Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day 2024 will occur on Monday, May 27. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Veterans Day, on the other hand, honors all veterans for their service in the military.

Memorial Day is important to America for many reasons. First, it honors those who gave their lives while defending America from our foreign enemies. It recognizes the patriotism of those men and women who made the supreme sacrifice. It is also important to families and loved ones of those who died serving their country. It is a source of comfort and pride that helps to heal the pain of losing a cherished relative or loved one.

My Dad was killed in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. His story, like so many others, is sad but it needs to be told so people can see the life long impact their sacrifices had on so many people. Mom was left with four children. A daughter seven, a son four, a son two and a daughter four months old. Dad was a coal miner so money and a place to live was always a problem. My aunt and grandparents helped to take of us kids while she found a job and went to work. Eventually my older sister and brother and I were in school so childcare became less of a burden on our relatives.

Dad enlisted in January of 1944 because the demand for soldiers had increased due to the loss of so many soldiers killed and those who were injured in Europe and in the war with Japan. He came home before being shipped to France and got to see his daughter, Loretta, for the first and last time. He arrived on the front line in October of 1944 in the Ardiennes Forest. Dad’s unit, the 99th Infantry Division, replaced battle tested troops who were shipped to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. Over 500,000 American troop fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Department of defense states that 19,000 American soldiers were killed and over 47,000 were wounded and 16,000 were missing.

On December 16, 1944, five days before his 34th birthday, the Germans launched an attack with over 200,000 troops supported by artillery and hundreds of tanks. This would become the Army’s largest battle of the war called the Battle of the Bulge. At five thirty in the morning, hundreds of artillery shells began hitting in their area. Pandemonium was the result as troops were awakened and scrambled to begin the resistance. The company chaplain, McMurdy, was lying in a foxhole and Dad was behind a tree about twenty feet away. McMurdy told the family Dad, who was right handed, was firing at the enemy from the left side of the tree which left him exposed. A German machine gun hit Dad numerous times and he was dead when he hit the ground. His Sergeant was standing beside him and dragged him behind the tree but it was too late. We never knew what had happened to Dad until McMurdy met with us in 2001. 

Dad’s body was left there frozen in the snow until February when American troops fought back to that position. He was buried in France until 1948 ; then his body was brought back for burial in our local cemetery. A full military funeral was given. I was six years old at the time but I remember the sounds of the rifle fire and the haunting music of Taps as if it was yesterday. The impact on my life would last a life time.

When I played Little League Baseball, all of my friends were supported by their Dad and I was asked many times: Where is your Dad? When I made the All-Star Team other boys were hugged by their Dads while I stood aside. The same thing happened as I continued to play sports all through my school years. My only time to explain is when my friends and I walked by the courthouse and I showed them the World War II Monument with my Dad’s name on it along all others from who were killed in WWII.

Following his lead, four generations have now served their country. Dad was in the Army, I served with the 82nd Airborne; my brother and my son Rob were in the Marine Corp; and my grandson Brian served in Afghanistan.. In total, 14 members of our family have served in the military. My wife’s Uncle Marion was killed on D-Day. He was a soldier riding in a glider. We are proud to serve our country and remember the reason Dad gave when he was asked by his Chaplain McMurdy: Why did you enlist at your age? 

He replied: “ I wanted to serve my country and protect our American freedoms for my children and grandchidren”. I have always loved him and been proud to be his son.

Noel Ison