Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day - 2008: Are We Squandering Their Sacrifice?

"Happy Bloody Christmas!" he said to his comrades, as he dropped the firewood next to the hut.

It was indeed.

Behind him in the snow, Private Jedediah Smith of the Continental Army had left bloody footprints, his bare feet wrapped in filthy rags. Staggering over to the small fire, he sat on the ground - his legs straight out, feet to the flames.

It had been nearly three months since he had owned a pair of shoes. Now, in the bitter cold and snow of Valley Forge, shoes were not the only thing the young soldier and his comrades lacked.

They were low on everything, including food and ammunition. Desertion was on the rise. Just the day before, three men had stood before a firing squad, shot as an example to the rest of the army.

As he rubbed his feet, trying to restore the circulation, Smith had a thought. "Maybe those buggers they shot are the fortunate one's, eh?"

"Aww, shut up, will you? Here, have some firecake."

One of his hut-mates threw the piece of hard "bread" in Smith's direction. He tried to eat the lump of flour and water, but gave up, and threw it in the fire instead.

"No thanks, I'd rather be hungry."

Private Smith was not alone in his misery.

By the time they had moved into their winter quarters along the Schuylkill River, half of General Washington's army was barefoot. Most lacked proper winter coats. Diseases like typhus, dysentery, and pneumonia threatened to kill those that didn't starve.

Out of a total force of 12,000 men, on any given day nearly 4,000 were listed as "Unfit for Duty." But in spite of the hunger, disease, and general privation suffered by those first American soldiers, the winter of 1777-1778 would prove to be the turning point of the American Revolution.

As they left their bloody tracks in the snow, Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, the Prussian officer who had served on the staff of Frederick the Great, whipped the rag-tag army into shape. By the following summer, they were pursuing the British into New York.

The training and discipline soldiers like "Private Smith" received that terrible winter, turned a bunch of farmers into a fighting force that, a short five years later, would defeat the most powerful army in the world.

"Naked and starving as they are, We cannot enough admire, The incomparable Patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery. - George Washington.

Four score and six years later, at a small, Pennsylvania crossroads town less than 100 miles away, two large armies would be locked in an epic battle. That battle would prove to be the turning point in another war. When the slaughter ended three days later, over 50,000 men had become casualties. Of these, neary 8,000 were dead.

The previous Fall, near a place in Maryland called Antietam Creek, America would be sad witness to the bloodiest single day in its history. Before the carnage ended that terrible day, 22,720 Americans would lay on the crimson battlefield - wounded or dying.

At places that became known to History as Miller's Cornfield, Dunker Church, and the Sunken Road, nearly 4,000 Americans died the 17th day of September, 1862.

Though he spoke the words for the men who had fallen at Gettysburg, they most assuredly would apply to all those others who fell, during those four bloody years in our nation's history:

"...The world will little note...what we say here...but it can never forget what they did here...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion...we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain...that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

-Abraham Lincoln

Throughout our history, in times of peace and times of war, young men and women have sacrificed their lives, in the service of Freedom. From the Revolution to the Civil War. From the battlefields of France - in two separate wars - to the islands of the Pacific. From the frozen fields of Korea, to the sweltering jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan, the desert sands of Iraq, the blood of America's youth has been shed, so that we could enjoy the blessings of liberty.

As we celebrate Memorial Day 2008, The Flying Curmudgeon wonders if we are honoring that sacrifice, and preserving the legacy so many have died to bequeath us.

"No Taxation without Representation!"

What would those who died at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and Yorktown think of the profligate spending of an out-of-control Congress, some 230 years later?

Staring into cannon loaded with grape-shot, as they marched across the killing fields of Gettysburg and Antietam, at Shiloh and Spotsylvania Courthouse, what would those who, mere moments later, would literally be blasted into Eternity, think of the corruption of 21st century elected representatives?

Would they believe in term limits?

The Statler Brothers had a hit, thirty or forty years ago, called Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?

Though he would go down in history as one of the legendary defenders of the Alamo, before his date with Destiny, Davy Crockett had served as a U.S. congressman from his home state of Tennessee. From 1827-1833, Crockett championed the rights of ordinary people, and throughout his abbreviated career, would be known as a political reformer.

Upon his defeat in 1833, he famously said:

I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not...Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to Hell, I will go to Texas.

And so he went.

Maybe Rush Limbaugh's resident musical parodyist, Paul Shanklin, could come up with the song:

"Whatever happened to Davy Crockett...?"

As we reflect on the tens of thousands who have died to secure and sustain liberty over the last 232 years, as Americans we owe it to all of our honored dead, not to squander the legacy of freedom that they bought - at such a terrible price.

In honor of our fallen heroes, during this election year, The Flying Curmudgeon asks all Americans to remember those who have sacrificed so much, and not let their deaths have been in vain.

Let's not sacrifice freedom for a false sense of security. We need to rein in the entitlements and the earmarks.

Let's take back Washington, and return it where it belongs - to the people.

It's time to push for balanced budget legislation again.

Let's end the tyranny of political careerism. As unlikely as they might seem with the current Washington status quo, we need to keep pushing for term limits. Let every representative serve for six years, then go home. Senators could serve for ten.

Every tax-paying American needs to get behind the Fair Tax. Its time to take the purse strings away from the congressmen and their pals on "K" Street.

It's the least we can do for our dead....

and for our children.

God Bless America!


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