Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day Americans have honored since 1868, when we mourn those military personnel who have died in the service of the country—that is, for the rest of us. For me, one of those people is Beau Bryant. When we were growing up, we hung out at one particular house where a friend’s mom provided unlimited peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, Uno games, iced tea and lemonade, sympathetic ears, and stories. She talked about Beau, her older brother, in the same way we talked about all our people, and her stories made him part of our world even though he had been killed in World War II 19 years before we were born.
In 1865, in remembrance of the 600,000 Union and Southern soldiers killed in the Civil War, Congress created the first Memorial Day.
Since then, our nation has found it necessary to "celebrate" an additional 161 Memorial Day as the number of Americans killed in foreign wars continues to grow. It could easily be named "National Mourning Day" as we have exceeded 1,400,000 US soldiers who have died in combat since that first Memorial Day back in 1865. If this number doesn't get your attention, consider that it doesn't include the 90,000,000 civilians killed worldwide in WWI & WWII alone. That's a lot of men, women, and children who, just like you and me, wanted to live and enjoy their lives.
By now, you might think Americans would have had enough of this daily killing-off of our greatest national treasure, our children. But no, even with the current horrific daily carnage to fellow citizens and the forgotten lessons of prior foreign misadventures, we have continued sending our offspring off to fight in the 37+ wars we've fought since the end of WWII.
How does one explain that? Maybe we are just plain stupid. Or more sadly, perhaps we love war too much to quit because incredibly we are still at it.
Since it began with our "search" for WMDs and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have buried another 7000 uniformed American men and women, and have added to our burdened Nation, the daunting task of rehabilitating the other 44,000 wounded soldiers that are now home. These numbers don't include the over 3,000 civilian contractors that were also killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With thousands of US soldiers already killed and wounded in these two dustbowl countries, research compiled by the Costs of War Project at Brown University found an estimated 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans who have served in the military since 9/11, have died by suicide. This is compared with 7,057 killed in post 9/11 military operations.
Add in some $4 Trillion of our treasury spent; it's difficult for me to understand why we are not back in the streets protesting this crazy senseless waste of human talent and national resources.
At closing in on 81 years old and a former US Army infantryman, I still remember the protests and civil unrest the Vietnam War generated that ultimately changed the White House. But where are the people with the slogans and chants of protest today?
In Atkinson's book on the war in Western Europe, The Guns of Last Light, he tells of Patricia O'Malley, who was a year old when her father, Major Richard James O'Malley, a battalion commander in the 12th Infantry, was killed by a sniper in Normandy. She later wrote of seeing his headstone for the first time in the cemetery at Colleville, above Omaha Beach. "I cried for the joy of being there and the sadness of my father's death. I cried for all the times I needed a father and never had one. I cried for all the words I had wanted to say and wanted to hear but had not. I cried and cried.”
How many new tears will be shed by America's mothers, fathers, widows, and parentless children in the years ahead before we tell Congress that we've "shed all the tears we ever want to shed?"
I've got a lump in my throat after reading how people went to Beau's grave and sent you photos of his cross. How lovely that they helped you realize that his memory lives on.
This one made me cry….thanks Heather….
Think we need to remember Beau…when the political lies are told and repeated and the hostility gets noxious….
Beau’s death occurred to protect us from fascism…. Not promote it.
Beautiful story, Heather. Greatly appreciated. It reminds me of a profound experience I had many years ago when I visited the WW2 cemetery at Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France. It was a bright, crisp, sunny fall day and seeing the rows and rows of crosses was extremely moving. Very quickly, as I scanned the graves, I was drawn to the occasional Jewish stars among the crosses. I went over to one of them, and suddenly, after years of not thinking about the Jewish prayer for the dead, Kaddish, the words to the Kaddish prayer popped into my head and I recited them, in Hebrew, over that grave, and wept.
I felt such a deep connection to my Jewish history, and the poignance of the huge cemetery with all the war dead, knowing that part of that fight included ending the Holocaust in Europe, was very powerful. It is a memory I will never forget.
What a heartbreaking story. Memorial Day trips to the cemeteries were a tradition when I was growing up. So many families had graves of soldiers that had no bodies because they’d been killed overseas. We need to remember all those who, like Beau, left their futures on the battlefields.
Some thoughts about Memorial Day, 2023. I wrote this in a note to a friend and decided to share it.
This Memorial Day weekend, of all times, I have to say that the people who fought and died to keep us free and, unknowingly, were sacrificed to keep the military industrial complex going, didn’t die for a damnable oligarchy to take over this country.
They didn’t fight to enable billionaire tax evaders to make money off of imprisoning people who, had they been born a different color, would not be in prison.
They didn’t suffer to make it possible for slumlords, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and payday loan companies to crush the dreams, bodies, and souls of the working poor. Or to destroy what was once a growing and healthy middle class.
And they didn’t come home broken, shell-shocked, isolated, suicidal and unsupported, for expectant mothers and babies to be stressed to the point of death (rate of Black maternal and infant mortality [2-3x that of Whites] being worse here than in many Global South nations) or for 10-year-old girls raped by relatives to have to carry a baby to term, or for 10-year old children to have to practice active shooter drills in hopes of surviving a school shooting caused, in large part, by elected officials that are stuck on the teat of the NRA and are too gutless and callous to have supported, 20 years ago, paid family leave that could have led to the secure attachment between mothers and babies that makes for teens and young adults who don’t grow up needing drugs, violence, guns, and to kill something or someone to feel they are alive.
Those who fought and died didn’t do so for these freedoms to be tossed aside. Nor did they do so for sacred Voting Rights to be stripped by state legislatures because a corrupt and partisan Supreme Court of the United States of America is more concerned about pleasing the morbidly rich who have bought out or influenced judgeships than they are about protecting the RIGHT TO VOTE of every American.
They didn’t sweat, bleed, damn near starve to death, contract Malaria and dysentery, or spend years in concentration camps for trickster thug politicians to Gerrymander voting districts to stack the decks for one party over the other, deny entire voting blocks equal representation, or jerk around with polling places, ballot collection sites, and the rights of humans standing in hours-long lines to be given a non-partisan bottle of WATER while the swelter in the sun as they wait. To. VOTE.
They didn’t miss the births of their children, the ability to comfort dying parents, the opportunity to live life free of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), gnawing anxiety or searing depression, hearing or vision loss — or the loss of limbs and functionality — so some grandstanding politician could run the debt ceiling scam (the debt ceiling was lifted three times under the former guy to pay for services already received) so seniors counting on Social Security would have to worry that their June, 2023 payment would be held up.
Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.
All those people whose bodies are buried under all those graves didn’t make the ultimate sacrifice so a few rich and powerful people could exploit our workforce with a minimum wage ($7.25 AN HOUR) that hasn’t been raised since 2009!
It’s a solemn day and a solemn time.
I don’t want you to think I am without hope. I do have hopes that we can turn things around, and I am working hard to do so every day by working to raise awareness of the lifelong impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the protective effects of positive childhood experiences (PCEs). By helping people around the world see the connection between positive and adverse childhood experiences and the connection between adversity and lifelong illnesses and PCEs and resilience, maybe we can go waaaay upstream to help prevent problems.
Thank you Ms. Richardson for Beau Bryant's story. My three years as an Army dentist in Germany (1973-1976) were no sacrifice at all compared to the Beau Bryant's in our history, but I will think of Beau and all our greatest Americans each time I salute the passing flag in the Doylestown, Pa. Memorial Day Parade, tomorrow. By the way, I was named for Teddy Hoffman, my father's boyhood friend in Toronto, who was lost over the English Channel in WWII.
Warm wishes, Ted Croll
Thank you for this tender offering. Im grateful to pause and take in the true meaning of this weird holiday, that’s so easily about the start of summer and not about loss and grief and what might have been otherwise.
These are the stories that make the meaning of Memorial Day real, about real people who loved our way of life enough to sign up and play a real part in making our every day freedoms important enough that they risked their very lives for all of our futures. Too many paid the highest price, their very life and we must never forget them. Thank you for reminding us of Beau
Wonderful story. Of my paternal grandmother's three sons who served in WWII, the oldest, Vernon, did not come home. A sergeant in the Army's Ivy Division, he made it through D-Day though wounded near Cherbourg, only to be killed six months later in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement. He was interred with other American soldiers in Luxembourg where his grave was adopted by a wonderful family. One day, the family found flowers on the grave from my grandparents. The family called the florist in Cumberland, MD, and obtained my grandparents' address; they wrote a letter and sent pictures of my uncle's grave. There began a friendship that would last decades. My uncle's body was eventually brought home and laid to rest on a Maryland hillside where his parents and sister later joined him. Now my children have his story.
You are a historian with a heart. Thanks for your work to provide us general readers without your expert's knowledge of American History such insights. // JB Colson, Professor Emeritus, School of Journalism and Fellow, Brisoe Center for American, The University of Texas at Austin. (My field has been photography and I also appreciate Buddy's contributions.)
My Dad was a Marine in WWII and my father in law , also a marine, was in the Korean War. They both saw heavy combat and lost fellow marines. They never complained and rarely spoke of their service or sacrifices but did speak of those we lost, and often reminded us that "freedom is not free" . They were among the lucky ones who returned home, married and had families. My wife and I and our siblings, children, in laws and grandchildren will always hear of our ancestors and their favorite words and what our military does for us. Memorial Day was always a somber day and there is a huge cost of our freedom and our teetering Democracy. Thanks to Ms Richardson for always helping understand today's events with relevant stories from the past. We will never forget those who served
Here’s to all the men and women who choose service and sacrifice.
“Holes in the social fabric.” Brilliant.
Thank you, Heather. In May of 1943 I was a 6-month old, living in the military housing at Dow Field with my mom and dad, who was an enlisted man, an accountant. He desperately wanted to fly but his eyesight wasn’t good enough. We lived there until the war ended. My earliest memories are of the airmen coming home from Europe, a constant series of bittersweet events. I remember visits to the barracks where the soldiers were always happy to give a piggyback ride to a “Yank kid”. I still remember all the words to the army air corps song, I remember our victory garden, and the blizzards in winter, when mom would take me to the PX on a small sled. The groceries got to ride back, I trundled along in a heavy wool snowsuit. Those were sober times, as even a very young child understood.
Thank you for sharing this story. We need to remember or most of us learn, that for every American military casualty, there were eight industrial casualties on the home front.