This is Memorial Day Weekend and that should bring to us at least a moment or two of reflection as we gather with family and friends. Here in State College we sit just three miles from the town of Boalsburg where the Memorial Day tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began.
Over the years since that tradition began in Boalsburg, we have fought many wars—wars all over the globe—to protect our freedoms and our interests. Both of my Grandfathers served in the military—Angelo Lafayette Paterno served in World War I in Europe and August Louis Pohland served in World War II—also in Europe.
As Memorial Day comes around this year, we must be mindful that courageous men and women are still risking their lives in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
While I have never served, I have tremendous respect for those serving our country. Over the years, I have received e-mails from soldiers serving on the front lines. We hear from soldiers who are Penn State fans, who try and keep up with our games so they can have just a little taste of home.
One came from 1st Lieutenant Mark Natale—from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania--serving in Iraq. His commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lestochi is a Penn State fan as well. They are with the 54th Engineering Battalion based in Bamberg, Germany and were stationed in Baghdad.
Last fall they began an operation called Task Force Nittany and wanted us to know that when they could, they’d be watching our games in Iraq. Just before the season opener, I even managed to call Lt. Natale from the field in Beaver Stadium just before pre-game warm-ups. He said hearing the crowd in the background as we talked made him feel like he was almost there.
(The HQ for Task Force Nittany in Baghdad—notice the PSU Football poster lower left side and stand-up Joe by the Flag).
Last summer, I also received an e-mail from the wife of one of my high school football teammates—Tony Reede--a Marine also stationed in Iraq.
These are examples of the correspondence we get—bringing home the fact that there are individuals—individuals of great courage and great strength around the world protecting our country.
In the book War and Peace, Tolstoy discusses the strength of the men in the field and the importance of that strength.
“Sometimes when there is no coward in the front to yell “We are Cut off!” and start to run, but a brave, spirited lad who leads the way with shouts of “Hurrah!”—a division of 5,000 is as good as 30,000.”
As we observe Memorial Day, let us all be sure to think about those who have sacrificed so much for our nation—and say a prayer for those still on the front lines. Take a moment and watch the video link below from the New York Times—it will put faces to the stories we read about the wars we are still fighting.
You see first hand the courage these troops show in the face of the gravest of dangers every day. These are exactly the type of brave, spirited people that Tolstoy wrote about.
No matter how you feel about the wars, we can all agree that the men and women in the field—people of courage—are all deserving of our thoughts, prayers and support. Think about that on Memorial Day.