When I was growing up I remember going to school with a kid by the name of Russ Kurtz. We were in sixth grade and he made us laugh because he could do some disgusting trick with his eyelids. That year he was in my homeroom. This was long before 9/11, long before George W. Bush got us into a war because of his hubris. Long before the market popped. We were in an era where everything was simple, The Real World was reality TV and that is so tame compared to the Jersey Shore.
Of course I got to know Russ a little more because time went on, not just because we went to school together but he played football. My brother played football and was a few years ahead of us, plus my sister went to school with Russ’s sister. Russ was a good guy, we all liked him. He was always laughing, always smiling, and he was pretty much liked by everyone who met him.
After high school he made the decision to join the army. I lost touch with him because I was in NYC following my dreams and having my misadventures. While he was probably in basic training I believe I was dating a very cute loser type who lived in a hotel. But that’s not the point. The point is, several years out of high school Russ was killed in active duty in Iraq.
When people speak of the government these days, it is with an air of distain. I understand. When people speak of the war in the Middle East saying there were no weapons of mass destruction I understand. The Iraqi’s were not our enemies. That is not the point though.
The point is, today we remember people like my classmate Russ Kurtz who gave their lives for our country. Maybe we do not support the war, but as Americans it is our duty to support the troops who fight it. In supporting the troops who fight the war, we support every young man and woman who decides to enter the armed forces whether they are enlisted men or on the Officer Training track like my friends Darren Joyce who graduated from West Point or my comedian friend/Lieutenant Colonel Dave Rosner.
Memorial Day isn’t about whether or not you support the war. It is about honoring the soldiers who died in the bloody fields during the American Revolution, so that the colonies could have their freedom. Let us not forget the young men who fought in the War of 1812, so that American ships could have freedom to sail the seas safely. It is remembering the young men who fought the Civil War, a conflict that pitted brother against brother with an ending that America could be one. Of course there was the Spanish American War, with Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill, with American soldiers letting Spain know there tenure in North America was over that they could oppress no more. World War One had many American losses, and those young men fought bravely to let the world know that monarchy’s reign was over and democracy was now King of the Mountain because the United States was now a World Power. World War Two had many young men fighting in both the European and Asian Theatres, ending tyranny and hate from one Adolf Hitler, letting other tyrants know they could not simply kill off a race of people because they wanted to. While the Korean War is the forgotten war, today we do not forget those brave young men. Vietnam, while widely protested, had many young men merely nineteen forced to fight in a jungle far away from home and many either met their end or did not receive a hero’s welcome; as Americans today we give them a hero’s welcome. There was Persian Gulf, Operation Desert Storm and so many others where the American GI was there.
Sometimes the US does not pick their battles so wisely. They pick them based off of oil and money. While this all is true, when many see American soldiers it is nothing but a ready sigh of relief for the people. I have heard tales of people in concentration camps cheering when the American GI’s arrived, same with Iraq.
Both my grandfathers served in the South Pacific during World War Two. My dad’s father, whom I have never met, told stories of Japanese soldiers playing dead and men having to shoot them a second time so they would not risk the “dead” soldier springing back to life for a second attack. This particular grandfather also talked about how devastated Tokyo was after the war, and how many times children, orphaned because their parents were killed in the blast, were forced to pick food out of the trash can. While the Japanese were our so called enemies, my grandfather always supposedly said he respected their work ethic and that they were worthy opponents.
My great uncle, Gregory Columbus Diffendal, who was a genius at profanity, was part of the forces who went in to liberate the people from the concentration camps. Despite being of German ancestry, he had only pure hate for what Hitler did to the Semetic peoples. Although he had a mouth that would have made both a sailor and trucker blush, he was tolerant of people’s belief’s. He understood that while a person may be different, it is not a reason to persecute or to kill them, and had nothing but disgust for what the Nazi’s did to innocent children.
My Pop Pop, my Mom’s grandfather, was also in the South Pacific and seldom talks about the war. Although he was an officer in the Navy, he sort of always kept those stories to himself. Once, my brother interviewed him for a school project. My grandfather told a story about riding on the train with Japanese Troops shortly after the bomb was dropped and they were in the process of surrendering. My Pop Pop said the train ride was tense, but overall, they respected the Japanese military. Not only were they hard working, but once the city was decimated, they didn’t harbor anger or resentment. Rather, they took it upon themselves to not only lose with grace and dignity but to rebuild their city.
Today we remember the American GI, the ones who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. We remember the scared young man whether he was in the trenches or Normandy or in the jungles of Vietnam. We think of American soldiers who died on our soil, whether they were marching with American uniforms against the British, clad in Union Blue or Confederate Gray. We also think of the young men and women fighting right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yes, we might not like the government. There might be people occupying wherever, but once upon a time there were many minute men who charged Lexington and Concord, underarmed against the British, so that we could have this right to protest peacefully.
Today, when we are on the boat or having our BBQ, take a minute. Think of the American GI, whether he is coming by land, air, or sea. Remember all the brave men and women who died so not only others could have rights; but so you can have rights as well. Think of the young men like my former classmate Russ Kurtz who not only died a hero, but will not be joining his family this year for a Memorial Day Celebration because he is being celebrated.
What I am trying to say is, just take a moment and be grateful. Love, April