To the editor:
“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purposes of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country...”
This was the beginning of General Order No. 11, issued by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 30, 1868, which is recognized as the first Memorial Day.
On May 27, 2013, the citizens of Gloucester will again gather to pay tribute to those who have fallen. It will be a somber time, a time to grieve, and a time to remember.
Unlike Veterans Day, where we honor those living men and women who have served in the military, on Memorial Day we honor those men and woman in the military who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of their country. These are the men and women who will never come home to hold their loved ones in the arms or to again see their sons and daughters and marvel how they grew while they were away answering the clarion call of their country.
This is what we must remember on this day. As we honor those who have fallen, we must always remember why they fell. We must remember the freedoms that those men and women sacrificed so much for. This should also be a day for reflection and remembrance.
On Memorial Day, we reflect upon the more that one-half million men and women who have perished in the defense of their country since the end of World War II.
This year is also a significant milestone as it is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War — a war that saw six young men from Gloucester embark upon a journey in the defense of this country from which they never returned. They died so that we could be free.
This conflict has sometimes been referred to as the “Forgotten War.” But while the war may be forgotten, our debt of gratitude and remembrance to these fallen warriors can never be forgotten! Those veterans who returned from that horror and destruction owe those who fell a duty to come forth every Memorial Day and pay your respects to those who have fallen.
This is also a “significant” milestone for myself and fellow Vietnam veterans. This year marks the 40th “anniversary” of the signing of the Paris Peace Accord, and the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Unlike the end of the prior wars, which were marked by the signing of treaties on battleships or in foreign palaces full of pomp and ceremony and followed by celebrations and ticker tape parades, the undying symbol of the end of this war — one that is etched in all of us — is the picture of that lone Army Helicopter perched precariously on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon while a line of fleeing Americans and Vietnamese struggle to gain a seat to freedom ahead of the North Vietnamese Army entering the undefended gates to the city.
It was an unceremonious but perhaps fitting end to a conflict that had the soul of this country and had often treated the surviving veterans of the Vietnam War as pariah. A very high price was and is still being paid by thousands of Vietnam Veterans, to inglorious end.
For Gloucester, the memory that is forever etched is the untimely loss of 11 young men to the jungles of Vietnam. Young men who were in the prime of their life and in the hearts of their proud parents but who answered the call of duty, traveled to a mysterious country, and never returned.
Like the Korean War veterans, we Vietnam veterans who returned, despite the wounds that we have suffered, have a moral obligation to come together on this Memorial Day, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and acknowledge their sacrifices and that of their families. We who returned survived, they did not, and we must always remember that!
Memorial Day is the day for the fallen and their families. It is a day for remembrance. It is a day when all living veterans have a duty and an obligation to attend both the Korean War Ceremony and the Viet Nam Memorial Ceremony to pay tribute and honor the memories of our late brethren.
We need to express our admiration and appreciation for supporting and defending the Constitution of this country against those that seek to destroy our society and freedoms. To all veterans from all wars and all walks of life I challenge you to answer the call and to form up before these two memorials and honor and pay tribute to those who have fallen. They fell so that you could live.
Finally, all veterans have an obligation to insure that these deaths were not in vain. We must be ever vigilant and must insure that our nation continues to support and defend the goals and freedoms of democracy. By doing that, we honor those who have fallen.
There is a saying that best describes it: “We leave you our deaths, give them meaning.”
Attend these events. Send the message loud and clear that we will always give their deaths meaning.
MARK L. NESTOR
Middle Street, Gloucester
Vietnam, Class of 1970