I woke to distant gunfire and shouting; not panic, but intensity. My hand brushed against my very fluffy, very small dog, nestled by my side and sleeping soundly, and I opened my eyes to find my husband engrossed in the Iwo Jima episode of The Pacific.
It was terrifying.
We watched the battle unfold together. The Marines charged across a hilly field toward the Japanese fortifications against a backdrop of what would otherwise be a beautiful beach. It seemed dozens of men died every moment, mowed down mercilessly, stumbling and hitting the ground hard and bloody; these were not the elegant deaths of Hollywood.
With their friends cut down beside them every second, they charged on, unable to stop and reflect on the loss of life. There was no time for fear. There was no time for hesitation. There was only, presumably, adrenaline and orders.
Iwo Jima was part of Operation Detachment and it is the only battle where the number of American casualties exceeded Japanese casualties. Japanese deaths, however, numbered three times the American deaths; 6,800 Americans died fighting for the Island and its three valuable airstrips over a month-long period.
Three thousand Japanese soldiers who survived Iwo Jima hid in the network of underground tunnels on the Island instead of surrendering because their leadership taught them to fear the Americans as ruthless animals. Those who lacked the will to commit suicide and instead surrendered were surprised to discover the kindness of their American counterparts, once willing to fight to the death, but now offering water, coffee and cigarettes.
Of the roughly 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, it was originally thought that only 216 survived the American assault.
My husband and I don’t watch much television. In fact, I think my mother is the only mom in America who regularly says, “you really need to be watching more TV.” But if you haven’t seen The Pacific, or its outstanding Europe-based counterpart, Band of Brothers, you may not appreciate the degree to which each and every one of us owe our very lives to the men who fought for our right to live free or die.
In Europe and in the Pacific, these men survived under deplorable conditions yet ultimately emerged victorious. In Bastogne and the Ardennes, in Holland, in the Philippines, in Okinawa, on Omaha Beach, so many died.
But so many returned home, to lives filled with average jobs, average wives, average lives, perfectly willing to trade glory on the battlefield for a quieter existence, hopefully filled with peace and love.
It’s to these men that we must never forget our debt, a debt that can never be fully repaid except through remembrance. Please, please don’t another day pass without taking the time to remember our veterans and their commitment to the American way.
Read about a battle. Watch the History Channel. Visit your elderly neighbor. The next time you are waiting impatiently for the older gentleman in front of you to move along, consider that he may be one of these “average” heroes. Does he still think of the battles he fought in which his friends, more like family, died?
I remember watching an interview with a soldier who fought in the Ardennes. He was in his 70s. He said, “There isn’t a night that goes by that I don’t thank God I’m not in Bastogne.”
Remember well, and be thankful this Thanksgiving for the average heroes among us who live quiet, and exceptional, lives.