On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we stop what we are doing and give remembrance to those who have given and who are giving so much during times of war and conflict.
“The date was January 11, 1943. Lieutenant Commander Truman Jones stood in the living room to deliver his saddest most disagreeable message of his Navy career. “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your sons Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison Sullivan are missing in action in the South Pacific.”
The Sullivan boys came to be on the same ship in much the same fashion as many others who serve or have served our country….they volunteered. Four years prior to WWII, George and Francis Henry had served in the Navy. After serving their four year terms, they returned to the family home. Six months later, they listened intently to reports of the attack at Pearl Harbor. At that point, the five brothers walked into the local Navy recruiting station together including Al who was just 19 and married less than two years, and subsequently joined the Navy….together.” (Des Moines Register January 4, 1942)
Before the Sullivan’s and since, the story, albeit in a different fashion, has been repeated time and time again. It is a story of commitment, passion, patriotism and perpetual giving. The story is far greater than the individuals who have worn the uniform as it includes the supporting cast surrounding that solider. Each of those deaths, like the Sullivan’s, represents a brother or a sister, a mom or dad, husband/wife, cousin, family or close friend. In some cases, the heroes were drafted while in others, they enlisted for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, they enlisted to fight for and protect what we have today.
The statistics are staggering. WWI took the lives of over 115,000 of our servicemen. WWII claimed well over 400,000. Korea tallied more than 35,000, Vietnam over 58,000, the Gulf War nearly 300, Afghanistan more than 2,000 and Iraq surpassing 4,000 lives. In between there were other life claiming events….The USS Cole, Beirut, Somalia to name a few. In WWII alone, the “deaths per day” averaged 297.
The casualties of war unfortunately are far greater than a loss of life. We are reminded of that daily as we hope and pray for the best treatment our servicemen and women deserve as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Sullivan story should get your heart to quicken, your eyes to glisten over. Put yourself in that home with mom and dad as their world is turned upside down. Do that again for those who see a military vehicle enter their driveway as they wait for news on their son or daughter who are serving in Afghanistan today. Flashback to your aunts and uncles who had siblings who went to war, never to come home again. Pinch yourself the next time you see a serviceman or woman who is wheelchair restricted or showing visible signs of war. Remind yourself that the returning serviceman in your neighborhood has not erased all that happened just because he or she is ‘home’.
I personally know a number of servicemen and women. From those who served special forces and suffered serious injuries to National Guard. I have relationships with administrative people who work behind the scenes and I know Bomber pilots. I have been to funerals of some of our “Greatest Generation” who were wounded on Iwo Jima or made Prisoner of War when their bomber was shot down. I have been to the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” and have never felt the weight of silence as I have while giving thanks during this beautiful symbolic ceremony. In my mind, I can recall the humbling rows of grave markers at Arlington Cemetery. Without hesitation and in all cases, each memory is one of heroes for that is what they are. They Are Our Heroes.
Give thanks this November 11 like we should but more importantly, give recognition and give thanks every chance you can. Silently, we can thank the Sullivan family and others whom our association is only through what we read. Verbally or with a handshake or a hug we can thank each of our servicemen and women, each day/every day for that is what we should be doing. Truly, “They Are Our Heroes”.