Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. This national observance was established to pay tribute to the veterans of all America's wars. Our nation has a long history of honoring those who, to quote Abraham Lincoln, "give their last full measure of devotion."
All over America there are memorials, statues, cemeteries, national battlefields and monuments to remind today's citizens of the sacrifices that have been made to earn and preserve freedom. The most notorious examples are at Arlington, Va.; San Francisco National Cemetery; the battleship Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor; the Vietnam Wall; the newly dedicated World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Plus the hundreds of acres of fallen American soldiers from two world wars that are interred in the poppy fields of France.
As a combat veteran of World War II, I want to dedicate this column to paying tribute to a huge number of World War II veterans that are not resting beneath any white crosses or monuments of any kind. As a matter of fact, almost nothing is ever written about them, and there is next to nothing to remind people of their horrendous and heroic sacrifices.
I'm talking about the tens of thousands of sailors who went down with their ships or were killed on their ships and buried at sea. It's like no-trace warfare. The loved ones of these heroes have no place to go to shed their tears. All they have are the telegrams saying their sons were "killed or missing at sea." Even if someone threw a wreath on the water where their ship went down, it would float away into oblivion.
People don't seem to realize how much of World War II was fought on the open sea, both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the Atlantic, German U-boats sank so many ships carrying war material that they came close to winning the war at sea. And among the thousands of sailors who went to a watery grave were the unsung heroes of the Merchant Marine.
A dreadful price
But it was in the Pacific theater where most of the major sea battles occurred. It took most of the four years for our navy to destroy the Japanese navy and we paid a dreadful price in the dead sailors and Marines, to say nothing of the hundreds of or own ships that went to the bottom of the sea. Even after the Japanese fleet was sunk, the fanatical Japanese warriors stood in line to fly kamikaze missions against our ships, and they took a terrible toll.
Also, among the lost military heroes with unmarked graves were the thousands of airmen who went down with their planes over open water. Even in the Battle of Midway, I remember when 16 of my fellow Marines were killed during the bombardment on the island. These men were taken out to sea for burial because Midway was barley above sea level and we couldn't dig a grave with out if filling in with brackish water. That's just a small example of unmarked graves, but since it was a personal experience it remains embedded in my memory.
By shedding a few tears of remembrance for all those who died without any trace of monuments or even locality, isn't to take away from the hundreds of thousands who died in land battles, but I thought it might be appropriate on this year's Veterans Day to call attention to the huge number of our veterans whose graves we will never be able to decorate.