The other day I read the obituary of John Finn. John Finn was the oldest surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was awarded this honor for his extreme bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor in WW2. John Finn never thought he was a hero or did anything worthy of such fuss. He enlisted at 17 to fight for his country. He saw himself like most of the others who have worn the uniforms of our country and fought and died on our behalf; he “just did what I was paid for.”
As we gather with friends and family this weekend for barbeques and picnics, and ballgames, we need to make time to remember and honor the sacrifice of so many over the years. We need to make time to say “thank you” to the men and women who are serving today. We need to reflect on the choices that we make every day and ensure that we are living in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice made on our behalf and do what we can to keep our country safe and free.
On thing I’ll do this weekend is retell the story of my grandfather, a WW1 veteran. I posted this story on Facebook last Memorial Day. For those of you who didn’t see it then, here it is:
I never met my grandfather, but I heard stories about him from my father. One story in particular stands out, as it was told every year on Memorial Day. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant who came to America as a boy. He loved his new country. When World War I broke out, he put on the uniform of his new country and fought in the trenches of Europe alongside other new Americans. He came home from the war and began a family with my grandmother. My grandfather died in 1939, when my father was 10 years old. He died of complications from mustard gas poisoning during the war years earlier. If that were where the story ends, it’d be a good story, one worth retelling to my children and to their children. It’s a story of patriotism, sacrifice, and service. But it doesn’t end there.
I grew up in Bloomfield, NJ, a small town like many other small towns that has a proud tradition of celebrating our country. Every Memorial Day, Bloomfield has a parade through town to honor those who have given their lives for our country. As a boy, I marched in that parade with my boy scout pack. After the parade there was a big picnic on the town green. I don’t know how long Bloomfield has been having its Memorial Day parade, but I do know that they had one in 1939. I know that because of the story about my grandfather. You see, he died a couple days before Memorial Day in 1939. As was the custom in those days, he was laid out in the living room of the family home for visitation before the funeral mass and burial. Something happened that day, that hasn’t happened since. The town changed the parade route. The parade went right past my grandparent’s house to honor his life and his service to his country.
My father told this story every Memorial Day. My father and his four brothers all served our country, two during World War II, my father immediately following the war, and the youngest two during the 1950s. They’re all gone now, but their children, my brothers and sister and my cousins, still tell the stories of these men who learned about patriotism and service from their father. Hopefully we not only remember these stories, but learn from them as well. And there’s a lot to learn.
We all have stories like this one. We honor those who gave their lives for our country by telling their stories and by living our lives with gratefulness for their sacrifice and a determination to do our best to live up to the example they set.