Monday, May 31, 2010

Major Ziegenfuss speaks to the American Legion

This Memorial Day weekend, Major Charles W. Zeigenfuss shares the text of his speech to American Legion Dick Munkres Post 287 in Savannah, Missouri.

Commander Burns, Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and family: thank you for attending this remembrance for our fallen warriors.

On the 23rd of July, 2003, Captain Joshua T. Byers, 29, of Sparks, Nev.; assigned to Headquarters, Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, in Fort Carson, Co.; was killed when his convoy hit an explosive device. Josh was not only my friend, but was my mentor and peer.

While supporting (which is a Department of Defense word for fighting) in Operation Enduring Freedom, another very close friend of mine was killed. He died May 29, 2004, just two days short of a Memorial Day, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when his vehicle struck a land mine. Captain Daniel W. Eggers, 28, of Cape Coral, Florida. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

LTC Gary R Derby, 44, of Missoula, Montana; assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division; died Feb. 9 2009 in Mosul, Iraq, of wounds sustained when a car bomb was driven into his vehicle. LTC, then Captain Derby commanded a company in my battalion when I was a young shave-tail lieutenant. Aside from his candid leadership and sense of humor, he was the kind of guy who you could always count on to tell you when you were being an idiot—and how to really improve on style points.

One thing that each of these heroes had in common—besides having the unfortunate luck to serve with me, was that they took their duty very seriously; and themselves much less so. The loved the military, they loved serving this country; every day, and no days off.

Each was a family man. Each left behind a great legacy. Each served to the fullest measure. I am sure if they had the chance to be alive today, each would ask that someone who died alongside them would instead take their place among the living.

Many of our fellow citizens have no understanding of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, other than it means a long weekend. Many people, especially those with no connection to the military, often confuse the two, citing Memorial Day as a day to thank those serving the nation in uniform. Recently, a friend of mine commented that “Memorial Day is meant to pay homage to those who gave their lives for this country and our way of life. It is a day to honor the dead. There is NO such thing as “Happy Memorial Day.”

Respectfully, I disagree, in part, anyway.

Memorial Day is a happy yet solemn, joyful yet tearful, partly sunny yet mostly cloudy kind of day.

We are living the days these men and women never will. Live them well, be happy, and enjoy the blessings of liberty their service and sacrifice have bought. Although we take pause today to remember their absence, we must also take this day to celebrate the very liberty they have secured.

Memorial Day should be a "happy" day, the same as Easter. We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, yet we rejoice in the promise of chocolate rabbits, only six more weeks till spring (if Christ came out of the tomb and saw his shadow) and painted eggs, god-awfully early church services, plastic grass, and kids on a blood-sugar bender. We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, of the loss of friends and family on this day. I remember Josh wearing a cape and boxer shorts and little else, standing in the Kuwaiti desert and saluting passing vehicles. I remember sharing stories and fixing the world’s problems over barbeque and beer with Dan. I remember Gary creatively counseling another lieutenant who just refused to “get it.” I remember these men fondly, and am thankful to wear the same uniform, to serve the same nation, and to carry forward where they cannot.

Dan, Josh, and Gary can't spend this day, or any other day with their families, or among us, and we are a poorer nation because of that. I miss them, but today I pay special attention to their absence, and jealously guard my time with my family. We will have a happy day, because my friends, my mentors, my brothers have already paid for it, in advance, with interest.

I do not mean to suggest that it is proper to tell a recent widow to have a “Happy” Memorial Day. I know the families of the fallen, and especially the recently fallen, spend this day in grief, but they spend this day remembering none the less. They will, in time, first recall the good things, the joys and happiness, the special days; and will lock away the days which hurt the most. These families, these survivors, have something their warriors no longer have… time. They have time to grieve, time to mourn, and time to heal. They will, soon enough, spend their memorial days at family barbeques, pool openings, amusement parks, and all manner of fun and happy occasions.

On Memorial Day, these families, mine and hopefully yours, will also pause to remember all of the joyful times we spent with those who have stood their final muster, and then we too, will go on living, and have a happy Memorial Day.

Thank you for your time and your attention.

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