What does Memorial Day mean to you?
That is the question that Captain Kayla Walsh and Chief Warrant Officer Vincent Marino were asked to address while speaking at the City of Madisonville’s annual Memorial Day Ceremony and wreath hanging Friday morning at the Veterans Memorial Park.
By definition, Memorial Day is is a federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. In practice, for most people, its just a day off work to barbeque, go to the pool or just hangout with family. If possible some will take in a Memorial Day service or event.
“I remember as a small boy, standing on the street sides at Memorial Day events, not unlike this one, as parades of former soldiers would walk by with a missing man in the formation,” said Chief Warrant Officer III Vincent Marino. “At the time I had no idea what that was. I was just there enjoying the good weather and the sights before me...I remember trying to shake the hands of those men that I looked up to, often times trying to thank them and not understanding the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.”
He explained that overtime his view of Memorial Day changed, going from that of an innocent child to what he called “ignorance” of the day’s true meaning.
“As I grew over the significance of Memorial Day changed, shifting from attending events like this to a calendar marker to mark the start of summer and when my neighbor would open their pool and allow me to come jump in whenever I wanted,” Marino said. “For me my perception as a young man was that Memorial Day was a time to enjoy family, friends, barbeque and lastly, events like this.
“I was not able to fathom the true meaning of what Memorial Day represented because I myself had not lost a soldier of a friend,” he said.
Marino explained that as he continued to grow, the events of 9-11 and the war that followed changed his view once again. Older classmates he knew had gone off to war and not come back. After college he signed up for the Army hoping to make a difference.
“I believe in all of us, we will realize that at that time when we signed on the dotted line, we thought we were invincible,” Marino said. “The possibility of not coming home with our brothers and sisters in arms is not one that we think would ever happen to us or those we know closely.”
This year he said that his view changed once again.
“On March 29 of this year I lost nine very dear friends,” Marino said. “And I gained nine very new, very real definitions of what Memorial Day means to me. All at once I understood the heaviness of the eyes of those World War II and Vietnam veterans who walked before me, who pushed through a smile as they handed out candy to a young boy on the side of the road that couldn’t begin to imagine the path that their boots had walked down...I felt my sense of invincibility turn to vulnerability.”
Marino, who serves in the 101st Airborne helicopter med evacuation division, worked along side the nine soldiers killed when two helicopters crashed in rural Trigg County near the Tennessee border.
“For me, Memorial Day is a time set aside to spend time together on a day off and remember those who aren’t there to remember it with us,” he said. “Its become a day in which I remember my dear friends who are no longer with me. To remember those who came before me. Its through my faith in Jesus that I hope I will one day see my friends again.”
Like Marino, Captain Kayla Walsh also felt the loss of those nine soldiers earlier this year.
“These monuments and bricks to my left and right represent those who gave their lives so that others can enjoy the blessings of liberty,” she said. “They are a reminder to future generations that freedom has a price.
“As we grieve the recent loss of our brothers and sisters, part of the Eagle Nine from Eagle Dustoff in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade on March 29, we are reminded again that these memorials are not just stone,” said Walsh. “They are a poignant physical reminder that these service members have had on our families, our nation and our communities.”
While everyone is urged to spend their day off doing those things they love to do, whether it be boating, swimming or just spending time with their families, everyone is urged to also remember those who helped secure the right for them to do so.
“The measure of the strength of a nation is its army,” Walsh said. “The measure of the strength of the army is the strength of its soldiers. And the measure of the strength of a solder is their family. We cannot do what we do without you.”
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