What does Memorial Day mean to you? To many people it means the unofficial start of summer, opening the cabin, spending the weekend getting away from the grind, fighting traffic, making last-minute plans for the weekend by getting the boat ready and making sure the campsite is reserved.
Of course, there are variations to that stereotype of the modern suburban family today. Memorial Day means something completely different to me. Coming from families both maternal and paternal who have served extensively for generations in all branches of our military, Memorial Day takes on special meaning.
I am almost certain you have seen the famous statue or likeness of raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific. If you have not, this is what it looks like:
Click on the image to make it larger:
This is not the actual flag raising. It was a depiction of the actual flag raising taken by Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal. There are five Marines and one sailor in this photograph.
The actual flag raising had the infamous Pima Indian, Ira Hayes and my great uncle, Claire Smith. They were two of the Marines that actually raised the stars and stripes on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. This photograph taken on March 23, 1945 won a Pulitzer Prize for Mr. Rosenthal.
The irony for me, in this photograph and the memory it has engendered for millions of people all over the country is it is not the actual raising of the stars and stripes. Ira Hayes and Claire Smith both ended up unrecognized, poor and alcoholics. That is the reality of war.
Another reality of World War II is we are losing a veteran of World War II every two minutes! That is not to mention the veterans we lose every day from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, exposure to Depleted Uranium in Iraq I and II and in Afghanistan.
You can see the numbers for yourself at the National World War II Museum website by clicking here. If that does not work, click on this website: http://www.nationalww2museum.org/honor/wwii-veterans-statistics.html
On the other side of my family, my great uncle Harry Wytock, recently passed away at age 94. He served thirty-two years in both the Army Air Corps and retired as a colonel from the Air Force in 1974. he enlisted in the Army Corps in 1941. After the war, uncle Harry was discharged to go to college. After he finished his degree, he went into the Air Force. Because of his rank, he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery sometime in September or October. His wife, Florence (Patrick), is there waiting for him.
It is hard for me to believe it will take that long to arrange a funeral and burial. I understand because of the number of men and women who are being laid to rest in Arlington every day; it just shows us how big of an issue we are dealing with.
With all the news we hear lately about how far back the Veterans Administration is, is it any wonder it is taking so long to bury all of these veterans that served their country seventy years ago?
As always, I look forward to your comments.