Donald Trump’s moving Memorial Day speech, plus a few other reminders of why we honor the fallen today.
I’ve got several very moving images here but, before I dive into them, I want to make sure you read the story of Army Sergeant James John Regan, the man whose life and death led to this picture, one so moving that it has appeared repeatedly on social media every Memorial Day since his death in 2007:
And now for the other illustrated reminders of what today is all about:
And a political one, because it matters:
(Thanks to Caped Crusader for helping compile this post.)
When my teenage son realized that Monday isn’t just a school holiday but is, in fact, a national holiday honoring the men and women who have died serving our country, he made an interesting comment about those who died. “It’s hard to appreciate that they’re real people because you never know who they are.”
Think about that: Despite the fact that our country has been actively at war for three-quarters of his life, my son has never known someone who died while fighting on America’s behalf, nor has he ever met someone who lost a loved one to war. For so many in America — and this is true whether they support or oppose the war against fanatic Islamism — this multi-front war is an abstract thing. Thanks to our all-volunteer, professional, and efficient military, while our taxes help fund the war, most of us are utterly disconnected from it.
No wonder that for Americans young and old, Memorial Day is just understood as the excuse for another three-day weekend in the list of American holidays. To the extent people think about it, many confuse it with Veterans’ Day, believing that it’s a day to honor the troops, not to remember and honor the dead. And if you’re celebrating the troops, most of whom, thankfully, survive battle to come home and live out their natural lives . . . well, heck, a pool party and barbecue is a great way to do it.
Focusing on the dead — or the “honored dead” as they rightfully said during the Civil War — one realizes that my son is right that the sheer numbers make it hard to get a handle on each individual loss. The sad fact is that Americans have lost many men to battle throughout our history. According to a Wikipedia post documenting fatalities in every single American war, from skirmishes to Civil and World wars, the total of American dead in combat is somewhere above 664,440, with another 673,929 deaths from things other than combat (presumably disease, imprisonment, training accidents, etc.). That’s a grand total of at least 1,354,664 war related deaths
[A little interjection, which is that as I’m writing these words, my Spotify playlist, which is randomized, came up with one of the saddest Civil War songs I know:
It’s a particularly apropos song because it involves a young woman trying to separate her brother from the unknown dead and wounded in the bloodiest war in American history.]
Back to the main point, I realized that my son had accidentally stumbled upon precisely the formulation attributed to Stalin: A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.
How does one bring the young to realize that, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a free country that values the individual over the collective, each number is a person? Those who died were children who left grieving parents, parents who left grieving spouses and lost children, brothers or sisters whose siblings will now age alone, or friends whose loss is a never-ending hole.
I started the process of giving the dead names by showing my son a picture that I found on a friend’s Google+ feed. As you can see, it’s an iconic picture, but one with a difference — every person in the photo is identified. They’re not icons at all. They’re real young men who fought — and most of whom died — defending America’s security and bringing freedom to parts of the world most Americans never had seen and never would see:
The transformation in my son when he realized that these were young men just like himself — young men who played sports, flirted with girls, went to dances, and just enjoyed their lives — was surprising. He was suddenly awed and saddened. They weren’t historic curiosities; they could have been him or his friends.
As war becomes a pocket industry for a small subsection of society, those of us insulated from its reach have an obligation to make others aware that we are, and long have been, the beneficiaries of those who, willingly or not, fought for America. And while a few of our wars were misbegotten or foolish, the vast majority have seen Americans shed blood to bring freedom, whether at home or abroad.
Those who gave their lives truly are the honored dead and it behooves us to remember that none were statistics — all were individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty. I recommend a visit to Honor the Fallen, which puts a face to every person who has died in the last 13 years defending Americans against the Islamic fascism that has been the bloodiest, most genocidal force in the history of the world. Also, if you’d like to remember the dogs who served so well, many of whom died protecting American troops, go here.
UPDATE: Mike Rowe made much the same point, only with more focus.
Chris Hayes got himself a great spanking because of his inability to acknowledge military heroism:
CHRIS HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow. Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke [sic, actually Beck], who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible]. Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
Chastened, he issued a non-apology apology, in which he basically said “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” while clearly muttering to himself, “but I’m still right about war-mongering”:
“On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself,” Chris Hayes, host of “Up With Chris Hayes,” said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry for that.”
I figured out today what would help Hayes issue a real, heartfelt apology, one that shows he truly understands the heroism our troops show every day, when they’re training, when they on ships, when they’re on the battlefield — indeed, the moment they take the oath to defend this country and this Constitution. Our Armed Forces need to sing.
“Sing?!” you ask. Yes, sing (or maybe write a little). I have it on the best authority, from quite possibly the smartest man in America. Singers (and writers) are “heroes”:
President Barack Obama gave the United States’ top civilian honor on Tuesday to musician Bob Dylan, novelist Toni Morrison and 11 other people he described as his heroes because of their powerful words, songs and actions.
“What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people – not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime,” Obama said, presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards in a packed ceremony at the White House.
“They have enriched our lives and they have changed our lives for the better,” he said.
The president chooses the honorees.
“So many of these people are my heroes individually,” Obama said during the ceremony, recalling how he read Morrison’s novel “Song of Solomon” as a young man when he was “not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think.”
“And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital,” he said. “Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways.”
If our troops could just march into battle singing songs that inspire Barack Obama, they too could be heroes in the eyes of some little MSNBC wanker. Or maybe not — because I bet that, if they go in battle singing, they’re singing something like this:
I got an email Virtual Boots on the Ground, which I’m reprinting below. I can’t decide if this is a gimmick or a wonderful idea. On the principle that there’s no harm if it’s a gimmick and a lot of good if it’s a wonderful idea, I signed up.
Dear Fellow American,
Memorial Day is quickly approaching, and to most Americans, this means the beginning of summer. In reality, it’s the one day of the year we dedicate to remembering those who gave all to protect the freedoms we cherish. As you plan your first barbecue of the season and prepare for the warm weather, I urge you to keep in mind the real reason we celebrate Memorial Day: to pay tribute to America’s veterans and fallen soldiers.
I remember the way our Vietnam Veterans were treated upon returning home. It was a difficult time in our country’s history and we must do all we can to make sure that when our men and women are sent to war they are never again forced into the shadows and treated badly, as our returning Vietnam Veterans were. That’s one of the reasons I am so active in the veterans’ community and today serve as Honorary Grand Marshal of The American Veterans Center’s National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC. I’m writing today because this year’s parade is our first public opportunity to honor our newest generation of veterans, the young men and women who bravely served in Iraq, sacrificing family relationships, jobs, and economic stability to go off and fight for our country.
Will you join me in paying tribute to our Iraq War veterans and all of America’s veterans and active duty service members by marching in the National Memorial Day Parade on May 28? You can’t come all the way to Washington, DC, you say? You don’t have to travel to take part in this special tribute, because we’re holding a virtual parade online! Follow this link to register, select your avatar and join thousands of patriots across our nation to honor America’s veterans from the Revolutionary War up to the Iraq War.
Freedom isn’t free, but for nearly 70 years, Washington, DC, was without a parade on our Armed Services’ most sacred day. In 2005, the American Veterans Center revived the tradition of a Memorial Day parade in our nation’s capital, and today it serves two vital civic purposes: to give the general public the opportunity to honor our service members and pay tribute to our veterans, while allowing active duty troops, veterans, and re-enactors showcase the sacrifice of all our veterans in an exciting procession of American history the whole family can enjoy.
Whether you live in the Washington Metro Area and plan to attend this year’s parade or you live as far away as Hawaii or Alaska, I encourage you to join us on May 28, 2012, to honor America’s veterans, including the 4,487 American service members who gave their lives in the Iraq War.
Please follow this link to register for the virtual Memorial Day parade and join thousands of veterans, active duty troops and civilians across America to pay tribute to our veterans.
With your support and participation in the virtual parade, we’ll promote our veterans’ legacy, remember those who gave all, and preserve their sacrifices. Thank you in advance.
Honorary Grand Marshal, National Memorial Day Parade
P.S. Celebrate Memorial Day 2012 and honor America’s veterans and active duty troops by marching in the National Memorial Day Parade online. Follow this link to register, select your avatar, and join millions of your fellow patriots on May 28, 2012.
[I’ll keep this at the top through Memorial Day. Scroll down for lots of new posts.]
Several years ago, as part of a 9/11 commemoration, I wrote the following words as part of a post I did about Lt. Brian Ahearn, one of the New York fire fighters who perished on that day:
My son, who is seven, is obsessed with superheroes. His current favorite is Superman. After all, when you’re a little boy, battling your way through the world, what could be more exciting than the possibility of being “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” I’m bombarded daily with questions about Superman’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures, his flying speeds, his ballistic capabilities and, most importantly, his bravery. It’s here that my son and I run into a conceptual problem. My son thinks Superman is brave because he gets involved in situations that involve guns, and flames, and bad guys. I argue — and how can you argue this with a seven year old? — that the fictional Superman, while good, is not brave, because he takes no risks. Superman’s indestructibility means that his heart never speeds up, his gut never clenches, and he never pauses for even a moment to question whether the potential benefit from acting is worth the risk. In other words, if facing a gun is as easy as sniffing a rose, there is no bravery involved.
The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation. The attacks against America on September 11, 2001, revealed the true superheroes among us — those New York firefighters who pushed themselves past those second thoughts, those all-too-human hesitations, and sacrificed themselves in the hopes of saving others. Lt. Brian G. Ahearn was one of those superheroes.
I’ve been thinking today about that moment of insight I had about courage and heroism, because I’m finally reading Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. I say “finally,” because the book came out in 2007, and it took me three years to gather my own courage just to read it — and I did so only because of the possibility that I may soon meet the mother of one of those “lost heroes.” Considering what her son did for my country, forcing myself to read a book about great heroism seemed like the least I could do.
Funnily enough, the book isn’t as painful as I thought it would be. This is partly because Luttrell, with novelist Patrick Robinson’s able assistance, has a wonderful voice. His is not a ponderous tome but is, instead, a human story of an East Texas boy who, buoyed up by patriotism and sheer grit, made his way through the insanity of SEAL training, and then found himself in Afghanistan, working to protect American interests and freedoms.
Luttrell’s upbringing, so different from my girly, urban, intellectual childhood is a story in itself. As for his descriptions of what men push themselves to do to become SEALS — well, I’d heard about it academically, but I’d never understood it viscerally.
To be completely honest, I still don’t understand it. As a card-carrying wuss, as someone who has always respected her personal comfort zones, and avoided challenging herself, I really don’t “get” what would drive young men, men in their 20s and 30s, to push themselves as hard as these men do. And the rewarded isn’t a glamorous job, a la Hollywood or Manhattan, with fame, wealth and women. Being a SEAL is the toughest job in the world, because SEALs end up doing the most dangerous jobs in the world, under the worst, scariest circumstances imaginable.
If you lack physical and mental will, not to mention the overwhelming training SEALs receive, you’re simply a statistic waiting to happen. But if you do have that stamina, one that resides as much in the mind as it does in the body (perhaps even more in the mind than the body), and if you have this amazing commitment to your team and your country, you can move mountains.
Or sometimes, as SEAL Team 10 so sadly demonstrated, the mountains turn on you. I am not giving away anything about the book, of course, when I tell you that Luttrell was the sole survivor of a firefight in the Afghan mountain ranges that ended up being the single deadliest day in SEAL history. Reading about the fight and the deaths of Luttrell’s team member, not to mention his own story of survival, is harrowing. I don’t want to say I cried, but I’ll admit that my eyes were leaking prodigiously. Knowing that this would be my inevitable reaction is part of why I avoided Luttrell’s book for so long. (To excuse myself a little bit, I also wasn’t sure I wanted to get too close to understanding what my father experienced during WWII, as he fought in some of the worst battles around the Mediterranean, including Crete and el Alamein. Sometimes, empathy can be too painful.)
But really, I shouldn’t have avoided the book. Yes, the deaths of LT Michael P. Murphy, Matthew Axelson, and Danny Dietz, as well as 16 SEALs and Nightstalkers, whose helicopter was shot down during the rescue mission, is heart wrenching, but the overall tone of the book is still uplifting. Luttrell’s deep patriotism, his belief in the mission (not any specific mission, but the SEALs’ overarching mission to protect and defend), his abiding love for the SEALs, and the message that there are those who are willing to protect us, often from ourselves, ranks right up there with the most cheerful “feel good” book you can find.
So many people live pointless lives and die meaningless deaths. One of the tragedies of the 6 million is that they were herded to death like cattle in an abattoir. I don’t blame them. They were ordinary people, living ordinary lives, when suddenly they were ripped out of normalcy, and without warning or preparation, sent straight to Hell on earth. Had I had the misfortune to be a Jew in Poland in 1942, instead of a Jew in America at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, that would have been me. Not just a short life that made no difference, but one that ended with a death that didn’t make a dent in the hide of my murderers.
Some people, however, seem to have bred in the bone and the heart the belief that they will not be ordinary in life or in death. Mercifully, these are people who don’t need the tawdry fame of Hollywood. They don’t need the quick fixes of drink and drugs. They don’t need to become bullies who control others, whether their control is exercised over a country or an office. Instead, they prepare themselves to serve causes greater than their own egos. Their lives have purpose and their deaths are never pointless.
Because the genesis of my post is Luttrell’s book, I’ve written this as an homage to the SEALs. Everything I’ve said though, can be applied equally to the men and women who have fought and, sometimes, died for America, beginning back in 1774. The fact that they didn’t do it at the level of pain and training one sees in the SEALs does nothing to minimize their courage, their patriotism and their sacrifices. They are the backbone of our country, the defenders of our freedom: “The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation.”
(Luttrell, the sole survivor of the SEALS pictured here, is third from the right.)
Other Memorial Day posts:
Blackfive (yes, again)
Florence American Military Cemetery (slow-loading, so don’t worry if nothing happens right away)
Yeah, I know it’s not quite Memorial Day yet, but sometimes things come my way that I can’t wait to pass on. This morning, it’s two posts from Greyhawk, at the Mudville Gazette. The first one is both a memorial to the dead, and a bit of background to the second one, which honors the living. Both will make you feel incredibly proud of our American families and their children and, if you’re like me, at least one of them will make you cry.
For the past two days, I’ve been gathering links that I’ve meant to use in stand-alone posts. That’s clearly not going to happen, though, so let me pass the links onto you, in the hope that you find them as interesting as I did.
Here’s something of a public service announcement: if you post your phone number in Facebook, your phone number has suddenly become public property. Please be careful.
Has Sarah Palin acquired a stalker or a legitimate journalist? Inquiring minds want to know.
Elvis Costello joins the ranks of useful idiots to boycott Israel. One Israeli politely takes him to task for his ignorance and inhumanity.
Much as the press loves Obama, Obama does not love the press. They’ll never abandon his ship, though. Even if they have unexpectedly found themselves traveling in steerage, when they thought they’d booked first class accommodations, he’s still taking them to their socialist port of choice.
Have other presidents blown off Memorial Day? Even if they have, it still isn’t as tacky as Obama’s having done so, because no other president has ever shown such manifest disdain and disrespect for the American military. This isn’t a one-off. It’s a package deal of giving the middle finger to the troops he commands. [UPDATE: At American Thinker, they get it.]
Heather MacDonald points to the Emperor’s Nakedness: all the huffing and puffing about the Arizona law hides the fact that Democrats desperately don’t want to enforce border security. They will willingly watch terrorists sneak into the country, they will watch drug dealers destroy our cities, they will see masses of immigrants ruin our economy — all before they will give up the possibility of millions of new Democratic party-line voters.
If you live in North Carolina’s Second District, you should find interesting this interview with Republican candidate Renee Ellmers, another woman who found politics through the Tea Parties.
Nihilism and, inevitably, anarchy. Is that the world’s future? In a post-Judeo-Christian world, Dennis Prager thinks it may well be. America used to be the single brake against this trend, but Obama’s America has jumped upon the bandwagon.
I have no idea why it’s a surprise to learn that, the more government spends, the more businesses retrench rather than joining the spending party. Business people understand what liberal policy wonks don’t: all that spending has to be paid for by taxes; all those taxes suck money out of the economy; and an economy with no money is a perilous business environment. The fact that it took a scholarly study to figure this one out tells us just how removed from reality the Ivory Tower crowd is. [UPDATE: Just wanted to add one more thing. I’m reading Jaques Barzun’s The Culture We Deserve for my (conservative) reading group. I’m only two essays in, but he’s already explained perfectly why I loathed the liberal arts program at UC Berkeley when I was a student there in the very early 1980s. I’ve always been a member of the true reality-based community. I therefore never had the stomach for the artificiality of academia. People don’t live in petri dishes. They live in the real world, with real problems and, most importantly, real cause and effect.]
Great. The EPA is planning on managing plants in Texas. This should go well (see my previous paragraph).
It’s not Memorial Day yet, but it’s time to start thinking about it, and this beautiful video, by wordsmith at Flopping Aces, is a good place to start. Be prepared with a hankie, though, ’cause you’ll need it.
I just want to add one thing now that you’ve spent a few minutes thinking about the great sacrifice our troops and their families are willing to make on behalf of all Americans (no matter how ungrateful some of those Americans are). When watching a video such as this one, context matters greatly. When people who support the military and their efforts — people like Mike — put together a video like this one, there is a reverence underlying it. Those who make this video, and those who watch this video, do so with the greatest respect for those who are willing to put their patriotism on the line. These men and women don’t just talk about American exceptionalism; they live it.
This is a far cry from the body counts that the Left loves (body counts that, interestingly enough, ahem, vanished completely upon Obama’s inauguration). The Left sees the troops as killers or fools, who are willing or unwitting tools of America’s evil imperialism. Their “homages” to troop deaths are not premised on gratefulness but are, instead, political hit pieces intended to show that the blood of the dead is on our leader’s hands. Except, apparently, when that leader is Obama. The media gives every indication of believing that Obama has perfected the trick of leading the troops into battle, but having no responsibility for their deaths.
I don’t know how it is that I never got around to watching it before, but last night marked the first time I ever saw that classic 1941 movie Sergeant York. It’s a biopic, starring Gary Cooper as the eponymous Sergeant York, who was the most decorated hero of World War I. Unlike most biopics, a little internet research shows that the movie hewed remarkably close to Alvin York’s real story. York was born into an isolated, poverty stricken region of Tennessee. He was a hard drinking, lazy man who was the despair of all who knew him. He was also an expert rifleman, which wasn’t very surprising to those living in the valley that Daniel Boone first discovered.
When he was close to thirty, his friend’s death in a barroom brawl, coupled with his growing friendship with a local pastor, turned York from his wild ways and towards God. He settled down with a vengeance, giving up all forms of vice. He also fell in love.
Things were starting to turn around for Alvin York when World War I started. Based on genuine religious convictions (“Thou shalt not kill”), he tried to get himself exempted from the draft on conscientious objector grounds. Because his church was a small, local one, however, the government refused to recognize it (unlike the Quakers, for example), and he got drafted anyway. After some serious discussions with the Major and Captain of his unit, he determined that serving his country in war time was not an affront to his Biblical beliefs and became a committed soldier.
Once in France, York was pitched into some major fighting. His unit was part of a larger surge that was designated to storm a ridge that the Germans held. It started off as a turkey shoot, with the Americans as the turkeys, being mowed down by German machine guns. In the heat of battle, York’s group ended up separated from the rest, at the back of the German position. With most of his men dead, York was nevertheless able to sneak up on the Germans and, using the sharpshooting skills honed in the hills of Tennessee, start picking off the machine gunners one by one. Eventually, York picked off at least 9 gunners, with the remaining 8 men in his unit accounting for another 20 or so. They then convinced the Germans to surrender, and marched back to American lines with 130 German prisoners in tow.
Although York was by no means the single-handed avenger quickly portrayed in American popular culture, there was no doubt that it was his skills that (a) got the ball rolling and (b) enabled his men to continue what he had started in terms of taking out the Germans. His was an extraordinary act of courage and skill, and one that was fully recognized at the time. Although he originally received only a Distinguished Service Cross, this was quickly upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The French gave him a Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, and Italy and Montenegro awarded him the Croce di Guerra and War Medal.
Along with the military awards came other offers. Hollywood, Broadway, the Vaudeville circuit, corporate America — they all requested his services, with offers totaling into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. York rejected all of these offers, believing it was wrong to turn the sacrifices of war into his own personal money machine. Instead, he returned to his little valley, and set up an agricultural college as well as a Bible school.
I note Sergeant York’s service here, not only because it’s Memorial Day, but because of the way American popular culture celebrated his heroism. America was incredibly excited and inspired by the story of a small town boy, a redeemed sinner, who went on to become one of WWI’s greatest heroes. This was the American success story and people cared about it deeply.
Nowadays, the MSM does not report success stories. They don’t tell about the men and women who achieve in Iraq. Instead, they confine themselves to the stories of those who were the unlucky ones — the victims of gunshots and IEDs, as in this New York Times Memorial Day story.
As for me, you know that I applaud and respect every single American who willingly puts his or her life on the line, in peace time and in war, so that my family and I can live in safety and freedom. I am deeply aware of and grateful to those who pay the ultimate price by giving their lives for my freedom and safety. That holds true for those who escape death, but who nevertheless suffer any injury, from the minor to the grievous. I am not cavalier about those men and women. Nevertheless….
Nevertheless…. Does it strike you as strange that our popular culture cannot bring itself to celebrate the vast majority of our armed forces who have achieved success, whether that success is measured by a stirring gun battle or an extraordinary act of bravery, or just by serving a term of duty unscathed? To the MSM, the war is measured only by loss and pain and death. I’ve come to feel, more and more, that this is not a sign of respect for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, but that this attitude serves more as a form of emasculation, to erase the signs of success and leave American’s generally, and our military specifically, with a drab feeling of loss and failure.
As for me, on this Memorial Day, I give my deep, deep thinks to all American troops, regardless of the nature or outcome of their service.
UPDATE: By the way, I am aware that Memorial Day is when we honor those who fell in the service of this country, while Veterans Day is when we honor all who have served and are serving. I got started on this post, though, when I realized after watching Sargeant York that the MSM treats every day as Memorial Day, with an obsessive focus on fallen soldiers, and no focus whatsoever on the warriors who walk among us.
In this regard, it seems worth pointing to a wonderful Power Line post that highlights Obama’s inability to grasp the difference between the fallen and the walking, and his penchant to do precisely what the media does — treat our troops like helpless, mindless victims, rather than like the pro-active volunteer force that it really is.