Take a moment to remember a veteran this Memorial Day
In June of 1965, a month after graduating from Providence College, Dan Millea found himself in Washington state to start his training in an army hospital at Fort Lewis. After a year of training, he went on leave the next June. “Naturally, I came to Block Island,” he said. “I stayed in the Ocean View the night before it burned down.” Then he was shipped over to Vietnam.
Millea found himself in a place called Pleiku, in the central highlands near the Cambodian border, stationed with the 4th Infantry Division at a fire station called 3 Tango. (A fire station provides cover fire for ground troops, and is often on the receiving end of enemy fire, said Millea.)
When asked what he thought about being in the army, Millea said he didn’t really think anything of it. He had signed up for ROTC four years earlier, “so I had been preparing for this mission.” He was 22 years old.
Today, Millea understands that there is a division in society. The draft was ended by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, and now there “is a military world and a civilian world,” Millea said. But Millea also didn’t think bringing the draft back was necessarily a good thing.
“The draft breeds resentment because many people feel forced into something they don’t want to do,” he said. “I never felt it because I signed up for it. It gives you excellent training that you might not find anything else. The French call it ‘esprit de corps’, but to experience it you have to be part of the corps. It’s valuable, but not for everybody.”
Millea, who left the Army with the rank of captain, said he was inspired to do his part on Memorial Day by the late Merrill Slate. “Merrill is buried on the hillside overlooking the American Legion Hall, which is appropriate [the Hall is named after Slate], and he always took it to heart to take down the tattered flags,” Millea said.
Millea gradually took over that gesture, and he and a group of islanders now make sure that the graves of veterans at the Island Cemetery are well-tended for the holiday. A total of 135 Block Island residents have been killed in action, and there are veterans from every conflict from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam buried in the Island Cemetery, although Millea said that islanders have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
On this Memorial Day, Millea said there was something important everyone can do.
“Whether you call it Decoration Day, Memorial Day, Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day, it doesn’t matter as long as you remember what the veterans did,” Millea said. “And what they sacrificed.”
Millea reminded everyone that there is only one proper way to destroy an old American flag, and that is to burn it. “Anybody who has a worn or tattered flag can drop it off at the Legion Hall,” he said. “You can just put it right inside the screen door and we’ll take care of the flag.” If anyone has an old flag they would like to discard, they should do so before next Tuesday, May 28, when the Legion will be burning flags.