It’s Memorial Day weekend. For most of us, this means a day off of work, no school for our kids and the unofficial start to summer. Before you go to that family picnic at the park or meet a friend for a matinee, give some thought to why you are able to enjoy these wonderful freedoms that we Americans have. Freedoms that look so seductive from outside our borders, more than 20 million illegal immigrants have crossed over them to relish the American way of life, too. Memorial Day is the day to commemorate all those brave soldiers who have died in the line of duty for us, in every war in America’s history. I come from a long line of warriors, myself. I could even make the argument that I am a warrior, too, having survived the Cold War, a term I use affectionately for what was my embattled marriage. (I think of child support as “combat pay.”) While there isn’t a man in my house anymore, there are men in my family history, once brave warriors, of whom I am very proud. Thankfully, none of them died while fighting in their wars. My great-grandfather, Adam King, was an Oneida. He fought as a conscript in the Civil War and returned home crippled, only to discover that the white man for whom he was a substitute draftee, had taken over his farm while he was risking his life for him on the battlefield. But at least he lived to tell about it. My paternal grandfather, Frank Henry Overman, is the last surviving member of the Lost Battalion, a group of about 547 soldiers who were trapped in the Argonne Forest by German troops and being slaughtered. When the U.S. forces finally arrived, less than 200 men were left of the 77th division. My grandfather was one of them. He was blinded in one eye and wounded in the ankle, and for all his courage and bravery, awarded a purple heart. He died a natural death many years later, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not too far from the gravesite of President Kennedy. His wife, Mary King Overman, the daughter of the Oneida warrior, Adam King, is buried with him. My own father is a retired Air Force major who fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He flew three tours of duty that amounted to 265 missions. He called his service in the military, “A 20-year vacation.” For all his bravery, Major James King Overman was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 air medals. Way to go, Dad! We were lucky—my relatives returned from all their wars alive. And I am so grateful for that. Yet so many of our soldiers die on the battlefield, their families never to see them again, just so people they didn’t even know can sleep peacefully at night under the banner of freedom. Today, take a moment to say “Thank you” to all the sons and daughters who have willingly fought, and died, for our country. They gave us our freedom. We owe them our lives. Lynn Armitage is freelance writer and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She welcomes your e-mails at: Boatfolk@aol.com.
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