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2008 Memorial Day

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John Morgan speaks at Memorial Day service.

Remarks by John Morgan, RHS Class of 1966
Memorial Day Observance on May 26, 2008 at Clinton-Garfield Cemetery
click on photo for larger image

Sacrifice! How often have we used or heard that word? Webster says a sacrifice is the surrender of something for the sake of something else of lesser value but what does that actually mean?

Is it a sacrifice when a parent gives up a degree of freedom to raise a child? Yes, BUT…..

Is it a sacrifice for a young person to attend post-secondary training? Yes, BUT….

Is it a sacrifice to run for public office? Yes, BUT…..

Each of these situations demands a sacrifice BUT there is an anticipated larger reward for those making the sacrifice. So, were they actually sacrifices?

When we examine the motives behind many of the actions we call sacrifices it quickly becomes apparent that the person making the sacrifice often receives a reward they consider equal or greater to the original sacrifice in value. Parental sacrifices reap relationships with adult children, the elected official is able to move legislation that she/he feels make the world a better place, and the student's efforts at expanding their skills results in a higher income. Each made sacrifices but earned a valuable reward in the process.

On this Memorial Day I would like to speak of and honor the sacrifices our military personnel have made in the past and are making today. Too often we fail to remember those that have sacrificed for us. Let us examine a few.

How many of you are RA? How about US? Don't know what I am talking about? Than you are most likely not an army veteran or have been in the military since the cessation of the draft. RA stands for "regular army" and meant that you enlisted. US stood for those that were drafted into the army. I haven't asked my fellow veterans in the other branches if they also had a designator to differentiate a volunteer and a draftee but I would imagine there was some indicator to separate the two.

If a soldier was RA or joined voluntarily he or she had some motive for signing on the dotted line. Possibly patriotism, maybe to earn money for an education, to carry on a family tradition, or to learn skills. The reasons can go on and on. If you were drafted it was because your "friends and neighbors" thought you would be the best candidate to defend the country. No matter what their enlistment status, each was required to begin making sacrifices for the rest of us. Like the unique individuals they were and are, their sacrifices were equally unique. Many words have been written about soldiers and their experiences but how often have we examined what they gave up so that we could enjoy the freedoms of daily life in the United States?

Try to imagine you have just opened the mail and in it is an invitation to join the United States military. This is your first sacrifice. You have now become a member of a small percentage of American citizens that will be asked to defend your country while the greater number continue their lives without interruption. Your first sacrifice is time out of your life. In the coming months of training you will be homesick, loneliness will stalk you at times, and stress will be your constant companion. Stress from being yelled at, stress from the long hours, stress from the mental and physical demands, stress from learning new and strange skills, stress from developing new friends, stress from looking into the unknown and wondering, stress from encountering new values and cultures, stress, stress, stress. But you may say; I went to college or moved to a new city and those were also part of my life. Correct, except for one major difference. You could walk away from the situation if you chose. The soldier can not. They are "captives."

A significant sacrifice the soldier makes is that her or his civilian career is on hold while they are on active duty while their non-military counterparts continue to move forward. This is possibly one of the least apparent sacrifices made by the soldier. Upon returning from their time in the military they re-enter civilian employment years behind in experience. Those first few years in a career field are critical. When competing with others experience can often make you the most attractive candidate in the job market. Often we hear platitudes spouted about the "military experience" but it translates into fewer job offers. By examining unemployment data we begin to see the handicap that military service creates for many. This hidden sacrifice is little talked about.

How many of you have missed a graduation, a birth, a first step, or a funeral? All of us. BUT would you consider it a sacrifice to miss all of those milestones for two years? How about for the duration? Military personnel make huge sacrifices when it comes to family life. Can you put a value on those events? Can you compensate for those events? I think not! The solder, in many circumstances, is divorced from his or her family for extended periods of time and can never retrieve those occurrences. Internet connections, video cameras, camera phones, cell phones, and the host of communications devices available today can not replace being there. Military families have a higher incidence family strife. Is this a sacrifice we are demanding from those that serve?

The last sacrifice I would like to talk about is pain. We've all experienced pain in physical and emotional ways but the pain of war is a uniquely special. It is a pain that should not exist. It is a pain that reflects on humanities inability or unwillingness to interact between ourselves in an understanding and civilized manner. It is a sacrifice that many soldiers are forced to make but fortunately not all.

Who can describe the emotional sacrifice a soldier carries within himself of the images of a friend dying? How would you describe the sacrifice of seeing your buddy in physical or emotional pain for minutes or years? How do we measure the sacrifice of they that daily deal with these negative memories? This is a hurt, a sacrifice that is difficult for them and many times their families to deal with for years beyond the termination of their military life. Mental wounds are possibly the greatest sacrifice that any soldier can make. Death is final but memories live with us each day. The self loathing and fear can often grow resulting in high suicide rates, family difficulties, and emotional disorders we are just coming to understand.

Physical wounds are the badge that most think of when talking about a sacrifice. The Purple Heart is not given for any reason other than being wounded in action but the severity of the wound can range for minor to death. Today we have begun to recognize that many wounds are invisible and fester for years if not decades. The realization that physical harm is done to the brain due to repeated exposure to blasts is just now being researched. How many sacrificed without knowing it in the wars and conflicts of the past. Current data from the Iraq-Afghanistan War suggest that 20-percent of returning veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. How many soldiers in the past wondered "what is wrong with me?" How many were looked upon with disgust because of their actions. We are just beginning to comprehend the sacrifices these soldiers in the present and the past made? They had no wound …. That we could see. It was invisible but just as devastating to them. How do we recognize and compensate for their sacrifice?

The "final sacrifice" is often used to identify someone that has been killed in action. It is glorified in film but little understood. None of us has spoken with a dead soldier. None of us knows what went through his or her mind during those final moments. None of us could measure the physical anguish nor know the sacrifice they made. BUT, all of us do recognize that it has been made.

Sacrifice! How much have they sacrificed for us? We'll never know in this life but we Need! …. we MUST! honor their sacrifices! Without their willingness to miss those family events, to stand in fear, to live daily in mental pain, and to risk death the life we hold dear would have evaporated into a cloud of despotism long ago. We owe them our freedom. We owe them the life that most of us take for granted. Harry Truman had a good grasp of how the soldier felt: "I think I know the American Soldier….. He does not want gratitude or sympathy. He had a job to do. He did not like it. But he did it." Each of us owes them for the life we enjoy today. Let us give them the honor and respect they gave us through their sacrifices.

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