Each year as the end of May approaches a kaleidoscope of images forms in my mind. Young men filled with youth and vigor who no longer walk among us.
My navy job was rather tough in the sense that I was present when many of those young men slipped the surly bonds as I tried desperately to keep the spark of life from fleeing mangled flesh. Too often I failed. Too often mine were among the last living hands to touch these heroes. Living with those memories has been hard at times.
But it’s what we do. We go on. We remember the past, remember our fallen shipmates and comrades, we never forget. But we can’t afford to dwell only on the loss.
The world goes on. In May, when new calves are on the ground, grazing new grass in a sea of colorful wildflowers, nature’s reality provides the correct and appropriate perspective.
On Saturday I traveled to Omaha to take in the State Track Meet where a niece was running and to attend the high school graduation reception of another niece.
Niece one ran very well, collecting personal best times in her leg of the 4x800 and in the 800 run. Burke Stadium was alive with fans watching the action, watching young men and women compete.
The reception for niece two was great. Watching and visiting with her and her friends was a treat.
I suspect that the fallen would be pleased. Their sacrifice to the Constitution of the United States was not in vain, as it cannot be in vain so long as free men and women breathe the air of Liberty.
I thought I’d share a few names of Kimball County’s WWII fallen.
Keith Childers joined the Navy in May, 1941. He served in USS Enterprise (CV-6) as an Aviation Machinist’s Mate, and fell at Eastern Solomons on August 24, 1942. Robert Bickel fell in USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. Charles Lanning fell in USS Minneapolis at the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 30, 1942, near Savo Island in the Solomons.
I think most of us realize that the price of our freedom was paid for, in part, with the lives of men and women we've never met, or even heard of. There are other costs of course, and the Americans who served in battle are not solely responsible for our good fortune. But they did sacrifice a lot for us. Some gave all. Keith Childers, Robert Bickel and Charles Lanning died in hellish naval combat as their ships were torn by storms of bombs and shells. Few if any Kimball residents remember these men or their families. I certainly don't. But I can mark their existence and the gift they made to all of us. Thank you Shipmates. May you rest in peace.
Though congress made it a three-day weekend in 1971, Memorial Day is nevertheless still formally a day to remember those who fell in the service of our country, and specifically those who fell during time of war.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, service in the U.S. military has been a volunteer affair. For more than 40 years now, those who have served have had to make the decision on their own, and then have had to voluntarily jump through a bunch of tough hoops to even be allowed to wear the uniform. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. There are good and valid reasons to field either a conscript or a volunteer force. One thing the volunteer force seems to have done, however, is to distance most Americans from their military.
Perhaps this is why so many folks think of Memorial Day in terms of time off from work, rather than as an opportunity to honor and think about the sacrifice of the relatively few for the overwhelmingly many.
For those who served and survived, though, Memorial Day is much more than a holiday. For many of us, it is a time of reflection, a time to brush cobwebs away from painful memories and to think about and honor our fallen comrades.
No one joins the U.S. Military with the intent to die in battle. In fact, the military go to great lengths to weed out the applicants who have a death wish. They are simply too selfish and too immature to be reliable, to be a team player, to guard the backs of their comrades.
No, those who make the cut expect and plan to survive. We know the risks, we can each of us calculate the odds. The odds, in the aggregate, are in our favor. But the risk is real, as each of us knows full well.
Regardless of the risk, each of us have determined that our country, the grand, wonderful idea of these United States of America, is worth the possibilities that the risk entails. We go into harm’s way as a service to our country and to our fellow citizens. Most of us survive. Some of us do not. The fallen are an important reason we celebrate Memorial Day. If you get the chance, perhaps you can take a few moments to reflect on the heroic nature of the sacrifices others have made so that you might enjoy the manifold blessings of life in America.
The young and living are also an important reason to celebrate. They are America, and they breathe the air of Liberty in part because of the sacrifice of the fallen.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) “For the Fallen”