Commentary: Honoring vets: some forever young and some growing old

By Dave Skocik

Memorial Day is the day we honor those who traded their tomorrow for our today. May 30 wraps up another week of Memorial Day commemoration for the public, but not for the families of those who will remain forever young in their minds and hearts.

At the National Memorial Day concert in 2016, internationally acclaimed British tenor Alfie Boe paid tribute to our servicemen and women who were cut down in their prime with his touching performance of “Forever Young.”

I remember an event about 10 years ago at the Georgetown CHEER Center when an 80-something lady lovingly described her 20-year-old Army lieutenant husband lost in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. She remained married to his memory.

My sister’s fiancée Joe Saukaitis of Kulpmont, Pa., killed at DaNang in 1972, will remain forever 19; same with my forever-21-year-old buddy Brian Coleman from Cheshire, Connecticut. He was part of our four-man mobility team that travelled throughout South Vietnam. 

We took up a collection and sent his parents a money order and suggested a grave footstone with a tribute from the “men of the 15th Aerial Port Sq, at DaNang.” (We ranged in age from 18-21). I accepted his parents’ invitation on my return in Feb. ‘68. and the visit included a trip to Brian’s grave. Our words had become part of his headstone. 

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Dave Skocik

We can only imagine how many hundreds of thousands hold their own daily thoughts, prayers and pain in their hearts. On Monday, our Kent County Vietnam Veterans chapter hosted a virtual Memorial Day tribute on VeteransStoryProject.com. Although it focused on Kent Countians lost in conflicts from WWII to the present, we honored all veterans who laid down their lives for our way of life, including Army 1st Lt. Trevarius R. Bowman, of Spartanburg, SC, whose remains were returned to Dover AFB mortuary only a week ago. 

If his family was accommodated at the base, they would have been one of 3,700 who stayed at the Fisher House since 2010, according to the Delaware State News. The Dover Fisher House has saved more than $312,000 in lodging costs for families by providing free travel and housing as they await the dignified transfer of their loved one.

On June 25, the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War will be remembered by a diminishing number of veterans and their families. Milford resident Charles Garrod, 86, has been reaching out to governors across the nation to issue a proclamation acknowledging the 45,000 of his fellow warriors who sacrificed their lives in defense of another nation’s freedoms, an investment that is paying dividends. 

In honoring our dead buried in 17 foreign countries, the American Battlefield Monuments Commission (ABMC) administers, operates and maintains 26 permanent American military cemeteries and 30 federal memorials, monuments and markers. These cemeteries and memorials, most of which commemorate the service and sacrifice of Americans who served in World War I and World War II, are among the most beautiful and meticulously maintained and respected shrines in the world. They sit in silence embracing the fallen on dedicated pieces of ground proudly flying our nation’s banner over resting places that their host countries consider part of America.

President Ronald Reagan summed it up well: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Remember and respect our fallen and their families not only on Memorial Day but always. Since 1776 they’ve guaranteed our way of life at the price of their own.

Dave Skocik is president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. He lives in Dover.