It’s a couple of weeks away as I write this, but too many people don’t, or won’t, understand the meaning behind Memorial Day. I read somewhere that veterans from World War Two are dying at the rate of 1000 a day and, if that’s true, we are losing a national treasure.
Every veteran, of any hot war, returns home a changed person. However they went into the service, and remember it’s all volunteer, they come back forever changed.
Pat Tillman, who is the only celebrity that I can name right now, went to war when he didn’t have to. In World War Two, big name Hollywood stars went to war without being drafted. Some everyday guys who were in the service, came back and became big stars. Combat veterans, every single one of them, have stories that should be told, but mostly never are.
You cannot go anywhere in the United States, on any day, and not run into a veteran…whether you know he’s a veteran or not. If you know a veteran, thank them for their service, because whatever they did, or sacrificed, allows the rest of us to live as we do. They are, as a class, very close-mouthed about what they did, what they saw and how it affected them. Now and then I see old movies on the TV about World War Two and think that there has to be a grain of truth in the story.
There were Army Air Corps(that’s what they called the Air Force then) commanding officers that surely agonized about sending hundreds of young men to fly into flak-filled skies over Europe. The death rate of the combined groups that made up the 8th Air Force was nothing short of horrific.
The war in the Pacific was equally terrible, perhaps even more so because the enemy, the Japanese, had no problems being kamakazi pilots and flying to their death onto ships of the US Navy. The Japanese army, and a lot of civilians had been taught that the Americans were barbarians and so they chose to fight to the last man. Many civilians jumped off cliffs, with their children, rather than be captured by the Americans.
The island hopping strategy took a tremendous toll on Marines and soldiers charging onto a nearly-naked beach and facing killing zones of machine guns set up by the Japanese.
Throughout American history, the US Navy has taken care of business…from the shores of Tripoli where we sent a small detachment of Marines and quelled the Barbary Pirates, to the Strait of Hormuz where elements of our Navy keep the shipping lanes open.
Korea, which was my war, although I didn’t see combat, pitted American forces, sometimes in near freeze-to-death weather, against a North Korean army and, by proxy but sometimes directly, a Chinese army of overwhelming odds and the US Eighth Army suffered a decisive defeat.
The two Gulf wars, for whatever reason they were started, had US forces not only fighting a declared enemy but, for the first time, their own government which had installed some Rules For Engagement that put American forces at a disadvantage.
Although it was an important event, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, was mostly symbolic in its importance. We are now engaged in a battle, albeit an undeclared war, with a shadowy enemy who could be right alongside an American trooper on any given day. To this day, volunteer members of the armed forces face the possibility of green-on-blue attacks.
So, my friends, from World War One, which was supposed to be the war to end all wars, and from which we got troops that were gassed, that were introduced to mechanized warfare with the introduction of the tank, and going even further back, to our own war between the states…there is a reason, a very good reason, to observe Memorial Day. Not for the automobile sales, not for the department store sales, and not for appliance sales…it is a day to memorialize our fallen, our wounded, our heroes, men and women who experienced horror and may never speak about it. The last Monday in May is, and should be, recognized as a time to honor them.
Remember…all gave some, some gave all.
Larry Usoff, US Navy Retired, www.AirHumanityRadio.net