In the early morning hours of Monday, November 8th, 1999, some of our nation's children let us know what they think of our nation, this cradle of liberty, this land of truth and justice. They stealthily surrounded a small military memorial in a small town near Rochester, New York, they poured flammable liquids on it, and they burned it to the ground. Let me repeat that: they burned it to the ground.

In this nation, where we protect to the highest degree the right of all citizens to make their feelings known, these children spoke. They spoke with fire, and condemned their birthrights. This exercise of their freedom of speech was crystal clear and should be understood by all. They demonstrated their hatred of our nation, their nation, our heritage, our way of life.

This morning, residents of the small hamlet of Richmond, NY came to the charred remains in the center of their town to view with horrified eyes this dishonor done to the memory of their fallen warriors, American fighting men whose names and lives and deaths spanned the decades from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. They were mostly silent, but the tears flowed from their eyes as they viewed the carnage. Some brought flowers to place on the smoldering ashes of what should have been an eternal tribute.

Two thousand, two hundred names were engraved in gold and ensconced in a wooden gazebo, surrounded by flags. Twenty-two hundred men from this tiny town who never came home to their wives, their children, their parents, their families. Twenty-two hundred men who paid, in blood, the price of our freedom. Twenty-two hundred heroes.

Those men did not ask to die, and most likely did not want to die, far from home, in pain and suffering and calling for their mothers. They did not ask to be the ones chosen to pay the ultimate price so that we would remain a nation, free and strong. They did not ask to be heroes, or to have their names remembered and their sacrifices honored.

Yet, in this nation, we honor those who have fallen so that we might breathe the air of freedom, so that we might speak our minds, even so that we might condemn the gifts given us. In this ultimate irony, their sacrifice has provided the security and the liberty and even the network of laws that protect those who put the torch to their memorial.

Thursday, November 11th, 1999, is Veteran's Day in the USA (Remembrance Day
in Canada). Some see it as a day off of work. Some look forward to an extended weekend. In many cities and towns across America, there will be parades, speeches, and they will be sparsely attended by those who remember. Some snicker and make rude comments as Old Glory flutters by, carried by old men in old and badly fitting uniforms.

There are some of us who do not see creaky old veterans in moth-ball smelling uniforms. We see something else. We see fellow warriors who did what was asked of them by their nation, whether in peacetime or in war. We see the pride with which our National Ensign is held aloft, the precision of the step, the solid thump of the boots on pavement of these military men. We can still hear 'Reveille' first thing in the morning if we listen hard enough. We can smell gunpowder in the air, and hear the sharp bark of commands. We remember "Eyes Right!" as we Pass In Review. We know what it feels like to stand at the position of attention and salute as the flag is lowered gently and reverently at dusk. We are still proud to be called patriots, and we don't think of it as a dirty word.

So, now we are under attack, but this time the attack comes from within. This is not the anti-war sentiment of the 60's; at least the hippies believed in something. This is something new, something truly ugly. This is a war over nothing. Belief in nothing, trust in nothing, desire for nothing. This is our children demonstrating their boredom, disgust, and ennui, with us, with each other, with life in general.

We see it in the schools - Arkansas, Colorado, and so on. We see it in the black trenchcoats, the painted faces, the carefully-cultivated disgust with life and love of destruction. We blame the movies, guns, the government, cults, and anything else we can think of except ourselves. We don't understand our children, and they don't understand us. They don't like our culture, they don't like our values, and they don't even like each
other. How could we have raised a generation of children so damaged? I don't pretend to have the answer, but I must pose the question: how do we reclaim our children?

This burning of a small veteran's memorial in a small town in New York is not the end of the world. It can be rebuilt. The men who died and are remembered can continue to be honored, their names freshly engraved in brass and gold. We can hold a ceremony, and pray that it does not happen again. We can catch the vandals responsible and punish them, or try to teach them why what they did was so wrong.

But this is a symbol, in my mind, of what is wrong, powerfully wrong, with our nation. When will we turn to our children and take them and love them and show them that there is something worth believing in, that the strength of a free nation is based on the faith its citizens have in it? When will we stop pretending that we have no Creator, that we are not charged with the responsibility of passing faith in that Creator on to our progeny? When
will we be willing to sacrifice that SUV in the driveway or that 401(k) in the stock market for our family's sake?

So today, a small veteran's memorial was burned to the ground. Twenty-two hundred names lie in the ashes, they have fallen again. But as they once paid with their blood for the future of our nation, let them be called forth to serve us once more. Sound the bugles! Let the desecration of their memorial be the reminder that we all need to hear, the wake-up call for America and our posterity. Let them lie in the ashes and make us horrified and ashamed that we have let things get this far. And then let us restore their names, restore their honor, and honor them a second time by reclaiming our families, as we know we must. If you believe that they did not die in vain in wars dimly remembered, then don't let their memories die in vain now.

And if you want to do something about this particular memorial, then here is the information you need. You know what to do.

Town of Richmond
20 East Main Street
PO Box 145
Honeoye, NY 14471

Semper Fidelis,
Bill Mattocks
Former Sgt., USMC (1979-1985)