A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thoughts on Memorial Day: A Father's Gift of Innocence and the Responsibility of Knowledge

My family tree is fairly skinny -- not a lot of cousins and uncles -- so when I was growing up the only relative that I knew about that had died in military service was Henry Tillinghast, a confederate soldier that died October 9th 1861 in the Battle of Santa Rosa Island. My great grandmother was born shortly afterward and named in his honor: Henry Corley. 

My father served in the Second World War, and was assigned to the 814th Military Police Company. He told me many stories from those years,  mostly spent in the Pacific Theatre (Australia and New Guinea) and they were engaging tales that fascinated me as a young boy. I was proud that one of his assignments had been to guard General MacArthur's family while they stayed in the Lennon's Hotel in Brisbane. And I enjoyed knowing that he and his compatriots would take advantage of the fact that MacArthur would leave his shoes in the hall to be polished. They would take their shoes off and slip into the General's so that they could later tell their buddies they "knew what it was like to be in MacArthur's shoes."

The point is that in all the stories there was no hint of the losses, cost, or fog of war. I don't know if any of the men he served with died, but if they had my father would not have shared that with me. In the post-war 50's and 60's he had given me a gift of innocence, to be able to grow up in a country that had won the war against the Axis without knowing the incredible cost. 

As I matured the cost, on both sides, gradually became clearer and the responsibility of knowledge arrived. And the older I get, the less Memorial Day is about car races and sales events and more about the sacrifice of others. 

Last year was a new pinnacle of awareness for me as I contemplated a photograph taken by John Moore of a woman named Mary McHugh at Arlington National Cemetery. It represents, as well as any single image can, both the sacrifice and loss. It shows Mary mourning on the grave of her fiance, Sgt. James. J. Regan, who was killed in Iraq in February of 2007. Click on these links for more on Army Ranger Regan and the photograph.

I hope all blog readers will incorporate remembrance and respect in their Memorial Day plans.

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