Today is the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day in the United States of America. Unlike Veteran's Day, where we honor all of our military service men and women for serving our country, past and present, Memorial Day honors those who died while serving our country, both at home and abroad.
Memorial Day's roots go back to the Civil War, a time of horrific fighting and bloodshed that left hundreds of thousands of families without a husband, brother, father, uncle, friend, or son. The sheer volume of those killed speaks to the horror. I found the following list in a National Public Radio document, and assume it is reasonably accurate:
Fatalities from U.S. Wars and Conflicts
American Revolution (1775-1783) 4,435
War of 1812 (1812-1815) 2,260
Mexican War (1846-1848) 13,283
Civil War (1861-1865) 620,000
Spanish-American War (1898-1902) 385
World War I (1917-1918) 116,516
World War II (1941-1945) 405,399
Korean War (1950-1953) 36,574
Vietnam War (1964-1975) 58,220
Gulf War (1990-1991) 383
Afghanistan War (2001-present) 2,381
Iraq War (2003-2012) 4,500
As I write this on Friday morning, I hear the sound of the presidential helicopter flying in over closed air space, bringing President Trump to the U.S. Naval Academy for the graduation ceremony. A new class of naval and Marine officers become part of our Navy and Marine Corps today, then they are off to specialty training, flight school, propulsion school or wherever their assignments take them. One young man, hosted by our friends while at the Naval Academy, graduated two years ago. In a couple of weeks he graduates from SEAL training in Coronado, California.
I wish these young men and women great success in their careers, and thank you for your service.
It usually doesn't take many degrees of separation to identify those who gave their lives serving our country. We have the conflicts in the Mideast. My generation had Vietnam. I lost a good friend, a Marine, who died there.
My wife's grandfather's brother died while a POW in Germany after being shot down over Europe during WWII. A junior member of the Annapolis Yacht Club was killed as a waist gunner in a B-17 over Europe in March 1944. The USAAF losses over Europe were staggering. In fact, more Army Air Force bomber crews were killed over Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific. It is frightening how much sacrifice was made to free the world of evil. This demands our respect and acknowledgement.
Rather than simply celebrating today with backyard BBQs and hot dogs/burgers, deviled eggs, and Mom's potato salad, or shopping the sales at big retail stores, spend some time to reflect on this day's true purpose, and think of who you knew or were related to who made the ultimate sacrifice. Talk to your children and grandchildren about this special day as a family, and explain the true meaning of Memorial Day. If you don't, the moment will be lost on those who follow in our steps. Which would be a shame.
If you ever get the chance to visit such incredible places as Normandy, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, or hundreds of other memorial locations that honor our fallen military, you will experience a special quiet atmosphere, a tangible veil of reverence that descends upon you as you walk the grounds. And frankly, it feels the same visiting both sides of the battlefield. Hostilities now over, we honor them all, fighting for their country or cause.
And while this may be an American holiday, it is not a uniquely American experience. All modern nations have their special way to honor their fallen soldiers, airmen, and sailors.
Spend time to think of their memories and their short lives. We owe them that. We are free because of them.
Have a great week.