My life and family

Remembering What Memorial Day is Really About

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My kids, Memorial Day 2012

For many people, Memorial Day means a three day weekend, the kickoff to summer, and a time to grill out and hit the beach. Of course, the real purpose of this day is to pay tribute to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so Americans can have the liberty to enjoy a leisurely mini-vacation with family and friends. It’s a message I’ve always tried to teach to my children.

I’ve never lost a family member to war, though I’ve interviewed those who have and covered funerals for heroes killed while serving our country. I also have a faded memory of the first time I knew of someone dying in battle.

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That memory takes me back to Norwood, Massachusetts and has my mother and grandmother taking me to the home of Eileen Burke, a family friend and well-liked nurse in town. It was Spring of 1968, and we went to her home not far from ours, because her son, U.S. Army Corporal Patrick Burke, only 20 years old, had just been killed in action in Vietnam in a Communist attack in the Quang Tri Province.

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The day after Corporal Burke was killed, President Lyndon Johnson stunned the nation by announcing he would not seek re-election. A few days later, Martin Luther King was assassinated. I was four years old.

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My mother and me, 1968

I can’t remember what I did last week, but I do remember that day and it was so impressionable, my mother recalls exactly what she dressed me in to pay our respects at Mrs. Burke’s house. Details are foggy, but I remember the heavy sadness and a room filled with many people, and Mrs. Burke crying. The Burkes had lived next door to my mother and her family when she was growing up, and later my mom babysat for Patrick and his siblings.

At four and a few months, I couldn’t possibly grasp Vietnam and what was going on in our country, but that day, in some way, has always stuck with me. It was a lesson that war can hit home. My parents would often take us to Norwood Center, which we called “uptown” where we’d stop by the common, where there were plaques dedicated to Norwoodites who served in various wars. My grandfather, Crescenzo Chully (Chiulli) was listed on this monument below. He survived Okinawa in World War II, but his name was inscribed alongside some of his fellow townsfolk who did not. I’m not sure, but no doubt Patrick Burke’s name is permanently memorialized somewhere in town.

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I’ve always said if I could do it over again, I would have served in the military. On this Memorial Day let’s remember all the people who died in the name of our country, including Corporal Patrick Kevin Burke of Norwood.

Here is more on Corporal Burke http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BurkePK01a.htm

 

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