The US, like many other countries, has had a long tradition of honoring its veterans and those who have died in the line of duty. There are specific days in the US – Veterans Day and Memorial Day that are dedicated for that purpose. There are also hospitals dedicated to veterans and favorable financing available to veterans to purchase homes. After World War II, the GI Bill was introduced to offer those who served in the war to go to college – many who availed of the GI Bill were able to attain the educational qualifications to obtain gainful employment.
My son-in-law’s father, Richard Stahl Snr, died in April 2012. He was a good man – he could properly be described as the “salt of the earth”. He was an ex-serviceman who served in the US Navy years ago as a Master Chief Petty Officer. We attended the funeral/memorial service in Maryland in April and there was representation from the US Armed Forces – two active duty personnel attended the serviced and participated in some of aspects such as the ceremonial folding of the US flag that draped his coffin which was then handed to his widow, Linda Stahl.
Last week, he was buried at Arlington Cemetery – a site that is reserved only for those who served in the US armed forces. The four months that elapsed since his death is because approximately 100 burials occur each week at the cemetery. Each one of these individuals is given a burial with full military honors in accordance with their rank while they were in the armed forces. In the case of Richard Stahl the entire ceremony was brief but moving.At the appointed time we drove to the “transfer point” from the Administrative building where we assembled. The transfer point is the location where the urn containing his ashes was placed in a flag draped coffin. The coffin, in turn, was atop a horse-drawn carriage that was escorted by an additional six horses – one of them riderless and signifying a “fallen soldier” in keeping with military tradition. It was taken to the burial site where about a dozen soldiers fired a three gun salute, an army band played “America the Beautiful” and “Taps”. Six members of the armed forces then ceremonially folded the US flag that draped to coffin and one of them gave the folded flag to his widow.
As I witnessed the entire ceremony and saw the thousands of graves in the cemetery, I could not help but admire the US for the way the country honors all who have served in the armed forces. There are few countries in the world that make a point of so honoring every person who served in the armed forces of the country or have dedicated cemeteries for their armed forces. In part, this is because the US and a few other countries like the UK, France, Russia, Italy, Germany, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Korea and Japan have borne the most casualties in armed conflicts over the years.
Arlington Cemetery is the best known of the American cemeteries dedicated to the armed forces of the US but there are others both in the US and in other parts of the world. Of course, the best known of the graves in Arlington cemetery are those of John Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Edward as well as former president William Taft.
Wikipedia states: “More than 300,000 people have been buried in the 600 acres that make up Arlington Cemetery and 100 more are buried each week – though most are former service men and women in the armed forces. Veterans and military casualties from each of the nation’s wars are interred in the cemetery, ranging from the American Civil War through to the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900. Arlington National Cemetery is divided into 70 sections, with some sections in the southeast part of the cemetery reserved for future expansion. Section 60, in the southeast part of the cemetery, is the burial ground for military personnel killed in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.
“In 1901, Confederate soldiers buried at the Soldiers’ Home and various locations within Arlington were reinterred in a Confederate section that was authorized by Congress in 1900…….All Confederate headstones in this section are peaked rather than rounded. More than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War, are buried in Section 27. Their headstones are designated with the word ‘Civilian’ or ‘Citizen’.”
There are cemeteries in other countries around the world dedicated to American servicemen. Most are located in Europe and contain the remains of American service men and women who served in the World Wars.
World War I St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial and Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial.
In England there is the Brookwood American Cemetery and the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site.
In Belgium there is the American Cemetery at Ardennes, Flanders Field and the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.
Italy has the World War II Sicily=Rome American Cemetery and Memorial and the Florence American Cemetery , Italy.
There is also the American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg and the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Netherlands.
Outside Europe, there is the Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, the Mexico City National Cemetery in Mexico and the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Tunisia.
Colin Powell, a former four star general, as Secretary of State in George W Bush’s administration was questioned as to US motives and especially territorial ambitions with regard to Iraq prior to the the US invasion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2003
In a question-and-answer session afterwards, Powell was asked by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey if he felt the U.S and its allies had given due consideration to the use of “soft power” — promulgating moral and democratic values as a means of achieving progress towards international peace and stability, basically — versus the “hard power” of military force.
Here, in part, is how Colin Powell actually responded to Carey’s question:
“There is nothing in American experience or in American political life or in our culture that suggests we want to use hard power. But what we have found over the decades is that unless you do have hard power — and here I think you’re referring to military power — then sometimes you are faced with situations that you can’t deal with.
“I mean, it was not soft power that freed Europe. It was hard power. And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan. Soft power came with American GIs who put their weapons down once the war was over and helped all those nations rebuild. We did the same thing in Japan.
“So our record of living our values and letting our values be an inspiration to others I think is clear. And I don’t think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world. [Applause.]
“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace.”
I am not seeking to justify the invasion of Iraq which I believed then and believe today was a blunder of monumental proportions which resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqi and American lives, cost trillions of dollars and destabilized Iraq – a condition that persists to this day.
I have not always agreed with US policy as it relates to other countries especially as it relates to the use of American military power but I have unqualified admiration and respect for American troops who have made tremendous sacrifices as they have unquestioningly followed the orders of different administrations – including paying the ultimate price with their lives and often suffering a heavy toll both in physical and mental trauma. My view and attitude is shared by most Americans and is a far cry from how the troops returning from Vietnam were treated when a divided country when they bore the brunt of the unpopularity of ill-conceived policies by civilian administrations.