Living and Dying In Wars: One Life to Give

Honor the Veterans of Foreign Wars

Men have fought and died in countless wars throughout the ages, and nothing much changed in that respect with the modern world in the 20th century, that saw two world wars and countless conflicts waged by our men and women, alongside America’s allies. Towards the end of the 20th century and on into the 21st century, the wars and conflicts remain just as hard fought, murderous, terrible and bloody and deadly, as we were drawn into new wars in the Middle East by the Islamic attack on America on September 11th 2001. As time continues on without many of us, it is unlikely that the fact of war as part of life will ever depart from our descendants or from this world, so long as evil men exist and wish to impose tyranny on the righteous, autonomous, self-determining free born men and women of the world.

The Eleventh hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month…

On November 11th, many across the nation will be celebrating Veterans Day to commemorate the men and women who fought and died and fought and survived the many foreign wars our people have had visited upon them over the past century, especially in the last few decades, with the chaos exploding all across the Middle East. But whether it was fighting the Germans and their allies during WWI and WWII or the Koreans and the Chinese near the Yalu River during the Korean “Conflict”, American men and women have served honorably in the name of freedom and liberty for all and a variety of purposes aimed a keeping the nation safe from the threats to freedom of their own particular day and time, regardless of just how necessary or avoidable those conflicts and wars were viewed and fought out on the political battlefields back home.

I remember my own Pop, Robert Grover Smith [SFC retired U.S. Army], telling the story in his waning years of being with his platoon and surrounded by rapidly advancing Nazi SS troops in the Ardennes Forest, during the Battle of the Bulge. He had just turned nineteen and had already been fighting this war for nearly two years, after getting my Grandmother to sign a release that allowed him to join at seventeen, and so, at what seems all too young an age, he and the other men of his platoon were facing what seemed to be almost certain death, since the grapevine had already told that any U.S. and Allied soldiers captured by the SS were being summarily executed on the spot, just like at Malmedy on December 17th 1944.

Upon realizing their predicament, may had begun dumping the numerous “war souvenirs” they had picked off the bodies of dead German soldiers, the likes of Iron Crosses, Nazi armbands and flags and other unusual items not readily found back home, or anywhere else. As quickly as one of Pop’s friends suggested, “Smitty … You better shed anything of the Kraut crap”, Pop said that he slowly and calmly turned and looked the soldier in the eye and replied, “Do what you want. I don’t intend to get captured”. And that one comment rallied his platoon enough that, despite being worn out, frost-bitten by four below zero temperatures and low on rations and medical supplies, they held on and managed to fight through to rejoin their company.

Dad would go on from that day to receive a Bronze Star and live to see combat in Korea on the Yalu that earned him his second Bronze Star, along with other deadly combat near Kuna Re Pass, where he was recommended for the Silver Star. He continued his career until the end of the Vietnam War, accumulating numerous medals and awards. He was one of the lucky ones, who unbelievably was able to survive all three wars, when so many others returned home in body bags.

Seventy-five thousand U.S. soldiers were killed fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. And, as unfortunate as it was for the victims of war, in some ways it was probably a blessing that the death count wasn’t higher than the approximately 4,000 civilians killed in the fighting around the Ardennes Forest, most likely due to its heavy wooded areas and being sparsely populated at the time.

Almost 40,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in the Korean War, and approximately fifteen percent of the 22 million Koreans at the time were killed .

Millions of soldiers from all wars have very similar stories, since the firepower might improve along with the technology, but the situation of the Ground Pounders always seems to remain constant. The situation can change on any day at any moment as ground captured one day must be relinquished the next. And in it all, the body count never goes down.

This November 14th marks the 54th anniversary of the Battle of La Drang Valley and the most fiercest, savage and intensely fought ground action fought in American military history, since WWII.

A Staff Sergeant and a friend, Macon Blue was a survivor of Vietnam. He had a steel plate in his head to replace part of his skull, and he was minus one lung, that made him talk like a huffing bear just out of hibernation, all courtesy of “friendly fire” during a battle with North Vietnamese Regulars under Brigadier General Chu Huy Man near Plei Me. He survived, recuperated and went on to fight other battles, believe it or not, before he retired in Germany where he opened a “soul food” restaurant.

Fifty-eight thousand two hundred-twenty U.S. soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam.

By comparison, U.S. casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq seem so very small as we see a combined total of approximately 6,960 to date, since more are killed each day in a war that still has not ended, but this number is deceptive. With these wars fought largely in urban areas and door to door, along with the enemy’s use of “Improvised Explosive Devices” and suicide bombers, the psychological toll appears to have taken a far greater number of casualties than from previous wars, for a litany of reasons; 300,000, twenty percent of these Veterans now suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome. And for the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.

As we all reflect on current U.S. policy this Veterans Day, anyone questioning the cost and the toll taken from these brave men and women — whether or not placing their lives in the line of fire was worth the risk during their service to America — can certainly be forgiven, in light of Congress’s repeated betrayal of traditional American values. Congress has consistently left our homeland’s interior and its borders unprotected, while good U.S. jobs have been given to foreign born employment based visa holders.

In February of 1981, six of us were regaled with wisdom from an Old Colonel as we sat and drank at the old Aztec Club on Victory Drive in Columbus, Georgia. With 34 years of service at the time, he had served in every place imaginable and each conflict since 1947, bearing two battle stars on his jump wings. His very intuitive predictions regarding America’s all new volunteer armed forces and his very word, the look in his eyes, his expression, and most of all the gravel and grit sound of his voice are as vivid today as they were on that night, as he looked in our direction but not at us, seeming to contemplate horrors and a future that troubled him down to his soul, and, to the best of my recollection, he growled :

“The all volunteer military was concocted by cowardly and feckless men at the upper echelons of our nation’s government, men and women who demonstrated a remarkable level of strategic and tactical incompetence over the course of every major war of this century, and any young person unfortunate to serve in the military of tomorrow will be sacrificed with increasing frequency on the toss of a dime, if only to save the profit margins of the military industrial complex.

A day will come when Americans have little, if any, real connection or association with the military and its families, and the country’s rulers will decide that legions of crippled and wasted Veterans are too costly to maintain. A prevailing lack of national character will see America cast aside Her damaged soldiers to save a few dollars, never thinking twice and without so much concern as taking out a bag of garbage.”

In my lifetime, America has sent Her people into fire-zones and the mouth of Death in places like Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and scores of other Third World hell-holes where for one reason or another the “Powers That Be” seem to see our U.S. footprint there as a “critical matter”.

Before his death in 2015 at age 89, my Dad often angrily stated that he and other boys had gone to fight against the forces of socialism, communism, fascism and tyranny and totalitarianism only to see those very same evils now growing right here in these United States of America. He would shake his head and exclaim, “It’s a Damn Shame that so much of our blood has been shed for nothing” — that from a man who gave 26 years of his life to the U.S. Army.

All America should honor America’s warriors everyday, because although war is always unwanted, it is too often foisted upon us, and with that said, we cannot expect peace by sitting withing our borders and never engaging other hostile nations before the aggression proceeds too far. And that isn’t to suggest that America should be the world’s policemen, but it is a certainty that without America’s involvement in the peace-keeping process and a willingness to fight if necessary for a vital interest and purpose at hand, one life for each to give, what stands if America doesn’t stand for freedom for Her people and around the globe?

So long as evil men seek to control others, coerce and conquer them and rob them of their freedom and liberty, there will be wars and rumors of war, and the demand will remain high for good and decent men and women to once more charge into the valley of Death, to do and die, and defend against merciless, inhumane tyrants, and whether through steel and fire and stone we fight, we hold tight to the Ten Commandments, with strength and courage in our hearts, minds and hands. Peace will never come without the righteous people’s will to fight and defend those things they hold most precious, most dear, without any easy hope or lies.

America’s Veterans and Veterans of all foreign wars have time and again reached down deep during past wars, patient and ignoring perils and obstacles, unslinging their weapons and unsheathing their blades, and they have met, engaged, broken and eradicated and defeated crazed and driven foes, winning some wars and losing others, if only for the lack of a leader’s backbone but never because they couldn’t win. Many battles won, from San Juan Hill to Berlin and Tokyo and on to Kabul, Ramadi, Mosul and Berisha, bear the proof, along with the iron sacrifice of their bodies and the will and depth of their souls required to focus on one mission at a time, for the cause of freedom and liberty — shrapnel and bullets filling the air — never losing sight of their task and never begrudging the one life they had to give.

November 10, 2019

~ The Author ~
Justin O. Smith has lived in Tennessee off and on most of his adult life, and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1980, with a B.S. and a double major in International Relations and Cultural Geography – minors in Military Science and English, for what its worth. His real education started from that point on. Smith is a frequent contributor to the family of Kettle Moraine Publications.

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