May Pleasant Hill Mayor's Message
May 01, 2017 07:40PM
● By Michael Harris
Michael G. Harris, OD, Mayor, City of Pleasant Hill
G. Harris, OD
Mayor, City of Pleasant Hill
Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died serving our country and is an opportunity to remember all who served our country in times of war and peace. It’s significance became abundantly clear when I visited Washington, D.C.’s famous National Mall.
I was awed by the grandeur of the World War II Memorial and its tribute to those who fought in that war, including my father, father-in-law, and uncles. I was haunted by the anguish on the faces of the GIs on patrol in the Korean War Memorial. I wept openly as I read names on the granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial.
Walking the Mall, I was struck by two overpowering emotions, a great sense of sorrow for the thousands who lost their lives defending our country and a greater sense of pride for the sacrifices made by those who fought to preserve the principles that make our country great.
Three individuals epitomize the sacrifice of those who serve our country. My father was drafted in 1944 when I was barely a year old. He served most of the war in a remote area of India. The conditions were horrible. No real sanitation. Filth everywhere. While he saw no action, he was nonetheless a victim of the war.
When he came home years later, he was a stranger to me, having sacrificed the formative years of my life to serve his country. He died far too young at 56 from multiple myeloma. His doctors thought his exposure to toxins in India caused his disease. Thus, he was a casualty of the war along with those who died at Normandy.
I got to know Larry Block when I met his daughter Dawn 24 years ago. A child of the Depression, Larry had a hard life in a poor family living in Coney Island. Like many of his generation, Larry dropped out of high school to fight in World War II. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy at 17. What Larry didn’t know was that he would be ghastly seasick every day onboard ship.
Larry served on one of the first ships to land at Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped. He died a few years ago from colon cancer, probably triggered by his exposure to radiation at Nagasaki. Like so many others, he, too, gave his life to keep America free.
My mother never served in the military, but she epitomized the sacrifice of those who serve our country in times of war. Like so many women of her generation, she raised her son while her husband served his country. My father and uncles were serving overseas, so to save money, my mother and I moved into a small flat with my grandparents, aunts, and cousin.
Most of what I know about those years has been told to me by my 101 year-old mother. She remembers the hardships they endured to make ends meet. It wasn't easy, but somehow she did wonders with her ration book! Keeping a family together while a spouse serves our country remains challenging today.
When Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he wrote we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I think he got it wrong. We are “the land of the free because we are the home of the brave.”
Please join the Pleasant Hill community at 1pm on Monday, May 29, at the Soldiers’ Monument to honor all who served our country at home or abroard. Thank them and remember them for keeping our great country “the land of the free.”