NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Of all our national holidays, Memorial Day is the only one specifically set aside to remember the dead.
It is a solemn time for many, but especially for surviving combat veterans who feel they have the duty to remind the rest of us of the sacrifices they witnessed, CBS2’s Lou Young reported Friday.
For them, this holiday is more than a list of names, or a stack of faded photographs, a flag, a salute and a song. Survivors gather in ceremonies far north of the city and in the heart of the Bronx: the common task of bearing witness.
“We had a fire, lost a lot of guys who didn’t come back. Fire on the flight deck,” said Navy veteran Rafael Morales, who served in Vietnam.
You can spot the combat veterans by the look in their eye. Some of their memories have names.
“His aircraft got blown up in mid-air and I think about him every day. We grew up together in the same neighborhood,’” Navy vet Alfred Acosta Jr. said of Sgt. Fruto Puentes Jr.
When asked who he lost at Khe Sanh, Marine veteran Garret Brown said, “My cousin Durell Shay,” adding when asked if he still thinks of him today, “Oh sure.”
Other memories are just faces.
“He was from my unit. He was the same age of my son at that particular time,” said Army veteran Deborah Shay, who served in Iraq.
“We had the guy with the M-79, we called him the ‘bloop man.’ We had the machine gunner, we called him the ‘60-man.’ We didn’t have names. It’s hard to remember ‘who,’ you don’t want to remember ‘who,’” Vietnam vet Ralph Alvarez said of his experiences in the Marine Corps.
The combat veterans told Young the memories remain painfully fresh, the faces frozen in that moment when the loss was first felt. For combat veterans believe they have a duty to revisit the pain.
“For me, when I saw men killed that’s the way I remember them; the way they were killed, not the way they were. It’s a horrible thing to carry the rest of your life,” Purple Heart recipient Eugene Lang said.
“I don’t sleep because of it. I have a lot of trouble; my world went down. It’s not a great day for me to talk a lot,” Iraq veteran Carmelo Reyes said.
“Those of us who are still alive, we speak for the dead,” said Marine veteran Andrew Miller, who survived the Tet Offensive.
It is no holiday for them, but it is another duty they are willing to perform.