Leslie's Omnibus

In Memorium

On Memorial Day, I hold dear in my memory all those who have given their lives in service to this country... and their dear ones who supported them, and miss them still.

From General Orders No. 11, which formalized the recognition of May 30th as the day to remember our war dead -- and their families:
"We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, 'of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.' What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms.

"We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

"If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

"Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."

I give thanks for Illinois Guardsman Sgt. Rick Davis, who keesp the memories of fallen comrades alive:
For a career military man such as Davis, Memorial Day always has been a respected holiday, but this year, he said, it is a time to reflect on his four comrades killed in March 2009. Three were fellow Delta Company soldiers in the Illinois Army National Guard based in Woodstock. The fourth was an Air Force staff sergeant from Arizona.

On Monday, Davis will walk alongside relatives of some of the fallen soldiers in a parade in Woodstock. Other relatives will join President Barack Obama at a ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. They include Paul and Barbara Abeyta, parents of Sgt. Christopher Abeyta, 23, who filled in for Davis as commander of the Humvee that day and is buried at Lincoln....

For Davis, the place to seek solitude is at a granite memorial for the slain soldiers erected in the front yard of the National Guard Amory in Woodstock, where he works as the supply officer. Sometimes, Davis said, he sits at the base of the monument with the engraved faces of Abeyta; Spc. Robert Weinger, 24, of Round Lake Beach; and Spc. Norman Cain III, 22, of Mount Morris staring over his shoulders.

"I'm the one that gets to wake up every morning," Davis said. "It would be an injustice to the memory of the four men who were in that truck if I were to just sit around and not function.

"So every day, I ask myself, 'How can I make a difference today?' I don't take anything for granted anymore."

I give thanks for the life of Officer Thomas Wortham IV, who battled enemies both in Afghanistan and in the streets of Chatham.

I will honor the grief of Gold Star families:
Some people inadvertently contribute to the heartache with awkward talk of closure or a tone-deafness about the significance of Memorial Day.

On this somber holiday, here's what three parents said they want you to know about their sadness: what helps, what hurts and why it's important to remember.

Jim Frazier, father of Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, 24, Illinois Air National Guard

"Don't ever use the word 'closure' with me," said Frazier, who lives in Lake in the Hills. "I once threw a reporter out who used that word. It's simply a hole in your heart that is always there … and you learn to live with it."

That was just the first of some well-meaning but clumsy gestures after Jake was killed in southern Afghanistan seven years ago.

Another occurred Memorial Day 2003 — just two months after burying Jake, who grew up in St. Charles and graduated from Burlington Central High School. Jake's parents found themselves on a parade float going down State Street in Chicago. The jarring contrast between the happy, smiling crowds and their own sadness left an indelible imprint.

"When it was over, I said, 'Thanks for having us, but don't ever make anyone sit on a float again.'" It's one reason why he has been involved in the city's parade committee ever since.

He explains his activism this way: "I lost a boy … I can't do anything for him, but I sure as hell can do something for the other young men and women in harm's way. … It's the way recovering addicts help recovering addicts. They're the only ones that understand … and I seek out people who have gone through the same thing."

So what expressions of sympathy are truly helpful?

"The kindest thing you can do is just say, 'Tell me about him,' because if you don't talk, you get sick. I've had some terrible times after Jake was killed, but for me, being of service is the way to go. I'd hope Jake would say, 'I'm proud of you, Pops.'"

Kirk Morris, father of Marine Pfc. Geoffrey Morris, 19

Geoffrey Morris was a 19-year-old Marine when he was killed by a grenade six years ago in Iraq. His father's voice still catches describing all the activities they shared, such as fishing and pheasant-hunting.

"The one thing I don't do is play pool anymore. I have a beautiful table downstairs, but I just can't do it."

Like Frazier, Kirk Morris marched in Chicago's parade on Saturday. Still, he wrestles with ambivalent feelings on Memorial Day.

"It's one of the most important days of the year to me, but it's also unsettling," said Morris, a Gurnee village trustee.

"I don't think that the majority of Americans get it," he said. "It's about remembering those who have fallen. ... I don't want to diminish our veterans, but that's why we have Veterans Day. This day is about all those who never got their tomorrows."

Since Geoffrey's death, he has kicked his activism into high gear, including an unsuccessful run for Congress, a fishing tournament to benefit military families and maintaining a Facebook page dedicated to these "Heroes of Freedom." But he'll call you out if you ask if lending a hand is a means of coping.

"It doesn't help me recover one bit," he snaps. "In fact, it makes things worse because I see so many families in pain. But families have so many questions … and I saw a need and I filled it."

He also has a long list of expressions of sympathy that rub salt in the wound. The worst: "When someone says, 'They're in a better place.' I just want to yell, 'Are you frickin' kidding me?' He was 19 years old. His place was with his daddy.

"There are no magic words, so don't even try coming up with them. Instead, if you see someone serving or a Gold Star license plate, just put a note on their windshield and say, 'Thank you.'"

Sandra Miller, mother of Army Pvt. DeWayne White, 27

The yellow ribbons — faded and tattered — are still wrapped around the trees on Sandra Miller's front yard in Country Club Hills. She can't seem to take them down. It's just one of the many ways she remembers her son DeWayne White, one of three U.S. soldiers killed by a roadside bomb near Baiji, Iraq, in 2007.

Another is the prayer box that she keeps on her bedroom dresser. Every time a member of the U.S. military dies in battle, she writes his or her name on a slip of paper, adding it to the box and praying for the family.

"There's an awful lot of pain in there," she said.

But while Miller, a deeply religious woman, does her part to tend to the legacy of her son, she is baffled that so many Americans do not recognize or even think about his sacrifice, especially on Memorial Day. Even family members, she said, are too busy to mark the occasion, leaving her alone in her sorrow.

"It's not about having a barbecue. It's a day for remembering. … And what's up with all the sales?" she said. "If one TV channel could just put up the photos of all the fallen for just one day, that would make a huge difference."

Miller quit her job in the mortgage business after her son's death and hasn't returned to work. She also stopped painting because "DeWayne loved art," she said. But she hasn't stopped worrying. Another son, DeShaun — three years younger than his brother — is in Hawaii, about to be deployed for a third tour of duty in Iraq.

"All I asked is that he bring back some sand because that's the last place my son touched."

Like Morris, she wishes more people would acknowledge the Gold Star, a symbol used by those who have lost loved ones in battle, which she wears proudly on her lapel.

"Most people have no idea what it's for. When I tell them, they usually hang their head, like they don't know what to say. Just give me a hug. Tell me that you appreciate that my son died for our freedom. Just make it count for something."


Don't take it for granted. Make it count for something.


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