Memorial Day from a Slightly Different Perspective

  • Published
  • By SMSgt Mark Vlahos
  • 61st Medical Group
Memorial Day has a special significance to me as I think of the actions of three brave, patriotic men who inspired me to join the military. Before the unbelievable strike against us on September 11th, Americans remembered or learned about the one that occurred on December 7, 1941. Two months after Japan's surprise attack President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which mandated that all persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast be relocated to internment camps. In April 1942, my mother, her parents and three brothers were among the 110,000 (62% of whom were born in the U.S.) who were sent to ten different camps throughout the country.

At first, my uncles were very bitter about what happened. After all, they lost their family business and had to sell for ridiculously cheap prices or give away the possessions they couldn't carry with them to the Manzanar Relocation Center in the high desert area of southeastern California. Sensing their anger, one of the first things their father did was to sit all three boys down and tell them, in broken English, that regardless of the circumstances, this was still the best country on earth and reminded them that they were American citizens and owed no allegiance whatsoever to Japan. If called upon, he expected them to fight for their country with honor and, if need be, give their lives for it. That short speech so touched the brothers that they all ended up volunteering for the Army.

Uncle Joe served in the States and Uncle Tucker was an interrogator/interpreter in the South Pacific. My Uncle Sam was a member of the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought the Axis from North Africa to Italy, France, and finally Germany itself. He also saw combat in the Korean War five years later. As I grew up with these men and learned how they dealt with the difficulties of their situation with honor, I knew that one day I would also join the military and try to carry on their legacy.

Benjamin Disraeli, 19th Century British Prime Minister and novelist, once wrote, "The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example." I constantly reflect on the amazing contributions my brave uncles gave to this great nation and this Memorial Day, as we remember the sacrifices of our heroes in the GWOT, I will also pay homage to those three men from whom I inherited such a great example. Early in my Air Force career I realized that it had become my responsibility to inspire others to continue building on that legacy and, following the guidance of an old Japanese-American patriot, to be an example for all who desire to serve their country with honor.