By: Lt. Col. Tony Traficante, U.S. Army (Ret.)
“America was not built on fear [but] on courage…imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” ⁓Harry S. Truman
On May 30, 1868, the first official Decoration Day was declared by General John A. Logan and observed at Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteers decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Following World War II, Decoration Day was expanded and renamed Memorial Day to honor all Americans who died in military service. The day became a national holiday in 1971.
Too often, Memorial Day is just another checked-mark day on the calendar celebrated with picnics, corn roasts, hot dogs and the official opening of swimming pools. No doubt these are all good things, and they are part of our landscape. However, this extraordinary day has an even deeper meaning for families whose military sons and daughters sacrificed their lives for our country.
Looking back at a time in Vietnam, we watched atop a forsaken ridge, aka Firebase, as thundering troop helicopters approached. The helicopters barely touched the ground as battle-weary warriors spilled from the aircraft eager to return to “hooches,” for needed rest. Their weariness, pain, and sadness of losing team members did not diminish the sense of pride for completing an assigned mission.
They were young, these soldiers, but their bodies weighed old. The lucky ones walked away. Others — the wounded and bloodied, the severely injured, and the dead shrouded in cadaver bags — would be on their way home. The wounded would spend months — even years — recovering, suffering the painful consequences of debilitating battle injuries.
Who are these brave soldiers we honor for Memorial Day? What does a hero look like?
PFC Lewis Albanese, an Italian-born soldier, was one of the many heroes of war who gave his life to save that of his fellow man. Born Luigi Albanese in Vicenza, Italy, he came to the United States at 2 years old, with his mother.
Drafted in 1965, and completing basic training, he shipped out to Vietnam as part of the famed 1st Cavalry Division. In December 1966, while on patrol, PFC Albanese’s unit came under heavy fire from a concealed enemy position.
Albanese’s job was to protect the flank of his group that was moving through the thick, lush jungle flushing out the hidden Viet Cong.
Spotting snipers firing on his unit, Albanese fixed a bayonet to his weapon and charged the enemy position. After momentarily silencing the enemy fire, he realized there were more Viet Cong soldiers. Without hesitation, Lewis rushed through the trench, killing more enemy snipers, then fighting hand-to-hand when he ran out of ammunition. Overwhelmed, outnumbered and peppered by enemy fire, PFC Albanese lost his life.
But his heroic actions saved the lives of his American group, allowing them to complete their mission successfully. He did his duty, and for this, he was allowed to go home.
PFC Albanese returned home a hero, embraced by the glory of the American flag for which he fought–the same flag the “home citizens” were spitting at, burning, and trampling. A proud Italian American soldier, PFC Lewis Albanese received the distinguished and extraordinary Congressional Medal of Honor, for his courage and sacrifice.
We must continue to commemorate Memorial Day for soldiers like Albanese, and all our military men and women who sacrificed their lives for us. If we do not, they will have died for naught.
GOD BLESS AMERICA, and our military men and women!