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  • Morning Bell: Making Memorial Day Make a Difference

    As part of my teaching duties at West Point, I took cadets on a study tour of the World War II battlefields in Normandy, France. The first stop is the cemetery on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. It is hard not to realize who pays the price for fighting for us. Walking the rows of crosses and stars of David is an unending repetition of private, infantry, private, infantry, private, infantry, sergeant, private, private …

    For the young cadets, it was a powerful lesson in leadership, a reminder that their decisions in battle were far weightier than the costs of their own lives. Every decision they made might add to the row, so no decision, no sacrifice should be taken lightly.

    For the rest of us, there is a lesson as well: Be thankful for the freedoms won–and who won them.

    Few topics in our society are more troubled than how a nation remembers. Few would dispute the practice to place flags on the memorials of the fallen–a tradition rooted in the post-Civil War practice called “Decoration Day.” Beyond that response, Americans are often never of one mind. Each generation has its own answer, and our expression of the value of service is shaped by many sentiments.

    When he commanded U.S. troops during the war with Mexico, General Winfield Scott returned with $150,000 paid by Mexico City on the threat of ransacking the capital. He extorted the money because it was the only way he could guarantee that his boys were taken care of. He used the money to pay the troops and buy supplies, and he offered the rest to Congress for an Old Soldier’s Home for homeless veterans.

    Conversely, when politicians looked at the 2 million Union veterans after the Civil War, they saw 2 million votes. Congress approved an overgenerous pension plan that quickly became mired in fraud, graft, and patronage until it absorbed 40 percent of the federal budget.

    After World War I, the doughboys came home from the horrors of mustard gas, machine guns, and aerial bombardment to find nothing waiting for them. While veterans earned a dollar a day in France, War Department employees received $12 a day at their comfortable desks, federal civil servants received $240 annual bonuses, and assembly line employees saw their wages double. The veterans got a Veterans’ Bureau run by a former presidential campaign worker who went to prison for corruption.

    Americans treated World War II veterans like the greatest generation. There were about 16 million men and women in uniform during the Second World War–the war touched every American family. We all cared.

    Those returning from Vietnam encountered a mixture of hostility and indifference. Even trying to build a memorial to the fallen in Washington, D.C., proved a protracted and heart-wrenching experience.

    Part of the problem is the temptation to wrap the experience of service members in a story: good war, bad war, love the troops, hate the war. We should honor the military for service and sacrifice regardless of our politics. And, we should not measure how we care according to what government does. Our service men and women are ours. They come from our community. What we do is the most important act of all.

    There are many organizations out there that honor the fallen and serve the families of those affected by loss. One worth noting is the Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors, or TAPS. Another amazing group is the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which ensures that every child of a special operations warrior who falls on active duty has an opportunity for a college education.

    These are the kinds of organizations that make a difference. They honor the fallen by helping their families. They make us a better nation by showing us how to care–and what to do. They bring real meaning to Memorial Day.

    James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    31 Responses to Morning Bell: Making Memorial Day Make a Difference

    1. Benton H Marder says:

      I was born in 1940. Back then, many knew the poem, "In Flanders fields—" It says quite a bit we should hold to heart, lest we break that trust.

    2. LTC Pete Kleff says:

      God bless our fallen warriors.

    3. Matusik says:

      Don't Forget To Remember…on this Memorial Day.

    4. Wes Evans says:

      What about the much advertised Wounded Warrior program? Is it worth giving to or does too much of the money go G amd A?

    5. Larry Tice says:

      Thank you Dr Carafano for this important historical information.

    6. lvken7 says:

      The first thing Bush did after he invaded Iraq
      was, he cut Veterans Benefits.

    7. Carl White says:

      Mr Carafano,

      Your article hits the nail on the head…good work, with one exception. No mention is made of the Korean War. Korea was the bloodiest war fought by the United States in the 20th century based on the amount of men committed to combat to KIA or in-country ratio.(over 54,000 KIA's + 8,000 unaccounted for POW's in just 3 years). Not only your article, but many others forget to mention the truly "Forgotten War".

    8. Don Nardone says:

      Good article
      You forgot to mention the one million GI's in Europe from 1950 on keeping Stalin out of western Europe.
      The tour of duty was 3 years at $75/month. Nobody knew we were there & still don't know as there is nothing in the history books about that era. We had air bases with Atom Bombs to hold the USSR in check + ground troops for fodder. When I came back in 1954 nobody knew what was avoided & nobody seem to know we were there & still haven't a clue.This was before ICMB's & thank God Stalin died in 53.
      None of us are looking for a medal , just a printed historical record would be nice in a recognized history book ,written by an author with common sense.

    9. Let us not forget what Memorial Day is all about. If you know a son, daughter, father, mother, spouse, bother or sister of one of our fallen, please take a moment to thank them on behalf of their loved one for their sacrifice.

    10. Jeanne Stotler says:

      I have many relatives buried in Arlington Cem. and make many visit throughout the year. I see the thousands of headstones, and the hundreds of niches for cremains and still after all these years I am still awed by it all. DO NOT make this week-end the only time you thank a service Man/woman for their service do it EVERY TIME you see any man or woman in uniform or a veteran, I make it a point to thank each and every man/woman in uniform all year long. Recently I walked up to a young marine and extended my hand , and said thank You, he asked "WHAT FOR?" I SAID FOR SERVING, HE THEN TOLD ME I WAS THE FIRST PERSON WHO EVER HAD SAID THAT TO HIM. Please remember they serve 52 weeks of the year no just this week-end.

    11. Chuck says:


      Is there a rating of these organizations that help the wounded vets and the families of the dead? Of not might that be a Heritage project

    12. Chuck says:

      Do you know of a rating service of the various org's that help families of fallen and wounded vets. If not might that be a heritage project

    13. Charles L Matheson says:

      What happened to the fallen many who served in Korea? The accounts of this "Police Action" has been missing for quite some time in the history books. Did the U.S. fight there or not? Just sign me "A veteran of that era and of Vietnam."

    14. Leith N Wood says:

      God bless America! We feel such gratitude for all who have worked and fought to save our liberty and freedoms. Our Constitution is just as meaningful, as when it was written and freedom is still not free. Communism and Socialism do not work. We are responsible for knowing what is happening in our world and having the courage to speak out for truth and freedom.

    15. Bobbie says:

      Not sure why the government would make anything harder on the troops who serve and come back to us? Then exploit by suggesting preferential treatment when the American military is above being singled out. All the government has to do is follow through with their promises and get off the path.

      It's the fight America's military fights that strengthens our understanding of what they are defending for us. It's the greatest country who knows right from wrong based on all humanity, who respects humanity and teaches us the same.

      Politics isn't the reason the troops know to fight. Their focus is the fight for peace, principles, values, freedom, humanity and protecting it in America sharing it around the world.

      The commander in chief is the man that commands according to the principles of this country who knows his commands will be carried out by the troops who've sacrificed everything for all human decencies who will carry out his commands no matter what he commands or any politics they're based on. It's unfortunate that a man would take a position without American principles and see life/humanity according to his value that isn't equally appreciated. America's military members are innocent from and the last ones to know when, where and how politics plays in. We thank the families of the American military and the troops who sacrificed everything in the name of bravery, courage, diligence and America's principled stand in the world.

      God Bless the troops who fought and died, for we won't let it go in vain!

    16. Wallace Hystad says:

      This is a thoughtful and timely article that provides a short history of our citizen's relationship with the military. The article also adds support to the contention that the Korean War is truly America's "Forgotten War". I am just one of those who served in that nasty, horrific war that cost our country nearly as many casualties in three years as Vietnam did in ten. It really is time for some measure of recognition of the sacrifices made by these veterans who are rapidly leaving us

    17. Clearhead says:

      As an obviously surviving Korean "police action" veteran, as an appreciative human being and as an intensely patriotic American, I salute you, sir, for your thoughtful, compassionate and insightful exeression of the sentiments of millions of Americans — veterans or not. Kudos, James. Keep up the good work.

    18. will says:

      Here's a lesser known verse of "America the Beautiful."

      O beautiful for heroes proved
      In liberating strife.
      Who more than self their country loved
      And mercy more than life!
      America! America!
      May God thy gold refine
      Till all success be nobleness
      And every gain divine!

      Americans have died, In liberating strife, at home and on foreign soil for more than two centuries. Our heroes gave us the freedom to refine who we are. May we always be worthy of their sacrifice.

    19. Emerald says:

      This is very well written article which I am passing on to my email list. Being married to a returning Vietnam vet I know, understand, and appreciate the scarifice of others. God Bless America!

    20. Catherine Coy says:

      An excellent remenbrance. What will this present generation remember about our military and our freedoms given to them because of all the years and wars past our military has given to us.

      One of mine were the gold stars in the windows of homes where the lost did not return. Also the members of my high school who did not return.

      My freedom while I type this comes with a great price of the past who gave and those today who are willing to give.

    21. Anita Dragoo says:

      I couldn't help noticing in Mr. Carafano's essay that once again the real forgotten warriors are those of the Korean conflict. My husband served in both Vietnam and Korea, so he doubly felt the rejection by the public. However, he volunteered for Vietnam. The omission of recognition that bothers him the most is that owed to Korean veterans. He was drafted right out of high school, and it was during the Battle at Inchon that he earned his Purple Heart.
      Please, whenever you honor the veterans of our nation's wars, remember those who fought in Korea during the 1950's. Many are still alive and carry the physical and emotional wounds of that conflict.

    22. frank jenkins says:

      I am a old fart…remember well the great depression as teen ager…working in a dairy..saw mill and caddying on a private golf course among other jobs where ever we could find work..both my parents served in ww 1…my brother and myself ww 2..I missed D day…but just ffew days after wallking up trail from the beach past St Mere Eglise….seeing a burning jeep with a body…hearing the first 88 ,,,receiving our first mortar fire and thinking this is madness…little did I know of the future…the hedge rows…Brittany..the run to the rhine….the ardenns…the death camps…the break through at st lo…..and more..it does not seem possible now but actually happend…people in this country do not know how good they have it here and in my mind see a country destoryed within by the alcu..the courts and our own government..and asking why and how did this happen…we were duped into war in viet nam and iiraq…for what purpose….the country is morally and financially bankrupt…what was all the death and suffering for…i for one have to ask myself…we have children grandchildrengreat grand children…what kind of a life will they have?…it would be interesting to learn what others think

    23. werner w.keil jr. says:

      Why is there no mention of Korea in your article–we lost about 50,000 men there & I lost two good friends–I know they belittled the Korean War by cllling it a "police action" bu the bulillet that killed our men did not know the difference.The President also went to Vietnam–he may of mentioned Korea but I did not watch his speech.

    24. Dick says:

      Unfortunately, the vets who returned from Korea and Vietnam were treated like lepers!

      • Bobbie says:

        and what comes to mind is government, media, John Kerry and Jane Fonda (tools) who used their positions in further distorting indecencies that probably only existed by John Kerry himself just to use everyone else, manipulating innocent minds of the public of once reasoning. We will always support with respect and appreciation America's military that work proud and courageously in promotion of peace and good will with awareness that politics has and can overcome truth…

    25. Ron W. Smith says:

      Appropriate post on Memorial Day.

      The authors make an important point about honoring and remembering our veterans good war or bad. We might not be doing that, though. Senator Patty Murray yesterday pointed out, on CNN, that the Veterans Administration is now 900,000 cases behind, and veterans are waiting as much as a year for benefits. Shame on us. Veterans deserve ALL we can give them, and there should be no scrimping, no hedging, no copping out, no delays after all they've been asked to do for those who sit safely at home out of harm's way. We're beneficiaries of their huge, voluntary efforts on our behalf and we should reward them accordingly with prompt and effective attention to their needs, whatever they be: health care, education, jobs, loans, the works.
      Too expensive? No. Being in war after war, intervention after intervention is too expensive, a fact that should give us pause in continuing as the world's policeman, the world's SuperPower on Call. The real costs in dollars and lives of our power-forward foreign policy decisions, the horribly expensive decisions behind our international presence, need open discussion and debate for all to see and hear. Ever since WWII and Breton Woods, many of those decisions have had questionable outcomes and at too great expense. The collection of them can easily be seen as leading straight to our present $16,000,000,000,000 national debt and the need to borrow to support our annual spending of more than $1 trillion on National Defense, Nation Building, Homeland Security, Foreign Aid Designed to Gain the Cooperation of Other Countries, and, yes, Veterans Affairs.
      The veterans we honor this Memorial Day should have nothing less than our full appreciation expressed in all that we can possibly give them, whatever the need, whatever the cost. To point out the impossibility of such extravagant gratitude for those willing to serve is to miss the real point: too many veterans from too many wars, too many interventions, and too much expense in maintaining more than 700 military installations around the world. Foreign Policy decisions foolishly made. When does the open discussion and debate begin?

    26. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      Freedom isn't free.

    27. KHM says:

      Good article. Thank you Heritage.
      I didn't know about the Civil War vets (pension corrution) or the WWI vets. Too many people today make Memorial Day about veterans,not those who served and died, or active duty service military or just about a barbecue party or a sale.
      My father and all of my uncles served in WWII, my husband is a Viet Nam veteran, so I am quite familiar with the true meaning of this day.

    28. JohnL2 says:

      As President Teddy Roosevelt said,"Speal softly but carry a big stick!"
      When president, Slick Willie Clinton literally raped our military and we suffered the consequences after 9/11. Our military was brought back to the world power under George W. Bush. Now, our alleged Commander-In-Chief, Obama, is raping our military with more vigor even Clinton ever dreamed of! History is repeating itself this quickly and either Obama doesn't understand it OR WANTS the USA to be an also ran military power even in the face of an unfinished Afghanistan war, danger from North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Yeamen, etc., etc., etc.! ANY cuts to our defense budget are foolhearty and DANGEROUS! Obama obviously doesn't understand his MAIN job is the safety and protection of all legal American citizens, NOT his political career!!!

    29. Shaun Best says:

      We can never that you enough for our freedoms. I've several family members who've served. I would have if I had not been hit by an automobile in the head. I work everyday to prevent other children from challenges/head injuries, because I stress that I serve my nation as proof that you can recover & succeed in the American Dream. I proudly, thank you for my freedom. Trust me, everyday, I work to ensure our soldiers returning today with cognitive challenges succeed, as I've been blessed to do. Remember I would not be here if you had not sacrificed!! I bid you farewell & know that your service will never be forgotten or taken advantage of!!

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