Accessibility links

Breaking News

Remembering Troops Who Died, and Worrying About Those About to Be Sent Into Harm's Way

In North Carolina, a wife and mother of soldiers thinks about her family, and Iraq: "I just got one man home safe and, now, here goes the other one." Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus


And I'm Steve Ember. Memorial Day two thousand seven is our subject this week.



Personal sacrifice and service to a nation might seem like the last things Memorial Day is about.

For lucky workers, the holiday means the freedom of a three-day weekend, the traditional start of the summer travel season. For many businesses, the Memorial Day weekend means a time to lower prices to get more people to come in.

Yet, across America, Memorial Day still holds meaning as a day to remember the men and women who have died in military service.

This is the fifth Memorial Day since the start of the Iraq war. More than three thousand four hundred American troops have died in Iraq since March of two thousand three. About four hundred have died in Afghanistan since military operations began there in October of two thousand one.


Cities and towns across the United States hold Memorial Day events. And while the holiday has a serious meaning, the observances often include family entertainment in addition to events like military parades.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Glory Days celebration includes a bicycle race, an apple-pie eating competition and music. Fayetteville has a strong connection with the military. The city is neighbors with the Army base at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.


Ann Zetterstrom is a retired Army captain. Her plans for Memorial Day include attending a ceremony at Freedom Memorial Park in Fayetteville. She says she has been very much looking forward to this holiday with her family.

Her husband, Erik, is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. This will be the first Memorial Day that he spends with their two-year-old daughter, Britta. He returned home in February after twenty-two months in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ann Zetterstrom says it is a great relief to have her husband home safely. She thinks it is easier to be the one deployed, even in harm's way, than to be the one waiting and worrying, she says. But she knew what she was signing up for when she married another soldier.

Being the mother of a soldier, however, is a different story. Her son, Brian, is a lieutenant in the Army. He is currently stationed in Germany. But he is preparing for deployment to Iraq in the fall.

His mom supported his interest in military service. But, she says, "I just got one man home safe and, now, here goes the other one."



On May twentieth, a ceremony called a "Time of Remembrance" took place on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The event brought together more than three thousand family members and friends of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The children of those service members received a Gold Medal of Remembrance. The event also recognized families of those killed in military service throughout American history.

This was the second year that the ceremony has been held. It was established by the White House Commission on Remembrance.


In the year two thousand Congress passed a law to establish a National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day. The law asks Americans wherever they are to stop for one minute at three o'clock in the afternoon in an act of national unity.

Yet Congress created some disunity when it moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend. That happened under a nineteen seventy-one law, the National Holiday Act. Some people support a campaign to return Memorial Day to its traditional day of observance -- May thirtieth.

Memorial Day began as a way to remember soldiers killed in the Civil War. On May thirtieth, eighteen sixty-eight, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The war to prevent the Confederate states of the South from leaving the Union was fought from eighteen sixty-one to eighteen sixty-five.


Arlington National Cemetery is a military burial ground but also a final resting place for people of national and historical importance. Each year more than four million people visit the cemetery. It is located in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington. Next to the cemetery is the Pentagon, the Defense Department headquarters.

Part of the tradition of an American military funeral is the playing of a bugle call known as taps. Taps is also played at Arlington and other burial grounds during ceremonies on Memorial Day.



The Washington capital area has a number of military memorials.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, people look for the names of family members or friends. The memorial lists the names of more than fifty-eight thousand Americans who were killed or declared missing-in-action.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as the Wall, opened in nineteen eighty-two. Two black, shiny stone walls, each about seventy-six meters long, are set into the earth. They meet to form a wide V.

Many visitors leave flowers or personal remembrances. To copy a name, they rub a pencil on paper over the letters cut into the stone.

Nearby is a statue of three soldiers. They are looking toward the names. Another statue honors the service of women in the war.

The Vietnam War ended in nineteen seventy-five. Many soldiers coming home faced the anger of Americans who opposed the war. So a Vietnam veteran named Jan Scruggs organized an effort to remember those who never returned. The result is the Wall.


Near the Vietnam memorial is the Korean War Veterans Memorial. It opened in nineteen ninety-five.

The Korean War lasted from nineteen fifty to nineteen fifty-three. The memorial honors those who died and those who survived. "Freedom Is Not Free" is the message cut into the wall above a Pool of Remembrance. There are listings of the numbers of American and United Nations forces killed, wounded, captured or missing, more than two million in all.

On one side of the Korean War Veterans Memorial is a stone walkway. It lists the names of the twenty-two countries that sent troops to Korea under United Nations command. On the other side is a shiny stone wall. Sandblasted into the wall are images from photographs of more than two thousand five hundred support troops.

There are statues of nineteen soldiers who look like they are moving across a battlefield. The statues are gray and lifelike, although a little bigger than life size. Artist Frank Gaylord made them out of stainless steel. They capture the eye and the imagination.



The newest of the major memorials in Washington is the National World War Two Memorial. It opened in two thousand four between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

The memorial is a large, open area built of bronze and granite. In the center, at ground level, is a round pool. Water shoots from a circle of fountains in the middle.

Around the pool are fifty-six stone pillars. They represent each of the American states and territories at the time of the war, plus the District of Columbia.

On two tall arches are the names of where the fighting took place. One says Atlantic; the other says Pacific. The United States entered the war after Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December seventh, ninety forty-one.

Sixteen million men and women served in the American military between nineteen forty-one and nineteen forty-five. More than four hundred thousand of them never came home.



Our program was written by Caty Weaver and produced by Mario Ritter. Internet users can find archives of transcripts and audio files of our programs at I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Faith Lapidus. We hope you can join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.