Memorial Day 2024: Answering the Call of Duty

Two events of this past week reminded me of why America celebrates Memorial Day.  They are examples of persons responding to their sense of duty.

Campus Protests-A Long Tradition of Commitment

The multiple current campus occupations and graduation disruptions over the war in Gaza are not a new form of student activism. Here is a description of an earlier one.

In April 1969, Harvard University students protested the Vietnam War and other social and political issues with a two-week strike that included the occupation of University Hall. The strike began on April 9, 1969, when about 70 students entered the building, evicted administrators, and searched through files. The next day, at the request of President Nathan M. Pusey, police and state troopers forcibly evicted the students, arresting over 100 protesters for trespassing. 

I was present that April working at Harvard in the financial aid office.  As my colleague (a WWII veteran) and I walked through the Yard during the initial occupation, we wondered how it would end.

Ten days later I drove to Newport R.I. to begin four plus years of active duty in the US Navy.  (below at Pier side, spring 1970, Yokosuka, Japan on the USS Windham Cty, LST 1170)

Do you Know a Man Named Karl Marlantes?

That was the question my grandson, Emmett, texted from college.  I did not recognize the name.  He thought our paths might have crossed at some point.

His Wikipedia entry:  Karl Arthur Marlantes (born December 24, 1944) is an American author and Vietnam War veteran. He has written four books: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010), What It Is Like to Go to War (2011), Deep River (2019), and Cold Victory (2024).

This six minute Youtube video is a brief summary of his life as a Yale student, Rhodes Scholar and Marine Platoon leader, and his call of duty.  You would never suspect from his easy manner that he was awarded a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and 10 Air Medals.

The military draft caused generations of men to confront early in life, often as students, what duty means. Campus protests and military service are  two classic examples of how individuals answered what many knew instinctively-the call of duty.

A Moment to Decide One’s Duty

At some point in life we feel morally inclined or face circumstances where we have to pick a side.

We try to discern what we believe the right, the just and the good thing to do.  Informing this decision is the example of others-family, colleagues, and community leaders-from the numerous organizations that have shaped our lives to that moment.

What is our duty to others? All of us face this human summons at some point. Today a very small percentage of citizens will join the military. I believe Memorial Day should remind all Americans of the commitments we are asked to make in a democracy. Not just those who enter the military but those who fight for peace and justice in society.

Every person will be faced, at some moment in some arena, to answer their call “to pick a side.”  Memorial Day is a time to respect and honor all commitments, civilian, military and civic centered intended to help this country create a better life for all.


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