I have spent a significant portion of my lifetime reading and writing about our military. As such Memorial Day is one of those holidays that has a personal meaning for me. There are few places that do Memorial Day as well as Culpeper. Our national cemetery is in the heart of our community. Every year the band from Culpeper High School plays an homage of military tunes. Amidst the graves of the Civil War, WWI and II, Vietnam, and the recent wars in the Middle East, speakers take the stage and remind us of the sacrifices of the honored dead. Veterans of all ages are present; not to rekindle past glories but to pay respect to fallen comrades. They remind us of those that were willing to give up their very existence so that we might remain free. As Taps echoes through the graveyard there are few dry eyes.
It is proper that we honor our veterans, living and dead. They don’t join the military for the money or the health care. They join out of a sense of obligation to country. While we go about our little day-to-day tasks, they stand ready to defend us. America has enemies everywhere, even at home, and our military is at the frontlines in wars of the past and those battles yet to come.
I am deeply moved and inspired by such stories. For me, of equal importance is who is not there…our men and women missing in action. Over 83,000 brave Americans have yet to return home from our wars. WWII alone accounts for 73,500 of the missing. Records prior to WWII are inconsistent at best since recovery and return of the dead was a lesser priority in those times.
The majority of the missing troops went down on ships or planes at sea and their remains could not be recovered. Others went on patrol and simply never returned, lost in the carnage and devastation of battle. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) is tasked with the recovery and identification of America’s missing. Every year only 70 or so soldiers/sailors/airmen are found and brought back to be with their comrades in their native soil. The work that JPAC does is slow and meticulous; part archeology part CSI. It is detective work that combines historical research and tenacious desire to bring our dead home.
Without a body there is a lack of closure for some families. Some hold out hope that a loved one might have somehow survived. The mortal remains is a validation of sorts that the person is no longer lost in the mists of history but has instead passed on. These families often bear a burden we would find unimaginable, a state of emotional limbo and forever longing for family and friends that have simply disappeared into the annals of history. They are not mere footnotes to America’s wars, but stories that remain unfinished, dreams that remain unfulfilled. The dead have marked graves and a sense of permanency, where the missing exist in our hearts and memories.
On this Memorial Day we honor our living and dead veterans – heroes all. But we also need to acknowledge those that have not made the final trip home and the burdens that their families bear as well. They remain on duty in unmarked graves around the world and at the bottom of our seas. They are not forgotten but are merely waiting for that chance to come back to their hometowns, like Culpeper, to join their fellow warriors in final solace.
If you have not attended the ceremony in Culpeper – I encourage you to go and take part.
Blaine Pardoe is a New York Times best selling author who lives in Amissville. He’s currently working on three new books. You may reach him at BPardoe870@aol.com
The Culpeper Times has featured dozens of veterans since starting our Salute to Veterans page. We’d like to feature more. In this issue we thank Charles Jameson, Kerry Romesberg and Tim Smith for their service.