Memorial Day is a somber day of remembrance. A time to remember the men and women in our Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives in service to their country. One million two hundred sixty-four thousand Americans have died in our nation’s wars. Roughly six hundred twenty thousand men, almost half the total number of deaths, fell during the American Civil War.
In 1967 Congress recognized Memorial Day as the day we remember fallen comrades. Observances include placing flowers and flags on graves in our National Cemeteries.
The United States has engaged in numerous conflicts. I’ve listed a sampling below. It excludes wars before 1861, forays into Latin America, and conflicts with Native Americans. The list is still impressive.
1861-1865 – American Civil War
1898 – Spanish-American War
1917-1918 World War I [once called the “war to end all wars”]
1941-1945 World War II
1950-1953 Korean Conflict
1965-1973 Vietnam War
1990-1991 Gulf War
2001 – ongoing War in Afghanistan
2003-2011 Iraq War
The cost of conflict is great. Young lives are cut short, like petals in the wind. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women return maimed in body and mind. Friends and family members struggle to accept the new reality of their loved ones’ lives. What, one may wonder, is the purpose of it all?
In 1981 Kelly Strong wrote a poem to honor his father, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War. He was a senior in high school at the time. When Strong contemplated the question of whether the price of freedom was worth the human cost, he concluded that freedom isn’t free.
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
and then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He’d stand out in any crowd.
I thought… how many men like him
Had fallen through the years?
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers’ tears?
How many pilots’ planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves?
No, freedom is not free.
Today of all days, let us take a moment not to judge whether young Americans should be sent into war zones but to be grateful for the sacrifices they made. Their service is part of who we are as a nation.
Featured Image The American Flag, Public Domain
Complete poem “Freedom is not Free” Here.
Estimates of war dead taken from Civil War Trust. Here.
“Freedom Isn’t Free – Memorial Day by the Numbers.” Forbes. May 19, 2015. Here.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.