First Posted: 5/29/2009
There are many good reasons to honor the contributions and sacrifices of the U.S. military over the years, and one thats often overlooked is the role it has played in keeping war away from Americas doorstep.
If you disregard the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which was not an act of aggression against the U.S. by a specific nation, there have been few times when a foreign enemy has been able to occupy American soil.
One must go all the way back to June 7, 1942, when Attu Island, Alaska, was invaded by the Japanese, who held it until May 1943 when that territory was liberated by U.S. forces. The earlier Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor was devastating to our Pacific fleet, but the enemy did not actually occupy Hawaii as a result.
Before World War II, the diligent researcher must journey through the pages of time to March 16, 1916, to discover the last intrusion on American territory. On that date, the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa led several hundred rebel soldiers across the border to attack the town of Columbus, N.M. This was significant due to being the last time such military action was waged against the lower 48.
That is an amazing record, all due I would argue to the strength and character of our military. When you consider how turbulent the 20th century was, including two world wars and numerous other conflicts, it is amazing that virtually all the fighting was kept away from our shores.
Unfortunately, war just doesnt affect the combatants involved, but all the civilians and communities caught up along the way. The history of World War II, for example, is filled with graphic images of bombed-out venues such as London and, later, Berlin, not to mention the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were leveled by atomic weaponry.
But the scale of the human loss runs much deeper than the craters and rubble left from the combat. The massive conflict waged on numerous fronts during World War II resulted in military deaths totaling about 25 million which is staggering, until you consider that civilian losses exceeded 40 million. Some 20 million of the latter resulted from war-related disease and famine.
And those who survived the fighting in their towns and cities were left with the memories of war horrors, including the grief suffered from the losses of loved ones.
We are so fortunate in America to have avoided fighting in our own midst. Even those who have opposed conflicts such as the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq should be grateful that weve never been forced to witness enemy tanks moving through the streets of Washington, D.C. Nor have American citizens experienced the humiliation of our flags being ripped to the ground and replaced with those of a foreign attacker.
Human history being what it is, its perhaps too much to expect that a time will come when the world no longer has wars and all of mankind learns to live together in peace. But in the absence of that perfect condition, a country must be prepared for the inevitable hostilities and manage those conflicts to minimize risk and otherwise pursue its best interests.
The U.S. has been well-represented over the years by the efforts of the Army, Marines and other branches. We maintain a high-tech strategic defense network designed to avoid missile and other attacks, with Navy and Air Force operations constantly protecting our coasts and airspace.
At the heart of that military might are the extremely dedicated men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation with distinction.
Our area has just lost one of its own in this regard, marked by Fridays arrival in Mount Airy of the remains of 1st Lt. Leevi K. Barnard, a local soldier killed in Iraq last week by an improvised explosive device.
Ironically, the hearse carrying Lt. Barnards body to a local funeral home passed within sight of the Mount Airy War Memorial, where a ceremony had been conducted just four days earlier to honor those who have made such supreme sacrifices.
No matter what we civilians do to try to show respect for those who have died in wars, such as Leevi Barnard, it will never be enough.
How can you adequately thank someone who is willing to leave the comforts of America and go to a strange land to encounter hostilities, death and destruction on daily basis just to keep us from having to do the same?
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1924.