You are remembered

Editor's note: This Memorial Day, we honor the sacrifices made by men and women in the military -- as well as others whose service and sacrifice is equally worthy of recognition, even if it wasn't done in military uniform.

There’s a movement in some quarters to expand the roster of those honored on Memorial Day beyond the veterans of formally declared wars. My uncle returned from World War II a decorated bomber pilot for 24 completed missions, and my father, his younger brother, came back shell-shocked and on the brink of ruin.

But for me, it takes nothing away from their sacrifices to honor others this day who suffered and/or died to make a better world, even if they didn’t do it in uniform. Who would begrudge the victims in the Twin Towers a place among those being remembered today because they were civilians, or the Port Authority police officers and the firefighters because their uniforms weren’t military?

Schenk at age four with his dad.

It’s a good and a powerful day to remember every ilk of brave men and women who have suffered and died serving others. It’s also recognition that war, while still awful, has changed. It’s now more frequently about non-state actors and manifestos than kings, presidents, and formal declarations.

Dad and his brother, Wilfred, are always especially close to me today, but so is a roster of wounded and fallen humanitarian workers, my colleagues over almost 25 years now.

Dad and Uncle Wilfred fought in Europe to halt a tyrant and turn back the night. Aid workers risk and sacrifice to extend the boundaries of choice and opportunity by caring and helping. Many die. Close friends, as well as some colleagues I love though I’ve never met them, have been murdered because humanitarian basics ran counter to the "end-serves-the-means" extremists.

Others have limped home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because they ignored warning signs and judged flood, famine, and war victims more needful than themselves. I had PTSD. It was the unarticulated bond Dad and I shared in an otherwise often-strained relationship.

But he suffered and overcame in a time when there was no PTSD diagnosis, and consequently, no treatment. In a more aware era, I got lots of help. It gave me a special respect for a man whose greatest accomplishments were not during the war but because of it. He became a corporate vice president despite never completing high school. Still, he considered his two greatest achievements to be his two children.

Schenk's Uncle Wilfred and his bomber crew.

Uncle Wilfred, a quiet man, only talked about his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) if you knew to ask. When I interviewed him for our family history, he told me something that made me as proud as all the family was two years ago when he was noticed in a crowd in his Canadian hometown by Prince Philip for the DFC around his neck, and then introduced to Queen Elizabeth.

His last three flights had been humanitarian missions, dropping food on the Netherlands because retreating German troops had taken all and left the Dutch to starve.

He described ant-like figures lined up to take the food home in wheelbarrows and baby carriages. I shared that story with a Dutch woman in her 80s on a flight to Amsterdam some years ago. She looked me hard in the eyes and said, “I remember that food.”

It gave me chills and made me proud -- of Dad, Uncle Wilfred, and my colleagues. You are remembered.


    sure wasnt this way when we came home from Nam

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    Your blog spoke to my heart as many relatives have served their country and suffered from ptsd or just got on with their lives. Life is never easy, and war doubles the troubles of those who were a part of it. The same applies to those, like yourself, who serve in other capacities. Even widows who care for their men in old age until their own health is in jeopardy. Blessings on them all.

    This Memorial Day I remembered 3 of my gggrandfathers who served in the Civil War. Whitson Green, Lewis Preston Cooper & Andrew Powantan Gadd. All Served the cause of the CSA. Two in uniform (Lewis & Andrew), 1 as a citizen (Whitson). All became POWs. Thankfully the 2 in uniform were to return home after the war. It was the citizen who was to give the ultimate sacrifice. You won't find Whitson's name listed on any muster roll. You won't find his name on any military payrolls.You won't find his wife listed on any pension roll, although she tried. Whitson is not eligible for a military headstone nor recognized in any military tribute. You will find his name archived in the files of Rutherford B Hayes, who presided over his trial. You will find his name on numerous POW records. Like thousands of other Civil War POWs, beside his name you will see the word "citizen". He offered himself freely to a cause he believed in. He received no pay. Expected no benefit. Both sides of this war requested and often used "citizens" to assist them in military ventures. It is estimated between 650,000-700,000 military lost their lives in this war either to combat or disease. The loss of life to citizens who were killed or died from the effects of this war is estimated to be double that of the military. Some take offense that I view Memorial Day as a day of remembrance for other than those who have served in uniform. Some feel this is a day for Military only. I think it is sad that many feel that a man or woman had to have worn a uniform to receive tribute today. The American Citizen has and will always be at the forefront of the fight for freedom. Yes, we rightfully honor all fallen Military today. Their contribution and sacrifices have been great. But lets not dishonor the "citizen" by not including them in this day of Memorials.....So today I pay equal tribute to my 3 gggrandfathers. I suspect Lewis and Andrew would have considered Whitson equally deserving.

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