Memorial Day is a day to reflect and give thanks to all service members that have served and continue to serve our great nation. Most of us will never come close to knowing the sacrifices that are made by our military personnel and the people that love them. It may be hard for some to really understand how deep their sacrifices run unless they have a personal connection to a service member. We can only hope and pray that those who selflessly dedicate their lives to protecting our freedom find peace and feel gratitude from the rest of us.
On this somber, rainy Monday, our family spent the afternoon at the Tahoma National Cemetery, paying respect to all those that have served and continue to serve today. It was apparent that many in the crowd of people had personal ties to service members; Fathers, Husbands, Sisters, Uncles, Grandparents. You could see it on their faces, so wet with pain. I can’t imagine waking up one day and finding out that I would never see a family member again, that their lives have been given on some far away soil in a place so different from their home.
Although I don’t have any family members with recent service in the military, there is a long and fascinating history of military service in my family. During WWII, my grandfather and his four brothers all served in the Navy simultaneously. My great-grandmother, Mary Hery, was an Inspector at Eastman Kodak Company’s war-working camera division. Unfortunately, her husband left one day when their boys were really young, and he never came home. Mary continued her own war effort with her work at Kodak and supporting all five sons on her own, including an adoptive son, Larry Reis.
At age 17, my grandfather and his twin brother, Robert, both joined the Navy and initially served on the USS Farragut together. They saw sixteen major engagements in the Pacific. My grandfather was transferred off the USS Farragut and assigned shore duty for a brief time in Bremerton, Washington. He eventually received orders to report to the USS Hopewell. His twin brother, Robert Hery, continued his service on the USS Farragut. His ship was positioned in Pearl Harbor at Buoy X14 East Loch on Dec 7, 1941. Robert Hery was recognized by his Commanding Officer for courage, coolness and steadfast performance of duty throughout engagement with over thirty Japanese aircraft during which his ship was subjected to torpedo, bombing and strafing attack.
The youngest of the Hery brothers, John James Hery (Jack) was a Seaman Second Class and assigned to a fleet oiler USS Neshanic. Jack saw 14 major engagements, the most terrifying of which involved his ship suffering a direct bomb hit and plagued by fire which persisted for two days.
Francis Paul Hery (Frank) was the oldest of the Hery brothers. He joined the Navy at 18 and served for eight years. Frank Hery was a Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class. Frank taught as an engine instructor at Annapolis for three years, though he always wanted to serve on a submarine. In 1942, Frank volunteered for submarine duty and eventually got his wish. Frank served on the USS Pickerel in the Pacific. Frank saw his final engagement off the Island of Honshu, Japan, when the Pickerel was likely sunk by depth charges. Frank never made it home. Frank loved his ship life so much; he convinced all of his younger brothers that Navy life was the only life.
After the ceremony concluded, we made our way around the outside perimeter of the cemetery. We were stunned by how many newer headstones were now situated across the expansive turf. As we made our way around to the exit, we paused at the last group of headstones. There was a twenty-something man sitting next to a headstone, rocking back and forth, letting all of his emotion out. He was distraught and his pain was raw and unrestrained.
A well-known quote from one of the speakers at the ceremony reminded us that “Freedom is not free.” The cost is great and the grief endures. The depth of the commitment and the risk of loss endured by those who are willing to serve their country can be difficult for the rest of us to comprehend. In simple, quiet or active ways, we need to ensure that we take care of the Veterans who return home, take care of families struggling through loss and continue to work for a post- active duty culture that welcomes and supports our returning military heroes as they move forward.
- David Spies