Honoring Those Who Serve

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Jun 01, 2010 12:00 AM

Yesterday many families hit the beach, had picnics and enjoyed the traditional start of summer fun. Sadly, many never mentioned the reason for the holiday: To honor those who have fallen while defending our right to enjoy each day of our lives as we wish — as Americans.

This generation of children and teenagers are in serious need of heroes. Surveys reveal that they often confuse pop stars and sports figures with true heroes - the people who sacrifice on behalf of someone else. If you forgot to truly celebrate Memorial Day, it's not too late to explain the difference to your children, and to finally discuss and honor those who fought so we might be free.

Rush Limbaugh

Many families have experienced the pain and pride that comes with losing someone in terrible wars in far-off lands. And, sadly, their service is often forgotten or lost as the years go by. If we are to raise children who appreciate the great American legacy of freedom and to recognize the type of person that deserves our utmost respect, then we must teach them to honor the honorable. Looking for those heroes in your own family can also connect your children to the past in such an intimate way that it inspires them to sacrifice for the futures.

If a relative of yours is one of the fallen, find their stories and share them with your children. We should also honor those who fought bravely and were lucky enough to make it home. Here is the brief story of how my husband and I honored my father-in-law and wrote his service on the hearts of our boys:

My father-in-law, Papa John, wore his very best poker face as he climbed carefully through the bomb-bay doors and into the fuselage, his grandsons scrambling in close behind. It had to have been an emotional moment. During World War II, Papa John had served with the 450th bomb group, a nose gunner in a B-24 Liberator like this one. Ever since learning about the Fantasy of Flight museum, a private collection boasting what may be the world's largest assemblage of airworthy vintage aircraft, it had been my husband's goal to bring his father and our children together in the museum's display hangars. Now, here they were — Granddad, son and grandsons, in a brief but not- to-be-forgotten moment.

Even with its bomb racks empty, the bomb bay was a surprisingly small and cramped space. Between the racks, the only way forward to the flight deck and to his former battle station was a narrow girder, not even wide enough to be called a catwalk. Negotiating that, then hunching down, and finally crawling forward, Papa John advanced as far toward the nose turret as his creaky knees would let him, ultimately just far enough to peer inside through its double hatch. He had certainly had a good view from that position, as far forward as one could possibly be in an airplane, with only a bubble of a Plexiglas between him and the frigid, onrushing air. How had he folded himself, his parachute and other gear into that tiny space? How could he stay in that position for 10 or 12 hours? How did it feel to be shot at the first time? What did it feel like to climb back in for repeat missions? And what did you do to expel the thought that the next mission might be your last?

True to form, Papa John was a fount of knowledge about all things technical. He pointed out the dials and knobs and handles, explained their purpose and how they worked. Those things seemed to come back pretty easily. But how it all felt was more difficult to put into words. As with most of those who made it back, it seems there has rarely been an appropriate moment to share details of those days. Even if the moment presented itself, the story is not an easy one to tell. But it is our duty, not theirs, to collect and preserve their story. It is right to recognize their sacrifice. That is the reason we establish memorial days and create memorial monuments. And it is right to thank them, by stepping forward to take up the banner of service they carried so faithfully.

Our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a grand tradition of Americans who have sacrificially left everything dear and comfortable and have traveled to spill their blood on somebody else's soil, on behalf of somebody else's freedom. Wars are, by nature, controversial; by definition, full of conflict — physically, emotionally and politically. But there should be no controversy, no conflict, over honoring those who serve.

So to all those who have donned the uniform in honor — from our dear Papa John and his World War II comrades, to the youngest soldier in far off lands — we thank you and assure you: Your story will be told.