Memorial Day, a Respective
All gave some. Some gave all. No greater love.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training---sacrifice. In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in His own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of divine help which alone can sustain him. General Douglas MacArthur
Memorial Day 2013 is a time to reflect upon the national treasure, heavily laden with mostly youthful dreams and vigor that has, over time, been offered upon the sacred altar of liberty. The selfless sacrifice, a fulfillment of an oath freely taken, was offered to protect and defend the Constitution and our cherished way of life.
It all began at sunrise on the freshly greening fields of Lexington on a foreboding yet monumental April day in 1775. By sundown in Concord, 49 patriots had died and 39 had been wounded, both black and white, and many from the same congregation. The shot heard round the world rang out and thus began a legacy of supreme giving that now extends to the barren terrain of Afghanistan. To date over 1.3 million Americans have died in the service of the nation.
In order to fully appreciate the magnitude and impact of this sacrifice it is instructive to review certain factors. The two wars that took the greatest proportional toll, the Revolutionary War and The War Between the States, were fought on American soil.
It is estimated by some historians that as many as 8000 American patriots were killed in action and some 17,000 died as prisoners of the British during the Revolutionary War. Just ponder that a moment. That would have been about 1% of all colonist and 3% of all Patriots. Moreover, that is approximately 8.5% of all those who served in the Continental forces. Few armies have survived, let alone won wars with such heavy losses.
The War Between the States, that began 153 years ago, resulted in over 625,000 (364,500 Union and 260,000 Confederate) war related military deaths. This represented a sustained rate of 600 per day and totaled 1.9% of the American population. Often the order of magnitude of events is lost in history such as the devastation of wars or natural disasters. Consider this; a comparable proportional rate today would be on the order of 6 million military personnel to say nothing of the havoc on the economy and the culture in general.
World War II was the first war in which there were more actual battle deaths than from accident, disease and infection. It is noteworthy that by comparison the more modern the conflict the less severe the toll, e.g. World War II, 405,399 died at a rate of 416 per day or 0.3% of all Americans; Vietnam War, 54,204 died at a rate of 26 per day or 0.03%; and Iraq 4401 died at a rate of 2 per day or 0.0015% of the population.
You may not be aware that the actual, though unofficial, origin of Memorial Day can be traced to Charleston, SC and to the present day Hampton Park. In 1865 this area, known then as the Washington Race Track, had been turned into a temporary prisoner-of-war camp. During the camp’s operation over 200 Union prisoners died and were buried on the grounds in a mass grave.
Soon after the Confederate surrender the bodies were exhumed, mostly by former slaves, and properly re-interred individually in a marked cemetery, complete with white picket fence. All of this was accomplished in a 10 day period. On May 1, 1865 the Charleston newspaper reported that up to 10,000 people, mostly black residents, including 2800 school children, attended the new cemetery’s dedication. The ceremony included a procession, sermons, singing and a picnic on the grounds. This event in Charleston was, in fact, the first Decoration Day that, over time, evolved into Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day 2013, would be an ideal time to reflect upon this tapestry of selfless sacrifice so carefully woven into our national heritage. If possible, purpose to make it personal by remembering a classmate, friend or neighbor who has “given all”. I always try to concentrate on the ever fading memory of my 44 squadron mates (Navy Seawolves) or others I trained with or were in school with. They were warriors once and young…Nilon, Jim, Antonio, Mark, Dan, Paul, Jose, Bill, Richard…I do remember them.
But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it. Thucydides (460 BC-395 BC)
John R. “Barney” Barnes
15 May 2013