Mayor’s Column: Remember the fallen this Memorial Day

Mayor Mignogna reflects on the death of a childhood friend who sacrificed his life in the Vietnam War.

Memorial Day evokes different feelings in all of us. For many, it is the unofficial beginning of summer. For others, it is a day for barbecues, picnics and parades. For all, it should be a day to honor those Americans who gave their lives for our country. For me, Memorial Day holds a memory I have shared in this column before and I feel the need to share yet again.

Larry Virgilio was my friend. He lived down the street in the Fairview section of Camden where I grew up. Even though he was older than me and most of my other friends, he always seemed to find time for us. He was usually the “steady quarterback” in our football games on the Yorkship Schoolyard.

I was only eight-years-old. My mind was focused on playing ball, riding bikes and watching cartoons. The Vietnam War was not a concept I could comprehend. When Larry left to fight for our country in Vietnam, I assumed he would be home soon.

In the summer of 1967, like all other summers growing up, my family rented a home for a week in Wildwood. Some of my most vivid childhood memories occurred in Wildwood — most of them fond.

But one vacation morning, I walked into the kitchen to find my mom and dad sitting at the table with tears falling from my mother’s eyes with a newspaper in her hand. She told me that my friend, Larry, had been killed in Vietnam at the tender age of 25-years-old.

Suddenly, the concept of war took on a whole new meaning.

In 1988, I made my first visit to the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Seeing “The Wall” for the first time was quite an emotional experience. Some visitors knelt in prayer, some left tokens of remembrance, while others sketched the names of their loved ones onto a piece of paper. I walked slowly along the memorial and, on Panel 23E Line 117, the name “Lawrence J. Virgilio” was etched into the black granite. Though only .53 inches in height, the letters spoke volumes.

I sketched my friend’s name on a small piece of paper and mailed it to his family. I included a note assuring them that Larry was still in my thoughts and that I was honored to be the friend of a true hero.

Larry’s late brother, Nick Virgilio, was a world-renowned Haiku poet.

Following Larry’s death, Nick dedicated much of his poetry to the memory of Larry and other fallen heroes:

“flag-covered coffin: the shadow of the bugler slips into the grave”

“my gold star mother and father hold each other and the folded flag”

Honor our fallen heroes by enjoying the barbecues, parades and picnics. Honor them by embracing your family. Honor them by cherishing your freedom. They would have wanted it that way.