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Honor all veterans on Memorial Day PDF Print
Saturday, May 24, 2014 8:00 PM

PEOPLE MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

By Byron McNutt

 

Memorial Day is a time to honor those men and women who fought bravely and made the greatest sacrifice one can make to defend liberty - their lives.

Too often, we take for granted the ideals for which our ancestors fought. It may be easy to forget because only 6 percent of Americans younger than 65 have served in uniform.

We must constantly remind ourselves that freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be an inconvenience for us to take a few minutes on Monday to honor those veterans.

In all, more than 1.2 million Americans have died in wars since our country was founded. Millions more were injured. They were the sons and daughters, grand-children, cousins, nieces, nephews and parents of tens of millions of people.

Who will remember those who gave the last full measure of devotion to the cause of justice, freedom and democracy if not those who live under the protection of these great principles?

While Memorial Day is for veterans of all wars, we are paying special tribute to the men and women, mostly in their 80s and 90s, who served in World War II more than 70 years ago.

In short order, the special tributes will fall to veterans of the Korean War and to the Viet Nam War. As these noble warriors march quietly into eternity, they don’t ask for your praises, they only ask to be remembered.

World War II was about more than the maps, dates and places taught in schools today:

- It was about the 17-year-old boys nearly freezing to death in a foxhole and awakening to hear the rumble of tanks as a massive German offensive began.

- It was about praying that your plane, perforated by enemy bullets and shrapnel, could somehow limp across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to safety.

- It was about overcoming gut-wrenching fear to charge a machine-gun bunker after watching its fanatical defenders massacre your comrades.

- And it was about searching among the dead for your closest friend and wondering “Why him and not me?”

They were ordinary men and women, many of them just children, thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They bore the burden of defending freedom and our way of life, not just for us but also for most of the world.

They did it for their country, they did it for their ideals, and they did it for their buddy in the next foxhole. And thank God for us they did it so well.

Today, we have the best-trained, best-equipped fighting forces in the world. The free world looks to America to police the world and protect them from evil forces.

As we’ve learned the last 15 years, massive power alone will not win the war. It still takes men and women willing to put their lives in danger. They deserve our unwavering support and gratitude.

And should they become a casualty in the battle for freedom, they too should be remembered on Memorial Day.

According to information from the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), an independent branch of the Executive Branch of the federal government, there are 124,909 U.S. war dead interred at cemeteries on foreign soil.

There are 30,921 from WWI, 93,238 from WWII and 750 from the Mexican War. Additionally, 6,177 American veterans and others are interred in the Mexico City and Corozal American Cemeteries.

It’s interesting to note, at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Belgium, the 8,301 graves of American soldiers have been adopted by a Dutch citizen. Each year, approximately 30,000 people come to participate in ceremonies.

According to an article by Judy Miller for an Encyclopedia Britannica blog, the purpose of adopting graves extends beyond simply taking care of the physical grave site. Citizens do research about each soldier’s death and even contact surviving families in the U.S.

The cemetery in Margraten includes 65.5 acres of farmland that the Netherlands allow the U.S. to use at no charge. It was established on Nov. 10, 1944, by the U.S. Ninth Army, it was one of the first to be used for interment of American soldiers who were killed on German soil.

The site was liberated on Sept. 13, 1944, by the U.S. First Army. Today, it is one of 24 cemeteries on foreign soil that are administered, operated and maintained by the ABMC.

According to Peter Schroyen, a Dutch citizen who adopted the grave of William Dukeman, Jr., the only U.S. soldier killed in the Battle of the Crossroads, he got interested in the program when the story was depicted in the movie Band of Brothers.

He asked to adopt Dukeman’s grave, but it was already taken. Two years later, the person caring for the grave passed away and Schroyen got the call. He has since visited with Dukeman’s surviving relatives in Denver, CO. He carries Dukeman’s Army photo with him and places it in front of the cross when visiting the grave.

There is a beautiful chapel and reflecting pool at the cemetery. About 600,000 visitors visit the cemetery each year, with 40 percent of them school children. Schroyen says, “It’s very important we bring school kids. Someone has to take over our place. We’re very grateful to these soldiers who gave us our freedom.”

 

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