Opinion

'It is for them we mourn and for them that we search our hearts for that deeper meaning that is never fully satisfied' | Guest Column

Mike Vouri, author, historian and chief of interpretation for San Juan Island National Historical Park, speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony at Memorial Park, Monday in downtown Friday Harbor. - Richard Walker
Mike Vouri, author, historian and chief of interpretation for San Juan Island National Historical Park, speaks at the Memorial Day ceremony at Memorial Park, Monday in downtown Friday Harbor.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Mike Vouri gave the following Memorial Day address at Memorial Park, May 25, 2009. He is chief of interpretation for San Juan Island National Historical Park, and is the author of three books about the joint military occupation of 1859-1872 and one book about Friday Harbor. He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.

By MIKE VOURI

Memorial Day belongs to the fallen. It is for them we mourn and for them that we search our hearts for that deeper meaning that is never fully satisfied. Those of us who have been on the point of our nation’s interests know this.

For me it was the Mekong Delta in the old Republic of Vietnam, 1968-1969. Most of us didn’t give a damn about politics beyond embracing the dim hope that, by some miracle, our leaders might bring us home before anyone else was killed or maimed. For what we really cared about were each other, on the left and right.

I would give everything I have for the life of my pilot, Frank Birchak, who was killed on Jan. 11, 1969, while on a reconnaissance of Tap Moi, which now, incidentally, is a nature preserve for red-headed cranes. His name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, panel 35 West, Row 69. I go there and run my fingers over the letters of Frank’s name and a few others on the same panel each time I visit the capitol on the business of the national park I now serve – a park that was created to commemorate the peace that broke out 150 years ago this summer. The reflection I see in polished granite grows more silver by the year and now I am nearly twice the age he was when he died.

The one comfort I take — and I am certain it is the same for many of you — is that a part of him lives within me and will do so until I am no longer here. Then we both will carry on in the memories of my son, who has heard all the stories.

I leave you now with a poem a brother vet posted on the Virtual Wall for Frank Birchak on the 40th anniversary of his death:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
— Mary Frye, 1932

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