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Memorial Day weekend has arrived right on time. Most of us will be witness to myriad celebrations throughout the land, from the largest city to the smallest township. If we choose to tune in, we’ll see the mother lode of all celebrations, which takes place in our nation’s capital each year. It will honor all of our military branches and pay special tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives in service to our country. Included, as has come to be tradition, will be those few poignant letters from fathers to sons and daughters serving on the front lines.
All of these celebrations are sincere. With the exception of an infinitesimally small percentage of jerks, we sincerely care about and remember our fallen war dead. For most, who have no direct connection to those who have died, the concern is mercifully clinical. But, if you’re the parents, spouse, child, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or friend of a fallen combatant, the loss is gut-wrenchingly personal.
People who have served in combat roles enjoy a special bond. They don’t use words like “brave” and “courage.” During my two combat tours in Viet Nam, I never heard a single combatant use either of them in relation to battlefield conduct. This is because, in the throes of combat, it’s not about bravery or courage. It’s about staying alive and doing the job.
There is no dishonor in wanting to stay alive, but for combat forces, successful completion of the mission and the protection of fellow combatants ARE primary motivators. If death overtakes us in our attempts to accomplish these, so be it. Combatants call it dying with honor and it’s always been a much stronger motivator than staying alive at all costs.
Aside from the short statement that follows, I’m not going to belabor or politicize this week’s topic. But, I have had it up to my eyeballs with Congress and the White House bickering over what their respective sides are doing in the best interests of the “troops.” Wars have never been about the troops. Dave Ross, a CBS commentator, said it best. Click here to listen. [NOTE:] This link worked when I tested it, but if it fails for you, go to http://daveross.com/index.html and click on Dave Ross on CBS. Scroll down to Doing it for the troops? Prove it!
On this Memorial Day, remember our military forces. While you’re doing this, remember that 1,000 more of them have died since last Memorial Day. Relative to Iraq, since the famous “Mission Accomplished” banner, over 3,000 troops have died. The latest numbers for U. S. combat deaths that I’ve been able to find are (as of May 26, 2007) 3,439 confirmed dead and 15 deaths pending confirmation, bringing the total to 3,454.
Let’s stuff the partisan bickering about the decision to wage this war in the first place. It doesn’t matter now, nor has it mattered since the day we invaded. The fact is that we DID. What matters is that we currently have a list of 3,454 dead military personnel. Their watches have ended and they stand relieved. This number will continue to increase each day unless we begin providing our remaining forces with what they need to complete their mission successfully. Then we need to get them safely home as quickly as possible. At the very least, this will be infinitely more effective than talking about it—the part that we’ve become so adept at mastering. Again, I refer you to Dave Ross of CBS.
Tomorrow, I will be visiting a friend of mine from our days as combatants in Viet Nam. He lives his life within the confines of a mental hospital because he sometimes still thinks that he’s in the jungles of Viet Nam. He’s a frail, shell of the man he was so long ago. He cringes and climbs into a fetal position at the sound of loud noises, especially thunder.
Back then, at 6-feet, 3-inches tall and 238 pounds, he was a member of an elite special operations force called the Rangers. He was proud, dedicated, and reliable: what officers called a good soldier. In fact, he was the kind of soldier who, if he had your flank and the enemy still got though, you knew, instinctively, that he was dead.
Rest easy, Mark, I’ve got your flank. As for the rest of you, I’ll be back next week doing my level best to… oh, I don’t know. I’ll think of something.
Joseph Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Copyright laws apply to all material on this site. Send your comments. Just click here.