A request from a veteran on Memorial Day
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kyle Kunkee was asked to write the following in lieu of a traditional Memorial Day address. He is an Iraq war veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps., and was recently activated with the 734th Combat Service Support Battalion, Nebraska National Guard unit out of Kearney and is now assisting with the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a police officer with the City of McCook
My fellow Americans. Even though we cannot gather together as a community to pay our respects to those who have paid the ultimate price for our Freedom, I hope you will take a moment and think of them on Memorial Day. It’s because of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice that we remain free. It is because of the brave that we are the land of the free.
I am reminded on Memorial Day, in each generation of Americans, brave men and women have always stepped forward to take the oath of allegiance as members of America’s armed forces willing to fight. Some of those great Americans gave the last full measure of devotion to our country with their ultimate sacrifice. Whether the people we remember served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the War on Terrorism or any place or time in-between, we say thank you for the freedom that you have given us. We are here and we are free because of you.
We remember that Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War when it was called Decoration Day to honor those who died in the Civil War. It wasn’t until after World War I that it was expanded to honor those killed in all American wars. In 1967 federal law officially called it Memorial Day and ordered it to be observed on the last Monday in May.
All across our country (as allowed) communities will gather to give the proper honor and respect to those who have given their life in service to our country. Days before, all across the country scores of volunteers will emplace a flag at each headstone of our fallen veterans. At Arlington National Cemetery the “Old Guard” of the 3rd Infantry Regiment will walk through the rows of simple white markers, placing a flag one boot length away and centered at each marker.
On Memorial Day our flag will begin flying at half-staff in honor of those who gave the last full measure of devotion to our country. Families and communities will gather together in somber remembrance of those who gave their life in defense of freedom. Chaplins will offer prayers and remind us that, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother.” Veteran’s organizations covered and aligned will salute our nation’s war dead with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.
I can’t help but think about those have served before me. PO1 Donald Sutton (USN) from Red Cloud, NE. Donald served aboard the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Donald was one of the last remaining survivors from the USS Arizona. PO1 Sutton recently passed away leaving now only two survivors left. I think about Gunnery Sergeant Link Sines (USMC) who was aboard the USS Tennessee during Pearl Harbor. 1st LT Ray Stramel (USMC) who commanded a machine gun platoon on Peleliu and Okinawa. LT. Willis Jones (USAAF) who was shot down during a bombing run and was a POW in Europe. These are only a few among many.
In the Pacific… the Marines who went from island to island clearing bunkers and pillboxes in some of the bloodiest battles, foot by foot, inch by inch. Some of these battles we know from history, some are known only to the men who fought there. Seventy-five years ago, on February 23, 1945 the Marines raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. During World War II Admiral Chester Nimitz was quoted, “Uncommon Valor was a common virtue.”
In Europe… the Soldiers in who landed on Omaha Beach at Normandy on D-day 1944. General Omar Bradley later said, “Every man who set foot on Omaha beach that day was a hero.” D-Day would open up the opportunity for America and her allies to begin marching toward Berlin. On May 8, 1945 World War II in Europe ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender.
In Korea… the Marines of the 7th Marine Regiment found themselves surrounded by the Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir. Severely outnumbered they would have to fight their way out. Not only were they fighting the enemy they were also fighting the terrain and elements. That battle would also earn the nickname “The Chosin Few” to the Marines who fought in that battle.
In Vietnam…veterans who fought through the jungles and rice patties. Men like Master Sargent Roy Benavides who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during combat. Some of those veterans never returned home and are listed as Missing in Action.
Scores of Americans have served in many other battles and wars since Vietnam including Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, and Somalia just to name a few. America has defended freedom around the world from dictators bent on doing horrific things to their own people or their neighbors. In every clime and place Americans have answered her country’s call to arms.
I think of the friends that I have lost in combat in the War on Terrorism. There is not a day goes by that they don’t come through my brain housing group for a short visit. Always this time of year they stay for a good chat. I think about the life they lived, and the life they were going to live. I think about their loved ones left with that empty hole that my friends filled. I continue to pray for them, for I know peace is not easy to find.
To stand in front of a warrior’s cross and render a final salute is a very hard and emotional thing to do. Hearing the First Sargent doing roll call puts a lump in your throat and a knot in your gut. Knowing that there will be three volleys fired and still you jump. Hearing those first eerie notes taps begin to sound will shake anyone to the core. I am reminded every year that the cost of freedom is not cheap. We who serve do so and are willing to pay the price up to and including our life in the hopes, that those who come after us will know peace.
At high noon we will raise Old Glory to full staff. We let Memorial Day be a wonderful day blessed with patriotism and the bold colors of red, white, and blue. We will proudly put our patriotism out front. We show the world that we are damn proud to be Americans. I always hope there is a nice gentle breeze on Memorial Day (not the blustery winds we usually have during the service) to allow our beautiful flag to softly move majestically in the sky. I love to see the flag flying high in all her glory reminding everyone that our freedom rings loud and will continue as such because of those we honor and salute on Memorial Day.
As long as brave men and women continue to step forward and serve our country, we will continue to be the land of the free. Lady Liberty’s torch will continue to shine bright as long as we as Americans remain true. This is why Memorial Day is so important. We don’t just honor those with the highest medals or even those who participated in the most hellacious firefights. We honor the more than one million men and women who lost their lives defending America in wars from the Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism.
I call upon the citizens of America. Because we cannot gather together as a community, I ask that at 11:58 A.M. all Americans step out on your front step and observe 2 minutes of silence for those who gave their life in defense of freedom.
Thank the good Lord above for those who served our country with honor and bravery. Pray for those who are no longer with us because they sacrificed their lives in defense of our freedom. Pray for peace for our nation and for the families still trying to find peace. Pray that all those listed as MIA will be found and brought home. Pray for peace and safety for those who still continue to serve today. Pray that our nation continues to be the land of the free.
At 12:00 P.M. all those who have flag poles proudly raise Old Glory to full staff. Those who have flag holders on the side of your homes remove the black morning strip. Let the rest of the day be full of pride and patriotism and be proud to be an AMERICAN!!! God Bless America!!!
For God and Country,
In Flanders Fields
Lt. Col. John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Love, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.