Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Recognition Of Those Who Serve

Celebrating at the Marine's birthday ball
This has been a weekend dedicated to appreciating and recognizing the military past and present.  Last night we celebrated the 238th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps by hosting a table of Albanian military officials at the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball here in Tirana.  This was our third ball in Albania and from the venue and atmosphere to the food and our dinner companions, it was the best one yet.  The Marine Corps, perhaps more than the other branches of the service, is steeped in tradition and ceremony and that was once again on display last night.  I am moved each and every time I watch the precisely executed ceremony and hear the birthday greetings from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  It never gets old and reminds me that the birthday ball signifies so much more than a big party and a reason to dress up.

We stayed out later than we intended to last night so getting moving this morning for the annual Remembrance Day ceremony hosted by the British Embassy was difficult.  However, as we stood in the damp air at the Commonwealth War Memorial surrounded by other military members, Albanian and international alike, and stood at attention in front of the somber white tombstones of Commonwealth soldiers, I was again reminded why we were there.  As the ceremony's emcee reminded us, taking time out from our busy schedules and standing in silence for two minutes is nothing compared to the ultimate sacrifice of the thirty-eight young men buried near us.  Without the sacrifices made by these sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers, it is likely that we wouldn't even have the opportunity to stand there.

Commonwealth Cemetery--Tirana,Albania
(A little bit of background information courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as to why there is a Commonwealth Cemetery in Albania:  "Following the end of the war in Europe, an Army Graves Registration Unit entered Albania with the task of concentrating the remains of Commonwealth Servicemen, lost in the struggle to secure Albanian freedom, into a site chosen in the capital, Tirana.  However, due to the political situation in the country, this task could not be completed, through 52 sets of remains were recovered in the short time available. Eventually, in 1955, after repeated requests to enter the country were refused, the Commission took the decision to commemorate the 38 casualties on special memorials erected in Phaleron War Cemetery in Greece.  The situation remained thus until 1994, when a change in the political situation in Albania allowed a Commission representative access for the first time.  He discovered that the original individual burials had moved by the Communist authorities to an unmarked collective grave located under a path near the university buildings in Tirana.  In the beginning of 1995, the 38 special memorials were removed from Phaleron and re-erected as close as possible to the site of the mass grave, in an area designated the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery.  In 1998, following a study of the Graves Registration unit files, it was possible for the Commission's records staff to confirm the identities of a further seven casualties previously buried in Tirana War Cemetery as unknowns.")

And finally, tomorrow is American Veterans Day, the day we recognize and remember the veterans of all of our wars.  Not to be confused with Memorial Day which remembers our war dead, Veterans Day recognizes everyone who has served in the American Armed Forces.  Unlike many federal holidays in the United States, Veterans Day is always celebrated on the 11th of November rather than the Monday closest to the actual day.  It is a sheer coincidence that tomorrow happens to be a Monday and as such, we are in the midst of a three day long weekend.  For too many Americans, Veterans Day is just another day off from work and school, a day to hang out with friends and family, and a day to shop the holiday sales.  But this day is about so much more.  So tomorrow, please take a moment to stop and say thank you to a veteran.  It is only because of their sacrifice that we are able to enjoy the freedoms so many of us take for granted.  I know I will be giving my thanks and I hope you do too.

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