Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2015

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Saluting those who died

Former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan on what Memorial Day meant to him


Steve Marcus

Farideh Ghane grieves at the grave of her son Alexander Ghane after a Memorial Day ceremony at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City May 30, 2011. Alexander Ghane, a graduate of Sierra Vista High School and a Navy Seal, was killed during training exercise in 2008.

Mike O'Callaghan, Governer of Nevada from 1970-1978, and an editor at the Las Vegas Sun.

Mike O'Callaghan, Governer of Nevada from 1970-1978, and an editor at the Las Vegas Sun.

There are few people who could write about Memorial Day like the late Mike O’Callaghan. The former two-term governor of Nevada and executive editor of the Sun served in the Marines, the Air Force and the Army and was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. The following is from a column first published in 2000:

All Americans should have memories that are enriched every time Memorial Day comes around. This shouldn’t be just another day we don’t have to work or go to school. During the first six years of my life, we had a farm near the small river town of Dakota, Minn. This was the day for decorating the graves of the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I veterans. It was also the day for eating homemade ice cream, cake, lemonade, potato salad, hamburgers and hot dogs, sitting on the grass beneath trees.

In addition to playing and eating, we found time to hear the folks talk about the people in the nearby graves. My father, a World War I vet, and his friends would be talking about their experiences. A special place was always reserved for the town’s three remaining Civil War veterans, who were also my friends.

The Civil War stories of Oliver Tibbetts, who lived above a granary, were my favorites. During the school year, I would climb up the stairs to his room and look at his uniform and encourage him to tell me about Gettysburg, President Lincoln and his experiences as a soldier. He referred to his soldiering as being a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. All the graves of Civil War veterans had headstones with G.A.R. carved into them.

Oliver Tibbetts instilled in me a continuing interest in the men who fought the Civil War. Later in life, I found a professor who also had a deep love and understanding of what happened during that divisive conflict. The late Dr. John Wright of UNLV not only provided enriching classroom experiences, but spent many additional hours discussing the Civil War and Reconstruction with me.

Those years living near Dakota were less than 18 years after World War I ended. Discussions of that war were often dinner subjects or on the front porch where the family visited during evening hours. The discussions about our nation’s refusal to pay the veterans a promised bonus were sometimes heated. Always there was some reference to the friends who didn’t return from what was called the Great War.

What meaning does Memorial Day have for the school children of today? Some of them tell us that World War I and the Korean War are skipped over in many classrooms with little meaningful discussion. ...

Wars don’t happen in a vacuum and have causes and results that color the conduct of people for many generations. When studied and learned about, they provide a rich history for us to use in making decisions for the present and future.

I treasure the history learned as a youngster from the veterans of past wars. These experiences gave me the thirst for additional knowledge and an appreciation for Memorial Day and the people we honor on this day. ...

This is a day to show our appreciation for those who have given their all and relate how their accomplishments have made ours a great nation.

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