Remembering the Ultimate Sacrifice of our Fallen Heroes
Memorial Day is celebrated across America on the last Monday of May to honor men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it began soon after the Civil War, but didn’t become an official national holiday until 1971. We celebrate this three-day weekend with barbecues, picnics, parades, and memorials. It is unofficially known as the start of summer. But sadly, many Americans don’t think about, or commemorate the significance of Memorial Day.
I’m as excited as everyone else about having an extra day off to enjoy time with family and friends, and cook some burgers on the Weber! But I also make a point to take time to participate in something that remembers our fallen heroes, the ultimate sacrifice they made, and how our freedom and liberty has been preserved because of them. I’ll talk more about this later.
Many, Many Have Fallen
Years ago I read that over 50,000 of our military men and women died in Vietnam. For this article I decided to find out what the total U.S. wartime military deaths are. Per the chart below, I was wrong about Vietnam by almost half! It was a travesty the way these vets were treated when they returned home. I’m so thankful that they have finally been given the honor and dignity that they deserve- the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a testament to this. In all, I was shocked to learn that over 1.1 million of our servicemen and women have died in war! I was also very surprised that more soldiers died in the Civil War than in World War 2.
The Greatest Generation
Despite the fact that less American service people died in WW2 than in the Civil War, there is no doubt that the latter war posed a much graver threat to our existence. In the late 1930’s the U.S. had an isolationist view regarding the expansionistic exploits of both Germany and Japan. That all changed of course on December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day FDR declared war on Japan. A few days later Germany, Italy, and Japan declared war on the United States. BAD DECISION!
Long-time NBC news journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” in his book with the same title. In it he discusses the generation who grew up in the U.S. during the Great Depression, who then went on to fight in World War II. He also described those whose productivity at the home front made a decisive material contribution to the war effort. My grandma Nan was one of those people. After her husband deserted her and her three girls in Kentucky, she moved north to Warren, MI to begin a new life. She worked in a Chrysler factory that converted cars into tanks (if my memory serves me right).
Paying my Respects
I never served in the military. I was too young during Vietnam, and when I turned 19, I chose college over the service. My older brother of 10 years, David, was drafted during Vietnam and joined the Navy. My younger brother Kyle is also a Navy veteran. Yet, despite my not serving, I have always been deeply patriotic and grateful for our armed forces.
Earlier I mentioned that I take time during Memorial weekend to do something to remember our slain soldiers. On Saturday I visited the U.S.S. Iowa museum in Long Beach, CA. It was the first time I’d ever been on a U.S. warship. It was both an amazing and humbling experience. The Iowa is a battleship class ship that was an instrumental component of the Pacific Fleet that brought the fight to Japan. One of the curators aboard the Iowa told me that the ship sat beside the U.S.S. Missouri during Japan’s surrender to the U.S. I also paid my respects today to our military heroes by visiting the Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park & Mortuary in Costa Mesa, CA. It was their 62nd annual gathering and my fourth. I’ve had the privilege of enjoying this tradition with my two adult children.
God Bless America
I’m so thankful that millions of Americans, military and civilian, joined together and utilized their talents and patriotism to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in WW2. I agree with Mr. Brokaw that they were the greatest generation. But I also know that we will always rise to the occasion in any generation to protect not only our liberty and freedom, but also those of other nations. The War on Terror is a case in point. I have no doubt that the current threat of ISIS will be defeated in due time. Good always triumphs over evil!
Did you do anything special for Memorial Day? Please share below!