‘I’ll Do It Over Again If I Need To:’ Veterans on Patriotism and Sacrifice

Memorial Day may mean beach time, and the start of summer for a lot of people, but for those who have witnessed the cost of freedom themselves, like Peter Cairney, the day means a lot more.

“During the Persian Gulf war, I had a midnight meal with a buddy and I went to sleep. And when I woke up in the morning, I found out he had been killed overnight,” Cairney, who served as a Marine, told NTD after the opening ceremony of Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day parade in New York. The parade is the largest one on Memorial Day in the nation.

Though the parade remains as grand and as welcomed as it has been for the past ninety years, Cairney feels that many people in the country have lost sight of the true meaning of Memorial Day, which he said should not just be barbeques and parties but an opportunity to take a moment of silence for the fallen and their families.

Peter Cairney Marine veteran
Peter Cairney, who served as a Marine during the Persian Gulf war, said people should take the day as an opportunity to remember the fallen. (Penny Zhou/NTD)

“I think about him,” Cairney said about a fellow officer he lost in the Persian Gulf war. “He had a young daughter who is probably a grown woman now. She grew up without a father.”

Just as 30 years is never long enough for Cairney to forget his buddy, age is not stopping 70-year-old Arthur Grabiner from remembering his military experience.

As a veteran who served in the Navy on the Pacific Ocean during World War Two, Grabiner recalled how close he was to never coming home again.

“It was cloudy and over the sun, the plane (of the enemy) came out and hit the ship right on the side of us. 400 yards away…So we were lucky,” he said of one incident when he and other officers were on the lookout deck of their ship.

World War II veteran Arthur Grabiner
World War II veteran Arthur Grabiner recalls how close he was to never coming home again. (Miguel Moreno/NTD)

But there are less lucky ones. Even for those who did come back home alive, “They came back with post-traumatic stress, other injuries, besides physical… mental—a lot of them for the rest of their lives,” Sebastian D’Agostino, a veteran who served in South Korea in the 1950s said.

As huge as the cost was, D’Agostino said he was proud that the United States not only fought for its own freedom, but for that of others.

“People don’t realize what we were doing,” he said. “If we didn’t do it, who knows … the whole world could be communism.”

Even after witnessing all the sacrifices that are made, D’Agostino still said: “I’ll do it over again if I need to. And I’ll do a lot more.”