Dr. Bill Atwood

This Memorial Day, make it your honor to thank a veteran and pay homage to casualties of war

Flags near veterans’ grave markers is a common way of honoring the casualties of war on Memorial Day.
Flags near veterans’ grave markers is a common way of honoring the casualties of war on Memorial Day. Fresno Bee file

This Monday the nation sets aside time to pay our respects to two very special groups of heroes. On Memorial Day we salute and express our appreciation to the casualties of war. From dawn until noon the flag of this nation will hang from poles at half-staff to remind us of the war dead.

There have been slightly more than 1,050,000 deaths on the fields of battles since Lexington and Concord up until today. That number is slightly larger than the current population of the entire city of San Jose. More than 1 million lives cut short by bullets, bombs, rockets, cannon balls, grenades, bayonets, swords and many other ways man has developed to kill his enemy.

Those million heroes knew what they were getting into and still they went into the fray. They went to war for a cause they knew was worth dying for. People are willing to fight and die for liberty, for a better life for their family, for their nation. One by one they died and as their blood drained into the soil of the battlefield their final thoughts may have been of family and home. I can’t imagine that any of them felt regret for his/her sacrifice for the cause of our freedom.

At noon the flag is hoisted to the top of the flagpole and there she flies until dusk in honor of the war wounded – the men and women who carry the scars from shell fragments, fires, explosions, accidents or the invisible scars of hearing loss, blindness, mental trauma, PTSD or the effects of gases or disease.

I never have met a veteran who upon hearing me thanking them for my freedom and their service hasn’t responded by telling me it was their honor to serve. They see their sacrifice as just a part of their life. They really don’t claim to be heroes. In fact; they usually tell me that the heroes are the ones who died and those left behind.

Americans show their appreciation to our veterans in many ways. On Nov. 11 we will honor all who have ever answered the call to duty and have worn the uniform of this nation. But on the last Monday of May this nation pays tribute to those whose last full measure of devotion ended their lives and those who returned home scarred or wounded. We can’t even begin to repay the debt we owe them but we most assuredly can take the time to express our appreciation.

On Monday there will be parades, memorial services, flag raisings, wreath layings and speeches. There will be many who will enjoy a day off work for the holiday and families will enjoy a day at the lake, time at a park, picnics, barbecues and patriotic concerts. That freedom to enjoy the day as you desire is just one of the benefits provided by the men and women of the military. Remember that 1,050,000 died for us. Remember that just under 5 million were wounded for us. The price of liberty is paid for in war.

I see students in the schools preparing for their futures. I see businesses flourishing daily. I see people living where they want while enjoying the greatest standard of living ever known on this planet. I see people enjoying their freedoms of speech, religion, due process and all the other freedoms protected by our Constitution. It is the veteran who served or serves as the backbone of that document.

Pay them homage for the sacrifice. It’s the least we can do.