In the National Archives, where many of the nation’s important documents are kept, is a collection of yellowing papers titled plainly: World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel from New York.
It is exactly what it says it is — an alphabetical list, broken down by county, of all the soldiers from our state killed during that war.
It’s very military-like in its form. Each name is typed in capital letters: last name, first name, middle initial. And each name is followed by the soldier’s seven- or eight-digit serial number, rank and a code.
A casualty code.
DOW. DOI. KIA. DNB. FOD. M.
Died of Wounds. Died of Injuries. Killed in Action. Died Non-Battle. Finding of Death. Missing.
You’d think boiling down the deaths of these brave soldiers to the bare minimum amount of information on a long, typed list, then storing it in a building with billions of other pieces of paper, would take away the humanity. That not showing the pictures of the dead and not offering details of the casualty codes would make the deaths less personal.
That somehow reducing their lives to a few taps of a clerk’s typewriter would make the horrors they saw and the pain they suffered easier to comprehend.
But in fact, poring over the lists of names has the opposite effect.
In the brevity of each entry, the list actually makes their sacrifices even more stark and real, in that it forces us to ask questions.
Who were these soldiers? Were they young boys or were they older? Are those on the list who share the same last name brothers or cousins or father and son?
What’s behind those casualty codes?
How were they killed? Where were they when they died? Did they hear the bullet or the bomb coming? Did they write their mother or sweetheart in their final days? Were they alone? Or did they die with their buddies?
For those who died of their wounds, how much did they suffer and for how long? What were they thinking as they lay on the battlefield until they were carried off? Who risked their own life to save these wounded soldiers, only to have them pass away later?
And what of the missing? What became of them? Where did they find their final place of rest?
The military can boil down the horrors of war to letters and numbers on a page. But it can’t take away the suffering. It can’t take away the loss.
It can’t take away their heroism in service to our country.
Every name on every list like this, from every war, every serial number, every code, belongs to someone.
And each of these individuals deserves our eternal gratitude on this day of memorial.
Please take time to honor them.