Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day: A time to remember and give thanks.

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

As we approach the commencement of another class of seniors from area schools it got me thinking, as so often happens, as these young adults prepare to take their next steps in life.

Like every class before them, some will choose to serve our country by entering the military.

I have been re-reading "Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War," a book written by William Manchester and published in 1980. Before becoming a very successful author, Manchester was a United States Marine during World War II.

In the book, Manchester talks about his personal experiences during the war and chronicles many of the events that took place during war. He also chronicles his 1978-79 journey to visit many of the Pacific islands where some of the deadliest battles ever fought took place and his effort to come to terms with his own demons, the same ones faced by most who have ever fought a war.

Like most military service men and women, Manchester was basically a pacifist. Very few men can enter a situation where they are there to kill others while watching friends die in the worst imaginable ways, and knowing they they could suffer the same fate at any moment ... yet, they continue to do the job anyway, and not be affected.

Manchester questions from his 1979 perspective, how thousands of young Marines could bring themselves, during the bloody battle for Tarawa, to wade though waist to chest-deep water for hundreds of yards, in their attempt to make it to shore while hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese machine guns and rifles hammered away at the defenseless Marines. The carnage was indescribable, yet those young American Marines never faltered.

Our Marines did take Tarawa but at a cost of more than 3,100 dead and wounded.

Manchester's question, and now mine, is what kind of person does it take to perform in such a manner and could, or would, today's generation of kids do that same thing, if called upon? We obviously hope that such a thing will never again be necessary, but if it would, what would happen?

In his book, Manchester concluded that the youth of the seventies had evolved into a generation who would not obey orders to knowingly and willingly enter a situation where thousands might be cut down in minutes.

I ask, how would America's parents react? Would Americans stand for another conflict such as the Second World War? Would they allow our leaders to put our youth into a similar situation? We were, indeed, a different country then. And yes, I believe a better country.

Still, no matter how things used to be, today's youth are still "going to bat" for our country. Every day, our country's military men and women knowingly put themselves in harm's way.

The number of men and women and the manner in which they face the enemy has evolved, I guess we could say in a "good" way. Americans are no longer required to "take a beach" by sending thousand of exposed troops into the muzzles of the enemy. But they are still out there putting their lives on the line for the rest of us.

One might look at it that our Japanese and German foes of the 1940's at least had the courage to wear a uniform and fight in an honorable fashion, or at least as honorable as war can be. The foes that face our troops today are most decidedly cowards who hide behind women and children and prefer techniques of ambush and suicide bombers.

The common denominator is that our own children fighting current conflicts all possess the same sense of duty and honor shared by our fathers and grandfathers. Thank God for all of them.

As we celebrate this Memorial Day weekend, please remember our remaining World War II veterans,  our "Greatest Generation," who fought in a truly worldwide conflict. Let us also remember all of our other veterans of all wars and conflicts.

Most importantly, remember those thousands of Americans who fell in battle protecting our families, our country and our way of life.

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