True, we recognize those who died for our freedom, but we should also remember those who are willing today to die for our freedom.
At the Armed Forces Day luncheon that I attended last week in Chattanooga, sponsored by the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council, Lt. Gen. John M. Riggs, commanding general of the First Army, said 153,000 troops are in 125 foreign lands representing America and what it stands for.
What do we stand for? It comes down to patriotism, the pride and love for our country and its flag that waves as a symbol and reminder of those values.
It’s Old Glory, the flag that for more than 10 score years has been the banner of hope and freedom for generations of Americans, the flag that has grown from a small group of colonies to a united and sovereign nation of 50 states.
As a veteran of World War II, I left high school and college to serve in the greatest Army in the greatest war in centuries. I remember standing in the rain in New Caledonia eating rations from a tin mess gear saturated in water, and looking up at the American flag and picking out the star that I picked out representing my state of Florida. It warmed my heart and made me homesick for the loves I had left behind.
The 51st anniversary of Armed Forces Day last week saw a parade of flags, marching bands, passing units of vehicles and smart-stepping members of Hamilton County’s Junior ROTC program, many of whom will probably join our Armed Forces upon graduation.
The Chattanooga Chapter of the Retired Officers Association, of which I am a proud member, at a formal dinner recognized the outstanding cadets with scholarships and leadership awards. These were the “cream of the crop” of America’s youth.
In patriotic gestures, in Cleveland, Tenn., the Cleveland High School students spent five months interviewing local World War II veterans from the war front and home front. These interviews were compiled into a book [of which] veterans received a copy.
Since Tom Brokaw’s writing of “The Greatest Generation,” the men and women — who in the 1940s left homes, jobs and school to battle the fanatical leaders of Germany, Italy and Japan — have been put into the limelight. It was the limelight that we as veterans of the war really didn’t want. For us, it was to bridge the past with a future to construct and build communities, and to reconstruct our lives.
With [more than] 11 million men and women in the Armed Services, the government created the GI Bill of Rights that enabled us to go to college and at the same time helped the governmental picture of not returning all veterans at once to flood a labor market.
Yes, the 1940s was a crucial time for America. The war in Europe wasn’t going well, with Hitler’s troops racing across the Balkans, and with the surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It brought us into war. Japanese and German submarines were spotted on our West and East coasts, respectfully.
Congress declared war, [then] came the invasion of France and the Nazi defeat, and the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and the end of the war against Hirohito and his war lords.
President Harry Truman made the decision to use the bomb — saving millions of American and Japanese lives — in what turned out to be a peaceful occupation of Japan.
I was in the vanguard of first American troops to land in Kure, a Japanese Naval base in the southern part of Japan. For the first four to five days we saw no civilians. They had taken to the hills, not knowing what to expect from the Americans. Slowly, they returned.
What a contrast to America’s occupation, and to Japan’s own rape and killing in Manchuria, and other places of conquest. I couldn’t help but wonder, on seeing the little people in canvas shoes and most wearing glasses, how they expected to defeat the industrialized United States.
Before returning stateside, I visited Hiroshima. The city was some 12 miles from our headquarters and — contrary to what I thought I’d see as a big, big hole — instead was a burned-out landscape stretching for miles. There is no question that the decision to use the bomb shortened the war against Japan and saved millions of lives.
They started it. We ended it.
We should never forget to tell our children and grandchildren why we observe Memorial Day, what it means and what sacrifices our men and women made to keep the United States of America strong.
Freedom doesn’t come easy!
(Editor’s Note: This guest “Viewpoint” was written originally some 15 years ago by the late Hal P. Munck, a retired major in the U.S. Army who served 32 years. A journalist and graduate of Emory University, Munck was a respected Cleveland newsman and later served as Bradley County director of Civil Defense/Emergency Management following his retirement from military service. This narrative was submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner earlier this month by Munck’s widow, Elizabeth, with permission to publish it in observance of Memorial Day. Munck died May 27, 2005, at age 83. He was buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery on the Tuesday following Memorial Day. In a letter to our newspaper, Mrs. Munck observed, “Hal was a very patriotic person and loved America. I remember his son, Arthur, saying that it was very fitting that his Dad would be buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery with all the beautiful American flags in honor of Memorial Day.”)