|Members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency march alongside a disinterred casket holding the remains of unknown USS Oklahoma service members during a disinterment ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu on Nov. 5. (Source)|
Soldier, sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman, airman, it doesn't matter what uniform you wear, it doesn't matter what flag you salute, it doesn't matter what language you speak, nor the way you worship, if at all. Somewhere we all have mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. When we march off to war, our most fervent hope is that we survive. That we go home.
For some, when they step off from their parent's doorstep, it's the last time. They will not see their home again, not as we, the living see it.
I'm not sure the dead care where they lie, nor what happens to their physical remains once they have breathed their last.
But those left behind care. The living need to mourn their dead, they need some symbol, some marker, some touchstone that links them to the ones they've lost. When that is lacking, many will go on for years, maybe decades, never having closure, never knowing what became of their loved one.
The dead who can be identified and buried properly give some comfort to those left behind. They have a place to go to mourn, to remember.
I think the worst fate that can befall a service member is to be declared "Missing." Whether it is missing in action, lost at sea, or being lost in some area of the planet on land which is little traveled. The dark jungles of Southeast Asia spring to mind.
Sometimes the missing aren't really missing. They are right there, but unidentifiable. Buried after combat in mass graves, sometimes by the enemy, sometimes hurriedly by one's own side as events move too fast to do a proper job.
There are still soldiers missing in action from our own Revolutionary War (1,426 according to one source).
Now take a massive conflict, which spans thousands of square miles, like the Pacific Theater, the Russian Front, or the North Atlantic. In those massive battles thousands fell, the war went back and forth. At sea, if your ship was lost or you couldn't find your carrier or base returning from a mission, you were swallowed by the vastness of the sea.
On land, even if you fell within your own lines, there was no guarantee of your body being recovered. With artillery fire, sometimes there was no body to be recovered.
One thing I keep in mind at all times, and that is, for the most part, it's not the young men and women who go off to war who make that decision. Invariably it is old men in suits, in some dusty government building who make that decision to go to war. To shed the blood of their fellow man.
Sometimes it is even worse. Sometimes it is old men in suits sitting in a corporate boardroom who make that call. Usually it is indirect. The men with the money and the power tell their government puppets to do one thing or the other.
But it is seldom their blood that is shed. They don't have to pay the price of their decisions, not in blood anyway.
So I don't care what uniform they wear, what flag they salute, what language they speak, nor the way they worship. Somewhere they all have mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters.
It may be a gray-haired grandmother in Vietnam who will lie awake at night wondering what happened to the baby she held and sang to. It may be an old babushka deep in the former Soviet Union who still remembers the horrors of the Great Motherland War, but is most pained by the memory of a little boy whose face she can barely remember.
It may be a middle-aged man standing on the heights of Point Loma in San Diego, looking out over the Pacific, wondering what the last moments of his son or daughter was like. Knowing that "out there" somewhere under those rolling waves lies a future that never was.
German and Japanese mothers loved their children as well. Yes, they served a bad cause, in one case an evil cause. But they didn't make the war plans, they didn't make the decisions. It wasn't their children who did either. But it was their children who were put into uniforms and sent off to kill. Perhaps to die. At the bidding of conniving old men.
So when someone tells me that we should "leave those bastards where they fell," I go cold, I question that person's humanity. When the war ends, so, eventually, does the hatred. At some point we are all human, all of one species.
We all want to go home again.
To the fallen, to those who didn't come home, who are still "out there." I pray that someday you are found, but I pray more than anything that you are remembered.