By Willie M. Calhoun (MSG, USAR, ret.)
This Memorial day (May 29), we will commemorate and honor America’s wartime dead of all wars. According to a PBS NewsHour article, their number is estimated to exceed 1 million. While this number may appear rather large when used alone, it’s not as large when compared to the U.S. population of 326 million.
If compared to America’s population, the number of 1 million would be comparable to the population of Rhode Island. In other words, over a million of our fellow citizens have died wartime deaths so that we can enjoy a large range of freedoms and rights that include individual rights, community rights, state’s rights, and of course U. S. citizenship rights. So, when we hear the phrase “so few gave all for so many,” we should remind ourselves of these numbers.
Still, there are smaller numbers of wartime deaths, but given the amount of time they occurred in; they deserve just as much attention. The above PBS article also indicated that over 7,000 American lives were lost within 72 hours (3 days) during the Civil War. Within 47 days, over 26,000 Americans lost their lives a single campaign during World War 1. Even I, as a Viet Nam veteran, was surprised to find that during that war, over 90,000 American lives were lost within roughly 20 years. Again, another phrase “freedom isn’t free” is often used while we commemorate and honor these wartime dead on Memorial Day.
We should also remember that Memorial Day is about more than the number of American wartime deaths. Alongside these numbers are individuals whose youthful deaths affected families all across America. After America’s first war, families were known to decorate the gravesite of the fallen. The laying of flowers or wreaths on grave sites continue along with the mournful sound of the bugle known as “taps”. The grief of family loss is captured in a song by the Statler brothers called “More Than a Name on a Wall” and by a photo taken at section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery showing a young lady lying on the grave of her fiancé.
Finally, on Memorial Day, we’ll make our annual but futile attempt to pay the immense debt we owe these dead American servicepersons. However, in our quest to pay that debt, we’re confronted with the issue of mortality and are forced to concede that, as stated in the Gettysburg address, “it is far above our poor power” to pay a debt to the dead. Humbled and frustrated, as a grateful nation, we turn to God and ask that he settle our debt with these honored dead American servicepersons.