This Memorial Day

Dear Young Person

I am an imaginary old man. I am every World War II veteran you never knew. I am each faceless GI from the bygone European War. Or any other war for that matter.

I am in my 90s and 100s now. Lots of young folks probably don’t even know I exist.

In my war, I was one of the hundreds of thousands of infantrymen, airmen, sailors, marines, mess sergeants, seabees, brass hats, engineers, doctors, medics, buck privates, and rear-echelon potato-peelers.

We hopped islands in the Pacific. We served in the African war theater. We beat the devil, then we came home and became the old fart next door.

Wartime was one heck of an era to be young. Let me tell ya. When we went overseas we were still teenagers, smooth skinned, scared spitless, with government haircuts, wearing brand new wedding rings. We hadn’t seen action yet, so we were jittery and lots of us smoked through a week’s rations of Luckies in one day.

Then it happened. It was different for everyone, but it happened. Shells landed everywhere. People screamed. And in a moment our fear melted away and we had war jobs to do. It didn’t matter who we were or which posts were ours. Everyone worked in the grand assembly line of battle.

When the smoke cleared and the action was over, we had new confidence in ourselves, and we were no longer boys.

And anyway, we weren’t just boys, we were girls, too. There were 350,000 females serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. People forget that.

Speaking of women. We guys were always talking about our sweethearts, wives, and mothers. If you mentioned someone’s girl a man was liable to talk for hours about her. And even if you’d already seen his wallet photos before, you never interrupted a guy talking about his gal. Because eventually you’d be talking about yours.

There were nights overseas when we would stare at the moon and wonder if our sweethearts were looking at the same moon. There were moments of indescribable loneliness.

Infantrymen had it the hardest. I don’t know how our doughboys did it. They lived like pack mules. Their boots got wet, their feet swelled, and their flesh became waterlogged. Chunks of their heels would fall off; the dreaded “trench foot.”

The funny thing is, even though their feet were falling off these men still didn’t want to leave their posts. Many had to be dragged away cussing. That’s how committed these guys were.

Oh, and the food was godawful. You learned to appreciate the rarity of a creative company cook.

In Italy, sometimes we could buy eggs from local merchants for outrageously inflated prices. One time I knew a guy who ate 32 scrambled eggs in his tent one night. I asked him why he did this and he told me he didn’t want to die without tasting eggs one last time.

A lot of guys brought banjos, guitars, and fiddles over there. They’d play music at night sometimes in the open Italian air. We’d square dance and laugh. Others would sit on their helmets, smoking, thinking of home, wiping their eyes.

The Germans had a local radio station that broadcasted American stuff like Bing and Frank. Then, between songs, a German gal talked propaganda over the airwaves to us American GIs in a sexy voice, trying to mess with our heads.

She would speak flawless English and say, “Give up, boys, there’s no point trying, you can’t win. Everyone hates you. Your girls are at home cheating on you, they don’t love you anymore. Give up. It’s over. You lost.”

This was supposed to discourage us, but it usually just made us laugh. Or cry. Sometimes both.

When the war ended, we felt too much joy at once. In fact, most weren’t totally sure they could trust good news. A lot of guys got like that.

So when we heard the official papers had been signed and the war was over, it was Christmas morning multiplied times a hundred. No. Times a trillion.

Those of us overseas immediately wrote letters to family and told our wives we were coming home, told our kids to grease up their baseball gloves. Our letters were covered in little wet polka dots, if you get my drift.

Stateside, there were huge celebrations happening. Sailors climbed lampposts to unfurl flags. Infantrymen stood on rooftops, toasting mugs of homebrew. Mothers were frying chickens out the wazoo.

People were partying everywhere from San Bernardino to Flatbush. Big cities, little towns, and the rural parts between. There were ticker tape parades, auto processions, and girls would kiss any guy in government clothes.

But on this important day, you know what I think about? I think about all the guys who never got kissed again. Our men in the soil.

They were those who evaporated like the early morning fog over Anzio, or the thick mists of Normandy. They died young. And they died for a lot more than a three-day weekend of barbecues and Budweiser.

These were men who fell upholding the mantle of our unalienable American spirit, the Blessings of our Liberty, and the pride of their homeland. They were friends. They were the kids next door. They were children of God who once proved, beyond speculation, that even hellfire cannot kill the great idea that is America. I hope we never forget them. I know I never will.

Happy Memorial Day.

69 comments

  1. Sandi. - May 31, 2021 7:07 am

    Wonderful post, Sean. We must never forget the brave military veterans who gave their lives for our country.

    Reply
    • Robert Howard - June 2, 2021 2:55 pm

      Very well written Sean. Your post invokes true appreciation, emotion and love for those young souls who gave their lives in far away places so that the likes of biden, pelosi, schumer, waters and others can do and say as they please. America is on the verge of being lost and the names, faces and lives of the patriots who served and died will be erased. America deserves better and the honor that your writing provides is greatly appreciated. Sorry to politicize your post but I just lose control when I think about what is happening in America.

      Reply
  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - May 31, 2021 7:23 am

    And remember there were many other wars. My Gr Gr Grandfather was shot & killed in the Civil War. He’s buried at NAS Pensacola. R.I.P. Sgt Mathew M Winfield. Killed in a “skirmish” near Dothan in 1865.

    Reply
    • Robert Howard - June 2, 2021 2:48 pm

      Steve, thank you for posting the name of your GGGF who was a patriot and hero of the South. I too had a number of relatives who served the South in the Civil War. And the damn liberals want to erase these men and history in general. America deserves better!

      Reply
      • Steve Winfield (Lifer) - June 3, 2021 12:58 am

        Amen!

        Reply
  3. Lily - May 31, 2021 8:23 am

    These are the jewels in the crown of our freedom, along with the unseen comrades who lay beneath the soil with a white cross as theirs.

    Reply
  4. Steve McCaleb - May 31, 2021 8:26 am

    One of your best Sean. I’m afraid that way too many of us take freedom for granted in our country. We’ve lost sight of the fact that freedom Is Not Free. Each of the many freedoms we enjoy were purchased by the blood of men and women who knew that America was a shining idea worth fighting and dying for. God bless our veterans and all those who loved them. From Bunker Hill to Kandahar Province, you’ve proven again and again you are the absolute best the world has to offer. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

    Reply
    • Brenda Petty - May 31, 2021 1:50 pm

      Amen Steve! You have expressed my thoughts so well! I worry that history classes will forget these important lessons in the years to come…. Sean thank you for such a moving piece.
      Thank you to all of our veterans and to those who gave all! May God bless you for laying your lives on the line for others.

      Reply
  5. Amy - May 31, 2021 9:16 am

    Bravo!

    Reply
  6. Jeff Howard - May 31, 2021 10:02 am

    One of the best you’ve written for us. Thanks for remembering those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

    Reply
  7. T J - May 31, 2021 11:10 am

    Amen, Sean. My Uncle Jimmie, Lt USNRes KIA/MIA 5/NOV1943 never came home and I have always regretted never having had a chance to know him. Thinking of you today, Uncle Jimmie.
    Blessings to all the young men and women who never made it back home alive.

    Reply
  8. Betty Tompkins - May 31, 2021 11:15 am

    Thank you. My brother was a bomber pilot in WW II. His plane was shot down while on a bombing mission over the Pacific, one month before his 22nd birthday. His daughter was born 8 days later.

    Reply
  9. Al Cato - May 31, 2021 11:22 am

    As a buglar plays TAPS as the sun is setting over the many Gardens of Stone, let us give Thanks for all who served and are serving. Great tribute Sean.

    Reply
  10. pdjpop - May 31, 2021 11:22 am

    God Bless all families who lost their loved ones in battle or other consequences of war. God bless the many who, unselfishly, stormed beaches, fought from the skies, marched into the fray…. all who wore the uniform and lost their friends in battle.
    Thank you, Sean for a graphic look at what this weekend really means. It IS a time to memorialize real heroes who died for the whole world to be a better place.

    Reply
  11. janicecarlike - May 31, 2021 11:29 am

    Lovely sentiment. My father was a WWII vet. I look forward to my inbox every morning to read your post. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Karen Holderman - May 31, 2021 11:31 am

    Thank you.💖

    Reply
  13. Ann - May 31, 2021 11:37 am

    Thank you for this…it’s so meaningful and beautiful and I so wish every young person under 30 could read this and understand it’s not just about 3 days of swimming..bbq..camping,etc….it’s about remembering and gratitude…you said it sooo well..once again, thank you 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🙏🏻❤️

    Reply
  14. DrJamesMarlin - May 31, 2021 11:48 am

    Thank you Sean! May we never forget! Freedom (for a long weekend) is never free. Never has been; Never will be. All gave some; Some gave all.
    E Pluribus Unum.
    In God We Trust.

    Reply
  15. Dr. Dennis Stalvey, aka Preacher Dennis the Storyteller - www.preacherdennisthestoryteller.com - May 31, 2021 12:09 pm

    We have too much to remember to ever forget.

    Reply
  16. Jo Ann - May 31, 2021 12:14 pm

    Agreeing with all who commented, I have nothing to add, other than Thank You, Sean.

    Reply
  17. Debbie g - May 31, 2021 12:19 pm

    Thankful to all who served!!!

    Reply
  18. Pondcrane - May 31, 2021 12:24 pm

    God bless the USA and Sean

    Reply
  19. Edwin G Staples - May 31, 2021 12:25 pm

    Thank you Sean! From a 90 year old that spent 21 years in the Airforce, like one of those guys you honor today.

    Reply
  20. Harriet - May 31, 2021 12:27 pm

    “… that even hellfire cannot kill the great idea that is America.“

    Reply
  21. Heidi - May 31, 2021 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this Sean. My dad was a WW2, Korean War & Vietnam vet. A proud Marine through and through. He loved this country, fellow citizens & family fiercely and had the kindest heart.
    May we never forget and continue to honor and thank these Patriots.

    Reply
  22. AlaRedClayGirl - May 31, 2021 12:27 pm

    Beautifully written. My daddy served in WWII, both grandfathers in WWI, and a brother in Vietnam. God bless all our solders, especially those that never made it back home.

    Reply
  23. Pat D. - May 31, 2021 12:42 pm

    Thank you for writing this story.
    If only everyone in this country understood what Memorial Day was about including our Vice President!! It is not just a ” long weekend to enjoy” it is about paying our respects to those who made it possible for us to enjoy ANYTHING!
    I hope everyone takes some time to attend a memorial service this weekend before they fire up the grill!
    God Bless all those that made this country Free
    And for all those veterans out there still with us,
    THANK YOU. It can never be expressed enough

    Reply
  24. P. Morgan - May 31, 2021 12:43 pm

    AMEN!

    Reply
    • Cheryl Andrews - May 31, 2021 3:34 pm

      This is awesome,Sean! My grandfather was in the Navy in WWI, my dad was in the Army during WWII, and my husband was in the Navy during Vietnam. They were the lucky ones — they came home and lived full lives. I am very blessed as is our country. Thank you for this.
      Cheryl in Augusta, GA

      Reply
  25. Becki McCallum - May 31, 2021 12:50 pm

    Amen Sean. Amen. This was a really good one.

    Reply
  26. william e wall - May 31, 2021 1:28 pm

    God Bless you my friend and thank you for your service. I wish all the wackos out there could under stand that they can only be wackos and do what they do because of the sacrifice men like you and the ones you served with and my DAD. Bill May 31 2021 9:20 am

    Reply
  27. Ellouise - May 31, 2021 1:35 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for this stirring reminder of what our men and women went through for us

    Reply
  28. Mary Jac Neal - May 31, 2021 1:40 pm

    This is just the perfect Memorial Day tribute. You can send this to us every year and we readers will be grateful! Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  29. Walter Buehler - May 31, 2021 1:46 pm

    An important reminder in a time of depressing national division!

    Reply
  30. Margaret E Odell - May 31, 2021 1:46 pm

    Amen and thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
  31. Debbie D., AL - May 31, 2021 1:48 pm

    God Bless all of the brave men and women who have fought, and continue to serve, for our freedom! May we “Never Forget!” ❤️🇺🇸❤️

    Reply
  32. Jan - May 31, 2021 1:48 pm

    AMEN! Words of truth put together so beautifully… a perfect tribute to all those men and women who have served and continue to serve to keep us FREE!

    Reply
  33. Pat - May 31, 2021 1:57 pm

    Wow, just WOW…tears are flowing…………..

    Reply
  34. Bobbie - May 31, 2021 2:02 pm

    Amen to what everyone said! What more is there to say , except that the fight goes on, day to day, to keep the values and freedoms that all our brave men and women fought for…keep them alive whatever the cost! Our country is worth it! LAND OF THE FREE, HOME OF THE BRAVE!
    Thank you Sean…God bless you and God bless America‼️‼️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

    Reply
  35. Chasity Davis Ritter. - May 31, 2021 2:08 pm

    Beautiful…. thank you. Thank you to those who gave all for us and thanks to you, Sean, for reminding us and remembering it’s not just about the BBQ today

    Reply
  36. Kate Word - May 31, 2021 2:12 pm

    My father was a mess cook and one of four brothers who served in the European theater at the same time. Three came home alive. I’m proud to be a 70 year old daughter of this Great Generation. My cousin and I are the only ones left from this line of heroes. God bless America.

    Reply
  37. Bob - May 31, 2021 2:29 pm

    Thanks for a beautiful way of saying we owe those men and women more than anyone can know. For all of our problems it’s still the greatest place with the greatest people on the planet.

    Reply
  38. Phil (the Brown Marlin) - May 31, 2021 2:49 pm

    “Greater love hath no one than that they lay down their lives for others.” God bless America! Never forget!

    Reply
  39. Tom Wallin - May 31, 2021 3:06 pm

    To all the servicemen and women, living and passed, Thank You for your service to our great country. We love you and will remember you.

    Reply
  40. DAVID A WILSON - May 31, 2021 3:07 pm

    I will not try to tell anyone how this writing affects me; thanks for this very important post! GREAT JOB.

    Reply
  41. Dianne Deavours Shafer - May 31, 2021 3:08 pm

    You have outdone yourself today, Sean. Well done! God bless the USA!

    Reply
  42. Nita - May 31, 2021 3:11 pm

    Thank you Sean for expressing so well what so many feel but don’t quite know how to put it in words.

    Reply
  43. Vera S Kahn - May 31, 2021 3:20 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply
  44. Sarah - May 31, 2021 3:27 pm

    This is the perfect memorial! I wish it could be required reading by every congressman.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth Bennett - May 31, 2021 3:39 pm

    Thanks, Sean, for this today, Memorial Day! I thank God for our country and pray that we can survive the challenges with which we are faced today. Many blessings to you!

    Reply
  46. alfie195671 - May 31, 2021 3:48 pm

    Thanks to my Dad & thank you Sean.

    Reply
  47. Nell Thomas - May 31, 2021 3:48 pm

    Thank you Sean. Thank you on this Memorial Day for so creatively, in writing, shine a light on what this day is all about. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those that are still around to be recognized and honored -along with the multitudes that have gone on to recieve their final and greatest reward- a special place in heaven.
    In these days of uncertainty and the fear of losing what so many have sacrificed so much for- will give us the desire to stand strong and not give up the fight.

    Reply
  48. Ann - May 31, 2021 3:54 pm

    Thanks, Sean

    Reply
  49. Barbara Mc - May 31, 2021 4:25 pm

    This is beautiful! No matter how bad the government gets, our country is worth fighting for. Can’t adequately express the gratitude of those who gave their lives! ❤️🤍💙

    Reply
  50. Becky - May 31, 2021 4:27 pm

    Eternal thanks for their sacrifice. Remembering them on this day. Thank you for this moving tribute.

    Reply
  51. George T. Jones - May 31, 2021 5:13 pm

    Being a 98-year WWII combat infantryman having served in the ETO in GEn. George Patton’s Third Army, I am amazed at the accuracy of this article because of your comparative youth. Thank you for this column,

    Reply
  52. Mike - May 31, 2021 5:39 pm

    Thank you Sean, well written and very touching as usual I was in the Navy for 20 years, I’m a Vietnam and Iraqi war veteran, I watch and listen to young folks today I’m not sure if we are on the right track. Many men and women laid down their lives for all of us not to be trampled on with words and emotions. Your right keep the fallen in your hearts and prayers I was lucky came out of it all with only memories of my shipmates of which I’m most proud of having a part in it.

    Reply
  53. Linda Moon - May 31, 2021 5:54 pm

    Dear Veteran,
    You exist. You matter to me. I’ll never forget you and all the others, including my Daddy, whose picture in uniform is right here beside me…..and stories and pictures of a cousin I never met who lost his life in 1944 wartime. Two wonderful men in my family, they were. Your wonderful words of Memorial are with me, too, Sean Dietrich.

    Reply
  54. Patricia Gibson - May 31, 2021 6:09 pm

    Same to you Sean and I will never forget🇺🇸

    Reply
  55. Sandra Wolfe - May 31, 2021 6:32 pm

    Sean, if there is a dry eye after reading this there is something wrong.

    Reply
  56. Alva Barksdale - May 31, 2021 7:06 pm

    There aren’t enough words, Sean!! This is beautiful!

    Reply
  57. Bill from Montgomery - May 31, 2021 7:27 pm

    Thinking about my childhood friend Lt Morgan Weed who died in Vietnam in 1970.

    Reply
  58. catladymac - May 31, 2021 7:55 pm

    And they embodied what “Antifa” really means.

    Reply
  59. Rebecca Souders - May 31, 2021 8:51 pm

    Your gift just keeps shining through, Sean Dietrich. Thank you.

    Reply
  60. Christopher Spencer - May 31, 2021 8:53 pm

    Here’s some ground rules for this weekend:

    1. Don’t wish me a Happy Memorial Day! There is nothing happy about brave men and women dying.
    2. It’s not a holiday, it’s a remembrance.

    3. If you want to know the true meaning, visit Arlington or your local VA or local Veterans Cemetary, not freaking Disneyland.

    4. Don’t talk to me how great any one political power is. Talk to me about Chesty Puller, George Patton, Dakota Meyer, Chris Kyle, Audie Murphy, Robert Maurice Ware and any other heroes too numerous to name. Attend a Bell Ceremony, Roll Call or any other type and shed some tears.

    5. Don’t tell me I don’t know what I am talking about, I have carried the burden all too many times for Warriors who now stand their post with God.

    6. Remember the Fallen for all the Good they did while they were here.

    7. Reach out and let a Vet know you’re there, we’re losing too many in “peace”

    One more thing, as a Veteran, you come together, you have that BBQ.
    But before you eat, circle up and say a prayer. Raise that glass to your Brothers and Sisters that are gone. Then you don’t say a word.
    After that, eat and enjoy each others company.

    I copied this from someone, please do the same. Don’t just hit share.

    Reply
  61. MAM - May 31, 2021 9:08 pm

    I totally agree with NOT using Happy before Memorial Day. I have admonished people not to forget what Memorial Day stands for. It’s to honor all who have served but have now gone to meet God. I include my Dad who returned from World War I and then from World War II. I dedicated a book I wrote about WW II veterans to him. I miss him. I knew him for too few years.

    Reply
  62. Lauren Lopez - May 31, 2021 9:54 pm

    Sean, with tears I shared this with my husband. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your gift. Abundant blessings to you always!!

    Reply
  63. David S Doom - June 1, 2021 2:07 am

    Amen

    Reply
  64. Donna - June 1, 2021 2:37 am

    That is awesome. Thank you.

    Reply

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