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Enough is Enough: We will not forget the meaning of Memorial Day

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

This Friday, May 30, 2014, is Memorial Day. It’s a day set aside to both remember and honor our country’s war dead, patriotic women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to insure a continuation of the freedoms we enjoy. But over the years it has slowly been losing its meaning.

Several years ago, Congress exhibited their solemnity of this day by changing it from its original date to the last Monday in May, so that federal workers could enjoy a three-day weekend. With the stroke of a pen, it was transformed from a day from remembering and honoring our war dead to the kickoff of the summer vacation season. It has gone from a day of solemnity to just another long weekend.

When a large portion of our society has no knowledge of the history of our great country—and even fewer have actually confronted the hostilities carried out by those who seek to destroy us as a nation—is it any wonder why each passing year Memorial Day slips in its significance?

But this column will not forget. It will continue to remind its readers of the sacrifice of those who donned the uniform of our country.

Lewiston High School graduate Thomas J. McMahon served as an Army medic in the Republic of South Vietnam. On March 19, 1969, at the age of 20, he was killed in Quang Tin Province while trying to save his brother comrades. For his actions that day, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

His citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Specialist McMahon distinguished himself while serving as a medical aid man with Company A. When the lead elements of his Company came under heavy fire from well-fortified enemy positions, three soldiers fell seriously wounded. Specialist McMahon, with complete disregard for his safety, left his covered position and ran through intense enemy fire to the side of one of the wounded, administered first aid and carried him to safety. He returned through a hail of fire to the side of a second wounded man. Although painfully wounded by an exploding mortar round while returning the wounded man to a secure position, Specialist McMahon refused medical attention and heroically ran back through the heavy enemy fire towards his remaining wounded comrade. He fell mortally wounded before he could rescue the last man. Specialist McMahon’s undaunted concern for the welfare of his comrades at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”

On this Memorial Day, let us also remember the unselfish actions and devotion to his comrades of Army Sgt. Thomas J. Field of Lisbon. A crew chief on a Black Hawk helicopter, his chopper was shot down during Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu, Somalia.

He survived the crash and, along with another crew chief, co-pilot and two Delta Force snipers, took up positions to defend the wounded Black Hawk crew. They were overrun and killed by Somali militia. His terrifying ordeal was featured in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

The actions of these two men along with countless others must be told and retold. When we forget the sacrifice of our war dead, we cease to be a country.

Forty-seven years ago I was medevaced back to the States. During this time, I have participated in many functions involving the thanking of veterans for their military service. But during those 47 years I have never experienced anything like Edward Little High School’s “Bring a Veteran to School Day.”

The genuine gratitude and respect that was conveyed to those veterans present was something I had never experienced prior to that day. To those students responsible for organizing this event, thank you for a job well done.

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