Editor’s Note: Sometimes, the words of a mere editor aren’t enough to convey the true meaning of our national holidays. We’re thankful for our friend Mark Oliva’s service and words as we prepare for the Memorial Day holiday. It’s not just the “unofficial start of summer.”
Memorial Day is soon upon us and for some, it’s the kickoff of summer. Vacations are planned, backyard grilling and warm days with friends and family are in the works. It’s also a day of honoring those who gave their lives in service to our nation so we can enjoy our freedoms.
We, the firearm industry, pause to honor these men and women. We also rededicate ourselves to living lives worthy of their sacrifice. We mourn the loss but we celebrate that we had men and women such as these among us, even if it was for a short time. For those of us in the firearm industry that served in uniform, we’re especially touched that we had the opportunity to serve alongside them.
The firearm industry has unique connection to our military and the veterans who swore oaths to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. These are men and women who carried the firearms our industry produces that aid in the defense of the United States and our way of life. The rifles, handguns and ammunition produced by manufacturers across this nation were carried into war by these Americans. Our industry is the “great arsenal for democracy.”
Their loss on the battlefields in far-flung places around the globe steels our resolve that we should be worthy beneficiaries of their sacrifice. These patriots didn’t seek martyrdom but stood in the gap knowing the cost that may be called. They answered that call willingly. They are the best of us. Their absence reminds us of the charge to honor their memory and preserve the freedoms for which they gave their lives.
This Memorial Day is, indeed, a celebration. There should be beach volleyball games and barbecues. Friends and family should celebrate their freedom to gather in safety. That could even include a day at gun range, swinging a shotgun at sporting clays range or honing marksmanship skills at long-range targets. Those are our freedoms too.
Memorial Day is a reminder to pause. Some will head to local national cemeteries to place flags and flowers at the headstones of those we honor. These were sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. For those us who served in uniform, some of them were closer than brothers and sisters. These are people connected to our souls.
Remember the Cost
It’s why we remember. It’s why we ask our nation to remember. Reflect on them and lives they lived and the freedoms they loved. They are men and women like Master Sgt. Aaron Torian, from Paducah, Kentucky. I served alongside him in Iraq. Maj. Megan McClung was a vibrant woman, a long-distance runner who organized a satellite Marine Corps Marathon in Iraq. We also served together in Iraq’s Al Anbar Provice. Maj. Doug Zembiec was called the “Lion of Fallujah” who extolled the virtues of his Marines. He was legendary and now is among Marine legends.
Those we owe a debt too aren’t just of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re also the jungles of Vietnam, where Navy Lt. Vincent Capodanno, a Roman Catholic priest serving as a chaplain for Marines. He dragged Marines to safety in the din of battle, administered last rites to mortally wounded Marines, ignoring wounds to his own body. Marines in the battled attested that Father Capodanno placed himself between enemy fire to protect wounded Marines when lost his own life. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard DeWert was a hospital corpsman serving with Marines in Korea just north of the 38th Parallel when his unit found itself in a pitched battle against Chinese Communists. Four Marines from a lead element were wounded and Petty Officer DeWert rushed to their aid, sustaining gunshot wounds as he dragged Marines to safety. He was gunned down by enemy fire attempting to rescue the last wounded Marine. Petty Officer DeWert was the second Navy sailor to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in the Korean War.
In WWII, Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone was already awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Guadalcanal. He was featured in “Life” magazine but ultimately returned to combat with his Marines, leading them ashore in the Iwo Jima invasion when he fell to Japanese artillery.
These men and women are the reasons we celebrate – and should celebrate. They seem larger than life but the reality is they make our lives larger. They are also the reasons we pause. NSSF is awed and humbled that Americans like these walked among us. The firearm industry honors their sacrifice and is inspired to protect the freedoms for which they gave their lives.
— Mark Oliva
Mark Oliva is NSSF’s Managing Director of Public Affairs. the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industries. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.