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  • Writer's pictureMario A. Guerra

Memorial Day: A day to remember special heroes

May 20, 2020

Memorial Day is a day of national awareness and solemn reverence; a day for us to honor the military men and women who gave their lives in defense of our nation, its values, our freedoms and our liberties.

This year, our observance of Memorial Day may be different from previous years while we help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic by social distancing. Instead of parades or large memorial events, we can remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in a more private way.

There are several ways to do this. We can honor them by participating in the National Moment of Remembrance, a call to voluntarily and informally pause at 3:00 PM local time on Monday, Memorial Day, to reflect on and remember those Americans who died in service to our nation.

We can also fly our flags at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raise them briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes.

Do you know a Gold Star family? Perhaps you can offer to help them in some small way. At the very least, we can thank them for the sacrifice their family has made and for the selfless service their Soldier gave to our country.

Observance Memorial Day was first observed after the Civil War and called “Decoration Day” because families typically remembered their loved ones by decorating gravesites with flowers or flags. We still do that across America today.

In fact, the soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment - The Old Guard - place small American flags at every grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery each and every Memorial Day.

The loss of these brave men and women throughout our nation’s history are felt as deeply in our Army as they are in families and communities across this great nation. In the Army, we consider our greatest asset to be our people.

Our all-volunteer Army is a credit to Americans of all races, genders and creeds; and our common commitment to defense and love of country binds us together and unifies us. That goes to the heart of what it means to be an American.

On Memorial Day, I hope, too, that we can remember the link we have with all the generations that have gone before us who selflessly served their country and paid the ultimate price. From the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq back to the American Revolution, our Soldiers continuously put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and their fellow Soldiers before their own. And we honor those who paid the ultimate price in defense and service to the United States.

In May, we began a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. And as we mark that milestone, and as we gather on this Memorial Day, we are again reminded of the true cost of war.

On May 7, 1945, the Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. This didn’t mean the war was over – Allies were still fighting in the Pacific theater – but it meant peace for millions of people in Europe. The Allies determined that May 8 would be a day of celebration after enduring years of hardship, terrorism, brutality and the death of friends, loved ones and their armed forces.

In London, the news was announced the evening of May 7. Londoners poured out into the streets, and the only thing that stopped the party that night was rain. The next day, more than a million people celebrated.

At Buckingham Palace, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Winston Churchill waved to the crowds below. Two of the revelers were Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, blending into the enormous crowds. I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life,” Queen Elizabeth remembered.

In Paris, which had been occupied for four years, the Champs Elysees was a river of people singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and one eyewitness said from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe there was no place to move or even breathe, the crowds were so vast.

In Berlin, the defeat was both bitter and a relief. Now, people celebrate those who were in the resistance or use the day to reflect on the past, but in 1945, the German people had lost too much to celebrate.

In the United States, V-E day also happened to be President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. Truman dedicated the day to the late President Roosevelt, who led the United States through the war. Fifteen thousand police mobilized to control the enormous crowd gathered in New York’s Times Square. In New Orleans, people danced in the streets.

On the front lines, it was a different story. First Lieutenant William Lee Preston, of the U.S. Third Army’s 65th Infantry Division wrote, “The front line troops didn’t celebrate.

Most of the men merely read the story of victory from the division bulletin sent to the troops, said something like ‘I’m glad’ and walked away.

Perhaps it was a different story in their hearts, or perhaps they were too tired, or thinking of home too much, or thinking of their buddies who didn’t live to see the victory, to do much celebrating or merry making.” More than 405,000 Americans died in World War II, giving their lives for our freedom.

Today, we pause to remember the sacrifices that the Allied forces made to ensure people were freed from Nazism, and the sacrifices American Soldiers have made in every conflict, to ensure we remain free. Of course, in the Army, we continue to pay a high price for ensuring America’s freedom and security.

Every year, Soldiers die in combat or in accidents, and most recently, Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok, a physician assistant and New Jersey National Guardsman, died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

We will always continue to honor and remember those who died while answering the call to serve our nation.

Today, we pay special tribute to the men and women who have paid the ultimate price, whether it is deployed in harm’s way all across the globe, training, or to our newest enemy -- COVID-19. We remember them and many more with gratitude and respect for the selfless service they provided our country.

Memorial Day is a time to honor our commitment to never forget those who served and sacrificed for America. And today, we do that once again. Thank you for reading this and thank you for remembering our soldiers and their selfless service.

Mario A. Guerra is the former mayor of Downey and currently serves as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. He can be reached


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