In Memory

Remembering those military men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice

Service, sacrifice and more than a tinge of sadness define this year's Memorial Day for some Tucsonans. Whether they fought for their country or have loved ones who fight now, next Monday has special meaning for each of them.

Shirley Felix is a member of Military Moms of Greater Tucson, a group that sends care packages to troops overseas and offers moral support to their families here at home. Felix has three cousins currently in the service, all of whom have seen duty in Iraq, and she believes this Memorial Day is very important, especially with so many complaining about the on-going war.

"We should remember all the people who have gone before us, and don't forget their sacrifice," she reflects, "and do not think its just another day off. Remember them and the sacrifices they made for our freedom, by visiting the grave site of someone who died in military service."

Veteran Robert Reamy concurs with that sentiment.

"Instead of just picnicking and partying on Memorial Day," he says, "we should be thinking of those who gave their lives."

In that respect, the day is sad for Reamy. "We should learn to get along instead of killing each other," he adds.

Reamy, who was a machine gunner in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970,has another thought for the day.

"For those who fought," he says, "freedom has a taste the protected will never know."

Julie Poole, the mother of a Marine, agrees. "We should honor those who sacrificed their lives for us, and think about the costs of freedom."

The 56-year old Poole, daughter of a World War II veteran, calls herself a proud American who is also a member of Military Moms of Greater Tucson. (She has an additional reason to hold the holiday dear--she was married on the day in 1970.)

"We should realize how proud and supportive (of those in the service) we should be," Poole says. "Plus, we need to remember the innocent victims of Sept. 11 and our World War II veterans because of the dedication (this weekend) of the new memorial to them in Washington, D.C."

One of those veterans is Manny Herrera, who served on a minesweeper in the Pacific beginning in 1944. He is also the father of three sons who are veterans, as well as a grandson in the Marines, one in the Navy and a third in the Army. Combined, he proudly calculates, his extended family has a total of 29 years of military service.

"On Memorial Day, I pay tribute to my military comrades," Herrera says softly, "and its always kind of sad. We're losing so many of them from my era, and that always hurts."

Another difficult thing, Herrera says, is the difference he sees between the nation today and the nation that was at war 60 years ago.

"The United States was unified then to save the country," he says, "but we don't have the same cohesiveness now, and that hurts."

Longtime Tucsonan Norman Salmon went to Europe as an 18-year-old soldier in March 1945. He also commented on the differences.

"The Iraqi war is such a travesty of justice compared to World War II," he believes, "and it's a shame about those dying now. It's a terrible waste of life."

Differences of opinion have been a hallmark of Memorial Day ever since it was first commemorated in 1868 to honor those who fell in battle during the Civil War. During the war, Southern women began decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the conflict. When Memorial Day was first proclaimed, only Northern states participated in official ceremonies, while Southern states held their own separate events to honor their dead.

After World War I, however, things changed. Remembering all those who had died fighting for the United States--in any conflict--became the focus of Memorial Day, and Southern states began to participate in the national holiday.

On Monday, the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who were killed in the service of their country will be remembered. I'll be remembering a friend, John Ball.

A jovial, easy-going guy from Wisconsin, in the late 1960s, Ball married his high school sweetheart and joined the Navy. They had kids, and were stationed at several places, including Naples, Italy. By 1979, the family was living in Puerto Rico. There, while driving a bus full of sailors to work on Dec. 3, Ball was brutally murdered by some so-called Puerto Rican nationalists.

On this Memorial Day, 25 years later, as Americans drink their beer and watch their sports, his loss--along with the loss of so many others--should be remembered.