This past Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11. As stirring and painful as the ceremonies were, several media representatives raised questions concerning the length of our national memory with respect to the day that claimed so many lives while demonstrating so much courage and compassion. One newscaster said, “Those of us of a certain age remember where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated; it’s something that stays with you. But the younger generations know this only as a page in our history books. It will be the same with 9/11, unless we take steps to ensure that this day is never forgotten.”
As hopeful as the newscaster was, chances are, the sting and consequences of 9/11 will one day fade from our national memory, like the proud stars and stripes fading beneath an unrelenting sun. By and large, it is the same with the promises we made to “never forget” the POWs and MIAs of the wars in which America has been engaged. The remembrances that have lost much of their meaning include Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, D-Day, VE Day, and VJ Day.
There is a saying, “A promise made is a debt unpaid.” What is meaningful for one generation is overshadowed in succeeding generations, and promises get lost in the passage of time.
For instance, who among us recalls the circumstances surrounding the Spanish-American War? “Remember the Maine!” was the battle cry of that war, a paean to the USS battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor by Cuban extremists. More than 253 American sailors were lost, thus precipitating the entire motto, “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” heard in the halls of Congress as we responded to the Cuban attack.
Like all wars, that one had its heroes. These included the great Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill. Another historical conflict, Admiral Dewey’s conquest of the Philippine islands, created a hero out Captain Charles Gridley. In 1898, in Manila Harbor, he earned a place in history when Admiral Dewey gave him the command aboard the American flagship, the USS Olympia, to “Fire when ready, Gridley!”
But more than a century later, we barely remember the Maine and Admiral Dewey’s flagship, moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
With so many war heroes lost in the mists of time, we must extend our gratitude to Assemblyman Jack Conners (Chairman, Military & Veteran Affairs), for he has kept our promise to our POWs and MIAs alive. In fact, he has as kept it alive for the past ten years. On the third Friday of this month, September 16, 2011, individual veterans and veteran groups of New Jersey will remember the sacrifices of our POWs and MIAs at The Merion in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Assemblyman Connors will host the event.
In keeping with this promise, I am sure that there are others who formally mark events in history to keep their memories alive. I, for one, sponsor a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day at the VFW Post 2445 in Maple Shade, New Jersey. I do this every December 7th at 11 AM, extending the invitation to all who want to remember Pearl Harbor Day, including the school children of Maple Shade learning about American history.
As I’d quoted earlier, “A promise made is a debt unpaid to our POWs and MIAs.” Remembrance is a good thing, for sacrifice without remembrance is meaningless, lest we forget.