Out and About (Sort of): Homage Due by Howard Freedlander

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As I sat comfortably last Wednesday afternoon on a tied up sailboat on the Severn River in Annapolis, riveted by the performance of the U.S. Navy’s famed Blue Angels, premier flight demonstration team, I felt a tinge of sadness. Surprisingly so.

This aerobatic flight team is an annual highlight of the U.S. Naval Academy’s commissioning week. It symbolizes Navy pride and proficiency. It also represents a military profession that requires its officers and enlisted to face the danger and dilemma of war.

Watching the aerial show, amid a chorus of oohs and awes, I thought about the more than 1,000 young, bright and energetic men and women graduating on Friday and facing at least five years of military service in l trouble spots throughout our dangerous and unstable world.

On a day like today, Memorial Day, we pay homage and gratitude to our nation’s service-members who died in combat. They rest in military and civilian cemeteries throughout the world.

I think about a friend here in Talbot County who last saw his father, at the age of three, before his dad lost his life on the Normandy Beach code-named “Omaha Beach” in June 1944 during World War II.

I think about a young officer against whom I played lacrosse when we both attended college. Grandson of the renowned World War I general, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, Dickie Pershing was killed in Vietnam on February 17, 1968. I knew Dickie Pershing by reputation.

I think about my wife’s uncle, an enlisted soldier during World War II. He earned a Silver Star, the military’s third highest personal decoration for valor in combat. He survived the war. Like many in what is called the “The Greatest Generation,” he spoke very little about his combat service in Europe.

I think about military monuments, both modest and grandiose, including the Vietnam Wall and Korean War memorial, among others, in Washington, DC, and seek to understand the gravity of what they represent. They are constant reminders that war has fatal consequences.

They are built on the flesh and blood of thousands and thousands of mostly young men and women who return home only in spirit and memories. These monuments compel us to pay attention and reverence.

I dare say that I would be remiss if I spoke only about Americans who didn’t return. Their strong, resilient families deserve recognition too on Memorial Day. Between bites of hamburgers and sips of beer, we should focus too on the families of the dead– going back to the Revolutionary War– who suffered mightily when a loved one was killed in combat.

I think about the excruciating pain felt by mothers, fathers, wives and children and sisters and brothers who sit around the family table and know and feel the emptiness of a chair. The family narrative changes as memories and tears flood the conversation. This heartfelt loss lingers.

I never imagined that the impressive Blue Angels would stimulate a stream of sadness. Maybe advancing age prompts more reflection about the constant threat of war and loss of young lives.

We live in a country that respects those willing to face combat and its dire consequences. Communities throughout our country proudly display the American flag on Memorial Day and honor and memorialize our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members who didn’t come home.

To friends and family who will grieve today, God bless you. You are not alone.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Letters to Editor

  1. Jonathon Powers says:

    And yet why, Mr.Freedlander, must we live in a militaristic mindset as a nation?
    Give peace a chance.

    Jon Powers

  2. Thank you Howard. A very fitting tribute on Memorial Day.

  3. Beverley Martin says:

    Thank you, Howard,

    You echo my sentiments perfectly.

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