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Memorial Day: A Reflection On Our Heroes

by Rear Adm. Kevin Green

May 29, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.

Today gives us an opportunity for deep reflection. The holiday we now know as Memorial Day began shortly after the US Civil War, when Confederate widows would gather to place flowers upon the graves of their war dead in the springtime. The practice quickly spread throughout the newly reunified country, eventually earning the support of Union Army Veterans groups - who succeeded in having May 30th designated a national holiday - then known as "Decoration Day".

Although the name has changed and fixed on a Monday to ensure a three-day pause the last weekend in May, the purpose of Memorial Day remains unchanged. It grants us a time to reflect upon the great blessings liberty has bestowed upon us, blessings valiantly fought for, bravely died for, and nobly won by millions of brave sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, including 200,000 who have proudly served from Puerto Rico.

Some of us may remember the great spiritual leader of the 1940s and 50s, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. On April 6, 1941, as war raged in Europe and loomed in the Pacific, Bishop Sheen spoke to his nationwide radio audience about the likely entry of the United States into war. He said: "Peace we want; but there is none apart from sacrifice. Peace is not a passive but an active virtue. Our Lord never said "blessed are the peaceful", but he said, "blessed are the peacemakers".

US citizens born and raised after World War II have come to expect that our military will always s be stronger than any other. It is difficult for us to comprehend the magnitude of the victory won by the forces of freedom in World War II.

Democracy was on the ropes in 1941; many believed that it was a failed experiment, that it lacked the will to sustain itself against the aggressive forces of totalitarianism. And for many dark months early in the war, it appeared that the critics were right. The Allies were effectively evicted by Nazi Germany from the European continent, the Japanese Imperial Navy dominated the Pacific, and by April of 1942, over one million tons of allied shipping had been sunk in the Atlantic by German U-boats.

The United States, together with our Allies around the world, found the will to overcome, but the victory was not without cost - a cost tallied in lives, not just dollars. Lives ended prematurely and other lives were forever altered. And today, we remember.

Over 2,000 names of Puerto Rico's proudest sons are engraved in the San Juan War Memorial, permanently marking their having paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States. Four Puerto Ricans have received the Medal of Honor, our highest military decoration. Fernando Luis García, Carlos James Lozada, Eurípedes Rubio, and Héctor Santiago Colón ... these valiant men knew, as Bishop Sheen said - that peace is an active virtue, and ... that freedom is not free.

We must also reflect and should be justifiably proud to render our support to those who have taken up the flag from those who have fallen - which includes over 3,000 sailors and Marines from Puerto Rico currently serving on active duty as members of the Navy/Marine Corps team.

Around the world, sons and daughters of Puerto Rico stand the watch, walk the point, guard the posts, and fly the missions. They do so proudly, and they do so voluntarily. But the hardship and sacrifices of military service are becoming increasingly unfamiliar to many in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States, this is an unhealthy trend in a democracy, and one which we are trying to reverse. But we need the help of every citizen.

We work very hard to maintain the finest military in the world; we are provided with equipment and training of unsurpassed quality. But our military's greatness if no of things: it is of people and their spirit, which can only endure if nourished by this entire nation. Military service must remain a noble virtue. And it takes all of us to make it so.

Additionally, we need to keep in our hearts and prayers the brave men and women who are in harm's way, especially in the Adriatic, Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf. There can be legitimate disagreement in our community about our actions - healthy debate is one of countless freedoms we enjoy as a free people. But there can be no disagreement where the support of those carrying out the missions is concerned. They Is our national treasure, and they deserve nothing else.

Blessed are the peacemakers - past and present. I am gratified by Puerto Rico's reverence for those who actively pursued peace - and I am equally grateful for the continuing support you show for those now charged with that important task.

Tomorrow's heroes are on watch today, selflessly answering our nation's call. Let us renew our dedication to them and to the freedom we cherish which they so bravely protect.

Rear Adm. Green is the Commander, US Naval Forces, Southern Command, based in Roosevelt Roads.

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