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The heroes and hell of war

Mike Russell salutes as the Tupper Lake High School band plays the national anthem on Monday, Memorial Day. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — At a Memorial Day service in Veterans Memorial Park, the crowd gathered on Park Street was asked to spend time thinking about the more than 1.4 million men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military, the decisions that led to the conflicts they fought in and the heroes who emerged, or didn’t.

Michael Fouse, a decorated retired Army service member from Malone, gave a speech highlighting some of those people.

Fouse spoke of Cindy Beaudoin, an Army specialist from Connecticut who was killed when her convoy struck a land mine on its way to Kuwait on Feb. 28, 1991. Just a few hours earlier, then-President George H.W. Bush had called a cease-fire.

She was 19 and a freshman in college.

Fouse quoted from a letter she wrote to her parents.

Michael Fouse, a retired Army service member from Malone, speaks about war, loss and the meaning of Memorial Day on Monday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“I didn’t come here to be a hero. I came here because my country needed me to be here,” Beaudoin wrote. “I’m here … helping to bring down a very deranged tyrant (Saddam Hussein). If I should die while helping to achieve this then I didn’t die in vain.”

Fouse also spoke about Ferdi and Alfred Lebrecht, brothers from a Jewish family who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. Seven years after they arrived in America, they were both killed in action fighting the Nazis in Europe.

Fouse called these fallen soldiers “heroes” and said they did not die in vain, although the price borne by the families they leave behind is always painful. For those who have not experienced it, this loss can be hard to understand, he said, but everyone can support veterans through making donations to organizations, wearing the vibrant poppy flower representing the sacrifice of soldiers, or thanking veterans for their service.

Wars are often unpopular, he acknowledged, and for good reason. He shared Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous quote that “War is hell.”

Sometimes the mission is clear, he said, as in World War II. Other times it is more like “a fog-clouded forest on a dark night.”

Mark Moeller, commander of the American Legion Post 220 in Tupper Lake, lays a wreath in Veterans Memorial Park on Monday, Memorial Day. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

“War is often not the best policy, but the heroes that those wars produce are the best of America,” Fouse said. “No matter what the critics say about America, can a nation that produces such remarkable men and women be anything but a force for good?”

Still, he also said everyone should strive to create a better country.

“We should always remember, the decisions leading to war are those of the policy-makers, not the veterans themselves,” Fouse said. “Can we insist that our policy-makers always consider the true cost of their decisions and only send men and women to war when all other options are exhausted?”

Mark Moeller, commander of the American Legion Post 220 in Tupper Lake, explained to the civilians how to read the medals and decorations on Fouse’s uniform.

It was clear he was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces, and his Combat Infantryman Badge showed he fought in active combat. Moeller said Fouse was one of the soldiers who entered Afghanistan soon after 9/11.

Tupper Lake Honor Guard member Ray Tarbox lays a wreath in Veterans Memorial Park on Monday, Memorial Day. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

Less obvious, though, were the three Bronze Star Medals, each awarded for “heroic or meritorious achievement or service.”

Fouse gives talks to veterans on Homeward Bound retreats in the North Country. Moeller said he helps them with the “invisible wounds of war,” such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Homeward Bound recently purchased 100 acres of land near Lake Titus to build its own retreat center here. Moeller said the group is raising money to construct the camp.

Tupper Lake High School music teacher Elizabeth Cordes conducts the band through a medley of patriotic songs on Memorial Day, Monday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

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