And we continue with our Memorial Day special all show long here on Our American Stories. This one is a personal story. It happens every Memorial Day.
I'm drawn back to a day long before I was born. The day my mother found out her brother was killed in World War II. It was before there were support groups for such things. Before we knew what PTSD was.
Before anyone dared to talk about war and the carnage it leaves behind. The war was a defining chapter of my mom's life. Almost every family she knew had at least one son fighting in the war. After Pearl Harbor, my mom told us, men young and old alike rushed to serve their country.
Her brother John was one of them. He joined the Army at 18 along with several other young men living in her five story walk up in West New York, New Jersey. On a sweltering fall day in 1944, months after D-Day, a black government car pulled up in the front of my mom's apartment building.
Two serious looking men got up and walked up to the stoop. My mother who was nearing her 12th birthday remembered praying that it would be someone else's apartment door those men would knock on and felt terrible praying such a prayer. She huddled near the door of her family's apartment listening to the footsteps as the men walked up the stairs. Please, not our floor, she prayed.
Then the worst thing that could have happened, happened. The men stopped on her floor. It was John, she told me crying. I knew it was John.
Within moments the two men arrived at the door followed by three knocks. She never heard her mom cry so loud. It was more of a wail, my mom told us. It was a sound I never heard from her before or again. Her dad barely cried but my mom would never see him enjoy his life fully again.
He'd lost his only son, his bloodline, his future. John, the uncle I never knew, is buried at the US military cemetery in Saint Laurent, France. The framed picture of that cemetery hangs on my office wall next to a framed Purple Heart citation. For me and millions of Americans Memorial Day is a sacred day.
Yes, it's also the extended weekend that kicks off the summer with hot dogs and picnics too. But mornings on Memorial Day were always about honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving their country in uniform. The number of Americans and American families like ours who paid that price is well over a million lives lost. More than 25,000 died fighting the Revolutionary War, 36,000 plus in the Korean War, 58,000 in the Vietnam War, 116,000 World War I, 405,000 in World War II, and an astounding 620,000 in the Civil War. To date, over 7,000 Americans have died in the global war on terror. Memorial Day is more than a weekend of fun and sun to so many millions of us.
It's personal. That's why it's about first and foremost visiting military cemeteries and adorning grave sites with small American flags. Indeed, it was General John A. Logan who started that tradition back on May 30th, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery where he and some volunteers decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
In 1971, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day and became a national holiday to honor all Americans who died serving their country in times of war. In Andrew Carroll's remarkable book War Letters, Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, his forward included a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman in a speech he gave in 1880. There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell.
You can bear this warning voice through generations yet to come. I look upon war with horror. Carroll's book is filled with a remarkable array of letters from soldiers to the home front. Many were the last letters that those soldiers, sailors, and airmen ever wrote to their loved ones. Lieutenant Robert E. Mitchell wrote this to his family on October 6th, 1918. He's licking the tar out of the Germans. The spirit of the boys is great and they're brimming over with confidence. These are stirring times and regardless of my personal outcome, I'm glad to be a part of it.
Lieutenant Mitchell was killed a mere nine days later. In a letter to his fiance, Audrey Taylor on July 6th, 1944, Lieutenant Jack Emery wrote these words. I like to sit up these warm bright nights and watch the white clouds and dark shadows move in the night. That's when I miss you the most. On the nights that I sit up alone, I can feel you close to me. Sometimes we sit and talk.
Sometimes I pretend we're just sitting there with our arms all about each other. Lieutenant Emery was shot down three days later over Burma. One of the most harrowing letters came from Lieutenant Tommy Kennedy, who was captured and imprisoned on what came to be known as Japanese hellships in Manila Bay. He scribbled these words to his parents. If I could only have been killed in action, it's so useless to die here in dysentery with no medicine.
Write Mary Robertson at Hutz Del Pen. Her son Melville died of dysentery on the 17th of January with his head on my shoulders. We were like brothers.
He was buried at sea somewhere off the China coast. I weigh about 90 pounds now so you can see how we are. I will sign off now, darlings. Please don't grieve too much.
I'm not afraid to go. I will be waiting for you. Lieutenant Kennedy's last letters were passed from one POW to another. When the final survivors were freed at war's end, Kennedy's parents finally received those letters.
It had been four years since their teenage son left for the Pacific. 25-year-old Second Lieutenant Jack Lundberg's note to his mother, father, and family was written a few weeks before D-Day. It's what soldiers, airmen, and seamen call their final letter, a last note to loved ones in the event they don't return home from battle. I want you to know how much I love each of you. You mean everything to me. It's the realization of your love that gives me the courage to continue. After thanking them for the sacrifices they made on his behalf, Lieutenant Lundberg closed out his letter with these words. We of the United States have something to fight for. Never more fully have I realized that.
There's just no other country with comparable wealth advancement or standard of living. The USA is worth a sacrifice. Remember always that I love each of you most fervently, and I am proud of you. Consider Mary, my wife, as having taken my place in the family circle, and watch over each other. Love to my family, Jack. Two and a half weeks after D-Day, Lieutenant Lundberg was the lead navigator on a B-17 mission to bomb the railroads in a small town in France. Hit by German anti-aircraft rounds, Lundberg's plane crashed.
His body wasn't recovered until nine months after his death. In a letter to his mother on September 6, 1950, Private William Geary wrote, I'm in a foxhole writing this letter still here on the front line. I pray every night. How is the family getting along? Fine, I hope. Well, I spent my birthday here. I'm on a machine gun.
I haven't slept for six days. I will close hoping to hear from you soon, your loving son Bill. He died a few weeks later, not long after his 22nd birthday, an early casualty of the Korean War. Carol's book is filled with letters like these, as well as letters from American families such as mine who lost a loved one to one of our nation's wars. We families cherish those letters, medals, and photographs that were left behind. They're an enduring memory of a life that could have been, of graduations and weddings and the birth of children missed, and of lives lost preserving all the things we Americans love and that we all too often take for granted. That's why Memorial Day matters to so many of us. It's also why it should matter to all of us. My personal story of Memorial Day and what it means to me here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-27 04:09:33 / 2023-05-27 04:13:24 / 4