Memorial Day Ceremony

Dear Islanders;

I spoke at the Memorial Day Ceremony at DeGlopper Park on Monday. It was probably the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had since I became Supervisor. I wanted it to go well, because I wanted to do my small part to properly honor all those who have suffered in conflicts defending our country, and especially those who died and those who lost loved ones.

It was a very fitting ceremony. The music by the GIHS Wind Ensemble was beautiful. The Recreation Department, VFW, and American Legion helped coordinate all the various elements splendidly. And I was grateful to be part of it. The experience of the ceremony has left a lingering imprint on me.

I grew up in a time of peace

I was never a soldier. I was born and grew up in a blessed pocket of time between wars. Vietnam was already over when I was born. There was no draft. And I was too young for the Gulf War. But after 9-11, I felt it was my time to serve. So I considered how best to do that. Using my education seemed like the most effective way to go about it. So I applied for a JAG internship, which is the legal team for the military. And off I went to Germany and on towards what I thought would be a career in the military. 

But circumstances changed and I chose a different path. Still, because of my time overseas for many years I was unexpectedly close with the military, sort of stuck in a twilight zone between civilian and military life. For years, I kept in touch with the officers I came to know in Germany. I followed their stories with keen interest as they sent me reports and sometimes even little trinkets from Iraq and Afghanistan. And then later, as a representative of the overseas US Business community in in Seoul who helped represent US government interests, I formed a whole new group of military friends.

As I write this, I can see their images in my mind. And who they are is far more complex than the story we see in the movies. Soldiers are not invincible two-dimensional characters. They are mostly just kids. Well, kids and young adults with kids of their own. Like the kids I played video games with on the DMZ a few grey Christmases ago at a rather bleak holiday party. Or the kids who gave me study tips on the bar exam in a bar in Poland. And the kids who sat with me in the back of a tiny car in Ireland and told me with a heavy heart how badly they did not want to go back to Afghanistan in a week.

They have been asked to do so much.

One of the favorite people I met was this young guy from San Diego. He was second generation Mexican American. We lost touch, but I loved this guy. He was a paralegal, desperate to get out of the army, already exhausted by several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan (and this was over a decade ago!). He asked me a lot of questions about going to law school. He was not very tall— maybe up to my shoulders—and he had this unimposing baby face and grin. His personality matched his look. He was soft spoken, bookish, and excessively helpful. There were no sharp edges to him, just kindness. 

And then I saw his medal ceremony. He was given an award for bravery in Iraq. I sat there confused as he sheepishly walked forward to receive it while his fellow soldiers showered him in a cascade of applause. Then I saw tears in the eyes of several of them. “What could this paper pushing clerk possibly have done?” I thought. I feel the guilt in me still as I write this. But I asked the large solider next to me that very question. His answer haunts me still.  “Him?” he said solemnly. “He lit (expletives) up . . . ” 

Was this just macho talk?  I don’t know. I never had the guts to ask anything more. But I felt pain that day—in all of them—and real gratitude in myself. Gratitude for a hero who wore baggy hip-hop pants and a hat on backwards on the weekends. God I hope he got to law school.           

Charles DeGlopper should never be forgotten

Charles DeGlopper is another hero. From what I gather, Charles did look the part—straight out of central casting. He was tall, muscular, and handsome. One of his relatives recently told me that what he remembered most about Charles is how he used to have to duck under the archway of the old DeGlopper farmhouse on Grand Island to come indoors. He fought what is often called “the good war” against maybe the world’s most evil regime: Nazi Germany. Yes, his story reads like something from a Hollywood script. But I think it's unfair to limit his legacy (and the legacy of all those who died in war fighting for the freedom of our country) to Rambo-like exploits. It’s not like the movies. The heroes don’t always get to say, “I'll be back.” 

I have considered the life of Charles DeGlopper many times as I passed the park that bears his name near Town Hall. I am grateful for the efforts to expand and beautify that park, and I will do everything in my power to help those efforts.  I hope that park forever helps the citizens of Grand Island remember the sacrifice of Charles and those like him. When the brave young Charles gave his life, he was still just a kid. A kid who never got married, never had any children, never swam in the river again and never came back home—to Grand Island. 

I am forever grateful

I will always be grateful and never forget how lucky I am to have been born in a time of peace, and to have avoided the horrors of war. And I will never take for granted the sacrifices of the very young people who did go to war in a different time. Whenever I catch the ‘chicken hawks’ or listen to the war mongers on radio and the television nonchalantly talk about bombing this place or sending troops to that place, I am reminded that someone—someone’s kid, someone’s father or mother, someone’s husband or wife, someone’s brother or sister—actually has to go. And I imagine the wicked spirit, Eris, in the Greek myths of old casting down her Golden Apple of Discord and watching with twisted glee as Ares, the God of War, urges the nations of men to lust after it.  

May we never engage in such joy in strife. May we never take for granted the sacrifice of those who fight in our defense. And may we never in haste ask our youth to sacrifice their lives, body, and spirit for war. And today I am proud to use my position as Supervisor to express all this and thank again all those of you who serve, have served, or lost loved ones to the defense of our great nation. May God bless you all. 

With highest regards,

Nate