Thinking about America on Memorial Day

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
The Face of America Project

I would rather try something great and fail than try nothing and succeed. John Maxwell

Last week while Kitch and her cousin, Jeanna Lawrence, visited cemeteries inMDposter_250 Lackawanna County, I made my way to three cemeteries in Luzerne County to pay my respects to  my parents, my teacher, my grandmother and two of the finest men I have ever known, Jack Edwards and Andy Sokol.

Standing in the silence of remembering, my heart swelled with thoughts of gratitude for the sacrifices these people made to make a better life for their children, their community and their country.

My grandmother immigrated to America. She built a successful business in a small neighborhood store. She raised her family and she provided an excellent example of why people risked everything to come to America.  She was a small woman in stature, but she had a mighty influence on everyone who met her.

Mom _Dad_250

My parents were first generation Americans. Their life was lived quietly, patriotically and lovingly for their three children. They were good, decent, caring people of deep religious faith and industry. My brother, sister and I have what we have because they encouraged us to do our very best at whatever we were doing and to never give up. For them perseverance was the secret to success. They never gave up on us, and we never turned away from an opportunity to make them proud of us.

Their motto was simple and direct: work hard, be humble, get a good education, don’t settle for being adequate, strive to be the best, and give something back to your family, your friends and your community.

My teacher, Sr. Mary Hilary, R.S.M., reminded me of my mother.  She too wasSister Hilary_250 small in stature. In everything else, she was a giant. She challenged her students to do more and complain less, to give more and take less, to be more, and learn more about God, country and family. To this day, she is at the center of everything I believe, do and accomplish. Every day, I can hear her encouraging me to take it one step at a time, and make sure my goal is to make it the very best it can be.

Jack Edwards and Andy Sokol are two of my heroes. They are perfect representatives of the Greatest Generation. They were just kids when they went to Europe to stop the march of totalitarianism.  They personified courage, honor, selfless service and valor of the most beautiful and effective kind. They wanted to make a better world, and they did.

Emily_ 250

More than half a century later, 2d Lt. Emily Perez, a member of the New Greatest Generation did the exact same thing in Iraq. Kitch and I are humbled by her dedication and service. We are inspired by her courage, and we will never forget the ultimate sacrifice she made for the country she loved.

In so many ways, this is their day. They and all their brothers and sisters who have reached “the silent home of the living” deserve to be remembered with admiration, affection and gratitude.

They personified the reason for this day so beautifully described by the fatherMG_Logan_250 of Memorial Day, Major General John A. Logan in 1868:

(It)is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

They reflect the spirit of this day captured perfectly by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


They personify the words of Lincoln’s favorite poem, “Mortality”:

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave
He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

We do what we do on this day, because we want their spirit to remain in our hearts and in our deeds forever.

To adapt the words Henry Deming used to eulogize Lincoln:

They are our index of character, common sense, simplicity, strength, devotion, equanimity, and success in all the ways that matter;

They continued Lincoln’s legacy of teaching the world a new idea of greatness.

On this day, we thank them in private and public ways as we think about our parents and teachers who exemplified for us what America is at its very best.

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