by Don Feder, GrassTopsUSA.com
Speaking at the dedication of a cemetery at Gettysburg, just months after the climatic battle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called on the Americans of his day to “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
That’s the challenge Americans confront – not just on Memorial Day, but every day. Will all of the sacrifice, the suffering and the heroism be for naught?
But it’s good to have an occasion like Memorial Day to focus our attention – to think of the Americans who gave so much, in some cases everything, so that an ideal elegant in its simplicity (government of the people, by the people and for the people) would endure down through the ages.
On Sunday, I thought of the Continental soldiers, their feet wrapped in rags, who left bloody footprints in the snow during Washington’s retreat from New York in 1776. I thought of the privation suffered at Valley Forge, of the brave men who held Cemetery Ridge (and the brave men who charged up the ridge), of the endurance of the Lost Battalion of the Argonne, of the determination of the boys of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled the heights of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, of the Battling Bastards of Bastogne, of the Marines on Iwo Jima, of those who fought from San Juan Hill to Pork Chop Hill, from the Tet Offensive to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Memorial Day has its origins in the post-Civil war era, with the tradition of decorating the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.
It grew into proclamations and parades – oratory, three-day weekends and sales, of old soldiers wearing faded uniforms once more to salute the Flag as it passes by, and remember their buddies sleeping under palm trees, in jungles and in burial grounds across Europe.
It always comes down to the graves – so many of them in the course of 236 years. Lincoln also spoke of the “mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land.”
This year, as they have on every Memorial Day since 1948, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment placed flags on the more than 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
They are a poignant reminder of the price paid for freedom – more than 8,000 combat deaths in the Revolutionary War, 2,260 in the War of 1812, 212,938 on both sides of the Civil War, 53,402 in World War I, 291,557 in World War II, 53,686 in Korea, 47,424 in Vietnam and 4,628, so far, in the War on Terror .
Besides those who gave their lives, the price was also paid in shattered lives – those who came home with missing limbs and those who bore psychological scars – who woke up screaming years later from nightmares relieved night after night.
For a glimpse of heroism and sacrifice, look at some of the Medal of Honor citations from World War II:
- “Charged 200 yards over flat, coverless terrain to destroy an enemy machine gun nest”;
- “His comrades left him propped against a tree and gave him a pistol with eight remaining bullets” (his body was found with the pistol empty, surrounded by eight dead Japanese soldiers);
- “Commanded two sections of machineguns that fought for the next 48 hours until only Bastilone and two other men were still able to continue fighting …. Fought through hostile lines and returned with urgently needed ammunition”;
- “Covered an exploding Japanese hand grenade in order to protect his comrades, and died of his wounds three days later”;
- “While mortally wounded, he remained in command of his ship”;
- “Stayed aboard a sinking submarine to prevent military secrets he possessed from falling into enemy hands”;
- “For braving enemy fire to tow a boat of wounded to safety”;
- “For single-handedly destroying two bunkers while seriously wounded”;
- “Picked up a pair of fire extinguishers and rushed below (deck on a minesweeper) in a resolute attempt to quell the raging flames. Refusing to waste the precious time required to don rescue-breathing apparatus…. succumbed to his injuries the following day.”
Audie Murphy was a puny farm boy from Texas, rejected by the Marines and Airborne for failing to meet their physical standards. Too bad they didn’t have a way to measure his heart.
His citation reads in part:
Murphy’s unit was reduced in effective strength to 19 out of 128. Murphy sent all of the remaining men to the rear while he shot at the Germans until he ran out of ammunition. He then climbed aboard an abandoned, burning tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machinegun to cut down German infantry, including one full squad of German infantry who crawled in a ditch to within 100 feet of his position.
Though wounded in the leg, “he nonetheless continued his nearly single-handed battle for almost an hour.”
It doesn’t make you proud to be an American, as much it makes you humble. Murphy’s heroism is part of a continuous stream of bravery, suffering, loyalty and love of country flowing from the spring of America’s beginnings to the present day.
It’s a shame that President Obama was at Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier this year, a ceremony he’s skipped in years past. His presence dishonored the men and women who sleep in that hallowed ground.
Most of our presidents have loved this country – some fiercely (like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt) and some shyly. A few have cared more about partisan politics. But never before have we had an America-hater in the White House.
Obama spent 19 years in the church of a man whose motto was “God damn America!” (not that he heard one of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, mind you). Other presidents are famous for stirring words of resolve (“December 7, 1941, a day which will live in infamy,” “Ask not what your country can do for you,” “With malice toward none with charity for all”). This president is distinguished by his international apology tours and elitist contempt for the nation he leads.
- “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.”
- “In America, there’s a failure to appreciate Europe’s leading role in the world.”
- “The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.”
- “Too often, the United States has not pursued and sustained engagement with our neighbors.”
- “The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where these errors have been made.”
- “Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of native Americans.”
- “We sometimes make mistakes; we have not been perfect.”
Try to imagine Churchill assuming the leadership of Britain in the dark days of 1940, beginning with a confession of his nation’s colonial sins, the burning of “heretics” in the 16th. century, the oppression of the Irish, child labor during the Industrial Revolution, and transporting human chattel from Africa to the New World. Wouldn’t that have inspired the English people?
Obama is the man a fickle fate has chosen to lead America in its hour of greatest peril – a man who can’t say the words “Islamist extremist” or even the word “terrorism,” a man who lavishes praise on the ideology seeking our destruction (“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam”), a man who studiously ignores the National Day of Prayer but has Ramadan fetes in the White House, a man who’s seeded his administration with traitors of the heart (including his faith advisor Eboo Patel, who decries the “myths” that America is “a land of freedom and equality and justice”), a man who refuses to guard our borders, a man who’s waged war on the war on terrorism (by trying to close Guantanamo, grant terrorists civilian trials and prosecute officials of the last administration for what he calls “torture”), a man who consistently betrays our allies (he seeks to give Israel “Auschwitz borders”) while embracing our enemies (he wants to write a $2-billion check to the Muslim Brotherhood – by forgiving Egypt $1 billion in debt and giving it an additional billion in loan guarantees), and who sneers at ordinary Americans as racist xenophobes high on religious fundamentalism and firearms.
Right from the start, Obama told us exactly where he was taking the nation. On his first trip abroad, there was his shocking obeisance to the Saudi king.
Could any of the Americans we honored on Memorial Day imagine that someday a president of the United States would grovel before a medieval monarch, one who represents the most extreme version of an ideology at war with our values?
As Erick Stakelbeck explains in his new book, The Terrorist Next Door: “The Bow sent a clear message of subservience not only to King Abdullah – a tin-pot monarch presiding over a backward, Islamo-petro dictatorship (where women aren’t allowed to drive cars) – but to Islam itself.” Not only is Abdullah custodian of the religion’s two holiest sites, but “The Saudi government has invested untold billions of its oil wealth to spread Wahhabi Islam worldwide through the building of mosques and madrassahs (Islamic schools) on six continents.”
It’s only surprising Hussein Obama didn’t bend over and plant a wet one Abdullah’s heinie.
Richard Sullivan has a video posted on the internet. It’s footage his father shot, using Kodachrome 16mm film, of spontaneous celebrations when news of the Japanese surrender reached Honolulu in 1945.
Church bells ring. There’s an impromptu military parade with flag-waving children bringing up the rear. Servicemen and civilians (pretty girls especially) drive by cheering. Planes fly overhead in formation. Ticker-tape litters the street. It’s set to Jimmy Durante’s rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” It’s all so beautiful that it almost brings tears to your eyes.
This is the America the Greatest Generation knew. This is the America we’re fighting for – the America of optimism and self-confidence and joyfulness.
Will these Americans have lived and died in vain? The answer lies with us. It always has.
This column originally appeared on GrassTopsUSA.com and is reprinted with permission.
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