I will say, I am guilty of never really connecting with Memorial Day. I understood it on a cognitive level but I just could not totally relate. No one in my immediate family had been in the service until my niece and son-in-law, and thankfully they have not had to go into combat yet. But I did have an uncle who did. He died at Anzio during WWII and he was just…that uncle I never knew.
I grew up twirling in parades for Memorial Day and laying lilacs on graves. The family tradition was to go to the graves of our deceased relatives and bring flowers and make sure everything had enough water. So Memorial Day in general was about remembering who died before us, whether they served in the armed forces or not.
Our performances for New Horizons have helped me to better understand what Memorial Day is all about. When I see these older people fervently commemorating our fallen soldiers, it really helps put things in perspective. I especially was listening this year as to where all the Americans were buried over seas. Where were the guys who died at Anzio buried, I wondered.
This year, something really changed how I see Memorial Day. My niece posted information on my brother-in-law’s Uncle Alexander. He died in Anzio and was buried in Sicily-Rome. Our family and their family were very close and lived in the same town, but in the 1940’s they lived 2 hours apart. Could Alexander and Paul have known each other? After getting information from a cousin about Uncle Paul, because I didn’t even know his middle name, we found out some interesting stuff. It’s doubtful Alex and Paul knew each other, but they died 13 days apart. Paul was 20 yo and Alex was 19 yo. Paul was buried in his home town, and his grave was still being watered by my sister and sister-in-law who were carrying on the Memorial Day tradition. I had probably watered that same grave years before; I just didn’t care enough at the time to remember.
They both received Purple Hearts. Paul also received a Silver Star. The below citation is what changed me. I was filled with pride, sadness, and gratitude. I could “feel” the story. He was never going to be married, have kids, and he was never going to reconcile his relationship with his dad, which is why he enlisted in the army in the first place. All of a sudden Memorial Day became very very real.
PAUL J. KELLY, 32945161, Private, Company K, 135th Infantry
For gallantry in action on 26 May 1944, in the vicinity of Velletri, (Rome, Lazio) Italy. During an attack by enemy armor, Pvt. Kelly and another comrade manned a bazooka gun and, disregarding intense small arms fire that was raking their position, succeeded in knocking out an advancing enemy tank. Refusing to seek cover, Pvt Kelly then turned his attention to an enemy self-propelled gun which was firing on his company’s position at point blank range. The courageous duel with the enemy artillery piece ended with Pvt Kelly being killed and his comrade painfully wounded. But their heroic stand so inspired their comrades that they drove off the enemy gun and broke up the enemy counter-attack.
I just want to thank all the Pauls and and Alexs that have died over the years defending our country. I feel undeserving of everything they have done. Because of them, I have had a wonderful life, a wonderful family, and freedom.