In June 1942 the USS Wasp was transferred from its distinguished service in the Atlantic war to a depleted U.S. Pacific fleet reduced to only three carriers by heavy losses at the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.
That September, after a hard fight at Guadalcanal during which she supported the invasion, WASP was hit head-on by three torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-19. The incredible amount of gas and oil the direct hits released from the tanks caused fires to spread quicky, and it wasn’t long before the ship’s fate was evident to all.
My grandfather, Harding Morefield, jumped into the ocean when his hair caught on fire. In all, 193 sailors were killed and another 485 were wounded. When Capt. Forrest P. Sherman gave the order to abandon ship, the only major delays were caused by crewmen unwilling to leave until every single wounded soldier was brought to safety.
[sharequote align="center"]Most have ancestors who were willing to fight and die for the freedom our nation has long enjoyed.[/sharequote]
When the foundering, desperate Germans took the Americans by surprise in the Ardennes by launching what would be their last major offensive of the war in late 1944, a young infantryman named George Kain (my wife’s grandfather) was severely wounded. The units in the area were caught by almost complete surprise, so Kain remained in the snow for 12 hours before finally being rescued. He lost his leg in the battle, but 19,000 others lost their lives.
These are the stories I tell my children, of real heroes in an age long past, yet who make up an integral part of who they are today. There are millions more stories like this, interwoven throughout the histories of millions of American families.
Most of us have ancestors who were willing to fight and die for the freedom our nation has long enjoyed. From the patriots who risked their lives, families and honor to found a new nation based on liberty to the soldiers today who willingly sign up for tour after tour to fight an enemy that doesn’t wear a uniform or adhere to the laws of war, courage and sacrifice define our nation.
AP Photo/The Elkhart Truth, Jon Garcia
George Kain – the soldier who lost his leg – according to his family who knew him best, never once complained about his situation. In fact, he always said that he would gladly give his other leg for his country.
Our grandparents were heroes to us, of course. Our generation can hardly imagine the sacrifices they made and the trials they endured. But they, along with most everyone who made it home from that war and others, wouldn’t tell you that. They’d insist they weren’t the heroes, that they were lucky or Providentially blessed, because there really wasn’t any rhyme or reason they could see to who made it home and who didn’t.
The real heroes, they’d say, were the ones who gave all they had to give in places like Normandy and Bastogne, Belleau Wood and Flanders, Manassas and Gettysburg, Bunker Hill and Yorktown. Crosses in their honor are planted in fields all across Europe, and in Lee’s old farm in Virginia. Their lives were cut off during the flower of their youth, their deaths mourned by countless family members who would never see them again.
The real heroes never came home.
It is they who we remember this weekend, on a holiday especially for them. As we fire up the barbecue and enjoy an extra day off work, it is certainly fitting to remember the heroes who gave everything they had so their posterity could live in a country founded upon and defined by liberty.
And as we gradually give up those liberties in the name of security, may we remember that freedom is something that, once lost, is never freely given back by those in power.
It is always born of blood.
“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” – Patrick Henry
“They who can give up essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin
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