As we honor the men and women who gave their lives while in uniform, my Memorial Day gratitude seems an insufficient thank you.
Each day in my journal, I note things I am grateful for. Maybe a person helped me in some large or small way. A glorious sunrise started my day with a reminder of the miracle of nature. In a moment of concentration, a nugget of an idea blossomed into a story. Even the delight of a tasty meal as I satisfied my hunger. Sometimes, the smallest things make a day brighter. Concentrating on those helps to mitigate the negative.
As the calendar winds through the year, special days remind me of things outside my usual sphere, important when I spend so much time in my writing cocoon. Thanksgiving is the easiest of all because it’s a holiday dedicated to focusing on your blessings. It’s already a natural time to focus on the good.
Valentine’s Day is a perfect moment to think of loved ones in my life. At the peak of the summer, Independence Day reminds me of how blessed I am by our forefathers, who made courageous stands that led to the formation of our country.
For our military, we have three special days to give thanks. Veteran’s Day thanks those who’ve served in uniform and Armed Forces’ Day highlights those currently in the military. On both days, I focus my appreciation.
But how do I adequately express my gratitude on Memorial Day, the day to honor those who gave their lives while in uniform?
Many years ago, I visited the National World War II Museum shortly after it opened in the summer of 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. Many ask why it’s in New Orleans and the answer is an iconic landing craft.
The Higgins Boat—officially known as the LCVP for Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel—was designed by Andrew Higgins based on the boats commonly used in the swamps around New Orleans. Because of its lightweight and flat bottom design, it could move close to shore before unloading. Most of us are familiar with movie scenes of the boats approaching a shore under fire as soldiers pour out of it and onto a beach.
Standing in a museum studying its flimsy side walls, I struggled to comprehend being shoulder-to-shoulder with three dozen other men as the craft sliced through choppy surf toward the beaches of the Normandy coast. The movie Saving Private Ryan, released just a couple years earlier, opened with the horrific scenes of soldiers huddled in those boats waiting for the doors to open. That was my best reference, and I knew it must fail compared to what the real men were feeling.
As I thought that, an elderly man approached the exhibit with his adult children and young grandchildren. In a shaking voice, he described the fear he felt as he stood on a similar boat, the bullets whizzing through the air as they waited. And then the door opened, and he ran forward.
A grandchild looked up at him and asked, “Were you scared?”
Petrified was his answer, but the only thing to do was go forward.
“How did you survive?” they asked.
Luck, he said. Somehow, someway, he made it through the surf and across that beach. Many of the men he shared that boat with weren’t as fortunate.
Standing in an air-conditioned museum, my belly full of a hearty vacation breakfast, I did my best to express my gratitude to that man. He could only shrug and say he came home.
But so many didn’t that day.
Technician Fifth Grade John Pinder didn’t. Enemy fire hit him and many of the others as they exited their boat. Despite his injury, Pinder waded through a hundred yards of surf to deliver his radio equipment to shore.
He refused medical treatment-care that may have saved his life-and returned to the water not once, not twice, but three times to retrieve other equipment, including a second radio. On that third trip, they hit his legs with machine gun fire.
Pinder still refused to quit or to receive medical aid. Instead, he helped establish radio communication on the exposed beach. They hit him a third time as he worked, this last one fatal.
How can I possibly say thanks enough for that?
First Lieutenant Jimmie Monteith also came ashore at Omaha that day in the chaos of the initial assault. Despite the heavy fire on the exposed beach, Monteith organized his men and lead an assault over a narrow ledge to the open, flat terrain beyond and finally to the cliffs.
Rather than remaining in the relative safety, he returned across the open field to guide two tanks through a minefield and into firing position. Under his direction, those tanks aimed their weapons and destroyed critical enemy positions.
Monteith then returned across the field to his men and led them to a better position further up the hill. He continued to expose himself as he moved about organizing his troops, about two to three hundred yards of space.
The enemy fought hard and gained a momentary advantage by surrounding the invading force. Monteith led the response to break through the enemy lines and regain the advantage. During that part of the battle, enemy fire killed First Lieutenant Monteith.
On this Memorial Day, I focus my thanks on men like Technician Fifth Grade Pinder and First Lieutenant Monteith. They gave their lives on June 6 1944 on a tiny stretch of beach known forever as Omaha.
They-and our friends from the United Kingdom and Canada-knew the risks of that day, but took them anyway to begin the liberation of France and all of Europe. About 4,414 allied forces died that day, though nobody knows for sure. Many more thousands would die in the coming weeks and months as Allied forces marched toward Berlin.
Trying to express my gratitude to all who gave their lives-during World War II as well as all the time before and after-feels so small in comparison, but I’ll do it anyway.
I can only hope they hear.
Interesting Links: National Medal Of Honor
Both Technician Fifth Grade Pinder and First Lieutenant Monteith were recipients of the National Medal of Honor. Their stories, which I linked to above, can be found on the National Medal of Honor Recipient Database. Pick an entry at random and be inspired.
A herd of deer invaded our yard in the middle of the night last week. My security cameras captured their prowling and I planned to make a light-hearted video about it. As so often happens in my creative little mind, the titles and music changed the tone and a quite different product emerged.
My apologies to George Romero, but I hope you enjoy my latest creation: The Night Of The Living Deer.
Vocabulary Word Of The Week: Catafalque
Dean Koontz used this week’s vocabulary word four times in his novel Quicksilver, which I included in last week’s Books Read section. Considering the solemn nature of Memorial Day, I thought it was a timely vocabulary word since it is a platform supporting a coffin for viewing.
The etymology is murky. Latin has the word catafalicum, roughly translating to beside ( cata-) a seige tower (-fala) which evolved to the Medieval Italian catafalco and the French catafalque, both meaning a scaffold. Modern French uses échafaud for scaffold while modern Italian is impalcatura.
Just one of those etymological debates, but the word is appropriate this week.
Books Read: Layover
I read 100 novels a year and share the best with you.
Bored with his life, Josh Fields meets a mysterious woman in an airport and follows her into a deepening mystery of crime.
Gratuitous Dog Picture
His Royal Highness Little Prince Typhoon Phooey might have the most nicknames of any member of The Herd, but he has earned them all with that oversized personality. The smile on his face, the twinkle in his eyes, and the spring in his step announce he has been up to his favorite activity-mischief.
Have a terrific week and take a moment to express your gratitude. See you next Monday!