(please scroll down for the update)
If you are anything like us, you are familiar with your parents' past perhaps not in a chronological sense but rather in a narrative form... stories and remembrances of friends, co-workers, neighbors and loved ones from their past that help develop the story arc of their lives.
"Pops", while doing a Christmas play for the church, based upon the events at Pearl Harbor, penned the following for his fellow cast members:
When I was about six weeks old, my Daddy was killed in an industrial accident. Fortunately, we had a great uncle who was an attorney and a high mucky-muck in Toledo civic affairs who was able to secure a generous (for those days) settlement for Mom, money to purchase a home and $19 a week for ten years to raise my brother and me.
When I was about five, Mom saw that she needed to be prepared for when the ten years were over - she had graduated at the top of her 8th grade class but her father saw no reason to send a girl to high school. Mom decided to go to beautician's school in Toledo, which meant finding a place for me to stay. I went to my father's parents on their farm a few miles away where I lived for the next three years. There was cornmeal mush when there was nothing else to eat, no plumbing, no electricity, but lots of love.
Before supper, it was my job to walk back to the woods to call the cows for milking. On one evening, I ran a thorn into my thigh. I tried to pull it out but couldn't. As I limped back to the house, the thorn worked its way further into the flesh. Grandma tried to remove the thorn but had no success. We had no car so Grandma walked across the road to the Zalesak's for a possible ride to the doctor in town. Their youngest son, Tommy, about 17, was delighted for an excuse to drive the family car. I don't remember the drive into town or Dr. Scheidemann removing the thorn but remember that Grandma and Tommy laughed and joked all the way home.
A few years later on a summer evening, we were sitting on the front porch, probably doing something exciting like counting fireflies. A figure came out of the darkness from across the road. We quickly recognized Mrs. Zalesak coming to see us. She was a native of Prague who loved her adopted home. She studied the Constitution at night by kerosene lamp for her naturalization test. I have always remembered her saying proudly in her badly broken English, "when I go up to that judge, I tell him the Constitution in American."
But this particular summer night she had two small boxes in her hands, one contained a Purple Heart and the other a Silver Star for bravery in action. Tommy's lieutenant had been wounded and was trapped between the lines, pinned down by enemy fire in the Philippines. Tommy volunteered to try to bring him back. He crawled out into enemy machine gun fire and died from his wounds in a field hospital.
Grandma said what she could to comfort Mrs. Zalesak and she walked, sobbing, back into the night.
Doing the play brought back these memories as clear as yesterday and gave me a chance to reflect upon them. I have heard so much of bravery and heroism during the war. But as I thought of Tommy, I don't think he had any thoughts of bravery or heroism when he volunteered to try to save his lieutenant. I think it was love that motivated Tommy, the love for his fellow man. Tommy performed the ultimate act of love by laying down his life for his fellow man, a powerful reminder of what was done for us nearly 2000 years ago. I pray that this message of sacrifice will be clear to everyone who is here for our presentation the next few nights.
As wonderful as a natural coincidence is San Diego Beer Week, the Marine Corps' birthday and Veterans' Day all falling on the same week, remembering and honoring those who have given that full measure should be a year-round exercise.
Update #1: We didn't plan it this way but there was a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony today at the White House.
Yesterday, President Obama spoke with Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta to inform him that he will be awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of gallantry at the risk of his life that went above and beyond the call of duty. Sergeant Giunta will be the first living service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The President thanked Sergeant Giunta for his service and extraordinary bravery in battle.
Further information about the date and time of the ceremony will be released at a later date.
ACTION FROM WHICH THE MEDAL OF HONOR WAS EARNED:
Then-Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself by acts of gallantry at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifle team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment during combat operations against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan on October 25, 2007.
When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta's squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.
Here is a video of the ceremony (if embed no worky, please go here)
(Doggone it! We can't get the correct video to load so, yes... please go there.)
When the President said he was looking forward to this "joyous occasion", we fully take him at his word as we can imagine being in the presence of heroism and bravery is pretty much the exact polar opposite of what the typical day in Washington D.C. is like. Also, please remember this clip the next time you hear some pol drone on about making "brave" votes that may not sit well with the electorate. Child, please.
And when you wonder just what institutions in this country contribute to American exceptionalism, this is certainly one of them.