Op-ed column: As wars drag on, the lists of young dead get overshadowed

In many towns and counties across our nation, residents mourn their war dead and organize ways to sa

A week or so after there has been heavy combat in Afghanistan, there generally appears on PBS’ “News Hour” an Honor Roll of those who have died in battle.

Similarly, soon after the first American lives were lost to war in late 2001, the ABC Sunday morning program “This Week” began posting the names of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, during the “In Memoriam” segment of their broadcast. Recently, other global events have taken precedence, pre-empting this show’s long-held tradition of listing war’s casualties.

In many towns and counties across our nation, residents mourn their war dead and organize ways to salute the local brothers, sons, fathers, sisters, daughters and mothers who have given their greatest service to our country. It is heart-rending to see the images of those bright young faces — so vibrant, idealistic and alive — that were photographed only a short while before their deaths.

Behind the statistics, and what is even sadder, is to read the ages of the fallen; many of whom are in their late teens or early 20s. To know the way in which an 18-year-old becomes a fatality is especially tragic, since to have met one’s end at so young an age requires a military enlistment very early in the 17th year. After completion of basic training and then a short furlough following basic, the young recruit would have to be deployed overseas where, sometime during their 18th year, he or she would die as a consequence of war.

The death of anyone in Afghanistan and Iraq is terrible, but to be cut down at such a young age, is horrific.

Whenever I get together with my veteran friends (WWII, Korea), I often mention how seeing the Honor Roll listings affect my state of mind. One friend suggested that I should avoid reading the names and ages of the deceased if it is so disturbing to me.

But to avert my eyes would be tantamount to turning my back on reality and on all those who have given everything for our country.

To have earned a place on war’s Honor Roll means the ultimate in sacrifice, and my respect is the very least I can show those heroes, even though it troubles me so deeply.

Time-honored ritual

Back in the 1930s, our local Boy Scout troop would place wreaths on the graves of veterans from the Civil War to WWI. The ritual was followed every Memorial Day and Armistice Day — now Veterans Day. I can well remember the large gold letters written against the backdrop of a black sash attached to each wreath.

Viewing the Honor Roll on television and in certain periodicals, is for me, a solemn restatement of those words, “Lest We Forget.”

This month marks the eighth year of our involvement in Iraq, a very long and important milestone, which regrettably, has been diminished by time in the minds of many Americans.

William Wrigg lives in Clifton Park. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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