This weekend America celebrates Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor the men and women who have died in service to the United States. The Civil War ended on May 5, 1868, and “Decoration Day” was established three years later to honor both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that great conflict. Major General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. This day was known as Decoration Day until January 1971 when Congress made the “Monday Holiday Law” and changed the day to the last Monday in May and the name to Memorial Day.
The Civil War cost the lives of at least 625,000 and maybe as many as 750,000 men. In comparison, World War I cost 116,516 American lives, World War II cost 405,399, the Korean War cost 33,686, the Vietnam War cost 58,209, the Iraq War cost 4,404, and Afghanistan has cost 4,086 lives thus far – and there are still other wars and other casualties. The casualties in these six wars fall short of the lives lost in the Civil War!
Alan Caruba wrote a wonderful article entitled “Our Honored Dead” and included the following paragraphs. “War has been an integral part of America’s history, a nation that began with a long, eight year conflict from 1775 to 1783 in which an estimated 25,000 died. On this Memorial Day most Americans will be thinking of the casualties of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that followed in the wake of 9/11. Our troops are stationed all over the world because, after World War II, the nation’s mission has been to ensure peace, but they have fought since then in Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada, Panama, in the first Persian War (1990-1991), intervening in Somalia, Bosnia, an air campaign in the former Yugoslavia, and the Middle East where our troops have since been withdrawn from Iraq (2003-2011) and will be out of Afghanistan in 2014….
“Memorial Day is a day to remember that the history of war is also the history of civilization; wars fought for conquest and as often as not initiated by those whose thirst for power was the cause. War is often called the interval between periods of peace. The Romans used to say `Si vis pacem, para bellum.’ If you want peace, prepare for war.
“Those of us who have worn the uniform of our armed forces have a special bond with those who preceded us.
“It is astonishing how many men sacrificed their lives for an America striving to be born and one that has had to engage in a number of conflicts to maintain itself; to expand from coast to coast; to preserve the Union and, in the last century and the beginning of this one, to protect those around the world seeking relief from oppression.
“We have not seen the end of war, nor will our grandchildren.”
As I prepare to commemorate Memorial Day on Monday, I am grateful for the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. I am grateful for their service and for their willingness to stand between enemies and my family. I recognize that members of our Armed Forces do not fight because they hate the “enemy” but because they love what they left behind – their families and homes. I am grateful for their families who support them and make sacrifices of their own.
I think of my husband’s maternal grandmother who sent six sons off to fight in World War II. I cannot imagine how she stayed mentally sane knowing that her sons were in danger and not having good communications with them. Her oldest son, Ernest, was injured several times but was patched up and sent back into the war. I believe that a miracle took place when all six sons returned home whole in body. The two youngest sons served in the military after World War II, one in Korea and one in Germany.
I think of my father-in-law who joined the Navy during World War II. His ship was in San Francisco preparing to set sail, and he was on shore leave. A black out took place, and he had to return to the ship in the pitch dark night. He was hit by a truck and spent the remainder of the war in the hospital with a broken back. He spent the rest of his life suffering the results of having his back broken.