May 29, 2017

We must remember & honor, but…

Remembering: A son and a grandson visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. Their father and grandfather’s name is on the wall. (Photo by Doug Thompson)

My grandfather, Army private Walter McPeak, fought in the trenches of Europe in World War I.

He made it home, lived a full life, and died at the VA Hospital in Salem in 1976.

My father, Navy Electrician’s Mate 1st Class William D. Thompson, Sr., fought in the Pacific in World War II and stood, in his dress whites, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered and World War II ended in 1945.

He died three years after the war in an industrial accident at the U.S. Phosphorus Plant just south of Tampa, Florida, when I was nine months old.

Both men joined to serve their countries to fight in foreign lands to protect what they felt was an American way of life worth saving and, if necessary, die to their service.

Today, Memorial Day, I will ride my Harley out to Buffalo Mountain Cemetery to drop to my knees and thank my grandfather for his willingness, without question, to serve.

My father’s grave is just north of Tampa and I won’t be able to get there today but will go to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford to thank those who served and died to protect our country.

My father and grandfather made it back from wars but I still try to honor their service on Memorial Day and any other chance I have to remember them. A nephew serves in the Navy now and I hope and pray he is safe wherever he is today.

A Navy SEAL died this weekend at the start of Fleet Week in New York City as part of the Memorial Day activities.  As a member of the elite Leap Frogs parachute team, his chute failed on a demonstration jump.

Not all veterans die in wars but they should be remembered on this Memorial Day and all other times.

Thousands died in the Revolutionary War that helped create our nation.  Less than a century later, thousands more died in the Civil War that almost destroyed our young nation.  Even more in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War.

Veterans Cemeteries cover many acres of land in the United States and around the world.  Many who died at Normandy and other beaches on D-Day in World War II lie in graves in France. Others on Pacific atolls or at the bottom of the seas.

“Death in service to one’s country is the greatest valor,” says a traditional saying but other question such beliefs.

Wrote Ernest Hemingway:

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

Mark Twain wrote:

Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.

Theodore Roosevelt may have put it best:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.

I will remember Roosevelt’s comments when I drop to one knee at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, the Vietnam War Memorial at Princeton, West Virginia and the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin today.

They died proudly in service to the country and I honor them without hesitation.

Yet, particularly in these troubled times in a divisive America, I wonder if some of them died in vain.

(Updated to correct information on the death of my grandfather.  Getting something wrong about family is unforgivable.  My sincere thanks to my sister for correcting me on this.)