Editorial: Stories never to be told

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2015

“The real war will never get in the books.”

—Walt Whitman

Memorial Day dawns Monday, a solemn day set aside to remember and honor those who died while in service to the country. The holiday often gets conflated with Veterans Day and focuses great attention on former members of the military who are still with us, rather than those who have died. It is easier to hear and retell the stories of the living than to revisit the searing loss of the dead.

How do you write about the men and women who did not come home to tell their stories? That’s the war — the real war, as Whitman says — which will never get in the books.

A list of battles in which the most Americans died in each war has sobering numbers:

• Gettysburg, Civil War — 7,058 dead, North and South combined

• Battle of the Argonne Forest, World War I — 26,277 U.S. dead

• Battle of the Bulge, World War II — 19,276 U.S. dead

• Battle of Pusan Perimeter, Korean War — 4,599 U.S. dead

• Battle of Khe Sanh, Vietnam War — 737 U.S. dead

In solemn reflection, we gather — in small towns and big cities, on battlefields, in cemeteries, and at sacred places where blood has been shed for freedom’s cause — throughout our country and around the world to remember the unbroken chain of patriots who won independence, saved our Union, defeated fascism, and protected the Nation we love from emerging threats in a changing world. Today, their legacy is carried forward by a new generation of servicemen and women and all who strive to shape a more perfect America; and their enormous sacrifices continue to make our opportunity possible.

— President Barack Obama

Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day 2015

We honor the dead by remembering them, decorating their graves, maintaining the cemeteries. We honor the dead by caring for the living — survivors of those who died and fellow members of the armed forces who came home injured. And we honor the dead by continuing to protect the freedoms and principles for which they laid down their lives. Their sacrifice must not be in vain.

Duty. Honor. Country. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.”