SOLANA BEACH — Like most Americans, Nico Marcolongo spends Memorial Day honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, including some of his friends during his two tours in Iraq.
The Solana Beach resident and Marine Corps veteran also uses it as a learning opportunity for his Little League team and doesn’t limit his tribute to a single day in May.
The names of Solana Beach’s fallen servicemen are on his Fightin’ Phillies team banner so they are remembered throughout the season. And since 2012 Marcolongo has organized a Memorial Day scrimmage, open to all age-appropriate players in the league.
“The intent is so kids can understand what’s happened,” he said.
The opening ceremony for the May 25 game included the national anthem, sung by Alyson Tharp, and a brief history of Memorial Day.
Marcolongo told the boys the holiday began in 1868 and was originally called Decoration Day because people decorated the graves of the more than 600,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War.
He also explained the meaning of the holiday.
“You have the freedom to express yourself,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about bombs going off in your neighborhood. Not every country is like that.
“People like this,” he said, pointing to the names and pictures on the banner, “signed up to defend this nation so we can live freely. A lot of them were young when they died. Some were only about five or six years older than some of you.”
They include World War II veterans Joseph Chiles, Jesus Covarrubias, Frank Dawson, Richard Dose, Alexander Hunt, Simon Lynde, Joseph Mettan and Pedro Osorio, as well as Vietnam War veterans Harvey Aiau, Raphael Cruz, Charles Hendricks, Victor Lopez, Thomas Mericantante and Joseph Tworek.
Marcolongo also had an opportunity to explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day when one player asked why they weren’t honoring those who survive wars.
Most of the players have family members who have served their country, but few if any know people who have died while at war.
So Marcolongo explained how they can pay tribute to someone they don’t know.
“Some of my buddies didn’t make it back,” he said. “They sacrificed so you can have the freedom to do what you want and say what you want. So let’s use it for the common good.
“Just as they looked out for their buddies on the battlefield, you look out for your buddies on the playing field and at school.”
Marcolongo’s 11-year-old son, Rocco, has played in the scrimmage every year and sees it as a chance to do something fun while honoring those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
“We get to get together to play baseball and remember the people who died in the wars and all the things they did,” Rocco said. “We learn about the people and what happened in the wars. My dad talks about his friends who died and who might have died and his experiences.”
About two dozen players between the ages of 8 and 12 came out for this year’s scrimmage, in which Team Freedom outscored Team Liberty 7-6.