On May 27th, 2019, our nation will pause to reflect on the enormity of the sacrifice borne by service members to ensure the blessings of freedom for our forebears, ourselves, and generations yet to see the light of day. More than 1 million American service members have died in the wars and conflicts of our nation since the first citizen soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for our independence. More than 5,000 of those have fallen in service since Sept. 11, 2001.
In the state of Georgia, generations of citizens have volunteered to stand in the breach between freedom and oppression. One hundred and two years ago, the Great War, the War to End All Wars swept nearly 4,500 citizen soldiers of the Georgia National Guard into armed conflict on the fields of France. Georgia Guardsmen served under Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the 42nd Infantry Division, fighting from the southern extreme of the Western Front to the Champagne Marne Defensive and the Second Battle of the Marne. Nearly 150 of Georgia’s citizen soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. They died of wounds from artillery and machine guns, in the trenches from the effects of poison gas and succumbed to diseases such as the Spanish Influenza.
World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in world history. More than 400,000 American service members were killed in action on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Eighty years now separate us from the start of that great conflict and the span of decades has taken its toll on our knowledge of the sacrifice required of so many. Nearly 5,200 Georgia National Guardsmen served in that conflict. Those guardsmen stormed Omaha and Utah beaches at Normandy. Others served in the Air Corps in the skies of the European and Pacific theaters while the thundering artillery of the 118th and 230th Field Artillery Battalions provided fire support for infantry units such as the Georgia Guard’s 121st Infantry Regiment. Nearly 200 of those brave souls never returned home to their families and communities.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, The Georgia National Guard has mobilized 21,000 soldiers and airmen to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. These men and woman have conducted combat operations on the ground and secured the skies above the battlefields. Georgia’s citizen soldiers and airmen have worked shoulder to shoulder with Afghan National Police and the Iraqi army to bring hope to a troubled region. Those who serve this nation sign a blank check to give everything, including their lives, in defense of our country. As you read this, more than 2,000 Georgia National Guard soldiers and airmen are deployed overseas in harm’s way.
This Memorial Day, I hope you will consider the sacrifice borne by all of our service members. Please remember that the sacrifice was not theirs alone. It was shared by their family, friends, and communities. The 43 Georgia Guardsmen who have fallen in service since Sept. 11, 2001 left behind nearly 30 spouses, more than 80 children and grandchildren, and nearly 100 parents and step-parents. In the intervening years since they were taken from us, many of their grandchildren have learned of the sacrifices made by their grandparents before they were born. For the families of the fallen, Memorial Day exists not as an abstract concept of large numbers, but as an ever-present reminder of the high cost of freedom. I challenge you to remember all the fallen, not as an abstract concept and not as nameless and faceless steps in the ever-advancing journey of freedom, but as human beings. Remember that these men and women were loved by others and whose fullest expression of love for humanity led them to place their own hopes and aspirations secondary to ours.
Maj. Gen. Tom Carden is Georgia’s Adjutant General.