Disclaimer: this has absolutely nothing to do with running. But there’s something on my mind I wanted to put in words.
I’ve seen a host of Facebook posts the last few days sternly reminding us that Memorial Day is not for barbecues and beaches and a 3 day weekend. Attached to the posts are photos of people grieving their fallen soldiers, whether it be at a grave or at the funeral ceremony itself. The photos are touching and a great reminder of sacrifies. The admonishment, however? It’s well-meaning. But I believe it is incorrect.
Those of you who know me know that I have a passion for military history, particularly WWII. I’m over halfway through a Masters degree in History with a concentration on WWII. I hold degrees in International Affairs and Geography with an emphasis on military tactics. I worked at the Institute for WWII Studies while in college and spent countless hours recording interviews with vets in order to document their living histories. It’s been a love of mine since my grandparents, whom I adored, used to share stories with me of their wartime experience and my grandpa slowly began opening up to me about his experiences in the Pacific campaign, something he had never spoke of until he was 80 years of age.
So trust me, I mean no disrespect. Memorial Day is about honoring our fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
And I will share with you my personal hero before getting back on topic. Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt Jr, in my opinion, saved us from defeat during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. I won’t bore you with the details because I could go on and on and on. But I will say this: he was the son of a former president. He didn’t even have to be there. He was a soldier’s general, so much so that Patton tried to ruin his career because he was “too casual and caring” with the men under his command. He cared deeply about this country. He was also old and had a heart condition. So when the invasion of Normandy was planned, he was not included in the operation. Roosevelt was not down with being left behind, however, and petitioned over and over until the decision was reversed. His superiors knew he would not live to come back but he would go ashore with his men in Normandy.
Long story short, things went terribly wrong at Utah Beach. Under the fog of war, our soldiers landed over a mile south of their objective and they were penned in and frozen in place. They were young and green and lost. Until General Roosevelt, the oldest man in the invasion and the only general to land with the first wave, came ashore with a cane in one hand and a pistol in the other. You just can’t make this stuff up. He did a recon of the area himself, found a way out and told his troops “Well then, we’ll start the war from right here!”. And they did. Bolstered by the general, the soldiers fought there way out and back to Utah. They headed north, hit the enemy and the battle was won. Because of an old man with a pistol and cane who didn’t want his young soldiers going ashore without him.
General Roosevelt died of a heart attack one month later, still on the shores of Normandy. A few years ago, I finally realized my dream of placing flowers at his grave at Coleville-sur-Mer. I stood there and thought about his sacrifice and his bravery. After the war, General Omar Bradley was asked to name the most heroic act he had witnessed in combat. He replied “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach”. Damn straight.
I don’t know why he isn’t really talked about within casual history accounts of WWII. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for pete’s sake. But I will talk about him, and honor him and remember him. Along with every single other man and women who has died to preserve my freedom.
Which brings me back to my original point. Monday morning I’ll wake up and head out to Florida National Cemetery to visit my grandparents. I’ll also pause at the tombstones of their neighbors, many who are way too young to be buried and gone. But then I will go home and enjoy the sunshine on my face and the smell of BBQ and we’ll watch some baseball.
Why? Because that *is* honoring our fallen soldiers. They fought and fell on the battlefield in a bid to preserve our way of life. They fought for freedom, for families, for our American way of life and all the blessings that come with it. And I can’t help but think that they would approve of seeing Americans out enjoying all that this land offers us, thanks to their sacrifice.
So please, don’t feel guilty for enjoying your three day weekend and all that it encompasses. Feel gratitude instead. I think that is what our fallen heroes would prefer.