Saturday, May 27, 2017

We Are Fortunate, We Are Blessed - Memorial Day 2017

We are fortunate.
We are blessed.

But still, we lose our finest to war.
A soldier's work is never done.

SPC Michael Wargo, right, with some of his buddies in Afghanistan.
(With a name like "War Go," it seems like it was Michael's destiny
to go and serve his country.)

There will always be evil in the world.
War will always be necessary.

But we are not gathered here because of war.
We have come here, instead, to honor and remember those who served, who sacrificed their freedom for ours.

(The following is a transcript of my speech delivered at the Lehighton Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday May 29th, 10:30 Lehighton Amphitheater, concluding at the Lehighton Cemetery.)

Robert Frost's poem, "November," sums up the waste of war:
"We saw leaves go to glory,
Then, almost migratory,
Go part way down the lane,
And then to end the story,
Get beaten down and pasted
In one wild day of rain.

We heard "Tis over" roaring.
A year of leaves was wasted.
Oh, we make a boast of storing,
Of saving and of keeping.
But only by ignoring
The waste of moments sleeping,
The waste of pleasure weeping,
By denying and ignoring
The waste of nations warring."

Since 9/11, America has been in a constant state of war, our longest in our history.

It has been a necessary, but constant state of waste.
Many green leaves have been wasted.

From the Revolution through today, war has scarred millions of Americans.
Moses Rehrig's family plot in the Lehighton
Cemetery.  There is no visible marker for
Moses other than his GAR placard and flag.
Moses served nearly for the entire war,
including the last two months as a POW
at Andersonville, Georgia.  He served from
June 1861 to February 1863 with the 28th
PA Volunteers.  And then from March 1864
to June 1865 with the 116th.

Lehighton once had a fine gentleman named Moses Rehrig. 

He was a school teacher.  He served nearly the entire Civil War.

Before the war, he was a strapping 200-pounds on a 6' 4" frame.  

He returned home as a walking skeleton, enduring two months in the God-forsaken Andersonville POW Camp in Georgia where thousands of Union troops died.

He was one of Lehighton's favorite sons.  He served on town council, he marched in parades, he went to Sunday School.

But beneath his calm veneer, roiled the horrors that haunted his memory.

At the age of 71, Moses took his own life, hung himself from the rafters of his barn.  (He is buried at his family plot, but there is no marker there.  Either his family didn't provide a lasting marker or perhaps they were embarrassed by the stigma of his suicide.)

Another man, Marcus Maier, served in the 4th PA Cavalry.
This is Marcus Maier's grave at the Ss Peter and Paul Cemetery in Lehighton.
The fact that he "run off" twenty years after the war, spending his time
wandering from one old soldier's home to another, mostly in the South, is
most likely a testament to his struggles with PTSD.  What could he have been
looking for?  Was there some resolution he was seeking?  Was there someone
he was trying to find?  Or was he simply finding solace with the only people
who could understand what he was going through.

One day, twenty-years past his service, he up and wandered off.

Though he left a wife and son in Weissport, he wandered from old soldier home to soldier home, mostly in the South.  Most times registering as a "widower."

What ever could he have been looking for?  What was going on in his mind?  What resolution did he seek among his former enemy?  Was he looking for absolution?  Or perhaps he was looking for solace among the only people who could understand the war.  

We will never know.

After hearing nothing for fifteen years, his wife and son received a wire from a Dayton Ohio soldier's home, informing them Marcus had died.  
(His body was shipped home by rail.  He is buried in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Lehighton.)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is nothing new.
Even today, it is little understood or appreciated.

Our reasons for war have not changed.  But warfare has.
It is leaving indelible marks on our soldiers heretofore unseen.

Lehighton new "Veteran's Park" along the Sgt. Stanley Hoffman Blvd will have a new soldier's monument dedicated to Specialist Michael Wargo, a 1994 graduate of Lehighton High.
Michael Wargo - 1976~2013
He was a 1994 graduate of Lehighton Area High School.

Like Moses Rehrig, Michael was a teacher.  The horror of 9/11 prompted Michael to answer his nation's call.   

He went off to the rugged and unforgiving mountains of the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Like Moses and Marcus, Michael suffered from PTSD and didn't tell anyone.  

They survived the war with the guilt only a survivor could know.

Michael saw ten of his war buddies killed.

Like so many other survivors, Michael lost his battle here at home.

Like Moses Rehrig, Michael came home and took his own life.  He died four years ago.

Thankfully the Pentagon acknowledges this increasing dilemma and recognizes Michael's  death as "service related."

The monument, depicting Michael's silhouette, is a "War at Home" memorial.  It will be dedicated at a ceremony on Saturday June 17th at 1:00 pm, just days before he would have turned 41.
This larger than life, "War At Home," memorial of
Michael Wargo will soon be installed along the
Lehighton by-pass.  On May 23, 2017 it was on display
at the capitol in Harrisburg to highlight the struggles of
our veterans returning from modern warfare.  It will be
dedicated at a ceremony in Lehihgton on Saturday
June 17th at 1:00 pm.

Michael's parents, Michael and Sally, are here with us today.

These are tough months for them.
Sally last hugged her son on Mother's Day 2013.  He died near Memorial Day.  They buried him on his birthday in June.

Men like Moses, Marcus, and Michael, and countless more, once walked here like you and me. 

Here is the photo chosen of Michael Wargo
that was cut into the steel for his "War at Home"
memorial, to be dedicated June 17th at 1:00.

They felt the dew on their feet and the sunshine on their faces.

They once loved and were loved.

Michael Wargo with his daughter Brianna
from 2010.

They once laughed and hugged...they once cried, they once caused tears.

They once told us "I love you."

War is hell.

We owe an immeasurable debt to each man and woman who ever wore our nation's uniform.

Thank you for coming here today to honor them.

We should all know this freedom is not free...

We have seen these leaves go to glory.  It is our freedom but it is their story.

We cannot live by ignoring, rather we must remember this waste of warring.

We lose our finest to war.
A soldier's work is never done.
We are fortunate.
We are blessed.
May God continue to bless us all.

Other Veteran's stories on this blog:
~Lehighton's Walter Haydt killed over Hinchinbrook, Australia during WWII 
~Ezra Kreiss, married to Lehighton's Madeline Haas, dies in the English Channel 1944
~Part 1: Randy Rabenold - And the Bulldogs Who Went to War/Korean Conflict
~2011 Memorial Day Address at Dinkey Memorial Church "Their Hearts Can Sense Our Presence"
~2013 Memorial Day Tribute to my Dad 
~2014 Memorial Day Ceremony at St. John's Church Mahoning Valley - "Think, Love, Remember"
~2015 Operation Never Forget successfully launched
~Ira Smith - Farmboy from Kistler Valley to Battle of the Bulge to Stalag XIIA POW

A once happy family - Michael married his college sweet-
heart Julie.  They had one daughter Brianna.

Christmas in Afghanistan: With a care-package from home.