Yesterday our nation observed Memorial Day, the day in which the people in America honor and remember those who paid the ultimate price for your freedom. I, we, did not do anything special to celebrate this day, although it weighed heavy on my mind as I went about my affairs. Prior to going to bed I did slap in a dvd to watch, Lone Survivor, the story of that Seal Team sent to hunt Taliban fighters where 3 of the 4 team members were killed, with Marcus Luttrell being the only one to survive.
While there have been many movies made about war and glory in battle, with Saving Private Ryan being among them, I feel that Lone Survivor, due to its basis upon fact, is a more fitting tribute to the sacrifices made by those we call upon to serve in the defense of our nation.
You see, for 13 some odd years of my life I could have been called upon to make that sacrifice. Although I was only active duty Air Force and therefore less likely to be deployed into harm’s way, the possibility still existed that at any time I might be sent off to defend America and never return.
I also have to think back to my youth, when my father sat me down and explained how I came about being Neal H. Ross. His best friend, Neal Hampton Rood, (pronounced RUDE) was killed when the U.S.S. Helena was sunk at the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943. My father named me, his firstborn son, in honor of his friend.
So you see, Memorial Day, AND Veterans Day, hold a lot of meaning for me. No matter how I view the justification for our countries involvement in wars abroad, I NEVER lose sight of the fact that they are being fought by American men and women who are doing their very best to serve honorably for the causes they believe in.
I don’t know how many of you reading this have ever been to Arlington National Cemetery, but I have. Before being transferred from Castle Air Force Base in California to Inoges Radio Relay Link in Spain, I spent a week in the Arlington area with a friend in the Navy who was stationed at the Pentagon. He was gracious enough to take a week’s leave and show me the sights. Although I wished I had gotten the chance to visit the Jefferson Memorial and the Iwo Jima Monument, I did get to see Arlington Cemetery. Let me tell you, it is a humbling experience to walk through that place and see all those gravestones. If you have any love of country you can’t help but be awestruck at just how many people have died defending the things that so many of you take for granted.
Arlington Cemetery has over 400,000 burial sites as well as four courts used to store the remains of 5,000 cremated service-members in each court, with plans for five more courts to be built. I know a lot of people visit Arlington just to see the Tomb of the Unknowns, or as some people call it, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I never made it there as I was just dumbstruck by the row upon row of grave markers indicating just how many people had given their all for their country. And this was LONG before I ever began studying our nation’s history and founding. I imagine a visit to Arlington now would be even more profound for me.
Although Memorial Day is a fitting tribute to those who have given their lives for their country, it saddens me that unless a family has lost a loved one in combat most Americans do not think that even right now there are men and women serving abroad who at any time might also pay that ultimate sacrifice.
How many of you will find yourself thinking about that today, in a week, or a month from now? As long as we have men and women serving abroad in our Armed Forces it should be on your minds. The act of calling upon the members of our Armed Forces to go into harm’s way in the defense of their country is not something we should take lightly, or do for trivial reasons. This is even more true when they are off fighting, and dying for the principles they believe in, while most Americans never even think about those principles over the course of their day.
There is an old saying that goes, “War is hell.” I cannot find any fault with that, even though I was never asked to serve in a combat zone during my time on active duty. Even so, I came about as close as one could get during war games, or exercises as we used to call them. Being deployed to the middle of nowhere, having to live in tents, eating MRE’s, and having aggressors trying to infiltrate and capture our camp was about as close to the real thing without the blood and guts of lives being lost all around you. Having gone through that numerous times two things struck me. First I came out of those ‘exercises’ almost zombie-like. The lack of sleep and the constant barrage of weapons being fired does something to your senses that leaves you a changed person. Secondly, having gone through all that you have to wonder how bad combat must REALLY be when your buddies are dying all around you.
As I already said, my father was a World War II vet, having not one, but two ships sunk out from under him during the war by Japanese torpedoes. He lived the rest of his days suffering from PTSD before they even knew what PTSD was, and treated vets for it.
I just recently watched American Sniper and was hit by how his experiences in four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan changed Chris Kyle, and how he was able to overcome the horrors he witnessed and return to some semblance of normalcy. Some never make that transition back to a normal life and unless you are a family member dealing with someone suffering from PTSD you rarely think about it.
I know I have kind of rambled on a bit about a little bit of everything, but now I’d like to get to the point of this entire missive. I would like to ask of you, my fellow Americans, two things. First that you honor and pay the respect deserved to ALL service-members currently serving in our Armed Forces, especially those who are serving in harm’s way.
Secondly, I would ask that you think long and hard about the causes we are sending them into harm’s way for. Sending our men and women off to die in some foreign land for anything other than the defense of the principles that made America great should never happen. Let’s face it, evil is going to exist no matter how hard we try to eradicate it.
There is absolutely nothing noble, or honorable, about war. War is simply the massive murder of one people, by another, for political reasons. The justification for war MAY BE honorable, but there is nothing honorable in the taking of one, a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand lives. This is even more true when in so doing all we are doing is making someone else rich. Whether it be the bankers who finance these endless wars, those who make the bombs, bullets, tanks and airplanes that fight in them, or those who are awarded contracts to rebuild the countries we tear down, SOMEONE always profits from war. The ONLY thing honorable about war is the sacrifices made by those who are called upon to serve.
We should remember that and not hide behind a banner of patriotism when we send our young off to fight and die in foreign lands halfway around the globe.
In closing I’d like to leave you with a quote by General Smedley Butler, author of War is a Racket, “There are only two reasons why you should ever be asked to give your youngsters. One is defense of our homes. The other is the defense of our Bill of Rights and particularly the right to worship God as we see fit.”
Please, I beg of you, ponder that long and hard while our young are abroad now, and before you are asked to send them off into harm’s way in the future.