Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Pondering Memorial Day

The grieving mother wore an American flag, a golden angel and a Navy SEAL Trident on her lapel. Her son, Lt. Michael Murphy, had just been posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan.

Trying to contemplate how one consoles a grieving mother, I stumble for words. How do we mitigate the sorrow of a mother whose son has died in war?

There is a hole in the heart of a beleaguered nation because this scene is much too prevalent. As President Bush presented the medal, he held Mrs. Murphy’s hand. The president seemed awkward; he knew that death leaves a heartache that no one can heal.

The other evening I spoke with Chris Sutton, a reporter from the Outlook. I was helping Chris with a story promoting the 34th Memorial Day Commemoration taking place in the park on Memorial Day, of which I am the chairman. We spoke of the significance of the day and of a disconnect between the soldiers and the citizenry. Chris talked about her feelings when she heard of the death of Todd Bryant, a local boy and hero killed in Iraq in 2003. The thought of this loss still baffles her.

I too am confounded by the continuous sacrifice that this country has endured since its inception. However, the geo-political spectrum is much too complex for us to say that we should confine ourselves to our borders. But as I look into the eyes of Mrs. Murphy or decipher the nuances of Chris Sutton as she speaks of Todd Bryant, I realize the truth of James Conrad’s contention, “That what all men seek, is peace.”

Patrick Henry lamented, “Peace! Peace! But there is no peace!” Instead, you send soldiers to fight your wars and die for your causes; they go in your name and do your bidding. They carry your slogans for God and country and old men thump their chests and tell them how brave they were. And at the end, do you remember their names?

In 1968 Corporal Daniel Stephen wrote his parents from Vietnam: “Last night one more Marine died. No one will ever hear or care about it except his parents and us.” His name was Corporal Lee Clark.

Three months later, Corporal Stephen was killed by an enemy sniper.

Recently, I reminded a buddy of the Memorial Day commemoration. “What time is it,” he asked? “It’s at 9 a.m.,” I said. He told me, “That’s way too early; I plan to sleep in.”

I was speechless. But I understood. For many Americans, Memorial Day is a barbecue, a ride on fire truck and a casual salute as Old Glory goes by. It’s a mere intellectualized realization of the most horrific sense of reality that humanity can endure.

My dear reader, come to the Memorial Park on Memorial Day at 9 a.m. Todd Bryant’s sister, Tiffany Bryant, commented, “The best way to honor Todd is not to forget him.” To do this, you have to show up.

Let me leave you with the words of Eugene Sledge from his memories of the Pacific War, quoted from his book, “With the Old Breed.”

“Every time I looked over the edge of the foxhole, that half-gone face leered up to me with a sardonic grin. It was as though he was mocking our pitiful efforts to hang on to life in the face of constant violent death. Maybe he was mocking the folly of war itself: I am the harvest of man’s stupidity. I am the fruit of the holocaust. I prayed like you to survive, but look at me now. It is over for us who are dead, but you must struggle, and will carry the memories all your life. People back home will wonder why you can’t forget.”

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. He is also chairman of the Memorial Service, which will be held Monday morning in conjunction with the city’s Fiesta Days. Reach him at

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