Salute our War Heroes

On Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. From the American Revolution, through 16 wars and conflicts, to our troops who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands have made the ultimate sacrifice.  Too often, we think of this day as a day to BBQ or the official start of summer…that’s a problem in our culture…we forget too easily.  Ronald Reagan said “The freedom of thought and action we Americans enjoy today seems as natural as the air we breathe. But there is a danger we may take this freedom for granted. We must never forget it was bought for us at a great price. The brave and resourceful Americans whose sacrifices gained our Independence and preserved it for more than 200 years against formidable foes have set an example of unflinching loyalty to the ideal of liberty and justice for all.”

As President Lincoln said at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”  We may tend to overuse the words “heroes” and “sacrifice,” but there are times when they are appropriate.

Friendsville, Maryland made a terrible sacrifice, but so have other places and people.  The six servicemen who lost their lives during the Vietnam War came from a town with the population of a little more than 600.  Beallsville, Ohio, population 475, suffered the largest per-capita loss of life during the war, when six men, also between 1966 and 1971, paid the ultimate price for freedom.

Thirty-five men from Bedford, Virginia, which at the time had 3,200 residents, were serving in the same unit and made the D-Day landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944. By the end of the day, 19 were dead.

Clarksville, Tennessee sent 960 of its men and boys to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When the battle of Gettysburg began on July 1, 1863, only 365 remained. More than 300 died on the first day of fighting. By the time it was over on July 3rd only three were still alive.

Thomas and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa, had five sons serving on the light cruiser USS Juneau: George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al. They died together when their ship was torpedoed and sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

We’ve often wondered what it must have been like, to have been one of the men who had to deliver that news — a Navy lieutenant commander, doctor and chief petty officer.

When the officer told the boys’ father he had some news about his boys, the father asked, “Which one?”

The officer said, “I’m sorry. All five.”

It was the greatest loss suffered by any family during the war, and it inspired changes in America’s military policy that are designed to prevent similar catastrophes. The Navy has since launched two ships named USS The Sullivans.

In 1945, S/Sgt. Jonah Edward Kelley was in charge of the leading squad of Company E, he heroically spearheaded the attack in furious house-to-house fighting.  Early on 30 January, he led his men through intense mortar and small arms fire in repeated assaults on barricaded houses.  Although twice wounded, once when struck in the back, the second time when a mortar shell fragment passed through his left hand and rendered it practically useless, he refused to withdraw and continued to lead his squad after hasty dressings had been applied.  His serious wounds forced him to fire his rifle with 1 hand, resting it on rubble or over his left forearm.  To blast his way forward with hand grenades, he set aside his rifle to pull the pins with his teeth while grasping the missiles with his good hand.  Despite these handicaps, he created tremendous havoc in the enemy ranks.  He rushed 1 house, killing 3 of the enemy and clearing the way for his squad to advance.  On approaching the next house, he was fired upon from an upstairs window.  He killed the sniper with a single shot and similarly accounted for another enemy soldier who ran from the cellar of the house.  As darkness came, he assigned his men to defensive positions, never leaving them to seek medical attention.  At dawn the next day, the squad resumed the attack, advancing to a point where heavy automatic and small arms fire stalled them.  Despite his wounds, S/Sgt. Kelley moved out alone, located an enemy gunner dug in under a haystack and killed him with rifle fire.  He returned to his men and found that a German machinegun, from a well-protected position in a neighboring house, still held up the advance.  Ordering the squad to remain in comparatively safe positions, he valiantly dashed into the open and attacked the position single-handedly through a hail of bullets.  He was hit several times and fell to his knees when within 25 yards of his objective; but he summoned his waning strength and emptied his rifle into the machinegun nest, silencing the weapon before he died.  The superb courage, aggressiveness, and utter disregard for his own safety displayed by S/Sgt. Kelley inspired the men he led and enabled them to penetrate the last line of defense held by the enemy in the village of Kesternich.  For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on September 10, 1945.

The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that may be awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who distinguished themselves by acts of valor.  There have been 3,515 Medals of Honor awarded to the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen since the decoration’s creation, with just less than half of them awarded for actions during the four years of the American Civil War.  Due to the nature of this medal, it is commonly presented posthumously.  Today, there are only 72 living recipients.

S/Sgt. Jonah Edward Kelley was born and raised in Keyser, WV and was my father’s first cousin.  I knew his mother and his sister.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. -Jesus

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

If you have served in our armed forces, we salute you.  Today, this week, stop and thank a member of our military for their service to our country.  They are the true American Heroes.

Lead The Way!