abandoned him. But Terry made the best of it, always managing to find something to smile about. He wasn’t blessed with a lot of natural skills, so he worked hard at being the best he could be in everything he did – the best ball player, the best student. The best friend. He never wound up being the best of anything but that last item. You could count on Terry to give his all in any task he did. And his was a friendship you could take to the bank and collect interest.

Terry was naturally impatient, like a lot of kids our age. But with Terry, it was as if he somehow knew he wasn’t to be afforded as many years as the rest of us. Like the cliché, he lived his life as if every day might be his last. But unlike most who live their lives that way, Terry had plans. Knowing his grandparents couldn’t afford to send him to college, he decided to join the military and take advantage of the GI bill when he got out. It was a four-year plan that simply made sense to Terry. Although his grandparents feared he might be sent to fight in the Vietnam war, they knew once Terry made his mind up, there was no point in trying to talk him out of it.

When one hears about the death of a soldier during war, it’s often told as a tale of bravery, courage under fire. Sometimes, however, death’s suddenness springs unexpectedly… One moment you’re talking with your buddy about the plans you’re making for when you each get home, and the next instant you hear a sickening sound and watch helplessly as your friend slumps to the ground – a portion of his head blown away by a sniper. That was how Terry’s best friend in his unit described his death. He continued his description to me, some years later:

“In an instant, he was gone. It’s the odd things you recall.” He then described what he remembered. I have tried to capture the essence of his memories here:

  • Sometimes, there’s no dramatic last words. He’s alive one moment, and dead the next.
  • Sometimes, there’s no tragic throes or struggles to gasp for breath. It’s simply done.
  • Sometimes, there’s no staggering, no crawling, or desperate attempts to reach safety like you see in the movies. The stroke of death leaves you suddenly without any muscular control and you simply fall at the whim of gravity. Done.
  • Perhaps most eerily, you suddenly realize that the bullet arrived prior to the sound of the shot that killed your friend. That means he was dead from that bullet before the sound of the shot reached his lifeless body. You’re not sure why that matters to you, but it does.

This is how it was for my friend Terry, to die in service to his country. But the story doesn’t end there. because the problem with the dead is that they leave behind the living.

At Terry’s funeral, dozens of extended family and friends grieved. There was something horribly wrong in the world that day and we all knew it. Each of us left the cemetery realizing that a young man who did everything the right way and deserved to come home and raise a family with his same values was now gone.

I share Terry’s story here because I want to make a point: Multiply that tragedy by over 58,000, and you have some idea of the scope of the loss in human lives from the Vietnam war. Each one of those 58,000 was a “Terry” to someone. Every single one of them.

Now multiply that by close to two million which represents the approximate number of soldiers who died in all the wars the United States has fought in both at home and abroad, and you have some idea of the impact. These are the people we honor on Memorial Day. These are the men and women who gave their lives so that we can be free. Many thousands more survived, but with wounds that left them with far less than the complete lives they saved on our behalf.

It is important that we live our lives with as much purpose, meaning, and dignity as possible as a tribute to those who never had the chance, and for those who sacrificed much of their health in the process. To squander the opportunity they have given us would be to trivialize their sacrifices and their loss.

While it’s the leaders who establish their vision of the future, it’s the young soldier who pays the price, each one willing to lay down his or her life so that those who come after them can live and flourish. If we cannot properly honor them for their sacrifices, then we truly no longer deserve the freedom their sacrifices provided to us.

Gerry Ashley, USAF Veteran (Vietnam Era)