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Sunday, December 10, 2023

We must honor and remember, but…

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, a father and son touch the name of their father and grandfather. (Photo by Doug Thompson)

My grandfather, Army private Walter McPeak fought in the trenches of Europe in World War I.

He made it home and died at the VA Hospital in Salem, VA, in 1976.

My father, Navy Electrician’s Mate 1st Class William D. Thompson, Sr., fought in the Pacific in World War II and stood, in his dress whites, on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered and World War II ended in 1945.

He died three years after the war in an industrial accident at the U.S. Phosphorus Plant just south of Tampa, Florida. I was nine months old.

Both men joined to serve their countries to fight in foreign lands to protect what they felt was an American way of life worth saving and, if necessary, die to their service.

Today, Memorial Day, I will ride my Harley out to Buffalo Mountain Cemetery in Floyd County, Virginia, to drop to my knees and thank my grandfather for his willingness, without question, to serve.

My father’s grave is just north of Tampa and I won’t be able to get there today but I will go to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. to thank those who served and died to protect our country.

Then I will ride to the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin, VA, to honor friends, family and colleagues.

My father and grandfather made it back from wars but I still try to honor their service on Memorial Day and any other chance I have to remember them. A nephew serves in the Navy now and I hope and pray he is safe wherever he is today.

A Navy SEAL died this weekend at the start of Fleet Week in New York City as part of the Memorial Day activities.  As a member of the elite Leap Frogs parachute team, his chute failed on a demonstration jump.

Not all veterans die in wars but they should be remembered on this Memorial Day and all other times.

Thousands died in the Revolutionary War that helped create our nation.  Less than a century later, thousands more died in the Civil War that almost destroyed our young nation.

Even more died in World Wars I & II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.  They continue to die in Afghanistan and other present conflicts.

Veterans Cemeteries cover many acres of land in the United States and around the world.  Many who died at Normandy and other beaches on D-Day in World War II lie in graves in France. Others on Pacific atolls or at the bottom of the seas.

“Death in service to one’s country is the greatest valor,” says a traditional saying, but other question such beliefs.

Wrote Ernest Hemingway:

They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

Mark Twain wrote:

Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.

Theodore Roosevelt may have put it best:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.

I will remember Roosevelt’s comments when I drop to one knee at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, the Vietnam War Memorial at Princeton, West Virginia and the Veterans Cemetery in Dublin today.

They died proudly in service to the country and I honor them without hesitation.

Yet, particularly in these troubled times in a divisive America, I must wonder if at least some of them died in vain.


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1 thought on “We must honor and remember, but…”

  1. I’m going to object to Mark Twain. My version goes “Loyalty to planet ALWAYS. Loyalty to country; when it deserves it, and loyalty to government when it earns it.”

    Thank you,

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