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Commentary: This Memorial Day, honor those who have served

By Wes Mader Community Columnist May 26, 2018

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Memorial Day is a time to remember the thousands of young Americans who conquered their fear during World War II and waded ashore on the bloody beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, who fought against overwhelming enemy forces and frostbite during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, who trudged through steamy jungles of Vietnam and, more recently, struggled in battle in the rugged highlands of Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the brave who conquered fear to serve our nation, and many never came home.

Tom Brokaw’s best-selling book, “The Greatest Generation,” is about the generation of men and women, both military and civilian who carried us through World War II and beyond. I liked the book because it spoke of the generation of my parents and many uncles and aunts who did their best to keep me on the straight and narrow. While some of today’s writers of history tend to distort events that occurred even before they were born, we should not forget what that “greatest generation” accomplished. Their effort is what freed Europe from becoming Hitler’s dream of a pure Aryan nation, free of Jews and other ethnic or social minorities who were unacceptable to him. They stopped the imperialistic war lords of Japan, from dominance over Asia. When the war ended, that generation turned its attention to rebuilding our nation’s fragile economy and transforming America into a beacon for the rest of the world.

Another book about this generation that I like is “Flags of Our Fathers.” It was written by the son of John Bradley, one of the flag raisers on Iwo Jima. I have a bias because a small part of the book is dedicated to my hometown, Antigo, Wisconsin, and to John Bradley our hometown hero. Bradley, who was an acquaintance of my parents, gave me a part-time job as I worked my way through school. Having this local World War II hero as a boss was a privilege almost beyond belief for a small-town kid. It never occurred to me that Bradley could have ever felt fear.

Later as an adult who understood that Bradley’s duty as a corpsman was trying to save the wounded among the dead on the bloody beaches of Iwo Jima while under enemy fire, I couldn’t fathom the fear or the courage required to conquer it. The island of Iwo Jima is about eight square miles in area, less than half the size of the city of Prior Lake. American causalities included about 26,000 of whom almost 7,000 were killed and most of the 20,000 Japanese defenders died. The number of casualties suffered on that small island was about twice the current population of Prior Lake, in an area half as big. I can’t imagine surviving that level of carnage and carrying the burden of that experience while trying to lead a productive life, but most of them did.

As we say goodbye to the dwindling number of surviving World War II veterans and the other men and women of that generation, we shouldn’t forget who they are and what they did. We in Prior Lake just lost a beloved member of that generation, Lorraine Borka, who lived a life of service to others, active with the VFW Auxiliary at both the state and local level until her life ended. Borka, whose husband Norbert was a World War II veteran who preceded her in death, will not be forgotten by those who knew her and those she served.

Too many take our freedoms and standard of living for granted, without considering the cost and sacrifice that got us here and too many expect the good times to continue at someone else’s expense. Those who expect others to carry the load should pay a visit t o the memorials in Washington, D.C. and while there, take a stroll through Arlington National Cemetery. Kneeling for a moment before the granite tablets that mark the grave sites of Americans who gave their all, can be uplifting.

When this reaches the opinion page of the Prior Lake American, my wife and I will have returned from Washington, D.C. after attending the fifth annual Tribute to Military Families, sponsored by United Through Reading, a national charity that serves the children of dads or moms who are away on extended deployment. It is humbling to be in the presence of soldiers, sailors, marines and coast guard men and women who have volunteered to serve and inspiring to be with some of our nation’s top-level military leaders. We owe these fellow Americans more than we can ever repay.

On this weekend of Memorial Day, aside from time for remembrance of those who died while serving in our nation’s armed forces, we need to acknowledge that young men and women will continue to be called upon in the future to stand in harm’s way in defense of our nation and not all will come home safely. While remembering their sacrifice, it is also appropriate to recognize those who serve in other dangerous professions in defense of our personal safety, like police officers and firefighters. The freedoms and privileges we enjoy are not free. They come with a cost that we must never forget.

Please read more from The Prior Lake American: http://www.swnewsmedia.com/prior_lake_american/news/opinion/columnists/commentary-this-memorial-day-honor-those-who-have-served/article_ee0c83a2-7db7-5d84-9c68-145377c9eb39.html

Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as President of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake, purchasing their current home in 1992.