The temptation to write another column about fishing would have been an easy way to avoid a difficult subject in the 21st century.
I thought long and hard about what to write about for this week’s column. I decided to forget fishing for one column and write what should be written when remembering those that have fallen on the battle fields of U.S. history that began with the Revolutionary War.
When one is closer to 100 than he is to 30, Memorial Day takes on a completely different meaning than it did when naïve and young. Reflecting back over more than six decades of memories filled with stories from my great-grandparents talking about the Civil War and how it displaced and polarized so many people, one wonders how the United States has remained united and independent.
Then came the Indian Wars, the battle for San Juan Hill and World War I, when the Kaiser of Germany began to threaten all of Western Europe and ultimately the U.S. My mother’s father enlisted as a bugle boy in the Army during this war as a student at the University of Missouri. He lied about his age in order to join his fellow students in the fight against the Kaiser and to “save the world” as he put it to me in the early ’50s. He brought home his tin pot, they called helmets in WWI, which had a bullet hole and a good-sized dent in the side of it and gave it me in the mid-50s. I thought my granddad was a hero, but he told me the real heroes were buried on the battlefields of France, Italy and Germany.
World War II followed as Adolf Hitler thought he was the destined ruler of the world. Without the help of more young American men, Hitler might have accomplished his grandiose plans for establishing world dominance. At the Battle of the Bulge on the beaches of Normandy, my father’s brother and an uncle, as well as second cousins I would never meet, were sacrificed for the greater good in this historic battle to prevent a genuine madman from taking over the continent of Europe, the Middle East and Russia.
My dad served in the Army as a military policeman during that war, but due to the death of my uncle, he was not allowed to fight the battle across the Atlantic.
Korea came next and my uncle and Dad’s younger brother proudly stepped up to serve in the Air Force in the Pacific to defend Korea and to also keep the now-conquered country of Japan free from another madman.
My mother’s brother was enrolled in college when WWII broke out, so he wasn’t drafted to fight, but instead was enlisted to do his duty to America fighting forest fires in Montana and other western states.
Then came the Vietnam War. I was in high school when the fighting first began in Vietnam and Cambodia. By my freshman year in college, the entire citizenry knew without a doubt that this war was different than all the others that had been fought up to this time in our country’s history.
This war was a politician’s war. While this description was denied by President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration, we could see on the nightly news that our Marines and Army were being sacrificed in great numbers. President Nixon finally saw the folly of this war.
Those that weren’t killed in battle were exposed to an unseen enemy and were being chemically assassinated by the use of highly potent and toxic chemicals called Agent Orange and paraquat; serious defoliants that have continued to silently kill our Vietnam veterans by the thousands 50 years later.
While many Vietnam veterans fought bravely in the Tet Offensive and many other battles, these veterans had to endure mockery and humiliation when they came back home. Few were celebrated as heroes and no parades or “Welcome Home” signs hung in their hometowns like after World War I and II.
To this day, our government has refused to openly admit Vietnam did more damage to veterans, their families and their mental health (divorce rates, suicide, alcohol and drug addiction) than any other war since President Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy and newly formed U.S. Marines to the shores of Tripoli to fight the followers of Mohammad.
Today, we have military forces on practically every continent trying to help other countries preserve the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, South Korea, Japan and many African countries depend on those that serve our country and our people with courage and honor because that is what warriors do.
As we spend another Memorial Day, it is with pride that I remember those relatives and friends that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep those of us in the U.S. safe from the threat of dominance by other world powers.
Take the time to remember those that fell in battle to keep those of us that did not fight protected from tyranny. Also, salute our flag, which still stands for freedom around the world. God bless the USA.