This Memorial Day weekend most Americans will enjoy an extra day off from work enjoying family gatherings, hot dogs on the grill, and ice cold beer. It’s easy to get caught up in spending time with relatives and family, and it’s not unusual for people to forget what this weekend commemorates. So the fact that many will forget, or not think much about what the weekend is truly all about isn’t unexpected. So here’s a little reminder for you.
For seventy-seven days in 1968, about five thousand United States Marines were under siege by the forces of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. Three divisions estimated at roughly twenty thousand troops surrounding a little known village in South Vietnam called Khe Sanh. Cut off by the enemy and depending on airdrops for ammunition and supplies, the Marines fought valiantly and with great courage.
During those seventy-seven days two hundred and five Americans were killed, with more than sixteen hundred wounded. It’s estimated that the Americans inflicted over fifteen thousand enemy casualties, though an exact count wasn’t available due to the enemy’s practice of dragging off their dead. While it was in reality a major military victory for the American forces in South Vietnam, the news media reports at the time portrayed it as anything but that. The Vietnam War had become a political cause and demonstrations and rioting had already started to turn public opinion against the war.
In October of 1918 approximately five hundred fifty four men of the U.S. 77th Division engaged the forces of the German Weimar Republic in the forests of the Argonne in France. Cut off from supplies and support they fought the Germans for every inch of ground for six days.
Out of food and water they stripped the dead of any rations and ammunition they could find, and runners sent to a nearby stream to collect water for the wounded were usually shot and killed themselves. After being shelled by their own artillery and suffering terrible hardships and casualties they were finally relieved after six days of fighting. Since referred to as ‘the Lost Battalion’ only one hundred ninety-four marched out alive.
In September of 1862 close to fifty-five thousand troops from the Army of Northern Virginia, Confederates under the command of General Robert E. Lee entered the state of Maryland. They soon became engaged with forces from the Union Army of the Potomac under the command of General George B. McClelland, near the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Later known as the Battle of Antietam after Antietam Creek which ran through the battlefield, it became the single bloodiest day of battle in American history, with an estimated twenty-five thousand casualties from both sides in a single day of fighting. Those wounded, dead, and missing in action. While considered a Union victory it really was more of a draw, but it did result in stalling the Confederate advance into Maryland. And it gave then President Abraham Lincoln the confidence to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, effectively freeing the slaves in America.
Following the Civil War where ‘colored troops’ fought bravely when given the chance, the United States Army established the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry, all four units composed almost entirely of black Americans, many freed slaves, under the command of white officers. Known by their nickname the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, they fought heroically on the western frontier protecting settlers from Indian attacks, and helping keep open the west for expansion and settlement.
From 1866 to the early 1890’s they served during most of the major campaigns, with thirteen enlisted men and six officers being awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. Numerous Buffalo Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United States. The history of the Buffalo Soldiers is replete with stories of courage and heroism in spite of the racism they also faced and fought every day.
On December 7, 1941 Imperial Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet and other military facilities in and around Pearly Harbor, Hawaii. The Battleship Arizona was hit by multiple bombs dropped by Japanese aircraft and quickly sunk, killing one thousand one hundred and seventy-seven men. Most of which still remain entombed within the sunken hull of the Arizona seventy-five years later. Those who survived have often in subsequent years requested that when they die that their ashes be returned to re-join their shipmates on the Arizona.
Over four thousand service members were killed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, along with over two thousand who have died in Afghanistan. And others have fought and died in nearly every corner of the globe fighting terrorism. A war that continues to this day with American service people still making the ultimate sacrifice.
Hopefully this weekend Americans will take a moment from the festivities and back yard Bar B Ques, to reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by so many to protect and defend this nation for over two hundred years, against all of America’s enemies foreign and domestic.