Posted by: Phil Anderson | May 24, 2015

Men Who Died

This week America celebrates Memorial Day, a holiday established to remember and celebrate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the freedom it stands for. People who believe something strongly enough to give their life for it are inspiring and fascinating. Two years ago I posted some fictional character studies of men who died, and this year I’m offering a few more from twentieth century wars.

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James Carston had never been more than a hundred miles away from where he was born. It’s not that he didn’t want to travel, he just never had the opportunity. When he enlisted in the army right out of high school, his friends thought he was crazy. There was a war going on in Europe and despite President Wilson’s reluctance, there was a good chance America might get involved.

The lure of action and adventure outweighed the danger for Jimmy. His Grandpa Carston was well respected because of his heroic deeds during the War Between the States. Of course there was a certain amount of risk involved, but that’s what made it exciting. And girls love a man in uniform.

Not long after Jimmy finished basic training, America did join in the war in Europe. The anticipation-filled ocean voyage was everything Jimmy had hoped for, but his dreams stopped coming true when he arrived on the battlefield.

Caravans of ambulances carried away a battle’s winners and flatbed trucks carried away the losers. Dead bodies were scattered across the fields and live rats filled the trenches. Acrobatic pilots flew overhead and dropped the occasional bomb. Poisonous mustard gas floated along the ground mixed with smoke and the stench of death.

Jimmy’s romantic fantasies of adventure were quickly replaced with a longing for the tedium of home. But those hopes would not be realized either. Jimmy and dozens of his fellow doughboys, hoping to overcome with sheer numbers, obeyed the dreaded signal to charge and were mowed down by German machine guns.

 

 

George Adams was a hard worker. He had to be, with a wife and an infant son to provide for. Because of the economic depression things had been hard, not just for them but for every American. The new government programs seemed to be helping a little, but developments in Europe were creating tensions of a different sort.

When the Japanese attacked a Hawaiian military base, the nation was outraged. Suddenly individual problems seemed less significant. George joined the thousands of able-bodied American men who flocked to enlist. His wife assured him she could take care of things at home; he had a duty to his country.

In the South Pacific, George found himself aboard a ship patrolling tropical islands covered with sand and palm trees. They saw a little action here and there but aside from that it was a dull assignment. George wrote home often, and his wife wrote back, telling him about the neighborhood watch, war bond drives, and rationing programs. And his son was growing into a handsome young man.

One evening, as twilight was changing to dusk, the alarm was sounded. Two scout planes had happened upon the ship. Anti-aircraft fire filled the starry sky, but the planes turned tail to report back the position of their find. With a lucky shot, one of the planes was hit. It wobbled in the air and smoke began to pour from one engine. Its pilot knew he was lost, so he turned again and headed straight for his floating target. Sailors raced for cover, but there was no time. The burning plane exploded on contact with the main deck and George was among the casualties.

 

 

Fred Burrows was glad to have survived the war. He had been too young to join right away, and by the time he turned eighteen it was almost over. He joined the Marines and saw a little action in the South Pacific, then found himself stationed in Japan after their surrender.

To be honest, Fred found post-war military life a little dull. Although he wrote home to his parents every week, there wasn’t much to say. When his tour was up, however, Fred surprised himself by re-signing for another stint.

When tensions began to rise in southeast Asia, Fred found himself on alert. The conflict boiled down to the Communists vs. the United Nations. One small peninsula became the stage where a much larger drama was played out.

The northern army had nearly conquered the peninsula when Fred landed with his Marine unit at Inchon. The enemy was taken by surprise and U.N. Forces were able to cut off supply lines and liberate the capital.

Fred advanced with U.N. Forces almost to the Chinese border. That’s when the People’s Liberation Army joined the war. The local northern fighters had been disorganized and poorly trained, but the P.L.A. soldiers were professionals. Fred and most of his unit fell to their counter-attack.

 

 

Kevin Washington was never interested in joining the military. He agreed that communism had to be defeated (unlike many of his college friends), but he wasn’t so sure that war was such a good idea. When his draft number came up in the lottery, however, he didn’t try to dodge it (again, unlike many of his college friends).

He had always liked planes, so Kevin joined the Air Force. After basic training and flight school, he took part in Operation Rolling Thunder, dropping bombs on enemy supply routes.

As the war went on, opposition to it increased. America was supporting a weak local government against determined local enemies. Americans began to second-guess the decisions made by their government and military leaders. Kevin heard about violent peace demonstrations back home. No one really knew all that was going on at the front, but everyone had strong opinions anyway.

In Kevin’s war-torn corner of Asia, the local army began making incursions into neighboring countries to cut off enemy supply lines. America provided air support and the raids were successful, but there were heavy casualties and many planes, including Kevin’s, were shot down.

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