Memorial Day Lesson: Hate Diminishes the Memory of Our Fallen

Author: John Casey

Paddy Casey died in the spring of 1926, his son Jack, my father, was born in October of 1926. My dad never knew his father, obviously. As the youngest of eight, he worshiped his brother Bob who was a decade older. Bob became the patriarch of a family of nine during the depression.

When Bob was called to serve in World War II, my father was crushed. Bob gave Jack his Hamilton watch, with his name and hometown engraved on the back, and told my dad to “Hang onto this until I get back.”

Bob never came back. He died during the war, and my father wore that watch every day of his life. My dad died when I was 12, and I inherited that watch, but still don’t feel worthy enough to wear it.

Uncle Bob is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and during a trip to Washington, D.C. when I was young, we visited his grave, and planted a flag. Tears ran from my father’s eyes. It was the first time I ever saw him cry.

Most of us have a memory of a relative or a friend who served on behalf of our country, and who perished during their service. So many of those who were lost were so young, their visage frozen in time, like Uncle Bob’s. They never got the chance to live their lives, instead giving their lives so that we could live ours.

My father talked so lovingly about his brother, and from what I understand Bob was a very charismatic, popular, and big-hearted guy. My father, who also served in the military, was the kindest person I have ever known. He was also big-hearted, and I don’t think he ever got over the loss of his brother. It, quite frankly, broke that big heart.

I know that in my loving heart, both my dad and my Uncle Bob, would be proud of the person that I have finally become, and be happy for me as an openly gay man. I refuse to believe otherwise.

Bob Casey watch

The rash and rush of anti-LGBTQ+ laws and violent rhetoric is a disservice to the service of those who served, and died. Discrimination and intolerance are not why wars are won.

Our fallen heroes knew firsthand that book bans, marginalizing human beings by religion and sexuality, and oppressing people are the hallmarks of an autocratic society. They saw, with their own eyes, the irrevocable damage of government intrusion. They witnessed the horrors of Nazi Germany, and how Hitler and his ilk destroyed the private lives of many of its citizens, and ripped apart a country and its people — all because of ribald hate and cynical scapegoating.

They also understood how that subjugation crumbled when confronted by warriors waging a fight for freedom. There were only two sides during those dark days — right and wrong. Our lost heroes were all on the side of doing what was right.

A close friend of mine, who lived in the midwest, introduced me to his elderly father years ago. After I got to know him, he found out I was gay. He was older, set in his ways, and pretty conservative, and so I was a little apprehensive about how he would react.

He told me that I was the second gay person he knew. The first was one of his combat buddies during the war, and one night while drinking, the guy made a move on him. “It threw me off at first,” he said. “But we were all fighting the same war, and we were all on the same side. He was a good soldier, and that’s all that mattered.”

Generations ago, being gay, lesbian, bi, or trans was, metaphorically speaking, kept in the bunker. The generation of today, those in their teens and twenties likely do not know anyone who served abroad during World War II. Times have hurried along, and generations have been swapped out, so the young today are far removed from what transpired decades ago.

However, while far removed from their brave and deceased ancestors, and from the true meaning of Memorial Day, the current generation is reaping the benefits of, those commonly referred to, as the greatest generation.

While the fight for freedom 80 years ago was in Europe and Asia, the fight for this generation’s freedoms is happening in cities, towns, classrooms, legislative bodies, and social media across the country.

White haired, white skinned conservatives, who mostly never served their country, are passing laws filled with hate, boycotting brands, and denying children the right to learn truths and be free to be themselves. It is their grandchildren, primarily, who know that these wrongs need to be righted.

Today’s generation is more cognizant of discrimination, more accepting of their peers, and not afraid to use their voices to speak out. Ironically, because of their appreciation of freedoms, Generation Z might have more in common with the greatest generation than any other generation since.

Each year, we slip farther away from the true meaning and reason for Memorial Day. Beaches, picnics, parties, interstate traffic, jammed packed flights, and the unofficial start of summer have become synonymous with Memorial Day. Parades and wreaths being laid at memorials and the tomb of the unknown soldier are now attended by a dwindling number of veterans who survived the fight for freedom.

That’s why it’s important to tell stories, like my Uncle Bob’s, to this generation. I know that my niece and my nephew know about their Uncle Bob — my niece has visited his tomb at Arlington — and they also see how his memory is being smudged by hate, and how that is affecting their beloved, gay uncle.

As I do every Memorial Day, I will take my Uncle Bob’s watch out of a box, and hold it, and say a prayer of gratitude. Uncle Bob’s tragic death gave me the opportunity to live my life openly, and I will love and appreciate him for that for the rest of my life.

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: John Casey


My name is David but my online nick almost everywhere is Altabear. I'm a web developer, graphic artist and outspoken human rights (and by extension, mens rights) advocate. Married to my gorgeous husband for 12 years, together for 25 and living with our partner of 4 years, in beautiful Edmonton, Canada.

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