On November 20, 1943, a combined US Navy and Marine assault was launched on a small Pacific atoll called Tarawa. My uncle, a Marine sergeant, was part of a landing force assigned to attack via the lagoon of the main island, Betio. As is invariably the case, not everything went according to plan. The tide was shallower than expected, and the landing craft could not ferry the men all the way to shore–they had to get out and wade into a heavy crossfire to set up their beach head. Very few men in the first two waves made it to the beach. My uncle was one of them; unfortunately, he was not one who then survived the next three days of intense combat. He was one of over 6,000 American and Japanese soldiers, sailors, and marines to lose their lives on Betio, a little island perhaps 4km long and 1km at its widest point. He was buried on that island in a temporary grave after the battle. When the war was over, however, that grave could not be found–my grandmother was not able to bury her son. Instead, his name is one of the many inscribed on the monument at the Punchbowl in Honolulu, HI.
Why do I relate this story? It is because Memorial Day is about Americans remembering their servicemen who gave their lives on behalf of the rest of us…it is about remembering people like my uncle. Invariably, people will thank me for my 26 years in the Air Force, and I will always reply with a sincere “thank you” in return, but Memorial Day is not about me. If you have a war memorial or national cemetery in your town, it is a good time to visit it and to consider what our lives might be like if those men and women weren’t willing to make the sacrifices they made. If you have a flag pole in your yard, then on Monday your flag should be at half mast until noon, then raised fully.
Most of all, do spend time with your family. Go to the ballpark. Enjoy the sun and the hot dogs. That is our way of life, and what those servicemen and servicewomen laid down their lives to protect. The best way to honor them is to live that life.