By Bob Hoyt
Veteran’s Day, November 11, was first called WWI Remembrance Day or Armistice Day. Memorials to WWI are scattered across the country. Liberty Memorial in Kansas City is one of the more impressive and much visited. WWI was supposedly “the war to end all wars.”
Wars always result in casualties and produce patriotic vows that “they shall never be forgotten.” Some seniors living today had great-grandparents who were alive during the Civil War. Do they remember them, much less the war? More recent generations are gradually forgetting at least three more recent conflicts marked by memorials in many states. The Korean War memorial in Washington includes 19 stone infantrymen dressed in combat gear and advancing among strips of granite and juniper bushes that represent the rugged terrain of Korea. That war did not end decisively. We negotiated a line and left. Most of us, except perhaps the parents, widows and the maimed, are forgetting. That is human.
The WWII memorial is the last glorious memorial. That war had a clear purpose. The enemy was defined and those who fought were from all walks of life. The veterans are nearly gone now, but the memories of their accomplishments for freedom still permeate our national conscience. Those who search the Vietnam wall for a name are often stirred not by thoughts of triumph and glory but more by grief and fading memories of those who stood with them.
The struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq is our longest war. Those who survive come home by the plane-load, with honor but to few parades. What should memorialize the fallen in the Middle East and Persian Gulf? How could we mark our debt to them with a national monument after the drawn-out conflict ends in the far deserts? Should we build a memorial showing an unmanned drone sending a Hellfire missile into a huddled mass of armed, ignorant religious extremists in the bed of a battered pickup truck? Would a true memorial need miniature oil derricks to note the real cause of the conflict? Would it have the names of those in the Congress who voted for war and those who voted against war?
What memorial might we build to the brave fighters who were hit by IEDs or who dropped from helicopters in strange and distant lands and fought with automatic weapons and grenades in darkness and were gone before dawn, taking their dead and wounded with them? Many secrets are locked in the vaults of intelligence agencies, as in the Cold War. But a giant door marked TOP SECRET would not do. Perhaps the hope of World War I as “a war to end wars” would be better.
How great it would be if we could make a door with a giant exclamation mark and inscribed with: “It ended here. They fought the last wars of humanity. The living who pass through this door, in a world unthreatened by religious insanity and political devolution, should remember the debt as well as the gift. Even as we forget the faces of these final warriors, this memorial will honor what they gave to their heritage and to our survival for as long as American freedom endures.”