Memorial Day 2015 will be another one that falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Monte Cassino, in the battle for Italy in 1944. It is 71 years since that battle ended in the German forces’ retreat.
And in 2015, many Americans bear the burden of precognition: the sense that our world’s long history of human conflict is coming back to settle among us – and the civilizational touchstone of World War II, paramount for so many decades in our shared memory, is about to be supplanted by a new paradigm of global disruption.
On Memorial Day, we have the opportunity to ponder how the sacrifices of citizen-soldiers have figured in that terrible drama. We remember how the lives of generations, across continents, can be affected by the homely events on a single battlefield. We are impressed anew with the heavy responsibility it is to send our neighbors and children forth to fight. We are prompted to consider clearly what we think is worth fighting for, as we stand before the headstone-capped divisions of those whose hands we can no longer shake in thanks.
Like all nations, America has a “war history.” The month of May was chosen for what was originally called Decoration Day, on the 30th, because May 1865 was when the Civil War ended, with the surrender of the Confederate army at Appomattox. But Americans have been fighting, as they were at Monte Cassino in 1944, in many a May since 1776.
In 1780, Continental troops were fighting the British in the siege of Charleston, and in other battles in South Carolina. Militiamen were fighting in South Carolina and in western Virginia. In 1813, the Royal Navy mounted a blockade of the northeastern United States, and on 27 May, U.S. forces launched an ambitious amphibious assault on Fort George, on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, forcing the British to abandon it.
In the last week of May 1918, U.S. forces saw their first major World War I action at Cantigny, France, as the German army launched the Third Battle of the Aisne, some 50 miles to the northwest. American losses in that one battle came to 1,067 killed.
In May 1943, U.S. forces launched the battle to retake the Aleutian Islands from Japan. On 25 May 1945, 70 years ago this Memorial Day, the Joint Chiefs approved Operation Olympic, the planned invasion of Japan. It was scheduled for 1 November, and was expected to cost at least 1 million American lives, and even more Japanese lives.
In May 1951, the U.S. Eighth Army launched a major counteroffensive in Korea, famously driving the North Koreans and Chinese past the 38th Parallel. In 1972, Operation Linebacker – the airborne interdiction of North Vietnamese troops, air defenses, and supply routes to the south – was inaugurated on 10 May, alongside the mining of Haiphong Harbor, which began two days earlier. On land, General Creighton Abrams’ largely successful program of “Vietnamization” enabled South Vietnamese troops to repel the North Vietnamese “Easter Offensive,” with the help of a U.S. force which had been reduced from over 500,000 in 1968 to fewer than 50,000 by the spring of 1972.
And in May 2006, U.S. troops in Iraq were in the first weeks of the months-long Second Battle of Ramadi. By September, the American force faced a real prospect of eventual defeat, as insurgent attacks mounted and Anbar Province spun out of control. In November, a Marine Corps afloat force reinforced the troops deployed in Anbar, and in January 2007, Army and Marine forces launched the operations to retake Ramadi. By May 2007, the city was back in U.S. and Iraqi government hands. From 2008 to 2012, Ramadi was safe and virtually free of terrorist attacks.
Monte Cassino in 1944
The post at this link is a tradition at The Optimistic Conservative, and is becoming one at Liberty Unyielding. Here’s an excerpt, describing the comments of an old monk from the Monte Cassino Abbey who lived through the battle in 1944:
But, he told us earnestly, his eyes bright and smiling through a network of wrinkles, “I forgive them all. All of them, the Germans, the Fascisti, the Allies. All of them who used bombs and guns. God has been with us in all these things, and He gave us that with which to build again. To start again. This,” he said, with a gesture toward the valley, “the Allies did for us. They gave us back our mountain without machine guns on it.
“And,” he told us, “I thank them for that. I thank the Allies who came to fight and do this for us. I thank the Americans, and the British. I thank the French. I thank the Poles. But especially,” he said, “I thank the Americans. Because they came from the other side of the world, and without them, the others would not have come.”
May God bless America and all who serve her on this Memorial Day.