Several years ago, I attended a reunion of the "Kamikaze Survivors" - the men who'd fought the sea battle of Okinawa in April, 1945.
Most of the attendees back then were in their late 70's or early 80's and they'd come to see friends and remember shipmates.
These were the men who’d served on the "picket line" - a group of destroyers and smaller ships stationed far from the main fleet that was part of the invasion of Okinawa. Their job was to warn that fleet of any approaching enemy aircraft.
They suffered on that station. During the battle for Okinawa, over 1900 suicide attacks were launched against our ships. On April 16, 1945, the USS Laffey - a destroyer - underwent what was probably the most concentrated aerial attack ever endured by a single ship in WWII.
In his description of the battle, Samuel Elliott Morrison stated that "From first light she had bogeys on her screen, and at one time her radar operator counted 50 planes closing from the northern quadrant...During a period of 80 minutes, in 22 separate attacks plotted by Laffey's officers, she was hit by six kamikazes, by four bombs and by strafing as well as being missed by a bomb and by a seventh kamikaze." The Laffey had 31 men killed and 72 wounded during that one day.
Many of the men in the room told similar stories regarding what they and their shipmates had endured.
Since today is Memorial Day, I believe we should ignore the sales and the barbecues for a moment to remember those men and others like them.
You see, roughly two centuries ago, a group of rebels sat down and drew up a list of particulars regarding the way the people of this country were being treated by its rulers.
The rebels spoke of things like freedom and liberty. They posited the radical notion that governments derived their power solely from the consent of the governed and not the other way around. They wrote of things like justice being administered impartially and the rights of the individual being paramount.
The country’s rulers at that time did not listen kindly to such ideas. They were incensed when the rebels declared independence and started up their own nation. Declaring that independence, however, carried a price and the first payment came due at a place called Lexington.
Shortly thereafter, our armed forces - what there were of them - found themselves pitted against the most formidable fighting force of the time. It took years, but that rag-tag army eventually beat the best the world had to offer.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. Over the ensuing 200-plus years, the bill for the beliefs we hold has been presented with a frightening regularity.
No war is popular to those who have to fight. It is a gruesome and soul devouring experience. Still, throughout our history, the men and women of our armed forces have gone where ordered and many died by so doing.
Nine years ago, we were attacked by a group of fanatics with a chip on their shoulder and notions on human rights that stagnated somewhere around the Stone Age. Following that attack, our troops were, once again, sent to respond. Their fight continues in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today’s a good day to remember the men and women who, throughout our history, have gone to these places and to a hundred other pieces of hell on earth. There, they fought and many never returned.
The men I saw that day at the “Kamikaze Survivors” reunion were part of a long line of those who’ve served and their stories were a testament to those who died in that service.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with local individuals like Bob Mower, Julian Meyer, Rafael LaMarca, John Waltz, and Russ MacGilvray.
These individuals are our neighbors and they, too, have stories that attest not only to their own courage but also to the courage of the men and women they knew who never came home.
Setting aside one day of the year to remember those who’ve died while serving this nation is - very simply - appropriate.