Memorial Day is special for 5,796 of us

by Bob Cary

Memorial Day is special for 5,796 of us.<BR><BR>This is aimed at young people. The ones who are age 17 to 25. These are the ones we can relate to, those of us who are now in our 80s.<BR><BR>Memorial Day means a lot of different things to different people. It is a time to visit the cemetery and pay our respects to friends and family members who have passed on. There is always a ceremony at the Ely Cemetery to honor veterans of the nation’s wars. There is a speech. The color guard fires a salute. The bugle sounds taps.<BR><BR>So what’s that got to do with you? Well, 60 years ago, young people, we were you. We are old, grayed, and we have difficulty standing straight now. But 60 years ago we were young and feisty, just finishing high school or in college. And we were suddenly caught up in a war we did not want, did not seek. Indeed, our nation’s elders tried to keep us out of war, but those who chose to target us as their enemy would not have it. They slammed into us with everything they had.<BR><BR>In history you have read about the attack on Pearl Harbor. You read it. We lived it. From Ely, like every city across the nation, young men and women who had plans for the future, scrapped those plans for a time to save the nation, to lay their lives on the line for their families and neighbors. We didn’t hesitate. We went.<BR><BR>There were 16 million of us who put on the uniform of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard. There were several hundred thousand who came from Minnesota. In St. Louis County there are now just 5,796 World War II veterans still alive. A handful of them from Ely manage to attend the Memorial Day ceremonies. We do this out of respect for our comrades with whom we served. We knew them well. We went to school with them. We played football and basketball with them. And we fought alongside of them. Many of them we buried in the mud of foreign lands.<BR><BR>There is something each one of you might do, one day, if you so wish. When you are on Sheridan St., pause at the foot of the flag pole in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Embedded there is a small, bronze tablet with seven names of Ely young men who were in the Bataan Death March. <BR><BR>It was aptly named. Those ragged survivors of the hopeless, delaying battle to defend the Philippines, were marched through the steaming jungle to a Japanese prison camp. Anyone who paused, stumbled or fell was promptly speared with a bayonet or smashed with a gun butt and left to die.<BR><BR>Those are seven of the reasons so many more of us went overseas and demolished the Japanese and German military machines. The seven and the rest of us are the reason that when you attend school, you read your lessons in English, not in Japanese or German.<BR><BR>Sixty year ago we were who you are now. Soon all of us old warriors will be gone, but the nation, its flag and the freedom it stands for, lives on in each of you. And if you are of a mind to do so, stop and read the tablet at the VFW. Those names are:<BR><BR>Capt. Etalo E. Folio, USA; CMSGT Louis J. Tome, USAF; PFC Reino W. Tuomala, USMC; MSGT Claude A Taylor, USMC; Sgt. James C. Mondati, USAF; MSGT John A Lobe, USAF, and Pvt. Donald H. Grinden, USA.<BR><BR>Rest in peace, Ely comrades. You served us well.<BR><BR>