Editorial: This Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember

A few years ago, we profiled a remarkable group of men who had served their country in Vietnam. We’re thinking about them again as we celebrate this Memorial Day, which began in 1868 as Decoration Day. In the aftermath of the Civil War, it started as a day to honor those who had died in combat by “decorating” their graves with American flags.

Our story featured former U.S. Marine Alan Weiss of Cutchogue, who served in Vietnam and wanted to honor the men who served with him. He came up with an idea that sounded impossible to pull off but, if successful, would serve as that honor.

Mr. Weiss wanted to find the carcass of a Sikorsky UH-34 helicopter that had seen service in Vietnam, restore it completely and then, with a crew that shared his goal, fly it at air shows — and tell its story.

This is how Mr. Weiss described his goal in 2021: “The original idea was for a memorial — for the people I served with and the people I knew, close friends I had, who were lost,” he said. “We would fully restore it, make it fly again, and take it around to honor these men.”

Mr. Weiss and his fellow volunteers came together to restore the helicopter in a barn in Laurel. They knew the chopper had seen combat, and had ferried the wounded and the dead. Scratches made by a soldier were found inside the hull. The metal relic was a story waiting to be told.

When their work was done, they flew the restored helicopter to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, where their craftsmanship — and devotion — were put on display.

“Devoted” is the word that best describes those men, and all those who have served this country in war, a very small percentage of the population. Currently, the number is about 0.4%. In earlier generations, roughly 6% of Americans served in the military.

We remember Garfield Langhorn of Riverhead, who was killed in Vietnam in 1969 when he leapt on a grenade that had landed near a group of wounded soldiers. For his sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military accolade.

We remember Dashan Briggs. A 2007 graduate of Riverhead High School, Technical Sgt. Briggs was a full-time member of the Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach and was one of seven service members killed aboard a military helicopter in Iraq in March 2018. He was 30 years old.

Three years ago in August, 13 U.S. service members were killed outside an airport in Afghanistan as the United States was ending its 20-year war in that nation. Lost in the debate over the harrowing end to that “forever war” — but hopefully not now — were the 2,459 other comrades-in-arms who died in Afghanistan, including 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert of Shelter Island.

This Memorial Day, we should remember them, and all those who, as President Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

A few years ago, a reporter from our newspapers visited Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. He came upon Roberto Gonzalez, a Vietnam veteran and cemetery caretaker working alone in the aisles of white marble, washing and polishing gravestones.

Asked where he would be on Memorial Day, he answered, “Here.” “People say, ‘Memorial Day, oh, a day off, great beach day, shopping,’ ” Mr. Gonzalez said. “But you know, most people don’t know why they got this day.” The vet pointed to the ground beneath his feet. “This right here is why they got it.”

We’re lucky, for many reasons, to have a day like Memorial Day when we can — and should — remember those who died for our country. This Monday, if only for a minute, bow your head and remember the fallen and their families — who carry on bravely without them.