Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to honor those who have given their lives for our country. For many of us, it’s just a day for cookouts and time off from work.
It really should be more. Much more.
I recently read, “Not In Vain — A Rifleman Remembers World War 11” by Leon C. Standifer. I bought the book several years ago from Louisiana State University Press. Our University Press here in Jackson and the LSU group have sales periodically that are irresistible to an unapologetic book junkie like me. Anyway, I bought the book because it looked interesting and it was on sale.
I finally worked down through my stack of “to be read” books to this one a few weeks ago. I was delightfully surprised that the author was from Clinton. He gave an interesting and colorful account of growing up in Clinton in the 1930s. Life was centered around Mississippi College in those days even more than it is now. I was a little miffed when he talked about the “ruffians” coming over from Raymond (my hometown) and causing trouble in otherwise tranquil and reserved Clinton.
Answering the why
The author’s purpose for writing the book was to find an answer to the question of why young men (and now, women) are willing to give their lives for their country. Combat is a hazardous occupation, to say the least. Why do youngsters willing subject themselves to arduous military training and allow themselves to be put in positions of extreme danger to fight wars started by old guys who are never in any danger at all? I confess I had similar questions when I got drafted into the Army in 1970.
Do those young soldiers do it to defend their country? Protect their families? According to the author, who, unlike me, had firsthand combat experience, concluded that American soldiers take the risks and lose their lives primarily because they’re part of a team and to let their buddies down would be unthinkable.
In fact, developing that strong bond of camaraderie is the purpose behind most military training. You live, suffer and train as a group and you become a family of sorts. It’s about duty and honor among soldiers and friends.
vUnquestionably, love of country is an important element, but the bond of brotherhood is the most important factor in why soldiers knowingly sacrifice their lives for others according to Standifer.
Notwithstanding why soldiers have done what they do, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those who have given so much. We can make a nominal payment on that debt by willingly making sacrifices ourselves that will make things better for our fellow citizens.
Simple, direct opportunities of sacrificing for the common good abound. Here are a few that come to mind.
• Give blood regularly. Or, better still give blood platelets. There is no artificial substitute for blood. Without it, people will die. Without platelets, cancer patients can’t be treated.
• Mentor a youngster. Many of our children and young adults don’t think they can fully participate in the American economic system so they lie around doing nothing, commit crimes and, ultimately, end up in jail. Mentoring through any one of the numerous local schools and other programs can help some lost youngsters be found and nudged in the direction of useful citizenship.
• Donate a small amount of money to the worthwhile charity of your choice regularly. Check the operation out and make sure they’re doing what you want done and pitch in a few bucks occasionally to support the cause.
And by the way…
Each of us could develop our own list of things that are simple, inexpensive and important to make our country even better than it is. And now it’s time for a brief sermon. For goodness sakes, vote in every election that you have a right to participate in. Less than 50% of Americans take the trouble to vote. Less than 50%!
I believe that our fallen heroes would be disappointed that we don’t take time out of our busy lives to vote. There’s a primary election coming up next week. This would be a good time to break with tradition and have a record turnout at the polls. I shall await the outcome with bated breath.
Thought for the Moment
But going to war and going into combat are two different things, and the motivations behind them differ as well. Psychologists are firm in saying that a rifleman fights for his group of friends rather than for God and Country. The German soldiers had a saying: “Patriotism dies five kilometers from the front lines.” — from the book “Not In Vain” by Leon C. Standifer. (pp. 249-250)
Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.