Today is our 4,174th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,178
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,080
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 431, 933, 750, 000 .00
While our focus here has always been Iraq and Afghanistan, from time to time we veer into the historical. Today is going to be one of those days.
We'll start in the Pacific Theater of Operations in WWII. The conflict there was so vast, that it's often difficult to get a grasp on the immense distances involved and the strategy behind the moves of both Imperial Japan and the United States. But since I've actually been to Manila and have stood on one of the battlefields, we'll start there. We should all be familiar with the story of the invasion, US withdrawal to Bataan, Macarthur's withdrawal, and the surrender and loss of the islands for 3 years. It's one thing to be a soldier in that situation, but did you know that a large number of nurses were captured by the Japanese?
SAN ANTONIO — On New Year’s Day 1942, the young American civilian nurse wandered through a dark, empty hospital, hours before Japanese forces invaded Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. No military members were left to raise the American flag or play “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
At sunrise, she walked alone on the road to her family’s home and an uncertain future as the sound of advancing enemy troops thundered in the distance.
San Antonio resident Dorothy Davis Thompson, now 96, captured that night and the terrifying days that followed in “The Road Back: A Pacific POW’s Liberation Story,” published in 1996 by Texas Tech University Press.
Her tale of survival during World War II as one of 3,000 allied civilians held at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp became a lesson for her children: Jack Thompson Jr., 62; Margie Camp, 60; and Peggy McCray, 56. While growing up on the East Side, it taught them that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“We just called it mom’s story,” McCray said. “It was a little daunting knowing what she went through.”
Her mother was one of the 16 million men and women who served in uniform during World War II.
Fast-forward to 1945...it's one thing to fight for the continent of Europe; it's a large landmass, and most of us are at least familiar with the geography and political divisions. But again in the Pacific....there were hundreds of islands that were fought over because of where they happened to be. Iwo Jima is one of those miserable little islands. Nobody would have given it a second glance, but because it lay directly under the bomber route from Guam to Japan, it became the most important piece of real estate on earth for a few weeks in early 1945. We should all be familiar with the battle, and once the war was over, the US rapidly abandoned it at Japan took it back. Right now, on this day, it's the 68th anniversary of that titanic struggle. The island itself is so remote and difficult to get to that Japan only opens it once a year for veterans to visit.
DALLAS — Nearly 70 years after the Battle of Iwo Jima, Bill Schott is ready to remember it.
Schott, who lives in Haltom City, survived one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater without a scratch, but he struggled with the memories of what he saw in 1945.
He was just 18 when he served as a Marine parachutist in the 5th Division, which suffered the most casualties of any unit in the 36-day battle.
“I saw a minister friend of mine and he told me, ‘Bill, when you get those thoughts, think of something beautiful — a beautiful sunset, beautiful fishing, whatever you like — to take your mind off of it.’ ”
As a result, Schott remembers little of what happened. But now, at 87, he’s hoping to fill the void.
The Dallas Morning News reports Schott is one of 15 American World War II veterans who are traveling to the island on the one day of the year the Japanese government allows veterans and their descendants to visit.
“I’m hoping when I go back and I sit on the sands of Iwo Jima, I will maybe get a glimpse of what I did,” he said.
Three of the 15 veterans live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and their trips are sponsored by Daughters of World War II, a nonprofit organization founded by Laura Leppert, wife of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert.
American Airlines donated one round-trip ticket, and Leppert’s organization raised money for the others to fly for free.
The veterans will attend a symposium in Guam before visiting Iwo Jima for about five hours Wednesday. They will attend a memorial service overlooking the landing beaches and meet Japanese veterans.
Last year, Leppert made her first trip to the island with two veterans.
“Because they landed on the beach, they hadn’t seen it from the air before,” she said. “When they see it from the air, some start to cry. They think about everything they saw; they think about their buddies.”
Leppert’s late father, George Broderick, fought at Iwo Jima but rarely spoke of it.
“I don’t think the vets wanted their family to know what they had to do to stay alive and save their country,” she said.
It wasn’t until her father was dying of cancer that he opened up about his experiences in the war.
Now she is working to help World War II veterans preserve their memories.
“The vets are so appreciative,” she said. “They didn’t think anyone cared anymore.”
Finally this morning, we'll head to our own backyard here on the East Coast. There was a burial at Arlington National Cemetery the other day. It would have been utterly routine, as there are burials there every day, except the men interred served aboard the USS Monitor.
It was likely the last Civil War burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus delivered remarks at the funeral. Media from outlets across the country scribbled notes in the back row.
Despite all the attention, the funeral of two Monitor sailors on Friday was just like every other in one way: Sailors were honoring lost shipmates.
“The country and the Navy have a long memory, particularly and rightfully so when it comes to fallen heroes,” said Cmdr. John Fancher, commanding officer of Virginia-class attack sub Minnesota, under construction in Newport News, Va.
The two sailors were buried with full military honors in a plot between the amphitheater and Maine Memorial in front of a large crowd of sailors and civilians.
“From the Marblehead men who rowed Washington across the Delaware, to these brave souls, to those who serve today in nuclear-powered carriers and submarines, sailors have always been the same; they are at heart risk-takers — willing, even eager, to brave the unknown to peer past distant horizons,” Mabus said during the ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Mabus selected the date for the interment to coincide with the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 8 and 9, 1862, in which the Monitor clashed with the Confederate ship CSS Virginia. The battle was the first of two ironclad warships.
And while none of the sailors on the Minnesota — nor any of the sailors’ parents — were alive when this battle occurred, they feel a special connection to the Monitor.
The Monitor came to the rescue of the first Minnesota, a wooden steam frigate launched in 1855. During the Battle of Hampton Roads, Minnesota became grounded. A Confederate ship was planning to destroy the vulnerable frigate when Monitor engaged the southern ship and gave the frigate a chance to escape.
“It’s the least we could do to come up here and pay our respects,” Fancher said.
And I'll just mention that I live near a battlefield, too. Saturday we were out snowshoeing along the Battle Road and visited the Paul Revere capture site.
History is everywhere...whether we remember and preserve it, or ignore and repeat it, is up to us.