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Here’s to the Fallen Warriors


Today is Memorial Day. Like most Americans, I plan to take it easy, eat some ribs, hang out with the family, and enjoy the day. And although I won’t be going to any ceremonies or laying flowers on graves or listening to patriotic speeches, I will pay my private respects to those who died in defense of our country.

I was watching a military channel documentary last week, recounting the naval battles that raged in the Solomon Islands in 1942, as the Japanese desperately tried to regain control of Guadalcanal and the airstrip secured there by U.S. Marines. Using graphics and historic footage, the program showed a day-by-day account of the battles in which thousands of sailors and marines were killed. The stakes were high and the fighting was intense.

Interspersed in the account were interviews with survivors of the event – all old men at the time of the filming, many of them undoubtedly have passed by now. These World War II veterans were recounting what it was like when they were  young, waiting for the attack they knew was coming, manning their guns, or working below decks to make sure all the ship’s systems were operational during the battle.

You could see these old men get animated when they described the battle scene with guns roaring, airplanes attacking, bullets ripping across decks, and ships blowing up. And then, at some point in the narrative they would stop – 60 plus years later – and struggle to compose themselves. You’d see their eyes grow misty, and their lips tremble as they tried to continue. Then they would talk quietly about their friends who died, comrades in arms who were blown apart or set afire or who bled out on the hot steel deck of a battle ship or an aircraft carrier or a destroyer.

That kind of sacrifice from the villages of Lexington and Concord to the hilly farmland of Gettysburg to the beaches at Normandy, to the hills of Korea, to the jungles of Vietnam, to the deserts of Afghanistan is what Americans have always done to defend their country’s interests. The ones that survive often return wounded both physically and mentally. Often, but not always, they also return with a strong sense of pride and ownership in the country that they defended.

Today we salute the ones who did not return, the ones who fell in the service of their country. So when you fire up the barbeque and break open the ice chest with the soda and the beer to celebrate the holiday with your family, give those fallen heroes a thought.

What you’re doing – enjoying life in a free society – is exactly what they died for.

– George Lee Cunningham

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