Shaping the future by remembering the past
April 24, 2010
- Soldiers at COB Basrah in southern Iraq hold Days of Remembrance Commemorative Service in recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Month
- From April 11-18, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum led the nation in honoring the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust
Proudly wearing his yamulka, Maj. Michael Milliron, deputy for logistics operations for 1st Infantry Division, sat reverently, his face appearing perplexed.
Perhaps he was asking himself the same question many of the Soldiers sitting around him likely were: "How could this have happened'" It's a question asked many times in the 65 years since the Holocaust ended.
These Soldiers from the 1st Inf. Div. were gathered for the Days of Remembrance Commemorative Service April 14, 2010, at Contingency Operating Base Basra. The service was conducted by the 1st Inf. Div Equal Opportunity office as a way to reflect on the Jewish Holocaust.
From April 11-18, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum led the nation in commemorating the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, as well as the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution, with commemorative services around the U.S. and at military bases overseas.
This year's theme is "Stories of Freedom: What You Do Matters," and encourages all Americans to reflect on the power of individuals to create a more just and humane world.
Milliron said that it is difficult to imagine entire groups of people being singled-out for elimination.
"It's our responsibility to remember; if we don't remember, there's a possibility that something like this will happen again," said the Syracuse, N.Y. native.
The U.S. Holocaust Museum has written nearly 600 personal biographies that chronicle the experiences of men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust, as well as the survivors.
As part of the service, 1st Inf. Div. sergeants major, led by 1st Inf. Div. Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Champagne, read some of the personal histories to the solemn audience. Each life story was visibly moving to its reader and the audience.
Sgt. Maj. Matthew Cloyd, 1st Inf. Div. operations sergeant major, a native of Sterling Heights, Mich., read the story of Marcus Fass, who was killed in 1943. Afterward, he reflected on the true meaning of the commemoration.
"It is through these ceremonies, when we pause to reflect and remember, that we provide ourselves with the mechanism to stave off the sins of the past and improve the world we leave for those to come," Cloyd said.
Other Soldiers were similarly moved.
"It's important to have the knowledge of what happened; we need to share it with young people to prevent further hatred. It's good to see people have come a long way since that time, and to know that things can always get better," said Sgt. Maj. Marvin Parker, 1st Inf. Div. logistics and sustainment sergeant major, from Grenada, Miss.
The story he read told of a woman named Helene Lebel, who was born and raised in Vienna, Austria, and perished at Brandenburg, confined due to a mental illness.
The stories that were shared left a deep impression on those involved.
"I was tremendously honored to participate in the Days of Remembrance Observance," said Sgt. Maj. Teddy Compton, a 1st Inf. Div. personnel sergeant major and Burlington, N.C. native. "The Holocaust was, without a doubt, one of the darkest periods in our world's history. Reading the names and stories of these victims and survivors helped me to understand that the victims were human beings and not just a huge list of names."
As part of the week-long remembrance, many Soldiers on COB Basra participated in the reading of names of Holocaust victims April 12-14.
Staff Sgt. Yuri Brown from Mesa, Ariz., who works in counter-intelligence with 1st Inf. Div., read names during all three days.
"My German mother thought it was important for me to know the history of Germany, good and bad, so I know these people should be honored, because of what they went through," Brown said.
A total of 4,715 names were read over the three-day period, twice during the lunch meal on April 12 and 13, then again after the completion of the April 14 service. The original goal, set at 1,000, was surpassed the first day. In the end, 61 Soldiers participated. Champagne read 1,111 names.
The National Holocaust Memorial Museum, based in Washington, D.C., provided the names of those affected by the Holocaust to the 1st Inf. Div.'s EO office.
The museum also provided the EO office with biographies, time-line posters, handouts and the personal stories read at the remembrance service as well as a short, but touching, film.
Maj. Christine Pacheco, from Corozal, Puerto Rico, who manages the EO office, said she felt the event had a positive impact.
"I gauged the success of this by community and leadership involvement, which we had; and, above all, the strong message and emphasis on 'What We Do Matters'."
The EO office conducts the Days of Remembrance annually at Fort Riley, Kan., where 1st Inf. Div. is based, but this was the first time they included the name-reading event. Pacheco and her team were pleased with the results and thanked the supporters.
Spc. Elizabeth Peterson and Staff Sgt. Tracy Birdsong, both vocalists with the division band, read names April 12 and 13. The duo also performed with other members of the "Spirit of the First" choral ensemble at the remembrance ceremony along with the 1st Inf. Div.'s Brass Quintet.
Peterson, from Decatur, Ala., a signal support systems specialist, Signal Company, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, is a volunteer vocalist for the band. She said she feels it is important to follow the theme of 'Do Something That Matters.'
"To read their name is a small thing, but to remember them and that this happened is significant," she said.
In the film shown at the remembrance service, Holocaust Survivor Estelle Laughlin encourages viewers to always remember.
"Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand. That is where our redemption is."