If you really want to understand why it’s so important that we take the time today to remember the sacrifices of those who’ve fought and died in military service, you’ll find the answer in the soldiers’ own words.
If you really want a sense of the anguish and pain and fear and strength and honor and bravery of our troops, read their letters.
Letters like this one:
Momie + Dad: It is pretty hard to check out this way with out a fighting chance, but we can’t live forever. I’m not afraid to die. I just hate the thought of not seeing you again. Buy Turkey Ranch with my money and just think of me often while you’re there.”
That’s the last letter Lt. Thomas R. Kennedy wrote to his parents, on Jan. 16, 1945.
Here’s another more recent letter:
Dear Dad — As you have no doubt been watching, we have had our hands full around Fallujah. It would seem as if the final reckoning is coming. The city has been on a consistent down hill spiral since we were ordered out in April. … The enemy inside the town have come to fight and kill Americans. Nothing will sate their bloodlust and hatred other than to kill everyone of us or at least die trying. … For eight months, we have been witness to suicidal sociopaths driving vehicles laden with explosives into crowds of Iraqis and into our own convoys. The Marines understand and are eager to get on with it. The only lingering fear in them is that we will be ordered to stop again. I don’t know if this is going to happen, but if it happens soon, I will write you when it’s over. Love, Dave.
That was from an email sent from a soldier in Iraq to his father.
Here’s another written by another soldier in World War II, sharing a close call he had with death.
Something happened to me the other day that I want you to know about! I was kneeling in my fox-hole, standing guard, keeping my eyes open for any ferries, when they started to throw mortar shells near my hole. The first ones landed about 40 yds away, but those didn’t bother me and I kept observing. The next instant, I heard a swoosh – + I fell on my stomach in my hole. One of the shells had landed and exploded from my coroner of my hole. When I ducked down, my head moved so fast, my helmet fell off and stayed up on the bank. It blew my rifle all to hell, which was sitting on top – read to use. The rifle was found about 10 feet away, and my helmet is on the other side of a large drainage canal about 40 yds away. The reason which I am firmly convinced that I’ve been so fortunate. …
That was from a letter from a soldier serving near Angio, Italy, on April 25, 1944.
In the center of the hand-written letter is hole about an inch or two wide with burnt edges, the result of a bullet hole.
These are the letters found in basements and attics and computers all around America, sent by American soldiers to their family members and friends.
They’ve been collected and archived at The Center for American War letters at Chapman University in California, and feature the words of our military heroes through all engagements, dating back through the Revolutionary War and up to our current military missions.
The collection — established in 2013 after historian Andrew Carroll donated more than 100,000 war letters to the college — features a virtual museum, exhibits, a website and source materials for educators and historians. Visit it at: https://www.chapman.edu/research/institutes-and-centers/cawl/index.aspx.
This is but one collection of letters from soldiers.
There are also many books published that contain similar first-person accounts. Check them out and read them. You might be able to find some letters in your local library or even in your own home or your grandparents’ home.
We can never truly understand what these heroes went through.
But by learning about their experiences in their own words, we can at least gain a better appreciation of their sacrifices.
That’s what this day is about.
That’s why it’s important that we show our respect and gratitude.
Celebrate Memorial Day by honoring our heroes.