Michael G. Harris, Pleasant Hill Mayor

Remembering those on the battlefront – and homefront – on Memorial Day

Michael G. Harris, Pleasant Hill MayorCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (May 29, 2022) — While Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died serving our country, it’s also an opportunity to remember all who served our country in times of war and peace.

The significance of Memorial Day became abundantly clear to me when I visited Washington D.C.’s famous National Mall a few years ago.

I was awed by the grandeur of the World War II Memorial and its tribute to those who fought in that war, including my father, father-in-law and uncles.

I was haunted by the anguish on the faces of the GIs on patrol in the Korean War Memorial. As I read the names on the granite walls of the Vietnam Memorial, I wept openly.

While on the Mall, I was struck by two overpowering emotions: a great sense of sorrow for the thousands who lost their lives defending our country and a great sense of pride for the sacrifices made by those who fought to preserve the principles that make our country great.


Three individuals epitomize the sacrifice of those who serve our country. My father was drafted in 1944 when I was barely 1 year old. He served most of World War II in a remote area of India. Conditions were horrible. No real sanitation. Filth everywhere. While he saw no action, he was nonetheless a victim of the war.

When he came home years later, he was a stranger to me, having sacrificed the formative years of my life to serve his country. He died far too young, at 56, from multiple myeloma. His doctor thought his exposure to toxins in India caused his disease. Thus, he was a casualty of World War II along with those who died at Normandy.

I got to know Larry Block when I married his daughter Dawn 27 years ago. A child of the depression, Larry had a hard life in a poor family living on Coney Island. Like many of his generation, Larry dropped out of high school to fight in World War II. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy at 17. Why the Navy? He really loved their spiffy uniforms, especially the jaunty hat. What Larry didn’t know was that he would be ghastly seasick every day on board a ship.

Larry served on one of the first ships to land at Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped. He died a few years ago from colon cancer, probably triggered by his exposure to radiation at Nagasaki. Like so many others, he too gave his life to keep America free.


My mother never served in the military, but she epitomized the sacrifice of those who serve their country in times of war – like so many women of her generation. She raised her son while her husband served his country. My father and uncles were serving overseas, so to save money, my mother and I moved into a small flat with my grandparents, aunts and cousin.

What I know about those years was told to me by my mother before she died a couple years ago at the age of 102. She remembered the hardship they endured to make ends meet. It wasn’t easy, but somehow she did wonders with her ration book. Keeping families together while spouses serve our country remains challenging today.

When Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he wrote we were “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” With all due respect, I think he got it wrong. We are the land of the free because we are the home of the brave.

Please join the Pleasant Hill community on Memorial Day in honoring all who served our country at home and abroad. Thank them for the sacrifices they made to keep our great country “the land of the free.”

Email questions and comments for Mayor Harris to mharris4ph@gmail.com