Our Opinion: Remembering those who gave ‘last full measure of devotion’

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Editor’s Note: As we reflect on the service and sacrifice Memorial Day calls to mind, The Wilson Times is republishing editorials that were penned following the Vietnam War in 1975 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Another Memorial Day finds the United States no longer at war. Along the slopes of military cemeteries, the rows of white crosses bear quiet testimony to the cost. Thousands of homes across the United States have been touched by death in Vietnam and Korea and other battlefields now receding into history.

In terms of individual destiny, there is no “little” war, however circumscribed may be its geography. In every war, the participant risks his all. All war is dreadful — to those who fight in it, to those who wait and pray for its end, and to those who ponder its aftermath.

But Memorial Day is not by tradition an occasion for solemn generalizations about war or why men go to war. It is concerned with the essential and tragic fact that in every war, many men must die prematurely.

Memorial Day is an occasion for expressing love and gratitude to those who have died, and remembering that the price of peace and freedom is not cheap.

— Published in The Wilson Daily Times on May 26, 1975

Memorial Day 1991 will be a little different.

America’s thoughts are less consumed this year with picnics in the park, weekend travels or cookouts in the backyard. America has just completed a successful war in which a bullying aggressor was resoundingly defeated, and the patriotic fervor still glows bright in the American mind.

Troops who served in the Persian Gulf are still returning to their homes, and they are being greeted with enthusiastic welcomes. Parades and celebrations are planned, peaking on Independence Day, when the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence will become lost in the celebration of a victorious military campaign.

Especially remembered this Memorial Day will be the 141 Americans who died in the Persian Gulf War. They are among 1,153,541 Americans who gave their “last full measure of devotion,” as Lincoln described it, to their country. More than 100,000 of those American heroes lie buried on foreign soil, in such places as a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach or a North African desert near ancient Carthage.

Their resting places testify to Americans’ willingness to defend freedom for others as well as for themselves.

In its 215 years, America has sent 38,290,000 of its sons and daughters into war. Today’s holiday is meant as a remembrance for those who never returned. Among those who didn’t come back are thousands of American servicemen listed as missing in action from Vietnam, Korea and both world wars.

A congressional report out last week charges the Defense Department with ignoring evidence that living Americans are still held prisoner from wars that ended as much as 46 years ago. Let us not celebrate another Memorial Day without an accounting of the MIAs from Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

The patriotic surge that followed the brief and nearly antiseptic Persian Gulf War carries with it a danger. After two decades of disparagement of patriotism and military honor, America now faces the potential of glorification of war.

The troops who fought the wars, from Troy to the Persian Gulf, know there is no glory in war, only tragedy and agony. And while the defeat of Iraq was quick and relatively bloodless, America must not become enchanted with its own power. The next war may not be so quick or so clean. And in any war, young lives will be destroyed.

The military is an honorable calling, but war is ever a tragedy never to be longed for.

As we remember the honored dead from America’s wars today, we would do them dishonor to either disparage the uniform they wore and the ideals they served or to glorify the human folly that took away their lives.

— Published in The Wilson Daily Times on May 27, 1991