And the numbers augment

Published 6:35 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

They have stood straight out for the past two days, the stars and stripes completely visible as Hurricane Ida approaches hundreds of miles away in the Gulf.

Thirty-three flags, each atop a simple white cross with the name of a Seminole County soldier and the war in which they lost their life.

They stand in a curved line with a beautiful simplicity on the vacant corner lot next to our office. They appear each Veteran’s and Memorial Day. I have written about them before, but each time I see the display it stirs powerful feelings.

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Thirty-three men have lost their lives defending this country from this small county. I have now walked by them so many times on these holidays that I am familiar with all of their names. Some of the families were pioneers here in Southwest Georgia. Four died as citizens of Decatur County during World War I, before Seminole County had even been founded.

A dozen men died during World War II. It is mostly their comrades that still put up the display, even as their age averages in the 80s. I have offered help before, but understand that this is something they do for those that fell during their time. Their bodies may be aging, but they haven’t forgotten their fallen friends over 60 years later.

Korea wasn’t a “war,” but claimed the lives of six local men. We have long since gotten over the semantics of whether a conflict is indeed a war. Today, our young men fight for their country because they were asked to do so. It was the same during the 1950s when my own father went to Korea in the service of his country.

I did not serve in Vietnam, having just missed the time young men were once again being asked to fight in a foreign land. Many from this area did serve, and 10 ultimately gave the supreme sacrifice for a nation that wasn’t as grateful at the time as they are now.

The final addition, hopefully, is a young man who gave his life in Iraq. All that went before him I knew from stories from their friends. This young man I knew in person. He grew up with my own children. Yet another generation has to suffer the cost of war.

Decatur County, our slightly larger neighbor to the east, suffered has suffered 121 casualties during these same wars. Two dozen died in World War I. Forty-nine soldiers killed during World War II. Thirteen of them were privates, only responsible for doing what they were told and fighting for their country.

Six Decatur County men were lost in Korea followed by 10 in Vietnam. Afghanistan and Iraq have each claimed the life of one of the county’s finest brave men. The names of off these fallen heroes are engraved on an impressive monument in Willis Park downtown.

I could ride in the rain today and visit all the small neighboring counties and they would have a similar monument and a similar story of young men and women lost from this area of the state. Seeing these monuments and names helps us remember that wars are not without cost to the people back home. Politicians don’t fight wars; our children, fathers, brothers and husbands do. In today’s wars the casualties will include our daughters, mothers, sisters and wives.

In addition to these fallen heroes, there were numerous casualties in this area during that bloodiest of all American conflicts, the Civil War. Indeed, our very nation was born in a conflict that claimed the lives of many brave men, whose only goal at the time was freedom from the tyranny of the British Crown.

Today our nation mourns our brave soldiers lost in a different setting. The loss of at least 13 lives at Fort Hood, Texas, ranks as the largest single casualty total on an American base in history. Sadly, it is not the first time that a soldier has turned on his own recently.

These 13 men and women, some as young as 19 years old, along with their 30 wounded comrades, were preparing to leave for Afghanistan. Many were probably dealing with the same insecurities and fears as their assailant. Almost 4,000 Muslims fight in our armed forces. Their reasons are often the same as the soldiers, sailors and marines serving our nation that belong to many other religions; they want a better life and freedom.

We should be careful not to combine the confused mental state of a long gunman with the soldiers who fight bravely for this country who happen to be Muslim.

It is a complicated world we live in today. We are fighting two wars in places that we often don’t understand. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone on longer than World War I or II, or Korea. Even as we struggle with the deaths in the battlefields of today, we are preparing to send another 35,000 troops to Afghanistan.

I offer no easy answers. I hope and pray that our leaders are indeed doing the right things for our future. For those that use this awful time for political gain, I put you in the same place as Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who gunned down those he was trained to help. We can differ in our opinions about the right path to take, but we do not honor all those veterans from ages past when our position is solely to gain political advantage.

In the rain, I walked again by the 33 crosses in Seminole County and the black monument in Willis Park. I paused at each one to read their names. They are the reasons for the freedoms we enjoy. It is up to us not just to remember the fallen, but to also hold high all those who have fought and continue to fight to preserve the freedoms that make this country great.