Don’t forget the true meaning of Memorial Day

By WYATT EMMERICH,

Memorial day is set aside to honor the 1.2 million Americans who died fighting for this country. About half of those soldiers died in combat. The other half died from accidents, disease and other wartime hazards.

For every soldier who died during wartime, 50 served and lived. We honor them on Veterans Day in November.

By far, two wars contributed the most to those deaths: The Civil War and WWII. Those two wars produced 90 percent of the U.S. wartime fatalities. For every fatality, the U.S. suffered an additional wounded soldier.

Since the founding of our country, there have been about 500 million Americans. So every soldier that died gave 500 Americans a chance to live in freedom. That’s worth remembering.

With a professional military and no major wars in two generations, it’s easy to forget. When I turned 16, I received a letter from the government notifying me to register for the draft. That was one year before the Vietnam War ended. More than 55,000 men lost their lives in that war.

My generation didn’t have to fight, but the three before me did in Vietnam, Korea, WWII and WWI. The draft is now gone.

I am certainly grateful for this, but I have no doubt that I am a lesser man as a result. Only by serving in the military and putting your life on the line for your country can you truly comprehend the magnitude of the sacrifice.

My father was a second lieutenant in the Army infantry in the Korean War, which claimed 36,000 soldiers. His platoon was bombed while celebrating Christmas dinner. Several men lost their lives that night. He didn’t talk about it much. That seems to be the norm.

Once while on a Texas trail ride with my family as a kid, it was cold and rainy. As we sat on our horses and plodded along my father said tersely, “The last time it was cold and rainy and there was nothing I could do about it was when I was in Korea.”

When I tagged along to my father’s Associated Press board of directors meeting in Seoul, the government officials treated my father like a returning hero.

My maternal grandfather, Bob Buntin, was a test pilot in World War I. All 20 test pilots died but him, or so the family legend goes. So I shouldn’t really be here to write this column.

My paternal grandfather, Oliver Emmerich, was in the World War I cavalry. I remember him telling me bedtime stories about him and his horse, Red. They were delightful stories of adventure for a young child to hear. He trained in America, but was never shipped overseas.

Staring at me from my computer screen is the handsome, innocent face of Billy Taylor, my mother’s uncle. My mother recalled fondly how as a young child she adored her Uncle Billy, how he would play with his young nieces in Gulfport before he went off to war.

He studied engineering in college, so he was assigned to rebuild the 717-mile Burma Road, which linked Burma to China, helping the Chinese fight off Japan during World War II. It was an unbelievably windy road through the mountain jungles.

Wading through waist deep water, he was covered in leeches. Loss of blood combined with tropical diseases took the life of this young man. He died for his country, alone, thousands of miles from home. I am only a handful of people in the world who knows he ever existed.

I have a half-dozen ancestors, maybe more, who died in the Civil War, all on the Confederate side. They probably believed in their cause. Their deaths are particularly tragic, for they died defending the wrong side of history.

Soldiers still die in battle. Seven thousand men have died in our recent battles in the Middle East. Injuries there have been extremely high in proportion to fatalities. Fifty thousand young Americans have been injured there. These men need to be taken care of by our government. It is inexcusable that many of them struggle in poverty.

War has changed since World War II, which killed an unfathomable 60 million people, three percent of the total population of the world. Half died in battle, half to famine and disease.

Now we have weapons of mass destruction. One hydrogen bomb dropped on a big city would kill millions instantly and millions later. So far, that hasn’t happened. We pray to God it never happens. In the meantime, these terrible weapons have prevented the recurrence of another world war. There are no winners in a nuclear holocaust.

Mutually assured destruction makes war intolerable to all sane countries. But what about the insane like Kim Jong Un or ISIS? This is one of the great fears of the nuclear age.

If ever a war was a battle between good and evil, the last major war was. Can you imagine if Hitler had been victorious? What would the world be like? To think the Germans were just a few years from developing the atomic bomb.

We live by the providence of God. Given the stupidity and sinfulness of man, there is no other rational explanation. We can take comfort that all these men who died in battle were in the hands of a merciful Lord.

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First Presbyterian Day School sixth-graders (from left) Causey Jones and Casen Macke were chosen Best Manners by their classmates.