It is difficult for me to write something different each Memorial Day. Because, no words can describe such a solemn day to remember the men and women who literally gave everything they had so we can enjoy the freedoms we have. So, I would like to share my favorite Deacon’s Corner for Memorial Day from a few years ago. I wrote about 2 great men who had a big influence in my life. This year, I’ve added one more. Each of them were part of the Greatest Generation we all owe so much. The generation that taught my generation how to preserve in hard times when the entire world can seem hopeless. Each of these men were faithful and hardworking. They loved God, their Catholic faith, and are now home with the Lord.
My dad was 19 and part of a landing craft crew when he landed on Utah Beach the morning of D-Day. As they hit the beach, his landing craft was disabled. Under heavy fire, they abandoned their craft, hastily picked up whatever equipment they could find lying in the sand and joined an Army recon unit fighting their way off the beach. For a month, he fought to liberate French towns in Normandy before returning to his ship. On one of those Sundays, dad attended Mass at a small, village church. A little, feisty nun made he and his buddies leave all their guns and ammunition outside the church door before they could enter for Mass. When he got back to his ship, he discovered half of his crew never made it off the beach. Dad died suddenly over 10 years ago, never really talking much about his war experience.
Bob was a dear friend who God put in my life after dad died at a time when I really needed a father figure. He was also crewed a landing craft. Bob was 18 and halfway to Japan for invasion of the mainland when the war finally ended. Bob provided security for the USS Missouri as the Japanese signed the surrender document aboard it. He remembers sailing into Tokyo Bay immediately afterward, wondering if it was all really a trap. Bob spent the rest of the war clearing the rubble from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and bringing food and water to Japanese citizens who survived the devastation. Bob died 3 years ago when his heart was too tired to pump anymore.
John was a parishioner at St. Mary on the Lake. He sat at the end of the pew each Sunday and shook my hand as I processed out. Each time, I thanked him for his service to our country, and he thanked me for serving God. John was barely 18 when he fought in General Patton’s 7th Army all the way up the Italian peninsula to push the German army out. John has 3 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. The last time I saw John was this past February as he re-told me his many memories about his wartime experience. He was bed-ridden at home and I brought him communion. John died a few weeks later, taking his stories with him.
I remember about a month before Bob died, our son wrote him a letter for his 90th birthday celebration. The letter said, “instead of me saying ‘thank you for your service,’ I want to say thank you for putting your life on hold 70 years ago to preserve our nation’s freedom and fight tyranny abroad. Thank for ensuring evil will not triumph or reach our nation shores. Few people know the unique feeling of signing your life away for a cause greater than one’s self. Few people know what it is like to raise your right hand and take an oath. Few people know what it is like to put your life on hold and go to a foreign country to fight, knowing full well that a living, breathing, thinking enemy is waiting for them when they get there. Your service to our country meant the preservation of our freedom for many years to come, and your sacrifices for our nation will never be forgotten. Respectfully, Major Justin Amthor USMC.”
While speaking at a memorial service after the war, General George Patton said, “let’s not ask God why these men had to die. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.” As we kick off the summer this Memorial Weekend, may we pray for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to fight evil and protect freedom. May we never forget them – and thank God that they lived. May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.