Until recently, Memorial Day has been an excruciatingly painful day: reminding me more of my weaknesses than my strengths, my debts more than my credits, my regrets more than my hopes. All these conflicting thoughts and emotions would surface at a ceremony my family and I annually attended every May 30th, when veterans were honored at Pierce Cemetery in Westlake Village, CA.
As retired soldiers would be acknowledged for their service to America—especially the WWII vets, frail in body but still stout in spirit—I would endlessly fight back tears. Clearly, something in the Memorial Day experience was tearing me up inside, without my fully understanding why.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because in order for you to understand my emotional reaction at those Memorial Day ceremonies, you need to know what prompted me to go there in the first place.
Prior to my having moved to Idaho in 1998, I lived in California for sixteen years. One of the great joys of living there was my listening to radio talk show host Dennis Prager
, and benefiting from his great insights on life. Dennis would have a special program on Memorial Day, where he would discuss the original purpose of this holiday and how it dovetailed with his view of America’s unique role in the world. He encouraged his listeners to do more than just barbecue and nap the day away. Eventually, I decided to take his advice, without realizing the emotional can of worms I was opening inside my soul.
As I sat through each annual Memorial Day service—with baseball cap and sunglasses shielding my tear-soaked face—I would endless beat myself up. Why didn’t I serve my country? Why was I glad during college to be “saved” by that deferment, and then by a high enough lottery number? Who was drafted in my place? Why hadn’t I, at least, enlisted in the Reserves? What have I ever done as a sacrifice to the betterment of my country?
After one particular episode in self-flagellation, I came back to my house and turned on Prager’s radio program. He was asking listeners to share their Memorial Day experiences. I decided to call in and share mine.
As I recounted for Dennis my emotional reaction to the Memorial Day service, I summed it up by saying that I felt like a freeloader. I had partaken of the blessings of life in America, but had contributed little.
Dennis listened quite compassionately, and then shared with me the following story: He recalled a conversation with his father, not unlike the one he was now having with me. His dad, in reminiscing about his own WWII exploits, made Dennis envious. “I’ll never have the chance to fight for my country the way you did, Dad!,” Dennis responded. “Yes you will,” his father replied, “but it won’t necessarily be with a rifle and bullets. Maybe it’ll be with your intellect, your pen, or your mouth. There are many ways to fight for America, and you’ll just have to wait patiently until the right opportunity presents itself.”
Prager went on to say that when he became a talk radio host, he instinctively knew that that was his opportunity to fight for America. Likewise, there would come a time when Allen would have his opportunity.
Dennis Prager was right. Shortly after that last Memorial Day in California, I moved to Idaho and found myself drawn to public policy battles. Without having displayed much previous interest in politics, I began writing letters to the editor, op-eds, speaking at rallies, organizing groups, and generally taking high profile positions on controversial issues that most folks wouldn’t touch with a ten foot kosher salami.
In essence, without intending to, I became a culture warrior—a member of the Jewish conservative brigade. I count men like Dennis Prager, Michael Medved
, David Horowitz
, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin
as my comrades, willing to fight tenaciously for the continuation of the American experiment in limited government, free enterprise, a moral public culture, and a strong military.
Yesterday, I attended the first Memorial Day service at the newly constructed Idaho Veterans Cemetery. This time there were no tears on my part, no knots in my stomach, no “freeloader” feelings. While I have no delusions that my contributions rival those of veterans who have lost life or limb, I know that I will have a good answer for my grandkids (yet to be born) if they ask me the following question: “Grandpa, when America was engaged in her second civil war—the culture war—were you part of that fight?”Allen Gorin