A personal and heartfelt ‘thank you’ this Memorial Day

Each year in this editorial space, we honor those who served and gave their lives for this country. This year we are making it more personal and excerpting a portion of the speech that Managing Editor Debra Moore delivered during last year’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at Dame Shirley Plaza, after being asked to do so by organizer Bob Zernich:

Beginning in early spring, Bob appears regularly at the newspaper office. It usually involves a couple of trips to our archives to hunt for stories and pictures about local men and women who have served in the military, discussions about the program and updates on the event’s lineup.

Then one day he had a new request — would I speak at the Memorial Day event? My first inclination was to say “no,” what could I possibly say that would lend any glimmer of significance to the occasion?

But I thought about it and I realized that I am like most Americans and probably like most of you here today. While some of you are veterans, many are not, but I am sure you have friends and family members who have served. Some were lucky to return, but others were lost forever and it is for those that we celebrate Memorial Day.

As I look at my own family, I have had brothers and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents who served. I am lucky. Though some suffered significant injuries, all came home.

When we were working on the editorial leading up to Memorial Day, I looked at what we and what other newspapers had written in the past, but ultimately turned to some of our presidents for inspiration. Regardless of their politics they all have paid moving tribute to those who died serving our country.

In 1992, George H. Bush said in a speech: “Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.”

They were real people just like those in my family that I can put a face to. My dad, Raymond, was the youngest of four brothers. His older siblings Mark, Tony and Amador all served in World War II. Though they didn’t speak much about the war, each of their homes displayed a picture of the handsome, young men in uniform they had been. They were proud of their service.

My dad fought in the Korean War. We didn’t have a picture of him in uniform while I was growing up. But then a few years back, an aunt, who had been saving some photographs for years, gave them to me. It was such a gift to see my dad as I had never seen him before — a young man looking into the camera from under his helmet. And it has only been recently that my dad would share some stories of what it was like to fight in Korea and what it was like to be out on patrol and suddenly find himself face-to-face with the other side.

One year I sent flowers to my dad to honor him on Veterans Day. The gesture confused him. “Why would you send me flowers?” he asked. “To thank you,” I told him. “I am incredibly proud of you.” But he just shook his head. He didn’t feel like he should be thanked for doing his duty and serving his country. And I know he’s not alone in that sentiment.

But I think he needed to be thanked, as did my uncles, and my other family members — as do all veterans, including those here today. But our most heartfelt thank you must go to those who can only hear us from above. So to them I say “thank you” and to all of you I say “Happy Memorial Day.”