Memorial Day

Uncle Bill and Memorial Day

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 When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

 Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

John Stuart Mill, 1862

 

One of my earliest memories is being called a “Dirty Yank”.  My Dad met my Mom while he was in the Air Force in Newfoundland.  After his enlistment ended he was unable to find work in Saint John’s, my Mom’s home town, so the young couple traveled to my Dad’s home town in Paris, Illinois.  I made my appearance shortly thereafter.  My Mom, who was all of 21 at the time, grew homesick, so she and my Dad, an elderly 24, pulled up stakes again and moved back to Saint John’s.  Family tranquility was forever destroyed when my little brother arrived a year and a half later, as he and I quickly put our heads together for campaigns of mischief and nefarious activities which enlivened my childhood.  The family stayed in Saint John’s until I was four, jobs were still scarce on the ground there, alas, before the family moved back permanently to Paris in the summer of 1961.

During our stay in Saint John’s I met all of my maternal relatives on a frequent basis, and other than my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather, my favorite was no doubt my great Uncle Bill Barry.  Whenever he would come over he would yell out, “There’s that Dirty Yank!”  I would lisp out in return, “There’s that Dirty Newf”!

Bill Barry was a truly wonderful man.  An Irishman with a laughing, sunny disposition, he was also a fighter.  A boxer in his young manhood, he lived up to Chesterton’s famous observation about the inhabitants of the Emerald Isle:

 For the great Gaels of Ireland 

 Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.

He loved to brawl when he was a young man, but there was always a smile on his face when he was doing so, albeit the police who had to bust up some of the fights he got involved in didn’t always share the joke.  It was to be expected that such a man would join up with the Royal Army immediately when war was declared on Germany in 1939.  When he was asked why he did, he said, “Well, someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!”  Fight he did, taking part in the D-Day invasion, and fighting on through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany until the thousand year Reich became the twelve year Reich.  He rose from private to sergeant, receiving a field promotion for the courage and leadership he displayed in taking a village.  He had a short spell as a noncom.  After the Lieutenant left him and a squad in charge of the village, Uncle Bill led his men to an abandoned wine cellar and then, as all the best military leaders do, led by example.  “Men, do as I do!” he shouted as he began to chug a bottle of wine.  Inspired by this oration his men followed him, and by the time the Lieutenant arrived back, Uncle Bill and his command were dancing in the streets.  The Lieutenant promptly, and correctly, tore the stripes off Uncle Bill’s tunic and he spent the rest of the war as a private.  That was fine with Uncle Bill, since he had signed up to fight and not to make the Army a career.  A fighter Uncle Bill definitely was, but not a soldier! Continue reading

Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day

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Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                        Pope Benedict XVI

 

My fellow Americans, Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We recall their valor and their sacrifices. We remember they gave their lives so that others might live.

We’re also gathered here for a special event—the national funeral for an unknown soldier who will today join the heroes of three other wars.

When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Well, this is especially so today, for in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.

Not long ago, when a memorial was dedicated here in Washington to our Vietnam veterans, the events surrounding that dedication were a stirring reminder of America’s resilience, of how our nation could learn and grow and transcend the tragedies of the past.

During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of those who died and are still missing were read for three days in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And the veterans of Vietnam who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were never defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who have ever fought in a noble cause, staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue. As America watched them—some in wheelchairs, all of them proud—there was a feeling that this nation—that as a nation we were coming together again and that we had, at long last, welcomed the boys home.

“A lot of healing went on,” said one combat veteran who helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I’d like to read it to you. “Yesterday, crowds returned to the Memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist and former marine from New Orleans. ‘Last night,’ he said, standing near the wall, ‘I went out to dinner with some other ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the restaurant. We started talking to each other. And before we left, they stood up and cheered us. The whole week,’ Petit said, his eyes red, ‘it was worth it just for that.’”

It has been worth it. We Americans have learned to listen to each other and to trust each other again. We’ve learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their support for its actions at home and abroad. And we have learned, and I pray this time for good, the most valuable lesson of all—the preciousness of human freedom. Continue reading

Eternal Father

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Something for the weekend.  Eternal Father seems very appropriate for a Memorial Day weekend, as we remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom we cherish.  Written in 1860 as a poem by William Whiting in England, the music to accompany the lyrics was composed by John B. Dykes in 1861.  The moving hymn has always been a favorite of those who serve in the military:

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep  

Its own appointed limits keep;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, 

For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word,  

Who walkedst on the foaming deep,

And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude,

And bid its angry tumult cease,

And give, for wild confusion, peace;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From rock and tempest, fire and foe, 

Protect them wheresoe’er they go;

  Thus evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea. Continue reading

More Movies For a Memorial Day Weekend

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Last year I gave my top ten picks for movies for Memorial Day weekend.  Go here to read that post.  Here are more films, in no particular order as to merit, to help remember those who went into harm’s way for us:

 

10.  The Gallant Hours (1960)-James Cagney as Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, video clip at the beginning of this post, the film highlighting Halsey’s brilliant leadership in the fierce naval battles that raged around Guadalcanal in 1942.  The importance of Guadalcanal was put succinctly by Halsey:  “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

9.   John Paul Jones (1959)-  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

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8.  The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)-This film earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor.  (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.)   Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Stryker as initially written in the screen play.  (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.) 

Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps.  Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed.  (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)

Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa.  The Marine Corp hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.

Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers who survived the battle.  (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.)  (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.)  The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy.  A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here.  Go here to see the ending of the Sands of Iwo Jima and listen to the Marines’ Hymn.

7.  The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.  The film is a fine remembrance of the courage of the soldiers North and South who fought in our war without an enemy.

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6.  Red Tails (2012)-  This film was released on Blueray this week, and I have been viewing it and enjoying it immensely.

Blacks have served in all of America’s wars, in spite of the racial hatred that was often directed against them during their service.  In World War II the military was still segregated, and opposition to blacks serving as pilots was intense.   However, the Army Air Corps could not ignore that blacks had passed the tests to qualify as aviation cadets. Trained at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, the 99th Pursuit squadron was activated in 1941 and sent overseas to North Africa in April 1943.

The 99th served in the Sicilian Campaign and in Italy.  In the Spring of 1944 it was joined by the 100th, 301st and 302nd pursuit squadrons and formed the all black 332nd fighter group.  The 332nd flew as escorts for bombers flying bombing raids into Czechoslavakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.  The 332nd became known as the Red Tails, or Red Tail Angels, for the red paint on the tails of their planes, and for the skill with which they guarded the bombers they escorted.  The men of the 332nd in their time in combat destroyed 261 enemy planes, damaged another 148, and flew a total of 15,533 combat sorties.  They suffered 66 pilots killed.  95 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism were earned by the pilots, along with other awards for valor, and the 332nd received three President Unit Citations.  A bomber group, the 477th Medium Bomber Group, consisting of the 616th, 617th, 618th and 619th bomber squadrons, was formed from Tuskegee Airmen, but the War ended before the unit was deployed overseas.

Red Tails, is a long overdue salute to these men who had to fight not only the enemy but the racial prejudice of  many of their fellow Americans.  They were a credit to their nation and to their race, the human race.

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Black Jack Logan and Memorial Day

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Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                                         Pope Benedict, April 16, 2008

John A. Logan is the father of Memorial Day.  Today he is largely forgotten except to Civil War buffs and that is a shame.  He was a fascinating man and he is largely responsible for establishing the tradition of putting aside a day in the calendar to our nation’s war dead.

Logan began the Civil War as a Democrat congressman from southern Illinois.  He was ardently anti-War even after the firing on Fort Sumter, denouncing the Lincoln administration and calling for peace and compromise.  He was attacked as being disloyal to the Union and an almost advocate of the Confederacy. 

This perception changed in the twinkling of an eye at the battle of Bull Run.  Like many another congressman he went out to view the Union army launch an attack on the Confederates.  Unlike the other congressmen, Logan picked up a musket and, attaching himself to a Michigan regiment, blazed away at the Confederates with that musket.  This experience transformed Logan into an ardent advocate of the War.

He returned to southern Illinois and gave a fiery speech in Marion, Illinois for the Union that helped swing that section of the state in support of the War.  Resigning from Congress, he helped raise an infantry regiment from southern Illinois, and was made colonel of the regiment, the 31rst Illinois.

Logan quickly made a name for himself as a fighter.  At the battle of Belmont he led his regiment in a successful charge, and was noted for his exceptional courage.  He would eventually be promoted to major general and was one of the best corp commanders in the Union army, briefly commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  He was wounded three times in the War, one of the wounds being serious enough that he was erroneously reported as killed, a report that might have been proven to be accurate if he had not been nursed back  to health by his wife.

Logan was never beaten in any engagement that he fought in during the War.  He was popular with his men who affectionately called him “Black Jack”, and would often chant his name on the battlefield as he led them from the front.  On May 24th 1865, as a tribute to his brilliant war record, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the victory Grand Review of the Union armies in Washington.

After the War, Logan began his political career anew, serving as a congressman from Illinois and a senator.  He was now a radical Republican and fought ardently for civil rights for blacks.  He ran for Vice President in 1884 on the Republican ticket that was defeated by Grover Cleveland.  He was considered the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1888, and might well have been elected President that year, but for his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.

From 1868 to 1871, Logan served three consecutive terms as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veteran’s association.  He started the custom of remembering the Union war dead on May 30th when he issued General Order Eleven on May 5, 1868: Continue reading

Top Ten Films For Memorial Day Weekend

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“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

The upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is a time of fun here in the US.  However, it should also be a time of memory.  Memorial day is derived from the Latin “memoria”, memory, and we are duty bound this weekend to remember those who died in our defense, and who left us with a debt which can never be repaid.  One aid to memory can be films, and here are a few suggestions for films to watch this weekend.

10.  300-This may seem like an odd choice, not involving Americans, and a fairly bizarre retelling of the battle of Thermopylae.  However, it celebrates the idea of never forgetting those who died for their country.  “Go tell the Spartans passerby, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”  So wrote Simonides, the greatest poet of his time, in tribute to the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae.  The speech of Dilios at the end of the film, which may be viewed here, reminds us of our duty to remember those who laid down their lives for us, a message to be recalled this weekend.

  9.   They Were Expendable (1945) John Ford and John Wayne tell the story of the doomed PT Boat crews that fought against overwhelming odds during the invasion of the Philippines in 1941-42.  The film has a gritty downbeat feel, appropriate to the subject matter, but an oddity for a film made during the War.

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  8.    Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the video clip which may be viewed here.  All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969.  It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.

   7.   Porkchop Hill (1959)-Korea has become to too many Americans The Forgotten War, lost between World War II and Vietnam.  There is nothing forgotten about it by the Americans who served over there, including my Uncle Ralph McClarey who died recently, and gained a hard won victory for the US in one of the major hot conflicts of the Cold War.  This film tells the story of the small American force on Porkchop Hill, who held it in the face of repeated assaults by superior forces of the Chinese and North Koreans.  As the below clip indicates it also highlights the surreal element that accompanies every war and the grim humor that aspect often brings.

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  6.    Glory (1989)-A long overdue salute to the black troops who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Robert Gould Shaw the white colonel who led the 54th Massachusetts died at Fort Wagner in the assault of the 54th.  He was buried by the Confederates with his black troops.  His parents were given an opportunity to have his body exhumed and returned to Boston for burial.  Their reply was immortal:    We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

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Enemies No Longer

The American Civil War was the bloodiest in our history, a total war of attrition waged on our own territory, which an at times none to congenial peace. It is, thus, all the more inspiring to read about the reunion which was held at Gettysburg in 1913, celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. An open invitation was made to all those who had served in either army, north or south, and been honorably discharged, and more than 50,000 men came to the three day event.

Personnel from the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and Engineer Corps arrived at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1912 to plan military and civilian support for the encampment. The engineers surveyed the field adjacent to the fields of “Pickett’s Charge” where they laid out the arrangement for “The Great Camp”, divided into areas for Union veterans and for Confederate veterans. Soldiers installed utility systems, erected hundreds of tents to house the veterans, built picnic tables, benches, and boardwalks throughout the camp. By the first of June the sprawling Great Camp occupied 280 acres, included 47 1/2 miles of avenues and company streets, was lit by 500 electric arc lights, and 32 bubbling ice water fountains were installed. Over 2,000 army cooks and bakers manned 173 field kitchens, ready to provide three hot meals per day for veterans and camp personnel alike….


The first veterans arrived on June 25 and within days the Great Camp swelled to overflowing. Every veteran was provided a cot and bedding in a tent that would hold eight men. Meals were served from a kitchen at the end of each company street and varied from fried chicken suppers to roast pork sandwiches with ice cream for desert. By the end of the reunion, the army kitchens had supplied over 688,000 meals to reunion participants. Invariably the days were hot and the thermometer topped 102 degrees on July 2. Heat exhaustion and physical fatigue resulted in hospitalization of several hundred veterans. Over 9,980 patients were treated by medical personnel for ailments ranging from heat exhaustion to stomach disorders. Remarkably, only nine veterans passed away during the week-long encampment. Despite the heat and often dusty conditions, nothing could keep the aged men in camp and hundreds wandered the battlefield. Many visited battle sites where they or their comrades had been fifty years before. Confederate veterans especially were pleased to find old cannon mounted on metal carriages to mark the locations where their batteries had been during that fateful battle. Invariably, the presence of khaki-clad US Army personnel caused a lot of excitement. The soldiers were there to guard camp supplies, give demonstrations, and provide services to the veterans who delighted themselves discussing the modern weapons of war. Many an aged veteran was eager to explain how much things had changed in fifty years to any soldier who was handy and army personnel were constantly entertained by the old soldiers at every turn. [source]

One of the major events of the reunion was a reenactment of Pickett’s Charge. Confederate veterans assembled to walk the three-quarters-of-a-mile across open fields towards Union lines, retracing the charge which on which fifty years before 12,500 men had set out and suffered 50% casualties. As union veterans watched the men in gray approaching them across the field again, many eyes were far from dry. And as the Confederate veterans approached the wall, their old adversaries broke ranks and came forward to meet them, not with lead and steel this time, but with the embraces of friendship.

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Memorial Day: Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

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Memorial Day is a legacy of the Civil War.  Approximately 640,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines, North and South, died in that war.  Out of a population of  some 30,000,000, the death toll would be the equivalent of the US today losing six million dead in a war.  It was a rare family that was untouched by this great national tragedy and the mourning for the lives cut short went on for decades.

Immediately after the war, events honoring the fallen began to be held.   Among the first of these was on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina where a largely black crowd honored the Union dead.  Such memorials quickly spread throughout the Country.  Usually these gatherings involved decorating and cleaning the graves of soldiers.  On May 5, 1868, General John “Blackjack”  A. Logan, an Illinois Congressman and an able combat general during the war, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that commemorations of the Union war dead and the decorating of their graves should occur on each May 30.   “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”

The May 30 Decoration Day events became a fixture of life in the Northern states.  The states of the old Confederacy had similar events but on different dates, varying from state to state.  The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but the name Decoration Day remained for the holiday until after World War II.  As Civil War veterans aged and passed from the scene, the day was broadened to remember all of America’s war dead.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 moved Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May.

As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address, it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we honor our war dead, but in what way can we honor them?  The monuments we raise to them are really for us, to remind us of the value of valor and sacrifice.  They do not walk among us to view them.  They cannot tell us what they think of the speeches praising them or read the blog posts written about them.  Their lives are done and they have been judged by God, as we all will be judged, and are now in Eternity.  Other than the important task of praying for the repose of their souls, nothing that we say or do about them on Earth has any impact upon them.

We honor and remember them not to aid them, but to aid ourselves.  Gratitude is one of the noblest of human emotions, and it would say something appalling about us if we did not express it to our war dead.  Almost all men fear death, and we honor those who faced death for us.  Men who have had their lives taken away in our service, are entitled to all the gratitude we can muster.  If our war dead could speak to us I suspect they would echo the sentiments of the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima, India: 

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”. Continue reading

Memorial Day 2009

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Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those as home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.

– Prayer in Time of War

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