By Frank Lewis
I wasn’t even born yet when my parents got word from the United States government that my brother, Bill Lewis, had been killed in World War II. There is even still a copy of the Daily Times floating around somewhere in the family with his picture among those listed as killed in action. Then the revision came. He was seriously wounded in the war in Europe but was still alive.
Bill was an athlete. He played every sport and competed in every athletic event he could possibly have access to. Those terrible wounds kept him from ever playing sports again, but he was alive and that is all that ever really mattered.
I said all that to say this - most of those pictured on that page of the newspaper had really given their lives for what was at the time the greatest nation on earth, a Constitutional Republic, whose roots went deep into a Constitution devised by men who pledged “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.”
People on the homefront collected things from pieces of tin to sheets of paper. Children were encouraged to collect materials needed on the war-front and pull them in their wagons to the collection center. People were a lot less self-centered in those days. Those who could not serve, took up the slack back home, and mothers waited and prayed they would not get that telegram or hear that knock at the door.
Memorial Day commemorates a lot of things. To be sure it is for us to remember our prior generations who blazed the trail for us. Everyone in this country comes from a line that, if you go back far enough, you will find came from someone who came to the land of opportunity. As these generations passed, they left a legacy. We need to remember them for what they gave us.
But mainly Memorial Day is a chance for us to honor the memories of those whose lives may only be marked by a small cross in Flanders Field, or who were lost at sea, or whose only recognition is at the Tomb of the Unknown.
When I was growing up it was mandatory to stand and put your hand over your heart when a flag in a Memorial Day parade passed by. Now, hardly anyone even attends, let alone come to some sort of respectful gesture when the flag goes by. I am plagued with something that has never left me. Call it a curse if you like. I not only can’t just stand passively by when a flag passes, but I am still brought to tears. The same thing happens when I see a car marked “Gold Star Mothers.” They paid the supreme sacrifice.
When I was growing up it was just sort of accepted that if you didn’t have some physical problem that prohibited you, you would spend some time in service to your country. Now there are college campuses which will not even allow military recruiters. In fact they are so afraid that someone on their campus may be moved to serve they don’t want them to even be permitted to hear what a member of the military has to say. I’m proud that Shawnee State University honors veterans every year.
When I was growing up everyone in the neighborhood gathered at a neighbor’s home if one of their sons or daughters was going off to the military. I was so proud when my brother Carlton came home on leave in his Air Force uniform. I wanted to show him off to my friends. When my son Tony went off to the Air Force, I was, at once, both proud and scared. That was another thing. When someone had a child in the military, the neighborhood tightened up to protect that family.
I would like to urge you to sacrifice a little time away from a video game or a cookout, and attend a Memorial Day service. Surely you can spare a few minutes to go to a parade. Surely you can stand to your feet long enough to honor a flag a multitude of America’s best died for. Surely you can walk up and thank a veteran for his or her service to your country.
Billy Ray Cyrus said it best - “All gave some - some gave all.” Memorial Day is a day to remember - please don’t forget.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.