Memorial Day brings mixed feeling for area veterans

Every Memorial Day, John Strumsky goes to a veterans cemetery with his wife, Dawn, listens to the ceremony on the grounds and tours the grave markers.

The tradition leaves him with mixed emotions, he said.

Strumsky's emotional confusion stems from his service as a Marine from 1958 to 1962.

"I was one of those guys, who either fortunately or unfortunately, served during peace time," said the resident of the Charlestown retirement community.

"I feel proud to know that I was ready to join with that group if I was needed," the 72-year-old said. "I also feel guilty that they gave up their lifetime for my lifetime."

Despite his feelings, Strumsky will make sure veterans who have died in combat are remembered at the Catonsville retirement community where he has lived since last Memorial Day.

Strumsky created a Memorial Day display in one of the community's cases with photographs of military cemeteries and grieving spouses, parents and children of military personnel.

Some are from Strumsky's personal collection with the rest from the Internet and history books.

A sign on the display reads, "Ye who pass, pause a moment to remember those who gave a lifetime."

The display is to remind people, Strumsky said, "Memorial Day is a time for somber reflection."

During the community's Memorial Day ceremony in the Our Lady of Angels Chapel on campus Monday, Strumsky will read his poem, "For Love of Country," that he wrote a few years ago.

"I just feel like the guys who either got badly wounded or killed paid an awfully big price for what we have here," said Strumsky, a Millersville resident for 40 years before moving to Catonsville.

"A number of people didn't just give their time and energy, they put their lives on the line for us so we could live with the gifts we have here," he said.

Those gifts, Strumsky said, include living in safety with food, shelter and clothing.

"None of that came free," Strumsky said. "Somebody had to pay for that."

To Strumsky, Arbutus native John Knecht would be one of the people who paid for those gifts.

A veteran of the Korean War, Knecht, 81, now lives at Brightview Senior Living, an assisted-living facility on South Rolling Road.

He entered the Navy at age 21, and 60 years later, can still proudly list the accomplishments of his ship, the USS Oriskany.

He recalled being aboard the Oriskany when it became the first aircraft carrier to sale around Cape Horn in June 1952 because it was "too fat" to go through the Panama Canal.

As he flips through black and white photographs of the aircraft carrier, he tells of how 12 years after he got out of the service, Sen. John McCain took off from the vessel before being shot down and becoming a prisoner of war for six years in North Vietnam.

He shows his collection of color photos of the Oriskany after it was sunk in 2006 as part of a program to create artificial reefs.

Asked his feelings about Memorial Day, his voice lowers.

"Don't forget them. Let's not forget them. That's what it's all about," Knecht said.

Should the flag at Brightview stay at the top of the pole, Knecht said he will make sure it ends up at half mast, where it's supposed to be.

"I'll go out and lower the flag down," said Knecht, who uses a cane to move around. "It's a day of honor for the military."

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