As another Memorial Day approaches many Americans look on it as just another day off of work or school when they can sit around and barbecue hamburgers and drink soft drinks and beer. Yet, those of us who are veterans know the true meaning of the holiday. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was established in 1868 to honor the memory of members of the American military who have died defending the United States of America. Its first official observance was on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers, both Union and Confederate who died in the Civil War. It was later expanded to include all of the Americans who died in the wars fought by this country to preserve our freedom and it became an official Federal Holiday in 1971.
On this 2016 Memorial Day I want everyone to look at some staggering figures about our American heroes. Beginning with the American Revolution, a total of over 43,362,376 men and women have served in the U.S Military during all of the wars we have fought including the current war on terrorism. Of these, over 655,231 were killed in battle while another 540,254 have died during their service due to other causes. That is a total of 1,195,485 Americans who have died in wartime while wearing the uniform of our country. In addition, 1,468,196 have been wounded. There are currently approximately 24,000,000 military veterans still alive in our nation.
So who were these people, who as someone pointed out, wrote a blank check to their country laying their lives on the line for poor pay and often deplorable living conditions. They were and still are, our fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and friends and neighbors. They fought and they died at places that the history books often mention in passing, it they are mentioned at all. Places like Saratoga and Yorktown where our freedom was secured, and battlefields like Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, where many brave Americans died fighting each other. Then there are the battlefields of World War I like Belleau Wood where U.S. Marines fought valiantly and suffered heavy casualties to stop the German advance, and the fights during World War II on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima that opened the door for American victories in Europe and the Pacific. The ink was barely dry on the Japanese surrender document when thousands of Americans were sent to battle the communists in the Korean War.
Turn next to the Vietnam War where over 55,000 Americans died yet never lost a battle. However, though the actions of the politicians in Washington D.C. the war itself was ultimately lost and the history books blame it on the military. Yet, it was the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who fought that war were often ignored or even spat upon when they returned home. It was not until recently that their contribution to the freedom of our nation was acknowledged. To them, I can only say “Welcome Home.” Well done my brothers and sisters in arms.
Since then our valiant heroes have fought and died in Grenada, Panama, Operation Desert Storm and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, liberal politicians and members of the left wing news media continue to attack them for doing the job of defending freedom. Our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are subjected to Rules of Engagement by the current administration that severely limits their ability to protect themselves and our way of life. This is being done under the banner of “political correctness.”
There is no such thing as a “politically correct” war. When the lives of Americans are threatened and our very existence hangs in the balance there is only one way to fight, and that is to win. Our men and women in our military know this, and despite the restrictions imposed upon them by politicians who have never served in the military and know nothing about the sacrifices required, our troops continue to do their duty to us and our nation. On this Memorial Day we must honor them and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. They were and are the best of us. If we allow them to be forgotten then we inevitably lose our own identity as a free people and “the government of the people, by the people, for the people,” will indeed “perish from the earth.”
I personally will be remembering members of my family who have fought in every war since the American Revolution. I must particularly remember my father, 1LT Roy E. Connelly, and the men of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion that landed at Utah Beach on D-Day and were in combat for 26 straight days. I immortalized them in my book “The Mortarmen". My father died in 1987, and I met and spoke with many of his friends and comrades while preparing the book. Unfortunately, only a few of them are still alive. I remember them, and the comrades I lost in Vietnam as well a those heroes we have lost since.
I will ask this of each person who reads this. Enjoy your Memorial Day, but make a special effort to contact someone, whether a family member, a friend, or even a stranger, who you know has served in the military or is currently serving. Just tell them “Thank you for your service to our country”. You have no idea how much that will mean to them. Also take a moment to honor those we have lost, either by visiting the grave of a veteran, or just saying a brief prayer. They will hear you and they will know that their sacrifices were not made in vain.