Outdoor activities. Cookouts. Family and friends. For the vast majority of Americans, Memorial Day entails these and so much more. We relish the time off from work and school and take full advantage of a holiday weekend marking the beginning of summer.
These are all well and good and we should absolutely revel in time spent with family and friends. But I think it's equally important to not let Memorial Day pass without taking a moment to reflect on how difficult this holiday is for many families across our country and recognizing the sacrifice that men and women have made that we might enjoy these festivities.
The beginnings of Memorial Day can be traced back to the years following the Civil War when cities and towns across our fractured country began to commemorate and remember those who perished in that great and terrible conflict. Citizens would decorate the graves of lost loved ones and friends with flags and flowers to pay tribute to the sacrifice they made in fighting.
In 1971, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. It's a unique mixture of somber reflection and celebration - honoring the sacrifices of the few while enjoying the freedoms those sacrifices have afforded.
This Memorial Day, I wanted to take a moment to bring to your attention the sacrifice of one man - Warren H. 'Skip' Muck.
Skip Muck was born and raised in Tonawanda, NY. He served in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division as a Non-Commissioned Officer during World War II. His story was featured in the critically-acclaimed HBO miniseries Band of Brothers which highlighted the incredible journey the men of Company E made from Toccoa, GA to the very halls of the birthplace of Nazism in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany.
During Skip's parachute infantry training in Toccoa, his unit would often be required to run up the mountain located adjacent to their training camp, called Currahee. Currahee is a Cherokee word that means "we stand alone together." Along with his fellow servicemen, Skip adopted this motto as he finished his training and earned his parachute infantry jump wings - eager to serve his country with bravery and honor.
Skip Muck would make two combat jumps in Europe during his service in World War II. He landed behind enemy lines hours before the Normandy invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and later that same year jumped into Holland during the ill-fated Market Garden Operation in September of 1944. He earned a Bronze Star for his courage in combat during operations north of Nijmegen.
Months later, in December of 1944, Muck, along with the entire 101st Airborne Division, was assigned to the Ardennes region of Belgium to counter a desperate German offensive which had broken out in the region. For weeks, Skip Muck and the men of Easy Company battled frigid temperatures, German armored attacks, and endured destructive artillery barrages.
On January 9, 1945, a German artillery round hit the foxhole Skip Muck and his friend Alex Penkala were sheltered in during an intense artillery barrage of the Bois Jacques woods outside the town of Foy, Belgium where they were stationed. It was a heavy blow in the midst of a difficult campaign.
For the men of Easy Company, losing Skip was a devastating loss. His best friend, Donald Malarkey, was especially crushed by his death. Skip Muck was beloved by his fellow soldiers as many described him as the best-liked man in the company. It was noted that no matter what situation they found themselves in, Skip was always optimistic and looked out for the men under his command.
Richard Speight, the actor who portrayed Skip Muck in Band of Brothers, wrote of Skip:
"I don't think his legacy is a military one. I believe it's more universal and grander in scope. Skip serves as an enduring example of one who thinks not of himself but of the people and the world around him. Those are the ones who truly make a difference." (1)
This Memorial Day, I fully plan to soak up and savor the time with family and friends - eating delicious barbeque or playing a little baseball. Life is too busy and too short to not appreciate those moments as the gifts they are. But I also plan to take some time and reflect on the sacrifices that men and women have made that make those moments possible. I'll spend some time thinking about Warren H. 'Skip' Muck and the countless others who never came home from Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. Theirs is the noblest and greatest sacrifice given.
I encourage you to remember the motto of the 506th PIR the next time you're faced with overwhelming odds and join in the battle cry with those men and women of that greatest generation:
Currahee! We stand alone together!
(1) Brotherton, Marcus, "The Men of Easy Company - Part 1: Warren "Skip" Muck," Art of Manliness (2010): https://www.artofmanliness.com/character/military/the-men-of-easy-company-part-i-warren-skip-muck/