Letter: For all those who will never return, farewell

 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 Number 11, issued by U.S. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic on May 5, 1868, which is recognized as the first Memorial Day. On May 27, 2019, 131 years later, again the citizens of Gloucester will come together 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 their arms or to again see their sons and daughters and marvel how they grew while they were away answering the call of duty. This is what we must remember of 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.

Memorial Day 2019 is especially significant for me. It is the 55 “anniversary” of the beginning of the Vietnam War. A war that has the names of 58,267 young men and women etched on those hallowed black marble walls in Washington, D.C., to include the names of Warrant Officer Kevin Frye, Warrant Officer James Mead, Warrant Officer Richard John Warden and Warrant Officer Gail Butcher, my fellow classmates and pilots from Army helicopter flight school who departed with me to Vietnam but tragically perished in the jungles, never to come home to their loved ones.

I was lucky, I returned, though changed. Friends and compatriots who I was never was able to say goodbye to until July 2015, at “The Wall” at Fuller School. I always remember them on this date and the ultimate sacrifice they paid to a nation who at the time chose to refuse to acknowledge or ignored both these fallen soldiers as well as the price that they paid to an ungrateful nation.

Sadly, the wars go on, young men and women continue to answer the call to arms, and they perish in far away places that we never knew existed until Sept. 11.

We all thought that the cause was right and just. Freedom and democracy were threatened. Yet what does an 18- or 19-year-old man or woman know about lofty goals? I think my fellow Vietnam helicopter pilot and author, Terry L. Garlock, summed it best: 

“How do you prepare 18-year-olds for combat? Intense training helps a lot because every one of them is worried about measuring up. When the time comes and the shooting starts, new guys are too busy doing their job to notice they are learning lessons that are not taught in any other place.

“They thought that they would be fighting for the flag, but it turned out that they were fighting for each other. Thought courage was not being afraid, but they found out courage is doing your job while scared to death. Combat is a cruel teacher. Yet it somehow turns a group of men into a sort of family. You may not like or even know the guy, but you’ll take breathtaking risks in the struggle to keep each other alive.

“Amidst the chaos and danger of combat and beyond the mission, there is a powerful motivation that can be summed up in two words — honor and trust. What does a 19-year-old soldier in combat know about honor? Quite a bit I think. He may not ever put it into words, but he knows that honor is doing his job well and defending his brothers, even at the risk of his own life.”

That has always been the credo of our men and women in uniform and in harm’s way. We are honor bound to defend and protect our brother and sister even if it causes us to fall in battle and we trust that they will make the same sacrifice, if necessary. 

This is why we gather together on this fateful day. We come to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. To those who defended not only their country but their fellow soldiers, sailors and marines even to their last dying breath. 

We must come together on this day and we must remember those who have passed from this world before their allotted time and who have prematurely left wives, children, mothers, fathers and friends grieving for their loss.

We have sent them into harm’s way knowing full well that they may not all return.

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 the Memorial Day ceremony at the high school to pay tribute and honor the memories of their late brethren and often their fellow comrades in combat.

The men and women that we honor gave their lives in defending our lives, our families’ lives and our country. We live in a democracy because they died defending it. Unfortunately, those who have died so that we can live are not able to ask you to attend, but I can and do! We owe it to them to honor their memory. We need to take a moment to thank them for their sacrifice and patriotism. 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.

Let us make this Memorial Day truly a day of honor and remembering. Make a loud and convincing statement by your attendance that you do care and that you are grateful and humbled for all that these fallen warriors have done for your country.

Memorial Day is a day to remember those men and women who will never see their families again. It is also a day to thank these families for their ultimate sacrifice, namely, the loss of a loved one in the defense of freedom and democracy. It is undoubtedly a painful day for them and we must comfort them.

Memorial Day is a day to remember those men and women who will never see their families again. It is also a day to thank these families for their ultimate sacrifice, namely, the loss of a loved one in the defense of freedom and democracy. It is undoubtedly a painful day for them and we must comfort them.

So, to all citizens of Gloucester: Extinguish your barbecues; dock your boats; take a break for a few short hours from enjoying your three day holiday and come down to the Gloucester High School and express your thanks. Eternity is the price that these veterans paid for sacrificing their lives for us. Can’t we sacrifice a few hours on Memorial Day honoring them?

Mark L. Nestor

Vietnam, Class of ’70

Commander

American Legion Post No. 3

Gloucester