It is April, 1995. America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the United States’ victory in the last great battle of World War II, the invasion of Okinawa – an island 350 miles off the coast of Japan. By the time the battle had ended on June 21, 180,000 U. S. combat troops had been involved.  The total number of casualties reached 50,000 killed or wounded, the most of any battle during the Pacific War.

Over the years veterans have returned to places like Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Normandy, Anzio, and others, to visit the battlefield. It is something they have to do. They need to do. They pay their respects to fallen comrades. They think about the impact of what they did. They remember. They shed a tear. 

It is November, 2015. It is the 50th anniversary of the United States’ “victory” in the first major battle of the Vietnam War, the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. It is a valley in west-central South Vietnam near the Cambodian border. The anniversary came and went with hardly anyone noticing. The battle was first brought to our attention through a book in 1992 by Colonel Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young. Then in 2002 Mel Gibson made a movie, We Were Soldiers, based on the book.

Colonel Moore was the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, the first group to engage the enemy on that day.  From November 14-16, 1965. American losses totaled 300 men. It was a battle that told the American high command that this would be a very long war and not easily won – hence, my quotation marks around the word, “victory.”

Veterans have seldom returned to visit the battlefields of the Ia Drang Valley, Khe Sanh, Pleiku, Dak To, Hue, and the A Shau Valley, all in Vietnam.  They have seldom returned to the Chosin Reservoir, Pork Chop Hill, Inchon, and Pusan, all in Korea. They have returned to the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, both in Washington, D.C. In their own way they pay their respects to fallen comrades. They think about the impact of what they did. They remember. They shed a tear.

It is May, 2019. We are approaching Memorial Day. People all over the country are talking about how they will spend the weekend. For many the festivities will include grilling out and drinking too much beer.  Some will have trouble remembering anything. Quite a tribute to the holiday.  Somewhere between the history books, the sales spectaculars, and the beer fest at the lake, we have lost the real meaning of this important holiday. It seems the further away we get from the battles mentioned above, the less we remember.

For the sake of those who fought and died we must remember. They were different wars with different battle plans and objectives. There were different reactions on the home front. There was a common thread. Men fought and died . . . and millions of lives were affected forever. Yes, we must remember for it is in our remembering that we say “thank you.”

In that moment maybe one more veteran, no matter which battle or which war, will realize his service was not in vain. Maybe we all will understand that freedom would not be possible were it not for their sacrifices. On this day, remembering is our personal memorial to those who did not return.

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