For Gold Star Families every day is Memorial Day. Today is a time we join them in remembering their family member who died in the line of duty. A family member whose loss is a weight on their heart each day. Today is meant as a time for the entire country to honor their service member’s ultimate sacrifice while acknowledging their family’s loss, grief, and continued healing.

According to a recent Military Times article, since 9/11, more than 16,000 U.S. military have died in non-combat circumstances and 7,000 have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan fighting. There are also thousands of living Gold Star Family members who lost loved ones in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

This is a time for somber remembrance of those service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice and for their families who continue to have an empty seat at family gatherings and holidays. Flowers and flags on graves replace birthday and Christmas presents.

Though we are appreciative and thankful for the service and sacrifices made by our living active and retired military, this is not their day. Veteran’s Day in November is the official time to honor them.

Today is a day for remembrance and reflect, a day when the 24 notes of “Taps’, played a military funerals and memorials has an extra meaning. More than 1.2-million Americans from Concord Bridge in 1775 to today have lost their lives fighting to earn and maintain our freedoms.

To most people the heroes we are a nameless, faceless group but each was loved, missed, and mourned by Gold Star families. No place is that reality more prevalent than when standing amid the straight rows of white markers in a national cemetery, each bearing the name of real people whose lives ended much too soon.

17,000 Americans died fighting in the American Revolution. 15,000 were killed during the War of 1812. 17,435 perished in the Mexican-American War, more than a million Union troops died during the Civil War, almost 12,000 lost their lives in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

116,708 Doughboys never came home from World War I; among them was 2nd. Lt. Findley V. Durrett of Northport who was killed in action on October 18, 1918.

In World War II 6,600 Americans died each month, that is about 220 a day. Combat survivability was 8.6 service personnel killed out of every 1,000 who served. They did it for an average base pay of $71.33 per month for enlisted and $203.50 per month for officers. Army Air Corps Maj. Winston R. Maxwell from Tuscaloosa was killed in action in the South Pacific on January 4, 1945. His name is on Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

The photo with this story is of the cross marking the grave of SSGT Charlie R. Taylor of St. Clair County. He is among the 9,580 American Gold Star casualties from Alabama during WWII. It was taken by me as my wife and I visited the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. He served with 90th Infantry Division, 359th Infantry Regiment. He was killed in action of July 5, 1944. Seeing that marker upon entering the cemetery makes all the names personal.

In Korea, 33,492 Americans died in what was called a police action to stop Communist North Korea from overrunning free South Korea. One of those killed in action was Army Captain George G. Cody of Tuscaloosa who died in combat on December 1, 1950.

In Vietnam Tuscaloosa County lost 36 of its sons. Marine PFC Allan J. Gaines was one of them “Yank” as he was nicknamed was a Tuscaloosa High Graduate. He died Apr. 07, 1968.

Some 200 Alabamians have died in the War of Terror since 9-11. Johnny Michael "Mike" Spann of Winfield was a paramilitary operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Division. Spann was the first American killed in combat during the United States invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Those are only a few names of the thousands of Alabamians we honor on this Memorial Day 2020. Add to that those in healthcare who has died on the front lines battling the worst pandemic since 1918 and it is plain, we have many to honor, remember and thank.

The Gold Star motto says what this day is all about, “We will never forget”. None of us should.


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