By Mary O’KEEFE
That single statement made by Warren Spayth identifies the feeling at the Two Strike Park Memorial Day service held on Monday.
Spayth served in Vietnam in the U.S. Marine Corps. His comment was made to the event’s keynote speaker, Lt. Col. Raffi Najarian, after a presentation of a rubbing of a name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.
Someone had contacted American Legion Post 288 after they noticed the name Michael Najarian on the Wall. They took a rubbing of the name, sent it to the Post and asked them to find his family. Michael Najarian was a cousin to Raffi.
Lt. Col. Dave Worley presented Raffi with the framed rubbing of his cousin’s name. Raffi was emotional as he accepted the gift and slowly walked back to his seat. Spayth stood at the podium and said, “I understand.”
He understood the emotion and the memory. He had a name on the Wall as well.
“Serving in combat with another Marine … you are always brothers,” Spayth said.
At Monday’s ceremony, Congressman Adam Schiff shared a story of talking to his colleagues, including Sen. John McCain, who served in the military. Schiff spoke of what their service meant to the country and that Memorial Day was for those who had sacrificed their lives and the families that mourn.
“This weekend is most difficult for those who are left behind,” he said.
Assemblymember Mike Gatto also spoke at the ceremony. He had been going through letters his uncle, who served during World War II, had sent to his aunt. One of the letters quoted lyrics from the song, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” made popular by Frank Sinatra during WWII.
“‘I’ll find you in the morning sun and when the night is new, I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you,’” he recited. “This [brings] powerful emotion. To know someone you love – a brother, a father, a husband, a wife or a friend – that the next time you see them may only be in a memory. On Memorial Day we open the chamber of our hearts to allow these emotions to flow freely.”
He added Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have made sacrifices.
“Our spirits are filled with appreciation for those who sacrificed their last breath for our American cause. Today we drop the often disenchanted spirit of modern times and reflect upon the virtue and nobility of those who gave their life for us,” he added.
Raffi spoke of a new understanding he had gained from his service and for those who serve.
“The man standing in front of you here is different than the man who went to southwest Asia in 2003,” he told the audience. “I have since re-evaluated my 20-year military career and my experience during Iraqi Freedom.”
He shared the story of that first deployment and how his mother, a veteran herself, reacted when he told her he was leaving.
“No,” she said to Raffi.
He explained that he didn’t have a choice, that these were orders, and she decided he could go but she would go with him. He explained he didn’t think the Air Force would allow his mother to go with him to war but she said she knew a guy … Congressman Adam Schiff.
Whether or not she contacted Schiff, Raffi wasn’t certain, but his mother did not go to Iraqi Freedom with him.
Later, after he was married and expecting their first child, he was to be deployed again, this time for only three weeks. He checked with his wife and she told him they could not leave as soon as he wanted because she didn’t have her passport updated.
This time he explained that the Air Force would not allow his wife to go to war with him. She said that’s okay, she knew a guy … again Congressman Schiff. Whether that call was made or not, she was not deployed with her husband.
“I realized the military spends a lot of time and resources ensuring that the warfighters are ready and when and if the call comes we get trained in chemical warfare, biological warfare, nuclear warfare, cyber warfare, ” he said. “However the families of the warfighters don’t get quite that extensive preparation.”
He added they have great resources for families but “the fact remains the families are often unprepared to deal with this reality of war.”
The reactions of his mom and wife were typical, he said.
“My mom, the surgical nurse, was ready to volunteer in an operating room and my wife, the administrator, was willing to help set up a hospital,” he said. “Here are the names of men and women who have given everything to us. [These men and women] were taken far too early from us,” he said. “There is nothing more we can take from them. They gave us their hopes, their dreams, their future, their lives so that we can gather here this morning, so that later we can barbecue, so we can attend little league games, so that we can voice our opinions. In essence they gave us everything so that we can live free. But look behind the names and what do you see? Behind every name are dozens, if not hundreds, of family and friends who stood behind their soldier supporting him or her in any way possible.”
The families who have lost loved ones volunteer and support each other.
“Make no mistake these families grieve everyday,” Raffi said. “They stand by, they stand tall and they stand proud.”