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Dave Del Camp is a retired merchant mariner and a part-time blogger. He resides in Portland.
As the story goes, my mother was at work in a Chicago office building when the call came. It was short, her sister’s voice serious and the message simple: Get home immediately. She didn’t ask questions. Because when you’re 16 years old, your country’s at war and a call like that comes in, you get home.
The year was 1944, and the Army chaplain had been to the Rossi home to inform my beloved grandmother Mrs. Rossi that her only son had been killed in action.
By all accounts, my grandmother skipped the crying and went directly to the screaming.
His name was Bernard Frank Rossi, and he was 23 years old.
He died 13 years before I was born, but there was never a time when memories of him were far removed from the conversations of my grandparents, my mother or her two sisters.
Despite my curiosity about the uncle I never met, there’s still so much that remained a mystery. Did my grandparents cry tears of joy when their only son was born to these Italian immigrants over two decades prior? How could they have ever known their only son would later die, one of 416,800 other brave Americans whose lives were claimed during World War II? Although I’m certain I know the answer, was there anything that could have ever prepared them for that visit from that Army chaplain?
Years later, while going home at night in a crowded Buick after a celebration of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I remember listening to my parents’ quiet conversation. My dad mentioned to my mother how subdued my grandfather seemed throughout the night. She told him, “I think he was missing Ben,” followed by silence.
Sometimes there are no words.
I only remember in that moment feeling angst for my grandparents, my mother and her sisters.
Looking back on my younger self, I’m sure my 12-year-old mind could not have fully comprehended the multitudes of hearts that have, over our country’s history, been broken with inconsolable anguish, or the oceans of tears that have been shed, or the terrible cost of freedom, the way I do now.
Now at the age of 96, my mother is the last survivor of a Gold Star family that was forever changed by the loss of a brother and a son. A family that, as Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter to Gold Star mother Lydia Bixby during the Civil War, “laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
Lately, malcontents within our society seem determined to fan the flames of neo-Nazi and/or totalitarian sentiment. Their attempts at silencing dissenting opinions betray their revulsion of our American values. These efforts have manifested themselves, (perhaps now, more than ever), in various forms of racist accusations, division, censorship, lies, greed and corruption.
On behalf of our fallen, we mustn’t let them succeed. Because if there’s one thing we all do share, it’s the freedom borne of the sacrifices made by those who gave so much throughout our history, those who died serving this country.
This Memorial Day, it is fitting to solemnly remember those heroes who lost their lives fighting and dying in defense of the things we cherish most: our freedoms, our Constitution and our way of life.
Are we a country so divided by political, economic and cultural differences that we can’t take time to appreciate the freedoms purchased by the blood and treasure of so many young American lives?
Personally, I hope and pray that’s not the case. Because, throughout the nasty, contentious bickering and disagreements we will continue to have over the years, there is something we should understand, and it is this: The freedom to do so is not despite the sacrifices made by those brave heroes. But rather, because of them.