I just finished watching my favorite annual show – The National Memorial Day Concert. But this year it was different. Unlike other years, the show was not live in front of a large crowd because of the current pandemic. Despite being apart, the stories, speeches, and songs of the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for this country served to unite. And served to remind us we are all in this together. Also, how important it is to respect the sacrifice of our fallen by being kind to each other and working together to defeat today’s silent enemy.
I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country. A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But the experiment is fragile. Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans. To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us. And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave. They gave all for us. Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?
We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey. To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen. Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey. Life is seldom Black and White. It is grey! And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans. To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.
A few years back, I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans. It at the time seemed an “improbable goal”. But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea. So today as a plea for all of us to get along and work together to defeat this pandemic, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
Mile Marker 0 to 10. Army. Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy. I will start with the person that I know best. Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops. He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center. Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial
Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT. Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration. Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit. I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry. She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments. She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission. Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment. She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom. Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone. Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark
Mile Marker 20 to 30. Coast Guard. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal. The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services. They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image. Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.
Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War. His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts. Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal
Mile Marker 30 – 40. Marines. Ira Hayes. Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes. Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended. He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice. He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.
Mile Marker 40 – 50. Air Force (Army Air Corps). The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force. They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe. This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South. 66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas. Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.
Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation. Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy! We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!