Today is Memorial Day, a holiday in remembrance of those who have fallen in service to our country. For many, cookouts, parades, cemetery flags, and commemorations play an important part in reminding us of the sacrifice made by thousands of men and women who lost their lives serving our country.
For us, it also means the start of final exam week leading up to graduation, an unfortunate intersection of our schedule at Proctor and the ‘real world’ calendar. We operate in a bubble at Proctor, one that can be rather egocentric as the world around us largely goes on unnoticed. The flag in front of Maxwell-Savage flies at half-mast, but without an intentional interruption, our focus would remain on studying for E and F blocks exams that are taking place today, rather than on commemorating the lives of those lost in battle.
Each year, Social Science department chair, Phil Goodnow, helps us step outside of our bubble by sharing a few thoughts on Memorial Day in assembly. Since we do not have assembly today, it is important to take a moment to push the pause button on our busy lives and to remember we are part of a far bigger community than Proctor. Phil prepared the following words for us today:
Memorial Day is a time to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of young men and women on our distant battlefields. However, the number of individuals impacted by those losses grows exponentially, way beyond our fathomable estimates, when we consider those losses' effect on the fallen heroes' loved ones.
This letter was written by Eleanor Wimbish to her son Bill Stocks and was left beneath his name on the black granite slab of the Vietnam War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in 1984. The letter came 15 years after his death on February 13, 1969 in a helicopter crash in Vietnam.
Dear Bill, I came to this black wall again, to see and touch your name. William R. Stocks. And as I do, I wonder if anyone ever stops to realize that next to your name, on this black wall, is your mother's heart. A heart broken fifteen years ago today, when you lost your life in Vietnam. And as I look at your name, I think of how many, many times I used to wonder how scared and homesick you must have been, in that strange country called Vietnam. And if and how it might have changed you, for you were the most happy-go-lucky kid in the world, hardly ever sad or unhappy. And until the day I die, I will see you as you laughed at me, even when I was very mad at you. And the next thing I knew, we were laughing together. But on this past New Year's Day, I talked by phone to a friend of yours from Michigan, who spent your last Christmas and the last four months of your life with you. Jim told me how you died, for he was there and saw the helicopter crash. He told me how your jobs were like sitting ducks; they would send you men out to draw the enemy into the open, and then, they would send in the big guns and planes to take over. He told me how after a while over there, instead of a yellow streak, the men got a mean streak down their backs. Each day the streak got bigger, and the men became meaner. Everyone but you, Bill. He said how you stayed the same happy-go-lucky guy that you were when you arrived in Vietnam. And he said how you, of all people, should never have been the one to die. How lucky you were to have him for a friend. And how lucky he was to have had you. They tell me the letters I write to you and leave here at this memorial are waking others up to the fact that there is still much pain left from the Vietnam War. But this I know; I would rather to have had you for twenty-one years and all the pain that goes with losing you, than never to have had you at all. -Mom
With every lost life comes the endless collective grief of a nation, elevating the importance of this day of remembrance. Please, take a moment today to reflect on William Stocks and all the fallen heroes from America’s many wars and conflicts over the past 240 years. Also, remember his mom, Eleanor Wimbish, and the countless families and friends who continue to mourn for their lost loved ones.
To all of the Proctor alums who are proudly serving America today, and to all of those who gave their lives in service of the country, we thank you. To all of the Proctor families who have lost a loved one in service to the country, we are thinking of you.