From U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA-9):
Remembering Fallen Heroes
On the last Monday in May, our nation honors Memorial Day. We use this day to remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of the Republic.
What we know as Memorial Day began in the years immediately following the War Between the States. Citizens in both the North and the South would decorate the graves of the war’s dead with flowers in springtime. Towns across the country claim to be the birthplace of this practice, perhaps an illustration of the widespread human desire to honor those who sacrificed everything for others.
In 1868, General John Logan, the commander of the Union veterans association Grand Army of the Republic, designated May 30 as Decoration Day. The whole country gradually adopted this day to remember all the war’s dead, although Congress moved it to the last Monday of May in 1971. After World War I, Memorial Day observances began to include the fallen from all of America’s wars.*
The veterans of the War Between the States and World War I are all gone now, but we still have with us veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They served along with those fallen heroes whom we honor on Memorial Day, and they still feel those losses deeply.
On this day, I remember from my years practicing law a particular client who had served in Vietnam. One day as I headed to court in Montgomery County, I called him using my old “brick” cell phone. As fate would have it, I lost the call. I called him back but he didn’t answer.
Later in the day, when I was back in the office, I was at last able to contact him on my desk phone. He told me that when the phone disconnected, it made the same noise as the radio he used in Vietnam made when a unit went dead.
Because of the assignment he had in Vietnam, he was often in communication with people on helicopters transporting troops. Usually, the helicopters were getting soldiers out of harm’s way. When his radio went dead, it usually meant a helicopter with his comrades in arms had gone down. When I lost the call, it reminded him of lost friends.
Needless to say, I never called him using a cell phone again because it gave him flashbacks and memories of the friends he had lost in Vietnam. He was so dedicated to these fellow soldiers that he would later go back to Vietnam with the permission of that country’s government to search for some of those friends he had lost whose remains had not been recovered.
The lesson I learned is to try not to be judgmental and to recognize that many have a story in their lives we cannot fully appreciate.
You just never know how someone was affected by their service or how who they lost or what they saw during combat affected them. Some are lucky enough not to carry these hidden scars. Others are not so lucky. You just never know who might be carrying with them what was in the War Between the States called soldier’s heart, in the era of the World Wars shell shock, and in our era, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So on this Memorial Day let’s honor those who died, and let’s honor those who may have lost a little piece of their well-being, whether it’s visible or not.
In General Logan’s order to proclaim Decoration Day, he noted that you could find the graves of the war’s fallen soldiers “in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”† Aside from graves, there are also memorials across the country and throughout the Ninth Congressional District, whether statues in town squares or plaques with names in auditoriums.
It is worth taking time to visit one of these sites or to attend a ceremony marking this day. In Washington, I attended a brief ceremony in Statuary Hall of the Capitol with other Members of Congress. A prayer was offered, wreaths laid, and Taps played.
Even if you are not able to visit a memorial or attend a ceremony, reflect on the sacrifices made by some for our liberty, not only by men and women willing to give their lives, but by the families and friends who see them go off to war and never return.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.
*U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp
†U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, https://www.cem.va.gov/history/memdayorder.asp