Palladino: Small Gestures Mean A Lot On Memorial Day

Honor Our Protectors Past And Present

Ernie Palladino
May 28, 2018 - 9:29 am

“Thank you for your service.”

That phrase is repeated over and over again throughout the year, so much so that it has almost become a cliché. We are encouraged to say it whenever we encounter a military veteran, but especially on this date where baseball, cookouts, and beaches have somehow overridden the true meaning behind Memorial Day.

And yet, uttering that little sentence makes us feel just a little bit more human. Deep in our intellects, we have to know that a mere “thank you” cannot fill the void war creates. For all the flyovers the fans will see at stadiums around the country Monday, for all the players wearing camouflage hats and jerseys, for all the group hugs those crowds will offer the aging veterans the home teams will bring to the field – none of it can wash away the tolls they paid in the waging of human conflict.

And yet, this little acknowledgment is the one thing we can all do. We know it’s so little, especially when delivered to one who walks around (or doesn’t) with plastic and metal where an arm or a leg used to be. How can it be sufficient when we greet a veteran who to us looks perfectly normal, yet spends the rest of their days searching for that lost piece of soul that gives the rest of us peace in our sleep?

It’s not an overrated thing, this peace.

A neighbor wished dearly something would fill that hole. Always joking, always loving the kids he cleaned up after as a grade school janitor, he never once complained about the shrapnel his body still carried from the Normandy landings. Nevertheless, when he closed his eyes at night, visions of the canteens of the dead and dying floating past him in the English Channel haunted him until the day he died.

My own father never really talked about what he saw during his WWII hitch at the Foggia airfield in Italy. Only in his later years did images surface of ball turrets that took off as steel and glass structures underneath the Flying Fortresses and returned as mere concepts, saved for the blood and sinew of their unlucky occupants.

The veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq have their own demons. Different ones, certainly, in an age of IEDs and small-unit firefights on God-forsaken hills. The way they fight has changed. However, the missing limbs, mangled faces, and hidden and not-so-hidden effects of PTSD have not changed.

No mere vote of thanks can cure those things. Most of those issues need to be remedied by others far above our meager pay grades. Our votes will play a big part, but that doesn’t happen until November.

But uttering that one little phrase before we head out to Astros-Yankees or start grilling up those hot dogs is something everyone can do. Especially on this day, a bittersweet day when the official start of summer collides with solemn remembrance of our protectors past and present.

Say the phrase. That’s the easy part, as the one you say it to has already done the heavy lifting. Then enjoy the day.

And to all the servicemen and women out there, “Thank you for your service.”

Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino