Memorial Day 2015

25 May

I originally wrote this back in 2010 and have re-posted it each year since. I decided I was going to update the average this year so I went looking for casualty updates from Afghanistan and re-did the math from the other 72 named conflicts I can find statistics for. Turns out my numbers were off. I can’t account for the discrepancy, as I have no record of the source I used for the original numbers (I’m going to go out on a limb and say Wikipedia and iCasualties.org). 

In the original post I used the term “Died in combat.” I presume this to mean I elected not to use non-combat deaths from the American Civil War, where between 500,000 and 700,000 are reported to have died of disease. Not sure why I made the distinction, and even if that was it precisely the numbers still don’t match the documentation I find now. The verified numbers for death due to enemy action are lower than I originally published. This could mean that more granular information has been posted to the sites I used. Again, I can’t come up with a definitive reason for the discrepancy. Including all deaths of all American service members while serving in a named conflict I come up with a very different average. 

It’s much higher. 

With that in mind I have re-written the piece. To the best of my knowledge (And bearing in mind that counts from the 18th and 19th Centuries are in many cases only estimates) these numbers are correct as of May 22, 2015. When the 40,917 missing reported since the United States entered World War I are included, the total of all American military lost while serving in time of war is 1,380,751. 

Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. Sometimes we lose sight of what these holidays mean. We’ve Labor Day, President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, New Year’s…and the big ones, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In our secular nation, inclusive of all faiths, these are our high holy days. In keeping with our worship of nearly unlimited personal freedom we observe these days in whatever fashion we see fit. I notice that lately this mostly means get-togethers with friends, vacations and mattress sales. I’m not going to take up a bunch of your time bemoaning the lack of ritual in our modern and very diffuse society, but I am going to ask that you take just a little time to remember the meaning of this particular holy day.

“Freedom Isn’t Free,” a bumper-sticker cliché we’ve all used at one point or another. It implies a cost for the largely care-free existence we enjoy in these United States at the beginning of the 21st Century. But how often do we stop to examine that cost? Certainly at election time when we hear a lot about the defense budget. The deficit. The incomprehensible price of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The efforts of this Senator or that Representative from whatever district who is trying to save jobs by saving the defense contract for a company in their hometown (Or a Senator or Representative from a different town who wants to look fiscally responsible by stopping it). But when do we examine the greater cost? The cost in lives? The bill that comes due and is collected in the blood of our sons and daughters, our neighbors and our friends when they put on our nation’s uniform, pick up a weapon and purposely put their bodies between us and our enemies? When?

Today.

There are many who answer America’s call to serve. Many will serve in a time of peace. Most will never see a battle. Many who do fight will return wounded in body and spirit, and some will not recover. We honor them on another holy day, and I certainly hope we all do our best to let them know every day that we appreciate their service. But this is not their day. Today is when we honor our dead. Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day when we count the cost, and that cost is high.

On April 19th, 1775, British troops arrived at Lexington to find an American militia drawn up on the village common. The first American soldiers fell there. Since that time Americans have fought in more than 70 named conflicts around the globe. Men and women wearing our uniform have given their lives on the beaches of tiny islands thousands of miles from our shores and in green fields here within our borders. They’ve flown into the sky and out of view forever. They’ve died in dusty streets and the sight of them remains burned into our mind’s eye. They’ve died in forests in France, in Central America, China and gone to sea never to be heard from again. The life of every father, mother, son and daughter lost goes to that debt.

In all those years since Lexington well over 1,380,000 service members have died in America’s wars. That is a rough average of 16 lives for every single day since April 19th, 1775. Today is the day we remember that in order for each of us to get up, leave our homes and go about our day freely and in peace, 16 fellow citizens have died. So that you and I can take our family vacation, so that we can sit and laugh with our friends by the pool, so that we can cook burgers on the grill and drink a beer…

A land owner carried his own musket to Concord and died fighting the British.

A marine officer fell to gunfire on the deck of the USS Constitution.

A father from Pennsylvania charged into massed cannon at Fredericksburg.

A man from Harlem died fighting alongside the French to take the village of Séchault.

A sailor died on a river in China.

The Captain of the USS West Virginia was killed by shrapnel at Pearl Harbor.

Someone’s brother drowned at Omaha Beach.

Someone’s husband fought the controls of his B-29 all the way down.

A marine froze to death at the Chosin Reservoir.

A young woman’s fiancé died in Vietnam.

A sailor burned to death rather than leave his post on the Intrepid.

An Air Force sergeant died in a prisoner of war camp.

Someone’s sister died tending the wounded at Anzio Beach.

A 19 year-old from Barstow was killed when a missile hit the USS Stark.

Someone’s son died in Afghanistan.

Someone’s daughter was killed by an IED.

“Freedom isn’t free.” 16 lives for every single day. That is the cost. That is why we take this day to memorialize.

Remember.

.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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