Thoughts on Memorial Day and the ultimate sacrifice | Brunell

On Memorial Day, we traditionally honor Americans in our military who gave their lives in battle for our country. It is called the “ultimate sacrifice,” and they died protecting our freedoms and keeping us safe.

In recent times, we have acknowledged our citizens in uniform who continue to suffer with permanent combat emotional and physical scars. They are alive largely because our battlefield survival is dramatically improving, and our accompanying rehabilitation expands.

On the heels of Memorial Day, we are thankful they have not made the “ultimate sacrifice.”

National Defense University Press reports: “Analysis of combat casualty care data from 2001 to 2017 for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq showed decreased case fatality rates (a measure of the overall lethality of the battlefield) from 20 percent to 8.6 percent and 20.4 percent to 10.1 percent, respectively. In addition, data reveals the use of tourniquets, blood transfusions, and rapid evacuation translated to a 44.2 percent mortality reduction.”

However, there is another group of Americans we should remember, honor, and include in our prayers on Memorial Day — those who have been on the “flip side” of history.

Our country’s widows and orphans are the result of those who made the “ultimate sacrifice.” Back home they are single parents coping with the loneliness, household budgets and absence of a mother or father — and too often a death.

During World War II there were 292,000 American service members, including 543 women, killed in action. The impact on families was devastating. Approximately 183,000 children lost their fathers in battles overseas. Young children had no recollection of their dads and depended on family stories, mementos, pictures, and letters to provide a link that memory could not.

School age children often had no schools because they were “repurposed” for the war effort or were “makeshift” temporary buildings. There was a shortage of teachers from those either drafted or volunteered for military service. Children became “latchkey kids,” who wore door keys around their necks and often returned to empty home or apartments. reported widows blunted the emotional hardship in a variety of ways. They sought comforts by moving-in with family members. Those moms with children found that remarriage also eased the financial and emotional strains associated with single parenthood although there were abusive stepfathers who made their conditions worse. In extreme cases, widows overwhelmed with grief succumbed to alcoholism, suffered severe bouts of depression, or committed suicide.

In our neighborhood, a bomber pilot was shot down and killed, leaving behind a pregnant wife and one-year old son. Fortunately, the mom eventually found a wonderful veteran who became a great husband, father and stepfather.

American children were more fortunate than Europeans. Approximately 13 million children became war orphans at the end of World War II. The numbers are more sobering considering the Nazis murdered 1.5 million children, mostly Jewish, during the Holocaust.

Memorial Day is Monday, May 27, and is a federal holiday. It originally was observed on May 30, a date chosen because it was not the anniversary of any Civil War battle. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. It has created a convenient three-day weekend, and 44 million people will travel in 2024.

It needs to move back to May 30, and it needs to be to thank those who made the “ultimate sacrifice,” continue to suffer from war injuries, and the millions of widows and families who have lost loved ones in war — the “ultimate sacrifice” that was dumped in their laps.

We must never forget.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact