Memorial Day binds Americans together

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

Our national holidays can provide every American an opportunity to at least for a day put aside our differences and remember those things that bind us together as a nation. Memorial Day does that. Even today as our country stands divided in one of the most politically polarized environments since the Vietnam War, we can stand together to honor the sacrifices made by so many to preserve American values and keep our country safe.

We now have a tangible place here in Orange County where we can honor those sacrifices. It’s called Heroes Hall located at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa. Heroes Hall was dedicated on Veterans Day and is now open offering exhibits that help you, me, other Orange County residents and visitors from all over the world understand the nature of the sacrifices made by our service men and women who have fought and died not only for our country but for themselves and perhaps most of all, each other.

The first exhibit to open at Heroes Hall is “The Things They Carried.” The installation remains available for viewing — you could even visit on Monday. The concept is derived from a novel of the same name by Tim O’Brien. The things men and women bring to war tell a story in a way no proclamation can. One of the items on display is a small American flag carried in the backpack of a U.S. infantryman through some of the most harrowing conflicts of the Vietnam War. The flag was a sendoff gift from coworkers in Santa Ana. It was a reminder of home and of the faces of friends and loved ones the young soldier was willing to give his life to defend.

Many made that sacrifice in the jungles, highlands, rivers and rice paddies of Vietnam, and many more have given their lives for true freedom in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The grounds outside the Heroes Hall building feature the Orange County Walk of Honor and the Medal of Honor Plaza. There are 28 plaques that tell stories of the sacrifice and heroism of these Orange County sons. One of them, Tibor Rubin, who recently passed away, survived the WWII Holocaust as a child and later joined the American Army that had liberated him. His battlefield courage in the Korean War was matched by his compassion and caring for his fellow soldiers. Captured by communist troops, he kept his comrades alive by sneaking out of camp and pilfering food. He had to wait decades to receive the Medal of Honor for his valor after it was discovered that prejudice against Rubin, who is Jewish, had kept his exploits obscured.

Workers in Orange County are rightfully proud of Heroes Hall. Members of the Orange County Employees Association provided some of the seed money to renovate an old WWII Army barracks scheduled for demolition and turn it into a new vision of a war museum, constructed by union labor. At Heroes Hall veterans can tell their own stories and help us learn what sacrifice is all about, an opportunity assisted by the union workers who provide living proof of the value of those sacrifices. It’s a great lesson on Memorial Day or any other day.

When I hear the voices or read the stories of these ordinary Americans, it reminds me that far above political partisanship, we can celebrate Memorial Day together. Americans who died to keep our country safe didn’t sacrifice their lives for members of a political party, or a religion, or even a labor union. They did it for all of us and for generations of Americans to come. As they came together to serve on our behalf, we can come together to remember them on Memorial Day.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: May 26, 2017