Ponder the true purpose of Memorial Day

On Friday, May 22 I will strap my golf bag to a noble electric steed (i.e. golf cart) and spend four non-productive hours chasing a small, dimpled ball over hill and dale in a contest against Nature, technology, and my inner golf demons.

memorial-dayOn the same date in 1863, 79 Union soldiers would earn the Congressional Medal of Honor in what would be called the “forlorn hope” of a volunteer storming party attempting to breach the Confederate defensive works surrounding Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The plan, ordered by Union General Ulysses S. Grant, required the building of a bridge over a moat and the placement of ladders against the heights surrounding the town in preparation for the main attack which was to follow. Knowing the odds of survival were minimal to non-existent, only single men were asked to volunteer.  Despite this knowledge twice the needed number of volunteers stepped forward.  Many were turned away.

After being pinned down by Confederate fire in the ditch they were to cross, the party unsuccessful in their forlorn hope was unable to withdraw until nightfall.  Of the 150 men who made up the storming party, nearly half were killed.

On Saturday, May 23 I will cut the lawn; plant my usual late May impatiens; and perhaps finish off my piecemeal effort to mulch all the flower beds.

USS Squalus

USS Squalus

On the same date in 1939, the submarine U.S.S. Squalus suffered a catastrophic incident while conducting a “crash test” off the Isles of Shoals.  The crash test, designed to simulate the sudden dive of a submarine to avoid enemy detection, went horribly wrong.  A valve used to supply fresh air to the boat’s diesel engine was mistakenly left open.  The aft torpedo room, both engine rooms, and the crew quarters were immediately flooded. Thirty-three (33) survivors rushed to the forward compartments and awaited a rescue they had little hope of seeing.  A sister sub coming out of Portsmouth found the boat’s telephone buoy, and 40 hours later they were rescued.  Twenty-six (26) sailors drowned in the initial flooding.

On Sunday, May 24 we will take the three-hour trip near Williamsport, PA to visit our son, his wife and our first granddaughter, Harper.

On that date in 1968, 75 U.S. servicemen lost their lives in Vietnam.  To be honest, I could not find sufficient information to do justice to those who died that day in a land far, far from home. So I will simply list their names.

  • JOE E. ALLEN; Bay St. Louis, MS
  • MICHAEL F. ANDERSON; Evanston, IL
  • FREDERICK V. ARENS, JR.; Boston, MA
  • CLARENCE J. BALDWIN; Cherry Valley, NY
  • STEPHEN L. BEAN; Saco, ME
  • JAMES P. BIRKS; Pattotomie, OK
  • JAMES D. BOWERS; Johnson City, TN
  • MICHAEL J. BURKHART; Chicago, IL
  • DONALD B. BUTTON; Charleston, SC
  • FRANCHOT T CALHOUN; Anniston, AL
  • RICHARD A. CARLSON; San Franscisco, CA
  • RICHARD CARRILLO; Los Angeles, CA
  • DWIGHT W. CARROLL; Springfield, TN
  • WILLIAM E. CASSIDY; Baltimore, MD
  • CLINTON CHAPMAN; Newton, MS
  • CHARLES M. CHESSHER; Crestview, FL
  • JERRY M. CHITWOOD; Washington, OK
  • GEORGE W CLARK; Lakeville, CT
  • JOHN C. COLLINS; Moorehead City, NC
  • THOMAS C. CONNOLLY; Chicago, IL
  • RONALD J. COOK; Phoenix, AZ
  • KEVIN CORCORAN; Garwood, NJ
  • DAVID W. CRAWFORD; Grants, NM
  • RONNIE J. DAUGHERTY; Newcombe, TN
  • JOSE DAVILA; Chapman Ranch, TX
  • MICHAEL L. DEANE; Westfield, MA
  • ANTHONY A. DISCEPOLO; Cleveland, OH
  • MELVIN DIVENS; Chicago, IL
  • FRANK G. EAVES; Atlanta, GA
  • ROBERT A. FEDEROWSKI; Lansing, MI
  • RICHARD C. FINA; Hudson, WI
  • WALLACE A. FORD; Huntington, WV
  • GARY D. FOX; Sheridan, WY
  • RONALD L. FRAZER; Cambridge City, IN
  • JEFFERY A. GOSS; Oren, UT
  • ROBERT A. HAYDEN; Bridgeport, WA
  • LYNN G. HIEBERT; Thief River Falls, MN
  • JERRY L. HILBERT; Louisville, KY
  • JERRY J. HILL; Minneapolis, MN
  • DAVID A. JACKSON; Tulare, CA
  • JOSEPH M. KAMINSKI, JR.; Wilmington, DE
  • DALE D. KENYON; Sioux Falls, SD
  • WILLIAM E. KNOX; Canton, OH
  • JOHN G. KOMERS; El Monte, CA
  • AL R. LEWIS; Memphis, TN
  • PAUL LEWIS; Saugerties, NY
  • JOSEPH D. MACK; Prairie Point, MS
  • GEORGE E. MASSIE; Clear Spring, MD
  • LARRY R. McFADDIN; Paintsville, KY
  • RUSSELL A. MICHALKE; Saline, MI
  • LARRY D. NOVAK; Platt Center, NE
  • GERALD T. PARMETER; Cazadero, CA
  • JOSEPH J. PASSAVANTI III; Park Forest, IL
  • GARY L. PATTERSON; Seattle, WA
  • ROBERT M. PAULK; Vallejo, CA
  • GARY W. PURCELL; Torrance, CA
  • LAWRENCE G. RENO; Cincinnati, OH
  • HU B. RHODES; Shelbyville, TN
  • GLOUSTER RHYNES; Fort Pierce, FL
  • LARRY L. RILEY; Midwest City, OK
  • EMMETT RUCKER, JR.; Wichita Falls, TX
  • GERMAN A. SANTIAGO; Hato Rey, PR
  • HERBERT E. SCHMIDT; Kansas City, MO
  • JAMES L. SHANKS; Freeport, NY
  • RONALD J. SHEWMAN; Los Angeles, CA
  • MICHAEL A. SMOGER; Two Harbors, MN
  • FREDERICK G. STEFFEN; New Baltimore, MI
  • BRENT L. SWABBY; El Monte, CA
  • PAUL R. THERIAULT; Cambridge, MA
  • TOUSSAINT L. TITUS; Fairfield, TX
  • PHILIP G. TURNER; Jackson, GA
  • NICHOLAS S. VRANKOVICH; Beaver Falls, PA
  • DAVID H. WHITEHILL; Newburgh, NY
  • ROGER D. WILLIAMS; Roanoke, VA
  • FLOYD L. WILLIAMS, JR.; Northglenn, CO

On Monday, May 25 I will spend much of the day chilling and perhaps do some light yard work.

On that same date in 1862, 2400 Americans died in the First Battle of Winchester, VA. The battle proved to be an important strategic victory for Stonewall Jackson in his Shenandoah Valley campaign.

An undersized Union Army formation was forced to flee the town of Winchester, VA, which had been outflanked by Jackson’s defeat of the Union garrison at Front Royal, VA. The battle was one of many smaller conflicts during The Civil War that do not receive the attention of the larger, more notorious battles in the War Between the States.

Regardless of how one feels about the goals and motivations of the Confederacy, one must keep in mind that all who died had been Americans, and their sacrifice helped define what the United States of America would become in the decades to follow.

On Tuesday, May 26 the long Memorial Day holiday will be a wistful memory as many of us head back to work.  I will cheat a bit here to include one more memory in salute to those World War II veterans that are leaving us in sad, alarming numbers every week.

On May 26, 1942, Admiral Nagumo’s 1st Carrier Fleet sailed from Japanese waters for Midway Island.  His task force contains the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu with two battleships, cruisers and destroyers as escort.  The Battle for Midway Island was fought a few days later, from June 4-7.  The sea conflict occurred just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when the Japanese were largely unstoppable throughout the Pacific.  Three hundred and seven Americans died over those three days (Japanese losses: 3000 men, four aircraft carriers) as the American Pacific Fleet dealt a blow that would in effect end the hegemonic wave surging from Japan.  From that day forward, the tide of war in the Pacific would flow The Allies way.

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Now this post is not intended to sour anyone’s Memorial Day holiday, although I have to admit, copying those 75 names from May 24, 1968 was more than a little sobering for me.

No, my intent is to simply encourage you to take pause during the weekend to remember the true purpose of Memorial Day … To remember those who died to birth our Country, to build and shape its future, and to protect that future from forces hostile to the ideals it embraces.

Have a great holiday!

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3 thoughts on “Ponder the true purpose of Memorial Day

  1. Great post, sending you photos I took of the The Siege of Vicksburg and the 22 May operation you highlighted.

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