Every day, we hear so many numbers that we becorne numb to their significance except when the price of gas is reaching $4 a gallon. Hundreds of this, thousands of that, millions of people, cars or dollars. What does the number trillions mean, even when we think of the national debt?
Farmers have started planting the spring crops and already, the small corn stalks are sprouting, row upon row upon row, sometimes as far as the eye can see, quickly growing to be taller than a man.
Instead of corn plants, imagine there is a man in place each stalk. In just one acre, an area about the size of a football field, there will be about 28,000 men. Picture, then, the size of two football fields just to represent the soldiers who died in the Vietnam Conflict.
How many more acres would it take to represent the number of soldiers who have lost their lives, the wounded and, not to be forgotten, the prisoners of war and those missing in action from World War I and II, Korea. And now, in recent years, we must add the losses of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The numbers are impressive, but military casualties are not just statistics and charts. We are talking about soldiers who have died for their country; individuals with faces, personalities and private lives who will never laugh again.
Even before their death, they made many sacrifices. Once names were signed on official papers, they left their families, their jobs, their peaceful world. They struggled through basic training with a large group of strangers and yelling sergeants.
The soldiers who went to combat usually endured terrible conditions, even worse than Army food. What had to be most difficult was separation from family and loved ones. What had to be terrifying was the fear of going into battle.
The news media emphasize the number of killed as if that is the only measure of war. While we grieve for them, we must not forget that every soldier comes back from combat with some scars. There are so very many who return without hands, eyes, or limbs. They struggle for months, years and sometimes for the rest of their lives with pain and disability.
Their families suffer along side of them, emotionally and financially; the dreams of youth shattered.
For some, the greatest affliction is the emotional burden they bear. There are the haunting memories of doing things no one should ever do, sights no one should ever have to see.
Happiness and a sense of security cannot be found again. The terrible anguish is locked inside, for they cannot escape the images of the horrors in war and losing their comrades.
Sadly, too, there are thousands so troubled they cannot resume their previous lives and end up fighting for survival, homeless on the streets. Those veterans who end their lives just to end the torment, have also died in the service of our country and should be fondly remembered.
Even when there are no injuries or death, deployments are very difficult, straining marriages and too often dividing families.
Memorial Day is to honor those who have died for us, to preserve our liberty. As we remember them, let us not think of them not just as names on stone or numbers of statistics. Let us remember that each was an individual with a family who also made great sacrifices so that we are free to be here.
The decades march on. Memorial Days come and go, and with them, the parades and speeches. But let us never cease to honor all of our veterans.
The human cost of war is immeasurable but keep in mind the words of George Washington, “If we desire peace, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.”
The flag for the United States of America represents many things, especially liberty. The flag can also remind us of those who have paid the price for our freedom. The stars for the soldiers who have died. The red for the blood of the wounded. The white for the sacrifices made by so many in so many ways. The blue for the tears of the families; the widows, the mothers, the fathers, the children, the brothers, the sisters, so many loved ones.
Long may it fly in appreciation, honor and glory.
(The author lives and farms in Ashland County, Ohio.)