Saturday, May 25, 2002

Memorial Day

National law makes us remember

        Mark your calendar.

        3 p.m. Monday. Memorial Day. One minute. To remember.

        For 60 short seconds, take a break in the action at the backyard barbecue or Taste of Cincinnati. Stop weeding the garden. Put the afternoon nap on hold.

        Have a moment of silence for the soldiers who fought and died so we could char meat on grills, graze at food booths, curse dandelions and snooze in peace.

        This pause is known as the National Moment of Remembrance. It's the law.

        Public Law 106-579 to be exact. Brought to you by Carmella LaSpada. And a bunch of school kids.

One nation

        One May day in 1996 Carmella was running late for an appointment. Leaving her Washington D.C. office, she cut through Lafayette Park, the protesters' haven across from the White House.

        Spying some school kids taking in the sights, she asked them about Memorial Day.

        “That's the day the pools open,” they replied.

        Their answer shocked Carmella. She is a patriotic second-generation American from Philadelphia. Her Italian grandparents constantly reminded her “America is the greatest country in the world.”

        She knows about Memorial Day. It honors America's fallen freedom fighters.

        Memorial Day could be this country's most important holiday. Without the supreme sacrifices made to defend freedom, no one would be able to celebrate the other holidays on the calendar.

        Carmella thought a moment of silence might be a start toward reminding everyone Memorial Day is more than a splash in the pool. Through her tireless efforts and bipartisan contacts in Congress, the National Moment of Remembrance became law on Dec. 28, 2000. And, Carmella became director of the White House Commission on the May moment of silence.

        “For that moment, we're not hyphenated Americans,” she said.

        “We're living up to the values this country was founded upon. We're one nation.”

Freedom fighters

        At 3 p.m. Monday, I'll remember World War I veterans.

        Their ranks are vanishing. They marched off to war 4,734,991 strong; 116,516 never came home. Of the war's survivors, an estimated 2,212 remain.

        Hoping to talk with one of these old soldiers living in Greater Cincinnati, I contacted Tristate congressmen, veterans affairs offices, VFW halls, nursing homes. No luck.

        The closest World War I vet I found was Robley Rex in Louisville. Sounding like Dustin Hoffman's scratchy-voiced 121-year-old character in Little Big Man, he wouldn't talk about the war.

        “I'm 101,” he said. “That was 80-some years ago. I can't remember up from down about it.”

        When the horrors of the war to end all wars were still fresh in people's minds, they remembered fallen soldiers with statues.

        One stands in Camp Washington in the park fronting the River City Correctional Center.

        Cast in 1920, the bronze statue depicts a charging doughboy. Clutching a rifle in his left hand, he faces west with his right fist held high in victory.

        The plaque on the statue's pedestal honors the soldiers “who offered their lives in defense of humanity.”

        Turns out those World War I troops were fighting for the same reason Carmella LaSpada wants the nation to fall quiet for a minute at 3 p.m. Monday.

        They weren't fighting for a nation of hyphenated Americans, a fragmented society of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, black and white.

        They gave their lives for “humanity.” For everyone.

        What a noble cause. Remembering these heroes for a minute is the least we can do.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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