USA: Memorial Day – A reminder that freedom is worth living and dying for

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By Dionesio C. Grava
Photos courtesy of Lilia Rabe Grava
First Posted in :

There is expectation that vacationers who will travel more than 50 miles in the coming Memorial Day weekend will increase by 1.2 percent despite the high gas prices. For those who will have Las Vegas as destination, they are promised an entertainment fare that will rival that of New Year’s eve. In some other places it would be an exciting time for nationalistic themed parades or memorial rites or barbecues. Some people are known to travel great distances to reunite with kin and decorate with flowers the graves of loved ones on that day.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day has since become a federal holiday to remember and honor all the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. And so in somber remembrance and gratitude may we oblige ourselves a reflection of that moment in time when brave lives were cut short while in the pursuit of the values that many of us seem to take for granted today. In the same manner may we reprise the homage extended to those heroes in uniform during D-Day in June, Veterans Day in November, Bataan-Corregidor observance in April, the Leyte Landing in October and similar other commemorative events both here and in the land where we came from. It will be a constant reminder that freedom and liberty are precious enough to live and die for.

It is a sobering thought that even as we reminisce the courage and heroics in battlefronts of long ago, the reality is that we continue to bury fresh casualties of ongoing conflicts. Such is the unfortunate, painful reality of war that 135,000 lost their lives in the Normandy invasion in 1944 alone. During the Civil War 620,000 were killed. In the First World War 70,000 died while in WWII, the number of deaths were said to be about 300,000 or more. And there were the many other American soldier casualties during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan and others.

We also have not taken into account the death tolls among the allies, the enemies and the civilian populace who had suffered just as much or worse. Then there were those who had since been relegated in the gray areas — the Filipino soldiers, the scouts and guerilla forces. The Philippines was an American colony at that time and Filipino soldiers were ordered to fight under the American flag by direct order of then American President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were subjected to the same U.S. Articles of War and promised parity with their American comrades-in-Arms.

But hardly had WWII been won than our veterans felt the sting of unfair, discriminatory maneuvering on the part of the U.S. Congress, which passed a legislation that deemed their wartime service not to be considered “service in the military or national forces of the U.S. or any component thereof” in relation to any law of the U.S. conferring rights, privileges or benefits. With that single broad discriminatory sweep, the representatives of the American people negated the sufferings and lives lost by our countrymen in the defense of liberty championed by the mother country then, the U.S.A.

The stark reality of the Rescission Act of 1946 prompted our former soldiers to pick up the fight again and for more than six decades sacrificed and shed the same sweats and tears to right a wrong. Veterans’ movements cropped up for that purpose, among them the Equity Village based at the MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. It emerged out of a June 14, 1997 Flag Day Program, became news fodder because of hunger strikes and protest rallies and became the focal point for those advocating for the passage of the so-called Filipino Veterans Equity Act. Ultimately the issue was brought in proximity of U.S. legislators when a group of LA veterans-activists and supporters reached Washington, D.C. on September 9 by way of a 22-day Equity Caravan.

The brave and the dead Because of the great numbers involved many of those who died in foreign battlegrounds have been left where they had fallen. About 125,000 of them have been interred in the 24 American military cemeteries located in other parts of the world. The largest of these overseas cemeteries, the 152-acre Manila American Cemetery and Memorial has the largest number of dead GIs of WWII. The total 17,201 graves are mostly those of US soldiers who died in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission. Additionally, the cemetery has Tablets of the Missing containing 36,285 names.

It is said that America was forged in blood and tears and today Americans continue to bear the heavy burden of financing and dying in conflicts far away from home. One often wonders how a country that invest so much on its youth could bear to send them to undertake extreme hardships and risk the uncertainties inherent with armed hostilities.

On the other hand America’s leadership role in the democratic world naturally burdens it with the cross of moral ascendancy to help rein in a tumultuous world. It is true that this country is under no obligation to impose its gospel of righteousness to other people and nations. But ours is not a perfect world and someone has to shoulder the thankless job of delivering the message that another Auschwitzes and Buchenwalds and Rwandas are not tolerated on planet earth.

In a free regime the facts at times get fuzzy amid angry rhetoric fostered by intense partisanship. But warfare is and has always been defined by belligerency – bloody, expensive and messy. Good leadership requires, among others, resolute judgment not prone to baling out at the first signs that things are not going to be rosy.

Naysayers should not be allowed to detract from the fact that the Nazis, the Talibans and the Al Queda no longer reign supreme. Much has changed and changes are for the better. The Iraqis are on their own and the Afghans will soon have their place in the sun. Should they choose to relapse to the old ways, at least they had been offered the option of a better deal.

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