The Meaning of Memorial Day – A Brief History
Although people have been decorating the graves of fallen soldiers since ancient times, Memorial Day in the US can be traced back to the Civil War. After the war, various ceremonies to commemorate fallen soldiers occurred. Once known as Decoration Day, the term Memorial Day was first used in 1882. Memorial Day did not become a holiday until 1968.
The Meaning of Memorial Day – What It Means In My Family
Memorial Day is about remembering those who have died while serving in the armed forces. This takes on particular meaning for me. I have a great-uncle who died during the Bataan Death March during World War II. George Klocker had never married, but my grandmother said he was funny and always kind to her children. We have very little history of what actually happened to George but one day I’m going to research more.
I also have an uncle, George Pawlish, my dad’s brother, who is missing-in-action from the Vietnam War. George disappeared the year I was born. Here is what happened:
On the night of March 8, 1967, an A3B Skywarrior aircraft, piloted by Lieutenant Commander Carroll O. Crain, Jr., launched at approximately 2000 hours, eight PM. Accompanying Crain were George, the copilot, and Aviation Technician Ronald E. Galvin. Dark clouds hung ominously low over the North Vietnamese coast.
The aircraft flew low, a few hundred feet above the water, under radar range, and just below cover of the clouds. The Kitty Hawk maintained radio contact with the Skywarrior crew for approximately twenty minutes, the mission so far uneventful. At this time the aircraft was passing over the northern edge of Hon Gio Island, roughly thirteen miles east of the coastline, due east of the city of Ron, thirty miles north-northeast of the port city of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.
Then Crain received a transmission requesting they delay their target time for ten minutes for Air Force support aircraft (since the mission involved going deep within enemy-held territory, the Skywarrior was to be provided with fighter escort as protection against enemy aircraft attack, but it had been delayed).
No one heard from the crew again. No distress signals were received, and all efforts to locate or make contact with them were unsuccessful. No one, at least on the American side, knows what happened. After contact with the Skywarrior could not be re-established, the navy immediately launched a search-and-rescue operation. Nothing was found. No wreckage, no parachutes, no survival rafts, and no bodies.
The Navy determined that the plane flew or fell into the water prior to departing its over-water holding point, the place over the water where the aircraft would circle until instructed to continue the mission (presumably when the support aircraft arrived). It is possible that Crane banked the plane in a 360-degree turn, but was closer to the water than he thought and clipped a wing on the surface, crashing the plane. It is also possible that the crew decided to continue the mission, and were shot down somewhere along the Haiphong River. Search-and-rescue crews searched for three days, but poor visibility, and enemy crossfire, prevented a good search. A naval casualty board finally determined that their bodies, wherever they were, could not be recovered.
I often wonder what it might have been like to know George. I ponder what it was like for my grandmother, my dad and his siblings to always wonder what happened to him. And I am touched by a story that my mom tells.
A few months after George disappeared, she walked into the spare bedroom. My dad was holding a picture of George and he was crying. I miss him, my dad said. This is one of just a handful of times that my mom has seen my dad cry.
Whenever I visit Washington, D.C. I try to stop by the Vietnam Memorial. If you have not been, I would encourage you to go. It is a very moving experience. The first time I went, I was in awe of all the names on the wall. And then I found him: George Pawlish. I touched the name and so many thoughts raced through my mind: what my grandmother went through after hearing that George had disappeared (she had lost her husband a couple of months before and this was the last time she saw George); what my dad felt about losing his brother; the trauma George’s wife experienced, and more.
I have extensively researched George’s life because I would one day like to write his story in order to bring a face to the many men and women who did not return from Vietnam. I have attended the POW/MIA meetings in Washington, D.C. and heard the countless painful stories from other families who have loved ones unaccounted for. As an author, it’s intriguing subject matter, and as a history major, it’s very interesting…but I’d give it all back to have the opportunity to get to know George.
War and its effects are a tough thing to talk about. Whatever your feelings about war are, remember that those who lost their lives are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. They deserved to be remembered.