EDITOR’S NOTE: Gina Tette’s essay about how the bravery of her Uncle John in the Vietnam War showed her the importance of Memorial Day was chosen as this year’s first-place essay in the Livonia American Legion’s annual essay contest. Gina is a Livonia resident and member of the Livonia High School Class of 2020.
Gina and her fellow top finishers were presented with theri awards during a June 16 meeting of the Legion post.
Their family members attended the ceremony. Each of the winners read their essays and were applauded for their efforts.
Tette was awarded $500 for her first place finish. Kimberly Serio and Anna Evans received $250 for their respective second and third place finishes.
Tette’s essay is below.
Last June I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. on a school trip.
Seeing my uncle’s name, John B. Tette, made my heart drop. The people around me seemed to slow, their conversations fading, until only myself and his name remained. Because, you see, that is all Uncle Johnny has ever been to me. A name. The occasional photograph. Never somebody who always called me on my birthday, or who gave the biggest hugs, or who made the best barbecue chicken, or who remembered me when I was “this tall! Now you’re so grown up!”
No, Uncle Johnny has missed our family picnics, Thanksgivings, and Easters. He missed the weddings of his seven siblings, and missed his own. He missed growing up, as he was so young when he was drafted into the Marines.
How such a young person could be so brave to give his life for our country is beyond me. How anyone could be so brave, really. This is truly what Memorial Day means to me – it’s about honoring the courage that America’s troops possess and display every day. In the back of their minds, they know they might not be back for their own family gatherings, holidays, and celebrations. But that thought does not deter them from protecting the freedoms of this country.
My dad once told me that when his brother, my Uncle John, passed, he said that he wanted to join the army so he could get revenge on the man who killed his brother. My grandma said to him, “Absolutely not. You will pray for the man who killed your brother.”
That story has always stayed with me.
War is tragic, and its consequences horrific. No person wants to march into battle and kill someone’s brother, someone’s uncle, someone’s son. But our soldiers don’t have that choice. The choice they DO have is the one they make when they decide to protect their country at all costs. Memorial Day is so incredibly important because we cannot let their bravery go unnoticed. We have to honor those who constantly face the horrifying tragedies of war so we don’t have to. Our soldiers exemplify true patriotism, and we should always celebrate them.
Gazing at the name of my brave uncle in D.C., I felt more than sadness. I felt pride and love for a man that always knew he might never return home, but who fought regardless. He placed our freedom over his own, and he is worth honoring.
Memorial Day is so important to me, not only to remember my family but to remember the family of countless others who never saw their loved ones again, or who, like me, did not even get to meet them in the first place.
If there’s one thing I want my Uncle Johnny to know, it’s that his courage means the world to me. Though I never knew him, the fact that he gave his life for me and for all of America shows me he loves me more than anything else could.