Part of me doesn't want to be "that guy." You know, the "ackshully" guy that feels the need to inject himself to correct everyone over a common misconception. But I'm going to do it anyway because this is important.
Today is Memorial Day. It's not Armed Forces Day. It's not Veterans Day. There is a distinction between all of them, and it matters. Maybe it's because I grew up in a military family that this is something that I feel strongly about, but if we aren't going to pay proper respects to the various groups we're honoring, then why set aside a day to honor them at all?
A quick primer:
- Armed Forces Day – always the third Saturday in May, recognizes with gratitude those who are currently serving the United States in one of the branches of our country's military.
- Veterans Day – always November 11th, recognizes with gratitude all those who have served sometime in the past, the United States in one of the branches of our country's military, including those who have since died after having served.
- Memorial Day – always the last Monday of May, recognizes with gratitude those who died while serving the United States in one of the branches of our country's military.
Memorial Day is not just a day of honor, it's a day for mourning. It's a day to remember those who left behind empty seats at family tables, an unoccupied side of the marriage bed, a vacant spot in the hearts of children who would grow up without their mom or dad. It's a day to mourn those whose death left loved ones stretched sorrowfully over a fresh grave, desperate for one more conversation, one last glance, one more touch. It's a day to remember those who gave what Lincoln appropriately called the "last full measure of devotion" to a country, to a cause that they saw as greater than them.
It's a day to honor men like John Robert Fox. I wrote about this unsung hero in my weekly Memo today. I remember it was my senior year of high school when then-President Bill Clinton honored Fox posthumously with the Medal of Honor for what he did in the small village of Sommocolonia in Tuscany during the winter of 1944.
Fighting World War II in a segregated black division, the artillery officer Fox was ordered to remain in the village as it was being overrun by Nazis. As American forces were in retreat, Fox used a high perch to radio movements, locations, and vital information to his commanding officers, allowing the bulk of our troops to escape catastrophic destruction.
Sensing that the Nazis were amassing to launch what could be a fatal pursuit of American forces, Fox did the unthinkable. He called for an artillery strike to be launched on his own position. When the officers manning the American artillery responded that they could not launch an attack that they knew would kill Fox, the 29-year-old uttered his famous last words:
"Fire it. There's more of them than there are of us."
The rest of the story? The artillery barrage wiped out hundreds of Nazis and actually allowed the fleeing American forces to regroup and launch a successful counterattack. The taking of Sommocolonia became part of the massively significant liberation of the Italian peninsula several months later.
Scripture teaches that no man has greater love than the one who willfully lays down his life for a friend. Few in history have had the love for his fellow countrymen exhibited by John Robert Fox. Let's honor him this day. Let's honor them all.