231 Memorial Day 2016

By Hetty Gray

# 231 “Memorial Day 2016”

May 30, 2016

When I was a child, Decoration Day was a very big deal. Our art teachers looked forward to spring, because it was poster time. You see, we made “Poppy Posters,” and nearly every one of us could draw a War World War II helmet nestled among flowers. These familiar blossoms are inextricably linked to The American Legion.

I wish I could understand why the service hymns and the traditions have disappeared from our classrooms…why a weapon is more associated with an action movie than as a symbol of the brave men and women who have fought and died — in many cases to free strangers in foreign lands — to assure us the freedom we experience every day.

As a testament to the educators and leaders who saw to it that my generation learned to respect and love the armed services, I offer the story of a little red flower. It is a bittersweet story, but one that bears repeating.

World War I was to be known as “The War to end all wars.” Sadly, it did not.
It was trench warfare, widely remembered for the mustard gas and hand-to- hand, close-fire combat that mowed down soldiers by the tens of thousands.
Consider that American casualties in World War I numbered 116,516. The wounded numbered 204,002. Among those injuries were lost limbs, blindness and a myriad of neurological maladies caused by the mustard gas.

A backdrop of the trench warfare was a landscape of blackened soil and razed buildings. Men fell, often buried in hastily dug graves. The stench of death was hard to forget. Yet, in the midst of the carnage was a touch of color. Across the bits of grass left on the hills, even on the edges of the ragged trenches, soldiers spotted the little red flower. The poppy. It was odd to see a dainty flower amid all that death, but the very sight of it gave some element of hope to the men who fought for their lives in the worst possible circumstances.

There was a special place…. Sacred plots of land in the French countryside…. Flanders Field…. And among those graves bloomed those little sturdy flowers. The sight stuck with our boys and they brought the memory of the little flowers back home with them after the war was over.

At the 1921 American Legion National Convention, members chose the poppy as the Legion’s memorial flower, in honor and memory of those men— many of them really just boys — who lost their lives in World War I.

It draws upon the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, a Canadian artillery officer during the war. Its first line, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row.”

Today, when we witness such cavalier attitudes among younger people, it worries us. For our generation, it is hard to fathom their apathy when it comes to the US military. Clearly, we need to reassess the policy of removing our proud armed services — their songs, their history and their importance — from our schools.

Superheroes aside, the true heroes wear the uniform of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. And we cannot forget our National Guard Troops.

It is hard for me to express the pride my parents and grandparents had for military personnel. Those men and women stood as the true role models for all of us. The loss of that level respect is a price too high for a nation to pay.

This 148th Memorial Day is priceless, not purely as a holiday we have become accustomed to celebrating, but most importantly because its genesis lies in the graves of those who lost their lives in service to our country. Their sacrifice has no price. They gave their all for us, nameless countrymen back at home. And so, now their dreams become ours. We can never forget.

What’s more, we cannot squander the freedom they bequeathed us. It is sobering to ponder the costs in terms of numbers. A complete list of war casualties and deaths in every conflict since the founding of this nation is more than one column’s topic. So, I list main conflicts between World War I and Afghanistan.

World War I
Killed 116,516
Wounded 204,002

World War II
Killed 405,399
Wounded 670,846

Killed 92,134

Killed 58,209
Wounded 153,303

Killed 4,488
Wounded 32, 222

Killed 2,229
Wounded 18,675

These numbers, if held to the mathematical, loom cold. Yet, truly immeasurable loss in human terms, they equate to broken hearts and dashed dreams. In the aftermath of all wars, commanding officers wrestle with the “what ifs” of battle, parents try to deal with the death of a child (or children), wives step up to fill both roles when husbands never come home, children learn to know their fathers from photos and the memories of those family members who love them and knew them best.

Of course, it is fitting to set one day aside to remember these fallen heroes, but I challenge each one of you to another task. Take some time and approach your local school board and your state leaders to see that our schools restore the armed service hymns to our schools, teach American military history with age-appropriate details — instilling the patriotism for the armed services in our youth, the patriotism that we see dissolving more and more each day.

God bless all those who died for us. God bless America.

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