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FIRST-PERSON: Our honored dead


LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–“As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell.” — Pvt. Charles Neighbor, 29th Division, Omaha Beach.

I have never known the horror of battle. Only the men who have been in the heat of battle can know the sheer terror of the circumstances of war.

I can never hope to imagine the courage of those men who stormed the beaches of Normandy as enemy artillery fire cruelly bore down on them on that fateful day — June 6, 1944. When the D-Day invasion had concluded, the Allied Forces had sustained nearly 10,000 casualties, with more than 4,000 men dead. However, because of the incomprehensible gallantry and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, the German stronghold in France had been ruptured.

I can never hope to imagine the human devastation witnessed at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, when Gen. Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North resulted in more than 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing. Known as the bloodiest day in our nation’s history, the village of Sharpsburg witnessed the blood of thousands of soldiers gushing down a road that would become known as Bloody Lane.

I can never hope to imagine the desperation of war in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh’s attackers launched waves of assaults against U.S. and South Vietnamese troops during the Asian holiday called Tet, in January 1968. While the North Vietnamese suffered great losses in succeeding weeks, nearly 4,000 U.S. troops were lost. News film from the battlefields was transmitted via satellite into the homes of Americans who were overwhelmed by the haunting images of that dire war.

Most Americans are like me, in that we have never experienced the dread of war firsthand. Nevertheless, we who were spared these horrors should never forget the incredible sacrifices that have been made by our fellow Americans to sustain the freedoms we know.


I believe it is our duty as Americans to show our appreciation. I encourage everyone to fly flags at your home and on your vehicle this Memorial Day — or even every day. Since Sept. 11, I have had a flag attached to my vehicle and I never fail to feel a sense of American pride each time I see it there. I love driving down streets here in Lynchburg, Va., and seeing Old Glory waving from porches and yards.

This Memorial Day, I also encourage you to express your deep gratitude to the veterans you know. Let them know that their sacrifice for freedom is appreciated. I will honor the veterans at my Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday and encourage all pastors to do the same.

Whenever I see Old Glory, I frequently think of Francis Scott Key. On Sept. 14, 1814, he witnessed an enormous flag flying through dense smoke following an all-day British bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. It was then that he was inspired to write a poem, which was later set to music, becoming “The Star-Spangled Banner” — our beloved national anthem. The flag was still there, representing the resiliency of this nation.

I also think of the six flag raisers at Iwo Jima — three of whom would die within days. For that brief moment, those six boys captured the spirit of this nation by raising the American flag on that Japanese island. Sgt. Mike Strank, who later died at Iwo Jima, got the order to climb Mt. Suribachi and elevate the flag. He picked the men to join him and led them safely to the summit, explaining that the flag must be raised so that “every Marine on this cruddy island can see it.” And we continue to see it yet today.

The memory of Mike Strank and the thousands of other soldiers who gave their lives for our nation live on when, on Memorial Day, we fly the Stars and Stripes and solemnly remember their sacrifices.

In his speech at West Point, Gen. Douglas MacArthur spoke of the courage of the American soldiers in World War I. “I do not know the dignity of their birth,” he said, “but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them — Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears as we sought the way and the light and the truth.”

May we never let the memories of the American soldier die.