The Importance of Memorial Day

In March, the 10-part series The Pacific debuted on HBO, which focuses on the lesser-known battles of World War II.  My husband and I were initially drawn to the intriguing, well-edited trailers.  What carried us through the entire series, however, was the impeccable acting, extraordinary cinematography, and emotional storyline that grabbed our hearts and wouldn’t let go.  Each episode began with actual footage from WWII, then first-person accounts by survivors of battles in the Pacific–islands and battles of which we had never heard.  No one I have asked, since learning of its existence, has heard of Guadalcanal even though it was a pivotal battle.  Naturally, my two grandfathers who served in the Navy knew about this epic fight, but it seems that outside of the WWII generation, it’s unknown to the general public.  That really bothered me, and got me thinking that if such an integral piece to our country’s recent history is unknown, what else are we going to lose once the WWII generation is gone?

The Pacific inspired me to interview my grandfathers and create this post in honor of Memorial Day.  I don’t know why I’ve never really asked them about their experiences in WWII, but I thought is was high time I did.  Neither man is on the verbose side, but they had no trouble opening up the lines of communication with me on their wartime experiences.  I was honored to hear their stories and loved every minute.

John’s Story

….it was an honor to serve, and a great time in which to live….

My maternal grandfather, John, was a radio operator with Pan American Airlines and served as a civilian sponsored by the Navy.  His job was to relay messages through Morse code, maintain the transmitter and receiver, and know the “rules of the road.”  Pan Am was the only commercial airline that could fly across the Atlantic at the time, so they were the ones that transported diplomats to their destinations.  Their most notable passenger was President Roosevelt, who flew to meet Churchill and Stalin at the Yalta Conference.  It was common for German aircraft to fly alongside them to confirm they were only a commercial airplane.

Later on, the Navy put all Pan Am’s employees into the Naval Reserve and expanded work for the airlines by supplying them with Naval aircraft.  They flew to Naval bases and brought much-needed supplies to the troops.  The danger of seaplanes was the tricky task of landing.  The pilot often found himself trying to land in less-than-ideal conditions, twelve-foot waves for example.

It disturbs my grandfather that some people have questioned the role of soldiers in WWII.  He said that those who went into service did so only to defend their country, and did not have any hidden agendas of pressing their ideas upon the world or exporting their method of government.  The soldiers did whatever they had to do to protect and serve the U.S. and help other countries that were in need of saving.  To John, it was an honor to serve, and a great time in which to live–the whole country was more patriotic than it is now.  He fondly remembers past Memorial Day celebrations in which people listened to patriotic songs, celebrated community, and honored those who had protected their country.  When I asked if it bothered him that today Memorial Day merely represents the beginning of summer, he replied matter-of-factly, “Well, what can you do?”

Maurice’s Story

They didn’t think of themselves as heros–the main focus when they returned to civilian life was gaining employment and supporting their families.

My paternal grandfather, Maurice, signed up for the war in 1943, fresh out of his medical internship.  He was given the job of Navy doctor on the USS Forsyth PF-102, and was in charge of keeping 500-600 men healthy for combat.  His ship was stationed between Brazil and Dakar (Senegal, Africa) to rescue those on shot-down planes or torpedoed ships.  On a side note, Maurice’s brother, who was in the Army, was stationed in Guadalcanal.  Having only recently learned of this spot in the Pacific, I was surprised to learn one of my family members had fought there and survived.

Maurice and the other soldiers didn’t think about their hardships during the war–it wasn’t a problem, it was something they accepted as a consequence of wartime.  I asked my grandfather if he and his fellow soldiers ever talked about their experiences in the war.  His answer was that they all knew what they had been through, so there wasn’t much reason to recount it.  They didn’t think of themselves as heros–the main focus when they returned to civilian life was gaining employment and supporting their families.

Maurice, now 95 years old, has a different view towards Memorial Day than he has in the past.  He feels it is “a solemn day, not for celebrating with drinking and joy, but to remember the people who served this country so that we are able to live as we are.”  His view is this way because of the war still going on overseas involving American soldiers.

The Importance of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a chance to remember and celebrate those who served their country–the ones who returned, and those who never came back to their loved ones.  Let’s not forget all the soldiers, both past and present, who fought and served in the name of our freedom.  Regardless of our political views or standpoints on war, there is no denying the bravery and sacrifice of our country’s soldiers.  They should be honored and appreciated for what they risked and gave up in service. Since no soldier is without loved ones, also give thanks to the strong support system behind our men and women.  These families keep soldiers’ spirits high and hearts full, and must stay strong in the face of constant uncertainty and sacrifice.

So while you enjoy your long Memorial Day weekend, please take a minute to remember our soldiers, and give them a mental salute.   And if you are lucky enough to have some war veterans in your life, ask them about their experiences…I guarantee you will gain a greater appreciation for what they went through, and for what you have because of their efforts.

How will you honor our soldiers this Memorial Day?


5 thoughts on “The Importance of Memorial Day

  1. Roger says:

    Great, inspiring and illuminating article! We all need to focus more on how our men and women in the military have served their country, protected and honored her, while allowing the rest of us to live in freedom and liberty. Thanks for your insights and the true meaning of Memorial Day. Personally, I shall celebrate this holiday with the reverence this day deserves.
    By the way, keep up your enlightening articles!
    You should be a published author!


  2. Jill says:

    What an inspiring tribute to our soldiers and an insight into the personal side of those who participated in securing our freedom. It is so refreshing to hear from the ‘younger generation’ such an appreciation . You have a gift of expression and inspiration…thank you for using it –Let Freedom Ring!


    • Kristin Conroy says:

      Thank you Jill, Roger, and Yarrow! It was an honor to have them share their stories with me and I look forward to learning more. The media seems to be so focused on the politics of the war in the Middle East that we overlook the many men and women who are the ones fighting, and the sacrifices they and their families must make on a daily basis. I hope we keep them in mind, in our hearts, and do not forget there is a human side to war.


  3. J.S.K. says:

    Here we have a day on the list of important day’s of the year that many of us celebrate. Where on the Holiday List of importance is Memorial Day ranked? Of course, Christmas, New Years day are high on the list. Others such as Halloween, July the fourth, Labor Day, Valentine’,s Day, St. Patrck’s Day all and more, not listed in any special order.
    I grieve for my friends, neigrhbors, those that knew me, and I them, only by sight, Now gone. My grief also goes far beyond those that touched my immerdate life. In those days military people were everywhere. Some returned, some did not. I loved them all, and still do. They had a lot to give and many gave all.

    Kristin, brings to us the attention that Memorial Day deserves. Some of us that are well in our ’80,s see it her way, Memorial Day is a day that is reserved for memories. It is very high on my hiliday list,


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