Health and memorials

Memorial Day has more to do with health than one might think.

The last Monday in May marks the beginning of summer, the opening of barbecue season for those who don’t grill year ‘round, and public pool openings in many parts of the country.

It is not Veterans Day. It is not Armed Forces Day. It is not for those who came back. It honors the people who gave their last full measure of devotion to their country. It pauses for their families and their loved ones.

So the greeting is not, “Happy Memorial Day” to the servicepeople in your life or to anyone else. Better to say, “Enjoy your Memorial Day.”

We remember that between 1776-1991, 651,031 people gave their lives in battle for the United States. Another 539,054 died elsewhere while in service to our country.[1] More recently, deaths of U.S. military personnel in the Persian Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, total 8,848.

One of those lives belonged to Captain Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace, honored in a park at 2701 Commonwealth Ave., Alexandria, Virginia,[2] and at Arlington National Cemetery. When he was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor July 8, 2002, President Bush described his capture and imprisonment Oct. 29, 1963:

Eventually, he and two other Americans, Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer, were captured, bound and forced to walk barefoot to a prison camp deep within the jungle. For much of the next two years, their home would be bamboo cages, six feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high. They were given little to eat, and little protection against the elements. On nights when their netting was taken away, so many mosquitos would swarm their shackled feet it looked like they were wearing black socks.

The point was not merely to physically torture the prisoners, but also to persuade them to confess to phony crimes and use their confessions for propaganda. But Rocky's captors clearly had no idea who they were dealing with. Four times he tried to escape, the first time crawling on his stomach because his leg injuries prevented him from walking. He insisted on giving no more information than required by the Geneva Convention; and cited the treaty, chapter and verse, over and over again.

He was fluent in English, French and Vietnamese, and would tell his guards to go to hell in all three. Eventually the Viet Cong stopped using French and Vietnamese in their indoctrination sessions, because they didn't want the sentries or the villagers to listen to Rocky's effective rebuttals to their propaganda. Rocky knew precisely what he was doing. By focusing his captors' anger on him, he made life a measure more tolerable for his fellow prisoners, who looked to him as a role model of principled resistance.

Eventually the Viet Cong separated Rocky from the other prisoners. Yet even in separation, he continued to inspire them. The last time they heard his voice, he was singing "God Bless America" at the top of his lungs.

On September the 26th, 1965, Rocky's struggle ended in his execution. In his too short life, he traveled to a distant land to bring the hope of freedom to the people he never met. In his defiance and later his death, he set an example of extraordinary dedication that changed the lives of his fellow soldiers who saw it firsthand. His story echoes across the years, reminding us of liberty's high price, and of the noble passion that caused one good man to pay that price in full.[3]

What does this remembrance have to do with health?

The rich life is one lived in thanksgiving and humility.[4] The same can be said for the rich organization and the rich nation. For we stand on the shoulders of ordinary people who achieved the extraordinary. They paid liberty’s high price for us. We remember.

Enjoy our Memorial Day.


Frank Talk is a product of Cardinal Waypoint LLC, a new consultancy for health policy and leadership. You can have Cardinal Waypoint at work for you.. Contact Cardinal Waypoint here.


[1] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Affairs. America’s Wars fact sheet. Undated., retrieved 5/23/2018. Also DeBruyne N. American war and military operations casualties: lists and statistics. Congressional Research Service, Apr. 26, 2017., retrieved 5/23/2018.

[2] The Captain Roque Versace Plaza and the exhibit at the Mount Vernon Community Center are worth a visit., retrieved 5/23/2018.

[3] Excerpted from The Virtual Wall,, retrieved 5/23/2018. Read the whole entry.

[4] Sansone R, Sansone L. Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry 2010 Nov.7(11), 18-22., retrieved 5/23/2018.

Frank PurcellComment