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A Memorial Day Message

On Monday, May 27, 2024, Americans across the country will celebrate Memorial Day. This day is a day of remembrance to honor the sacrifice made by the men and women who have died during their service in the United States military. It about taking the time to honor America's fallen heroes. Unlike Veterans Day, which is a time to honor all those who have served in the military in a time of war or peace, Memorial Day is strictly for acknowledging the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while defending their country.

This April, KCI’s CEO and I visited Hawaii on business. While there we were able to visit theUSS Missouri at Pearl Harbor. On 7 December 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on themain US Naval Base in the Pacific on Oahu, Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,403U.S. personnel, including sailors, soldiers and civilians. Additionally, 1,178 people werewounded. 129 Japanese soldiers were killed. Today the sunken USS Arizona serves as amemorial to all Americans who died in the attack. It is joined by the Battleship USSMissouri. The ships are moored with their bows facing each other, with the USS Arizonasignifying the beginning of America’s entrance to WWII and the USS Missouri, on whosedeck in Tokyo Harbor the instrument of Japan’s surrender was signed, signifying the end of WWII. But this story is not about the attack on Pearl Harbor – it is a story of an enemy’s service to his country and an American’s respect and humanity in a time of war.

It is about April 11, 1945, when the USS Missouri was near the island of Okinawa. On that day a kamikaze pilot crashed his Zero into her starboard side. A sailor photographed the Zero moments before impact, and the image became an icon of the war. Debris from the plane cluttered the deck. One of the plane's machine guns impaled a 40-mm anti-aircraft gun barrel. Fortunately, the 500 lb. bomb on the aircraft did not detonate and there was little damage to the battleship, but what the captain did after the attack was controversial and unpopular. During the cleanup, a corpsman discovered the remains of the young kamikaze pilot in the wreckage. He called up to the bridge asking whether he should discard it overboard. The Missouri’s Captain, William M. Callaghan, made his controversial decision: “No, when we secure, take it down to the sick bay, and we'll have a burial for him tomorrow.” This did not sit well with many of Missouri's crew, but the pilot's remains were taken to sick bay for examination before it was placed in a canvas bag and weighted down with dummy shell casings. Since there were no Japanese flags aboard, three of the crew stayed up all night and stitched together an improvised Japanese flag.

The next day, April 12th, a burial at sea with military honors was performed. The ship's chaplain performed the service, and six pallbearers tipped the flag-draped remains into the sea to a volley ofrifle fire. Although there was much bitterness among some of the crew,Captain Callaghan insisted it was the honorable thing to do. The pilot was “a fellow warrior who had displayed courage and devotion, and who had paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life, fighting for his country.” He understood his crew's feelings toward the enemy-- his own brother had been killed fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal three years earlier-- but he felt it necessary to show honor and respect to a brave warrior, even if he was the enemy. He believed the kamikaze pilot was doing his job as his country demanded.

Every one of the service men and women who has given their life in the service of our country is a hero. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. Heroes never die. They live on forever in the hearts and minds of those who they have touched and those who would follow in their footsteps. This Memorial Day let us honor the sacrifice made by the men and women who have died during their service to our country. Enjoy the day off but let us take the time to honor America's fallen heroes.

Duane Nathaniel


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