By RICK BRADLEY SFC U.S. Army (retired-disabled)
The month of May reminds me of sunshine; of beautiful spring flowers of all shapes and sizes, each with its own special sweet scented fragrance. It reminds me of a beautifully cultivated neighborhood of home gardens sprouting with an assortment of vegetables, ornamental shrubs, and trees; and of that special time of year for flag waving and a time for families to gather together to pay tribute to those who willingly paid the ultimate sacrifice for their families, friends and country.
We refer to the celebration as Memorial Day. It is a day set aside to remember America’s fallen heroes. It is a day for all Americans to memorialize the fathers, brothers, aunts and uncles who gave their last breath in the struggle for freedom. Today, we respectfully refer to them as unsung heroes.
They were America’s warriors who willingly chose to face death head on, who endured the hardships of combat, and the never-ending possibility of not returning to their homeland to see their friends or the wife and child they left behind.
Many of these heroes sleep in the fields, the forest, deserts, jungles and mountains of various foreign lands. Great numbers of these heroes are unaccounted for while others rest in the serenity of each other’s company under blue skies by day and sweet slumber’s blanket of quiet by night in the security and confines of hallowed ground specifically designated and freely given by a grateful people liberated from the agony of oppression and war. This hallowed ground is surrounded by monuments and statues made of marble and granite memorializing the great warriors and victories of the past.
As I reflect, I am reminded of one such place located approximately 25 miles south of Rome and situated on the outskirts of the small town of Nettuno, Italy. As a soldier assigned for duty with the U.S. Army in Italy, I felt privileged to have been given the opportunity to present military honors to the American soldiers buried in this memorial.
It is a memorial site that covers approximately 70 acres nestled on a gentle slopping hill surrounded by cypress trees and small shimmering fountains of water gently supplying liquid nourishment to a variety of brightly green vegetation encircling the confines of the concrete base of the marble pool.
Among the trees and open sky lie rows upon rows of white crosses standing at attention, dress-right-dress all down the line, as if anticipating and preparing for in-ranks inspection by those who would visit on this special day. Shining like white marble against the sunlit sky, each cross etched with a name of a fallen hero is gently arranged In perfect measurement positioned in the shape of arcs that sweep across the broad green lawns surrounded by walkways and trees whose leaves and dancing limbs seem to float and sway as the soft quiet whispers of silence muffle the words of those resting beneath the green pageantry of quiet solitude.
A building made of white marble stands stoically against the background as a memorial and reminder to each visitor as they walk about observing the rich works of art that express the heartfelt gratitude of the American people.
A meticulous search through the 7,000 plus names of loved ones etched on the marble walls of the chapel is conducted by family members who have traveled across the ocean to end the years of suffering and loss. These families serve as ambassadors for those families unable to complete the long journey and to serve as a reminder to those who lie in wait that they have not been forgotten.
During the closing moments of the military tribute, my eyes focus on a group of elderly men, with faces weathered from years of hardship and war. Gentlemen of Italian and French nationality, who had previously served with the underground, stand at the position of attention, saluting as the mournful sound of taps echoes across the field of honor.
As I glanced at each name engraved on the marble walls that day, and the faces of those who traveled so far, I could not help but imagine how painful and lonely the families back home must feel on this special day as they remember their fallen heroes.