Memorial Day is always a bittersweet holiday for me. Please accept this, my fifth attempt, to honor and reverence the memory of fallen Americans.
As I revised and revised each previous attempt, I recalled the speeches given as the Civil War's Gettysburg battlefield was dedicated. Four speeches were given that day, but Lincoln's address of less than 300 words lives on. Pithy brevity has its place.
The last time I really opened up about my most memorable experience in Vietnam, I couldn't sleep without weeping for nearly a week. I really don't want to remember, but I must. It is certainly not asking too much to take just one day a year to remember the sacrifices of deceased male and female veterans.
You may see a bumper sticker with the motto, All gave some, and some gave all. It's true, so let us solemnly remember the some that gave all.
Each conflict that our leaders have seen fit to send the cream of American youth to fight has had unique challenges and obstacles to overcome. Since I grew up in the pleasant aftermath of World War II, please allow me to specifically recall that conflict. Heaven knows I mean no disrespect concerning other times and places.
In World War II's Pacific Theater, capturing Iwo Jima was a vital step in ending the war. The Japanese force was dug in and ready. Their guns could literally hit every square inch of the island. There was no place to hide. For over one month, Americans bled into the hot, unforgiving, treeless sulfur beach before being victorious.
In Europe, knocking out Hitler's productive capacity was vital. Nazi Germany was eventually bombed around the clock; the British bombing at night, Americans during daylight hours. The cost was horrific.
Multiple tens of thousands of American airmen died in burning, falling heavy bombers. At Normandy, one million Allied troops stormed ashore. Many were chewed to bits before leaving the water.
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We would be remiss if our brief journey to the past did not also remember the sacrifices of those who waited: the moms, wives, and other loved ones who also suffered. In World War II, mothers who lost a son or daughter placed a large gold star in their windows.
Across America it was not uncommon to see two or more stars at a single dwelling. I usually dislike Hollywood's portrayal of the glories of war because, in fact, there are no glories, but the most well-done portrayal of a widow receiving the terrible news of a fallen husband was in A League of Their Own. I recommend viewing the movie.
Today's conflicts require special dedication and valor. With much smaller families, many parents have lost their only child.
On my last trip to Europe, I visited Poland. The cab driver who drove us into Krakow from the airport had spent most of his life enduring Soviet suppression of his homeland. As I walked around the city with my granddaughter and her husband, we climbed to the top of a small knoll and viewed dozens of Poles sitting in pairs or in small groups along the verdant banks of the beautiful, meandering Vistula River.
It was a Norman Rockwell image I will never forget as simple folks, who really understood the smell of freedom, enjoyed a leisurely summer afternoon.
Let us enjoy our freedoms and briefly recall the unmentionable prices paid by those who bequeathed them to us.
The last sentence in the first stanza of our national anthem is a question: Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave....? With God's grace, and with continued human sacrifice, may we never take it for granted, and may the answer forever be yes!
Walt Osterman is the author of Not Home Yet: A Tale Concerning Israel's Rebirth. He served in Vietnam and is a Bronze Star recipient. He lives in Wyoming.