Memorial Day 2010: Remembering, Honoring and Hoping
The German torpedo that sank the U.S.S. Dorchester plying the icy waters of the North Atlantic in February 1943 didn’t know or care that among its 672 casualties there would be four U.S. military chaplains (all U.S. Army lieutenants): a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and two Protestant ministers. After giving their lifejackets away to other soldiers, “the four chaplains” were last seen standing on the deck of the sinking ship, arms linked and praying together.
The Japanese torpedoes that sank the U.S. submarine Corvina in the Pacific during World War II didn’t care about the age, rank, race or religion of the 82 brave sailors who died for our country one fateful day in November 1943.
The enemy fire that hit and downed a Navy F4U Corsair fighter on December 4, 1950, during the Korean War, had no idea that its pilot, Ensign Jesse LeRoy Brown was black, and, furthermore, that he was the Navy’s first African-American aviator. After crashing on an icy mountain side close to the Chosin Reservoir, Brown also became the Navy’s first African-American pilot to die in combat.
The Soviet-built rocket that slammed into a ward of an evacuation hospital in Chu Lai, Vietnam, just before dawn on June 8, 1969, could not have known that one of its victims would be a 24-year-old U.S. Army nurse. First Lieutenant Sharon A. Lane would be the only American servicewoman killed as a direct result of enemy fire during the Vietnam War, albeit seven other American military nurses would lose their lives serving in Vietnam.
Those who ambushed and murdered Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa and several other soldiers in March 2003, after her convoy made a fatal wrong turn into Nasiriyah, Iraq, didn’t know and probably didn’t care that Piestewa would be the first Native American woman killed in combat, and one of only a handful of Native American women serving in the military at the time. Neither did they know, or care, that Piestewa was a single mother raising two small children or, for that matter, that some 220,000 women would go on to serve in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next seven years and that more than 100 of them would make the ultimate sacrifice. (Another woman soldier on the same mission as Piestewa , Pfc. Jessica Lynch, survived the ambush and was dramatically rescued a few days later.)
The enemy grenade that killed Mexican-born Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta on November 15, 2004, in insurgent-infested Fallujah, Iraq, when he heroically smothered the grenade explosion with his body saving the lives of six fellow Marines, did not care that Peralta had come to the U.S. as a teen without legal documentation.
The IED that took the life of Army Major Alan G. Rogers, an intelligence officer, while he was on patrol in Baghdad, on January 27, 2008, had no inkling that Rogers may have been, according to some, one of the first of more than 200 gay and lesbian service members who would die in the Iraq war.
To the roadside bomb that ended the life of Army 1st Lt. Mohsin A. Naqvi in Afghanistan, in December 2008, it was neither here nor there that Naqvi, a naturalized American born in Pakistan, was Muslim—one of over 58,000 members of our armed forces who have been naturalized since Sept. 11. As, Naqvi’s father said, “First he was American, then he was a Muslim.”
The roadside bombs and small-arms fire that killed Pfc. Christopher R. Kilpatrick on June 20, 2005, and Maj. Steven Hutchison on May 10, 2009, in Operation Iraqi Freedom didn’t know that Kilpatrick was only 18 and that Hutchison was already 60 years old, the oldest American service member to be killed in combat in Iraq.
Finally, the suicide bomber who so cowardly attacked members of the Marines’ 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan just four months ago will never know that one of his victims was a young Jew, Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Kane.
And so it continues…
The sniper bullets that so unexpectedly kill our soldiers don’t give a hoot whether their targets are gay or straight, male or female, Christian or Muslim or whether their surname is Smith, Jankiewicz, Nguyen or Rodríguez.
The treacherous mines that kill or blow the legs off our heroes are blind to the color of the skin of the casualties. Neither can they distinguish whether their victims are natural-born Americans, naturalized Americans, “green-card holders,” or even newly arrived immigrants.
Our enemies could care less if we call our wars “wars of necessity” or “wars of choice,” whether we still call them “Bush’s wars” or now say that they are “Obama’s wars.” To them, the wars and acts of terrorism are against America and Americans, period.
On this Memorial Day, Americans will respectfully commemorate, honor and thank our fallen heroes of all wars and conflicts—as we should.
I hope, however, when Memorial Day is over, and we go back to debating the politics of war and peace; the pros and cons of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell;” the imagined and real perils of fully integrating women in the armed services; and the cost of the physical and mental health care our returning heroes so badly need, that we will keep in mind that the courage and patriotism of our service men and women and their willingness to pay the ultimate price, know—just as enemy bombs and bullets—no race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or national origin.
I hope that by the next Memorial Day all qualified Americans will have the right to serve their country and that all those who serve will be able to enjoy all the rights, privileges and opportunities our country so generously offers the rest of us.
This article is dedicated to my Officer Candidate School classmates (OCS Class 63-A) who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War and during the “Cold War.”
Image: Courtesy www.af.mil