Among my several dozen odd habits is a daily reading of the local obituaries. I’m not a ghoul, I simply want to avoid the awkward conversation with an old friend, “So Skip, how’s your mom doing?” After several years of perusing the Irish Sports Pages, a couple of things became clear.

First, the middle class isn’t what it used to be. After World War II mom stayed home to raise the kids (Rosie’s riveting days were over) and dad went to work. Dad drove a bread truck, worked on the line at Bendix or taught history in high school. Mom and Dad bought a house, owned a car or two, barbequed with the neighbors, raised the kids, and probably sent most of them to college. They didn’t live fancy lives, but they got by and they retired comfortably.

Nowadays jobs like these don’t pay much (if they exist at all), both spouses have to work to own a home and, more often than not, the kids have to mortgage their future to pay for college. A sad state of affairs, and a problem begging for creative solutions. Education is clearly part of the answer and I believe that low-cost higher education alternatives, including community colleges and for-profit colleges, will be a big part of the solution.

Second, military service looms large in people’s minds. You can tell by the language and the word count just how important it is.

You don’t read, “Harold honorably studied art history at Penn State,” or “Ben proudly cream-filled Devil Dogs for Hostess Cakes.” But you do read, “Johnny Boy, as he was known to his family, distinguished himself on the beaches of Normandy during the Allied Invasion of Europe. For his heroism, he received the Bronze Star.”

So why pay all this attention such a short period in a person’s life?

The answer is simple: the military is the one place where the son of a hardware store clerk can be a hero. Bigger than life. Selfless. A place where a regular Joe from Queens can walk alongside the 300 at Thermopylae. And a place where the bonds between brothers are forged in shared misery, sweat and terror.

I am sure traveling baseball players are good buddies, but they never got shot at, shelled, or fended off bayonets together. They never trudged through sucking mud or ate cold rations together. Or saw a friend die.

So this Memorial Day, please take a moment to say thank you to a veteran.

You are probably related to one.

– Bob Gagliano

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