(This blog post is not intended to damper your Memorial Day weekend or the enjoyment of beaches, barbecues, parties, and activities. Cranky Man’s sincerest wish is simply to take a few minutes this holiday weekend to reflect on the ultimate sacrifices made on our behalf!)
As is my challenge, Cranky Man will prod his readers into reflecting on the REAL meaning of our more sacred National Holidays. This weekend kicks off the official start of Summer 2017. But the true reasons for celebrating the coming three months of Summer – Memorial Day – has a much, much deeper meaning than beaches, water sports, vacation travel, and the wonders of the National Parks system.
That Meaning is the recognition of those thousands upon thousands, who left the safety of Homeland and Family to preserve and protect both, and in that Service gave the Last Full Measure of Devotion. In many cases, they did so not for the People they left back home, as they did for those in foreign lands unable to preserve and protect those concepts of Homeland and Family without our help.
The Meaning is recognition of those sacrifices and appreciation for the loss pressed upon those who loved them. Such meaning can be severely clouded with emotion when a Loved One never comes home from War. The “more fortunate” families might wait for DECADES to recover the remains of fathers, sons, uncles, and brothers. The truly Unfortunate never know the peace of bringing them Home.
As of 19 May 2017 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) lists 82,547 Americans still missing just since World War II. Here are a few of their stories …
a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim went off to War …
On May 11, 1969 – the before his son’s 1st birthday – LT William C. Ryan climbed aboard his F-4 Phantom as Radio Intercept Officer (RIO). His aircraft was on a bombing run along the Laos-Vietnam border when it was hit by ground fire and crashed. The pilot ejected, but Ryan did not make it out.
LT William “Billy” C. Ryan
Luck in the form of Ryan’s aircraft seat was found in 1990, but the politics of searching a border region; being limited to 45 days of searching at any one stretch; and the treacherous terrain prevented finding LT Ryan’s remains and positively identifying them until 2016. Billy Ryan’s son was now 48 years old! And in a strange, unforgiving twist of fate, Ryans’ wife, Judith, was informed of her husband’s positive identification on the very same day she was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer.
LT William C. Ryan was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 10 May 2017.
1611 Americans are still listed as MIA from the Vietnam War. Over 58,000 Americans perished.
CPL Freddie Lee Henson enlisted in the U.S. Army on 19 January 1949 at 18 years old out of Klamath Falls, AR. Serving in the 57th Field Artillery, 7th Infantry Division Henson was deployed to South Korea in 1950.
In November 1950, as U.S. and South Korean forces came painfully close to pushing the North Korean forces across the Yalu River into China, 1 million Chinese troops jumped the river and overwhelmed the Allied forces. By December the largely American United Nations force was pinned down at the Chosin Reservoir, deep in North Korean territory.
CPL Freddie Lee Henson
On December 6, 1950 CPL Henson was declared missing-in-action. Very little was known as to the details of Henson’s death in the confusion and suffering that was the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Henson’s unit was one of many suffering from shortage of supplies and sub-zero temperatures.
Despite long-term tensions over a war that was never officially a “war”, which also meant that peace was never declared, several collaborative efforts between North and South Koreas and the U.S. began to yield the remains of soldiers long dead but never returned home. In 2004 CPL Henson’s remains were among 5 sets recovered on the east side of the Chosin battlefield.
On 3 April 2017, CPL Freddie Lee Henson’s remained were officially identified after 67 years. His family never found out he was brought home. Freddie’s brother, Kenneth – his last known familial survivor – had died in 1980. Henson was interred with full military honors on 4 May 2017 at Fort Sam Houston in Houston, TX.
Over 33,000 Americans died during the Korean War. The DPAA lists 7,747 still missing.
Sometimes the tragedy of never seeing a loved one return from war is worsened by the circumstances of their forever absence. One such example was resolved in July 2015 with the return of 40 U.S. Marines, who perished on Tarawa Atoll during the Allies World War II island-hopping campaign.
Tarawa was mistakenly viewed as a push-over outpost among the many occupied by Japanese troops in the Pacific. The invading Marines came ashore on November 20, 1943 in rubber boats and amphibious tractors. Little did the invaders know, the Japanese had an extensive network of concrete bunkers, proudly proclaimed by the Japanese commander as requiring a million man a hundred years to overcome, that survived the intense aerial and naval bombardments.
It took U.S. Marines all of three days to subdue the atoll’s defenders, but at the cost of heavy casualties. 1200 Marines died on Tarawa; many of them hastily buried as the Allies persistently worked to push the Japanese out of the central and western Pacific. Hundreds of the dead still lay buried there, some of them buried under yards, trash pits, even pigsties. They may well have remained there if not for the efforts of Mark Noah, founder of History Flight, a non-profit dedicated to bringing the remains of lost Americans home.
Thanks to these efforts a long-forgotten burial ground, containing the remains of 40 U.S. Marines, was discovered on the atoll. After 70 years laying in an inconspicuous plot thousands of miles away from Home and family, 40 Americans were disinterred and returned to Hawaii for potential identification and return to families long resigned to never gaining closure to unspeakable loss.
Among those 40 American heroes was 1st LT Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. In no way to diminish the sacrifice of all 40 of those men, below lies the MOH citation for LT Bonnyman, Jr., provided here as a tribute to all 40.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Executive Officer of the 2d Battalion Shore Party, 8th Marines, 2d Marine Division, during the assault against enemy Japanese-held Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, 20-22 November 1943. Acting on his own initiative when assault troops were pinned down at the far end of Betio Pier by the overwhelming fire of Japanese shore batteries, 1st Lt. Bonnyman repeatedly defied the blasting fury of the enemy bombardment to organize and lead the besieged men over the long, open pier to the beach and then, voluntarily obtaining flame throwers and demolitions, organized his pioneer shore party into assault demolitionists and directed the blowing of several hostile installations before the close of D-day. Determined to effect an opening in the enemy’s strongly organized defense line the following day, he voluntarily crawled approximately 40 yards forward of our lines and placed demolitions in the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement as the initial move in his planned attack against the heavily garrisoned, bombproof installation which was stubbornly resisting despite the destruction early in the action of a large number of Japanese who had been inflicting heavy casualties on our forces and holding up our advance. Withdrawing only to replenish his ammunition, he led his men in a renewed assault, fearlessly exposing himself to the merciless slash of hostile fire as he stormed the formidable bastion, directed the placement of demolition charges in both entrances and seized the top of the bombproof position, flushing more than 100 of the enemy who were instantly cut down, and effecting the annihilation of approximately 150 troops inside the emplacement. Assailed by additional Japanese after he had gained his objective, he made a heroic stand on the edge of the structure, defending his strategic position with indomitable determination in the face of the desperate charge and killing 3 of the enemy before he fell, mortally wounded. By his dauntless fighting spirit, unrelenting aggressiveness and forceful leadership throughout 3 days of unremitting, violent battle, 1st Lt. Bonnyman had inspired his men to heroic effort, enabling them to beat off the counterattack and break the back of hostile resistance in that sector for an immediate gain of 400 yards with no further casualties to our forces in this zone. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Over 405,000 American soldiers, sailors, and pilots died during World War II. The DFAA still lists over 73,000 Americans as missing-in-action.
Again … These stories are not intended to damper a glorious pre-Summer weekend, so much as to encourage a moment or two of reflection on the true meaning of Memorial Day.