Letter to the Editor: The sacrifice of service

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Opportunity, legacy, duty, purpose, patriotism — the reasons behind choosing military service differ from person to person. But as varied as the reasons are, there’s a universal understanding: Service means sacrifice, even if that sacrifice is one’s own life.

When service members die, the impact ripples through our community. Their deaths touch more than just the lives of their loved ones and friends. As their stories are shared in our neighborhoods, schools and places of worship, these men and women become a part of the collective identity of our hometowns.

These stories, our Memorial Day observances and the memorials and plaques dedicated to our military dead instill a sense of pride among the citizens. They inspire new generations to raise their hands in service. Because there may be no greater sacrifice than to offer one’s own life for the lives of others.

We don’t just honor them at home. Remembrances and tributes to their sacrifice begin at the very spots where they selflessly gave their lives — both for the brothers and sisters they stood shoulder to shoulder with and for their country.

Tributes include the Battlefield Cross, which some historians say has its roots in the Civil War. Today, it’s most recognizable as a helmet resting on top of an inverted rifle stuck in the ground with boots placed in front. Dog tags hang from the rifle. On the battlefield, members of the unit can come to this temporary memorial to pay their final respects.

Even the process of returning those killed in battle home, known as a dignified transfer, reflects the respect and honor owed. Small teams in country conduct the solemn duty of moving a transfer case onto a waiting aircraft and draping an American flag over the case for the service member’s journey back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. There, a team meets the remains and begins the preparation to return the service member to loved ones.

But some who died while serving have not yet made it back home to the United States.

We honor them through tributes such as the Missing Man Table, displayed to honor those who are still missing in action or prisoners of war.

We don’t just reflect. We act by continuing the search for those still missing. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) sends teams all over the world, searching land and sea to recover the missing’s remains.

Through this work, DPAA brings people home like Marine Cpl. Thomas Cooper, who was killed in 1943 during the Battle of Tarawa in the Central Pacific. In 2019, more than 76 years after his death, DPAA identified his remains, which, along with those of 93 other unknown deceased, has been disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Because of DPAA’s work, Cooper’s family was able to bury him with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery in March.

DPAA estimates that more than 81,600 service members are still missing. Among them are 41,000 who are presumed to be lost at sea in the Indo-Pacific region.

Some of those still missing at sea were killed aboard Japanese “hell ships” during World War II. Hell ships were unmarked Japanese merchant ships that sailed between the Philippines and Japan during the war and appeared to only be carrying Japanese military personnel and supplies.

But below deck, crammed into dark, sweltering holds were Allied prisoners of war. The conditions were deplorable. People were often heaped on top of each other, with no access to bathrooms or light and with little to no food or water. It’s estimated that 126,000 Allied prisoners of war were moved this way.

More than 1,500 men died in their holds from heat, thirst or being killed by Japanese guards.

But more than 19,000 died when the U.S. Navy and other Allied forces carried out attacks on these ships. The naval forces had no way of knowing that when they carried out orders to thwart Japan’s efforts to move its supplies and personnel, their own people were hidden on board.

We must continue to share their stories so we can remember what they sacrificed for the rest of us.

Because few men and women choose to put their lives on the line to serve and defend the Constitution. Few go toward danger and willingly face atrocities most of us can’t fathom. Few volunteer to serve, knowing that death may be the outcome.

But we can ensure that those who do make this choice and make the ultimate sacrifice can rest knowing they served with the thanks of grateful citizens and knowing that they won’t be forgotten.

Ron Douglass

Commander

DAV Twin Cities

Chapter 95

P.O. Box 995

Opelika, AL. 36801

(334) 332-8791

About DAV:

DAV empowers veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. It is dedicated to a single purpose: keeping our promise to America’s veterans. DAV does this by ensuring that veterans and their families can access the full range of benefits available to them, fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill, providing employment resources to veterans and their families, and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life. DAV, a nonprofit organization with more than 1 million members, was founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932. Learn more at DAV.org.

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