Lives worthy of honor

Saturday morning, April 10, 2010 I attended a memorial services at Eastlake High School for a fallen hero of the War in Iraq.

It was one of those events where it's hard to keep the tears back. This service was for Sgt. Michael Martinez, USA, killed in action on June 28, 2007.

Michael was a varsity baseball player at Eastlake and the service was appropriately just before the start of a game. A flagpole was dedicated during the ceremony in Michael's memory. His jersey number was retired. One of his teammates, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, spoke eloquently of his friend and recounted their days on and off the field. Michael's father and my friend, Manny Martinez, a retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major, spoke in a way that only a parent who has lost a child could. You could feel his pain, but you could also feel his pride.

This was an important event. It was important that those young baseball players in attendance know that someone has given his all so that they can enjoy the benefits of living in a country that puts freedom as a value worth fighting for, even if it's someone else's freedom. And that is why it is important that we commemorate Memorial Day. It is our day to honor and remember those have stood up and said, "Yes, I'm willing."

This Memorial Day is the fifth anniversary of the death of my nephew, Cpl. Jeffery Starr, USMC. On Memorial Day 2005 I received a call from my sister. Her words stopped me cold. "We've lost Jeff." Jeff had been killed in action that morning while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq.

As with Michael Martinez, there was a memorial service for Jeff. It was held in his high school gymnasium. People spoke of how they knew Jeff. One was a former summer camper who Jeff had counseled. Classmates and teammates spoke of their friendship and Jeff's winning personality. Like the flagpole dedicated to Michael Martinez, a climbing wall was dedicated in the Boys and Girls Club in Jeff's hometown.

Jeff, like Michael, was also an athlete. He was an accomplished soccer player. Even as a Marine he played as a substitute on my kids' teams when he stayed with us on leave from Camp Pendleton.

It's so easy to forget that our fallen heroes were something other than serving in the military. They were athletes, students, employees, and they attended church. They were in scouting, social clubs, bands, choirs and did all those things that Americans enjoy doing.

What strikes me most about Memorial Day is the vast spread in how people approach it. If you have a Michael or Jeff in your life, Memorial Day is a day of reflection and recounting of a life no longer with us. Others simply treat Memorial Day as a day off.

This fifth anniversary of Jeff's death is a cold reminder of the sacrifice he, Michael and so many others have made in the name of freedom. Commemorating our fallen heroes is a sacred responsibility. I accept my obligation to honor their memory. They deserve nothing less.

Commemorating Memorial Day is important. Remembering the sacrifices made by our service men and women, especially those that gave their all, is proper. Their blood is the fuel of our resolve. Their last breath is the wind upon our backs. Their sacrifice is a constant reminder that what we have did not come easy. Their memory is our inspiration -- never give up; never give in.

I'll raise my American flag this Memorial Day in honor of Michael, Jeff, those I served with in Vietnam who gave their lives, and the countless other brave men and women who have fallen in defense of our country and for the chance of freedom and liberty for those for whom our soldiers have fought.

It is vital that we honor all those who have given us so much. We honor them by thanking their loved ones they left behind. For most of us, words fail us when we meet the parents, spouse or child of warriors lost. But it doesn't take much. Take time for a "thank you" and a recognition of their loss and their sacrifice. You can sometimes recognize a family member by their following the military tradition of displaying a gold star.

We honor them by honoring those now wearing our military's uniforms. Not long ago I paid for lunch for three Marines, just hours after graduating from MCRD. They stood at attention in front of me to thank me. It was my honor, but I told them it came with a price; they had to buy lunch for someone in uniform 20, 30 or 40 years from now. They agreed.

We honor them by actively engaging in the freedoms we have and resisting those who would take them away. Never stop fighting those who would take our liberties. Be willing to help our brothers and sisters around the world who seek freedom and liberty. Michael and Jeff's life's stories have not ended. The way they lived, the ideals the stood for, the sacrifice they made are noble testimonies that should be shared especially with our youth.

On Memorial Day we recognize that America itself has lost the best it has to offer. We, as Americans, have lost our precious sons and daughters. My nephew wrote in a letter he called "Last letter home" these perfervid words: "Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

It is for us to let that mark shine for the whole world to see.

Lickness, a resident of San Diego and general counsel for Golden Eagle Insurance, served in the infantry in the Vietnam War. Two of his nephews served in the war in Iraq. Only one came home alive. This piece is dedicated to Cpl. Jeffrey B Starr, USMC, killed in action 30May2005.

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