Dad's Memorial Day letter is reminder of sacrifices
Updated On: May 24 2013 07:33:03 AM HST
Nearly five decades ago, a father who was disappointed by the lack of turnout at a Memorial Day ceremony wrote a letter to his five sons about honor, duty and patriotism. That letter was published and, now, he's hoping a new generation will take time to remember.
Tom Sheehan, a Korean War veteran, has been to every Memorial Day service for the past 63 years.
"If I miss it, God forgive me," he told 11 News.
Sheehan knows more than most about the sacrifices made by men and women in the armed services and the losses felt by families of the fallen. It's why, 47 years ago in Indiana, Pa., he and his wife got their five sons up early to get a good seat at the Memorial Day ceremony to pay tribute; however, it turned out, there was no need.
"The ceremony was a short, brief little thing. The band played the National Anthem, and it was over. When I got home, I was really furious because, I thought to myself, 'This is Korea all over again,'" he said through tears.
Pained by the lack of participation, Sheehan said he wrote an open letter to the local paper with a message to his five sons that would later become a message for countless others.
The letter read: "Fifty people out of a community of over 15,000 American citizens -- you're probably wondering where everyone was that day that American honors the memory of its dead soldiers. Well, boys, we wonder ourselves. They've forgotten things that make America great -- the things that are the heart and soul of true Americans. They forgot that brave men and women have died so that they could enjoy this bright, beautiful, free land on Memorial Day."
His letter was published and picked up by newspapers all over the Northeast. It would later earn Sheehan a special medal from the Freedom Foundation.
Sheehan admitted he wrote the letter more out of anger than expectation, but a year later, at Indiana's next Memorial Day services, his expectations were exceeded.
"They had over 500 people, and they had a band and honor guard and the military. It was just beautiful. The ceremony was right," he said.
But most dear to Sheehan were the letters that came from Vietnam soldiers who'd read his words and echoed his plea.
"The problem of which you have so effectively written is part of the age-old problem of taking for granted the things for which others have paid," he said, reading what one veteran wrote him.
Sheehan said he plans to go to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens on Monday to pay tribute, just like always, and he's hoping others will take time out of their days, too, to honor our nation's heroes.
"I just want them to remember the sacrifice, the pain, the honor and the devotion of duty they bring to our nation," he said.
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