The following reflections on my granddad, a World War II veteran, and public service are from a column I wrote in The Nashua Telegraph on Memorial Day 2015. I invite you to share your own reflections on this important day when we honor those who served and gave their lives for the cause of democracy and freedom.
Memorial Day Reflections
It’s been 71 years since my granddad came home from World War II. At the age of 91, he still remembers navigating B-24 bombers on daring raids over enemy territory in the Pacific. Sometimes, they flew under cover of night with only the Southern Cross to give them their bearings. Thank God they made it back alive, as too many fellow servicemen did not.
Why did America fight that deadliest of wars abroad? Grandpa’s answer is short and to the point: “To defend our basic liberties and preserve the free society we grew up in – not just for ourselves but for people around the world,” he says, adding, “Everyone should live in a country where the people elect their government.” He considers it one of the great privileges of being a U.S. citizens to fight for freedom, at home and abroad.
No one in my granddad’s generation went unscathed by the war. Americans young and old, male and female, from every class, race, and corner of the country pitched in. And with their surpassing sacrifice came an historic reward: the fall of fascist dictatorships and a world made “safe for democracy.” Out of the ruins of granddad’s bombs, free nations were born. We don’t call it the “Greatest Generation” for nothing.
This Memorial Day, we can honor those who served and died in war with more than just our flags and thanks, but with our service too. For some of us, that means lacing up our boots and joining the armed forces or the protective services to stand in harm’s way. For others, it means “nation-building” at home by volunteering in education, health, poverty and the like with national service programs like City Year and AmeriCorps. For many, it means giving of our time and treasure at church, in the neighborhood, or with countless nonprofits strewn across our state. For some of us, it even means advocating for needed reforms in government to make America “safe for democracy” again.
Whatever our chosen arena, none of us is prevented from serving in some way, and none who serves can fail to know the satisfaction – even the greatness – that comes from sacrificing on behalf of others. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed shortly before his death in 1968, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” …
Just as my granddad’s generation sacrificed to “make the world safe for democracy,” so too should all of us participate in democracy-building at home. That means becoming educated on local as well as national and international affairs; voting and helping others to the polls; and volunteering on behalf of the causes and campaigns that matter most to us.
As the legendary New Hampshire reformer Doris “Granny D” Haddock observed, “Democracy is not something we have but something we do.” “Doing democracy” isn’t easy, especially for people with limited means. But sacrifice we must, as candidates and citizens, if we are to preserve the freedoms our founders bestowed. This election season, let’s do democracy together.