I no longer bothered by the fact that most of my fellow citizens don't understand what Memorial Day is all about. I keep the holiday in my own way, and support the proper commemoration of it, in anyway that I can. I show respect for the fallen and gratitude for the living, men and women who wear our countries uniform at all times.
I was trying to think of a way that I could express my gratitude and respect for all of our warriors who have fallen, and realized just how limited and weak my writing skills were. I fear that the debt that I as well as the rest of the country owe these men and women can never be repaid.
Earlier this week, I was reading Starship Troopers and I was struck with the idea of certain "rights" being granted to those who had done federal service. I know that a great deal of people don't agree with that philosophy, they think that it smacks of Fascism. To me, it just seems that it is a very fair trade. You put yourself on the line, you have a vested interest in the outcome of things. Believe it or not, American has had a long tradition of this very concept. It has offered accelerated access to citizenship to any who would serve in the military. I can't but help thinking that it speaks well of our country that people would be willing to risk life and limb to become Americans. I can't think of any other country that so many would make that kind of sacrifice for. Our history is full of many such cases, and I would like to share a few of these stories with you.
With the great famine of the 1840's Ireland was almost depopulated with the great Diaspora. The new world opened it's arms to countless immigrants looking for a better life and better opportunities. America was one of the countries that benefited from this, the army recruited heavily from the emigrants. So much so, that the cliche of the Irish cavalry Sgt. in the many western movies that have been made was more fact than cliche. One of these immigrants was Thomas Sweeney. He came to New York with his mother, and adapted to the new world. He joined a militia company which was transferred into federal service for the Mexican War. Sweeney was badly wounded in his right arm at the battle of Churubusco in 1847 which resulted in it's amputation. Most men would have ended their careers at that point, but Sweeney had just started. After the Mexican War, Sweeney stayed in the regular army fighting the Indians of the Plains and eventually serving as a general in the Civil War. Fighting Tom as he was now know fought in the battles of Wilson's Creek, (where he was wounded in the groin)Ft. Donelson, Shiloh (where he was wounded once more)and in the campaigns around Atlanta. Sweeney's military career came to a end when in 1864 he took on two other Federal Army General in a fistfight. According to reports, Fighting Tom gave a fine account of himself considering he only had one arm.
Another Irishman who chose a slightly different path was Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. Cleburne immigrated to Arkansas joining a local militia company also. When Arkansas seceded from the Union, Cleburne cast his lot with his adopted state. He said he would stand with his new friends and country. Cleburne was eventually made a General in the Confederate service. Like Sweeney, Cleburne was a fighting officer who was called "The Stonewall of the West" Robert E. Lee said of Cleburne he was "a meteor shining from a clouded sky". Cleburne also had a larger world view in that he recommended that slaves should be offered their freedom if they were to take up arms to defend the south. His proposal was turned down and his military career was for all intents ended after this. Cleburne was killed in action at the head of his troops at the battle of Franklin, TN. in 1864.
At this same time, another group was trying to find it's place in society. Both free and enslaved African-Americans saw military service as a path to citizenship. Frederick Douglass put into words the thoughts of these bronze warriors:
“The opportunity is given us to be men, With one courageous resolution we may blot out the hand-writing of ages against us. Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U. S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth…which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”
In the Civil War these Americans proved their valor in the various "colored" regiments and later on, in the 9th and 10th Calvary and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. These men, the legendary Buffalo Soldiers, served in the campaigns against the Indians of the plains and southwest and they also served in supporting the American assault on San Juan Heights in Cuba during the Spanish American War. They were on the right flank of the famous "Rough Riders" and were mentioned by it's commander Theodore Roosevelt due to their bravery in battle.
There was another group who should have been considered more "American" than most. they also strove to prove themselves a part of the nation that they lived in, even though their people had been here long before the creation of the United States. The Indian or Native Americans. Indians have always been a part of our military, particularly when the country was involved in war. From the Navajo code-talkers who developed a unbreakable code that was used in the battle against the Japanese to a Pima Indian named Ira Hayes who was one of the Marines who helped raise the American flag on a black piece of worthless volcanic sand called Iwo Jima, Native Americans have proved their dedication to our country.
The last group that we will look at are the Japanese-Americans. These men were Americans of Japanese ancestry. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a strong backlash against anything Japanese in America. The U.S. government declared most Japanese-American as being 4C (enemy alien) and not subject to the draft. President Roosevelt also signed Executive Order 9066 which allowed the military to remove certain persons from restricted military areas on the west coast. This order did not specifically mention Japanese-Americans, it was used to place over 110,000 Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. Out of these camps came young men trying to prove themselves as patriotic Americans having to fight to join the military so they could go overseas to fight. I don't know what I would do if faced with that same situation, I would have a great deal of trouble fighting for a country that tossed my family and I, into what was a literally a prison just because of the color of my skin or certain facial characteristics. From all the volunteers for service out of these camps the Army organized the 100th Infantry battalion and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This combined unit fought in Italy and France becoming the most decorated unit for it's size in the history of the U.S. Military. It's members were awarded 18,143 awards to include 21 Medals of Honor.
So it's these men who I think about when I reflect on Memorial Day. Men who had little reason to join a military of a government that did not even acknowledge their right to be American. The wonder of it all is that these men believed in the American dream and were willing to make a down payment in flesh and blood to insure that dream, if not for themselves, then for future generations. There is no other country in the world that I know of could motivate men in that way with just that idea.
I just am grateful that I live in such a country.