Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day, 2012

Each year, on one day in May, we are asked to commemorate the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our Nation.  Americans of nearly every generation have given their lives in service to us. 

We owe those who died, and their families, our eternal gratitude.

We can remember the fallen by the recognition of a few. Four men from Iroquois County (this is not all-inclusive):

Jack Redman was a star athlete at Watseka Community High School. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1943, after attending and playing football for the University of Illinois. Jack Redman was one of 1009 Marines who died on Tarawa. Tarawa was a horrific battle; the first in the Island Hopping Campaign. Until recently, Jack Redman remained on Tarawa with about 130 of his comrades.

Like Jack Redman, Marion Pence knowingly volunteered for extremely hazardous duty. Pence entered the United States Army in 1942 and volunteered to become a paratrooper.  He was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the legendary 82nd Airborne Division.  He was wounded on D-Day, within hours of parachuting into Normandy. He died of those wounds several days later.  He rests in Gilman.

The Hutchinson family of Sheldon lost two sons. Charles and Bernard Hutchinson both entered the United States Navy.  I couldn’t find much information about Bernard, except that he listed a young wife in Watseka as his next-of-kin. Charles was listed as missing for more than sixty years. The submarine on which he served was only recently found and identified.

We can learn the names of other U.S. service members who died. For most, we can learn something of who they were. What we cannot know, and we can only wonder, is who they might have been. In his famous eulogy delivered on Iwo Jima, the Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn said: “Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet . . . to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none . . .”    

We live, and raise our children, in a world in which people hate us for being Americans. Yet, rather than pulling together and holding ourselves out as a people of peace and justice, we still divide ourselves on economic, racial, religious, political and other lines. Our discourse is often visceral to the point of absurdity - and mean to the point of stupidity.

Rabbi Gittelsohn, again:  Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price . . .We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.”

I submit that our debt of gratitude to men and women like Jack Redman, Marion Pence, and the Hutchinsons must be repaid by more than a once-a-year observance.  We should, in payment to them, treat each other with dignity and respect.  

For more on Jack Redman see:

For more on Marion Pence see:

For more on Bernard and Charles Hutchinson see:

Illinois’ WWII Marine, Navy and Coast Guard Casualties:

Iroquois County’s WWII Army casualties (The Air Force was still part of the Army):

Rabbi Gittelsohn  (a must read):