Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday of May, is our nation’s unofficial start of summer. Of course, everyone knows that it’s the time set aside by our nation to pay honor to the men and women of the United States armed forces who paid with their lives to keep freedom a part of our heritage.
We are often told of the men of World War I, World War II, that greatest generation, that fought a war in Europe and the South Pacific and freed millions enslaved by despots in Germany, Italy and Japan.
As a nation we attend parades paying tribute to these fallen warriors. We mark the graves of the fallen with small U.S. flags. Those who have lost a son, daughter, husband, uncle, or friend in battle find the occasion the most solemn. In years past, I attended the Memorial Day tributes around Ramona, Calif., for the Ramona Sentinel, the newspaper my wife and I owned in San Diego County. There was never a ceremony that was poorly attended. We were in the heart of Marine Corps and Navy country. Many had retired from the service, only to retire in the ranching community above the port of San Diego.
However, this year is different. This is the first year that I will be celebrating the lives of two friends who died in the last 12 months.
Jim Schirmer, a graduate of Pierz High School and a former Coast Guardsman who served during the Vietnam era, settled in our mountain community after his service. We had hunted deer and pheasant in Montana. He died of a heart attack while at work.
The other friend, former Chief Petty Officer Nelson “Mac” Williams, died en route to his job. He died on Wildcat Canyon Road, a treacherous back road to his El Cajon, Calif. office. Mac was a military liaison officer for Rep. Duncan Hunter. Mac was one of those take-charge guys. He rose to every challenge and there was never a doubt as to who was in charge when Mac was around. He had been the ramrod for many a Navy admiral during his tour that landed him in our ranching community after his stint in the Navy. He was the epitome of a chief petty officer.
Both of these men had one thing in common: they loved their country and served proudly in the their respective branches of this nation’s armed services.
I salute all of the men and women who have made it home safely from Iraq and Afghanistan. They deserve our respect and support on the home front.
Those of you who suffered a loss of a loved one, I say thank you for the sacrifice your family made for this great nation.
A solemn happy Memorial Day.