They fought for ‘the duration’

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Seventy-five years ago today, Japanese navy pilots swooped in over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and — perhaps without knowing it at the moment — changed the world forever.

That act dragged the United States of America into the greatest global conflict the world has ever witnessed.

The young men who answered the call from that day forward did so under terms that no longer apply in this day.

Many of them volunteered to get into the fight; others of them were drafted by the government. They all took an oath to defend the nation. Then they signed a paper that committed them to fighting for their nation for as long as it took to finish the fight.

They signed up for “the duration” of the conflict. The war would end in August 1945, but no one who signed up for that battle had a clue as to how long it would last.

Think about that for a moment. As the smoke billowed from the wreckage in Hawaii, did anyone know how long this war would last? It could last for a year, two, three. It could go on for decades.

The young Americans who donned their country’s uniform did so without knowing how long they would be ordered to sacrifice.

My father was one of those young men. He was 20 years and seven months old when we entered World War II. He waited just a few weeks before deciding one day to go to the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, Ore., and enlist in the armed services. His first choice was the Marine Corps. The office was closed. He then walked across the hall and enlisted in the Navy.

He didn’t know when he’d be finished. He didn’t know if he’d ever come home. Dad wanted to fight the enemy.

And he did.

We don’t ask such things of our young men and women these days. We send them off to war for a length of time. They serve and return. Of late — since 9/11 to be exact — we’ve been sending them back into harm’s way repeatedly. That, too, is creating tremendous emotional stress on our young warriors and I wouldn’t for a moment wish to be wearing their boots.

Many of us today, though, will recall the sacrifice made by the young Americans who answered their nation’s call to arms against tyranny.

When we do, think of how they might have felt knowing they might be going into a battle with no end.

That’s what I call “sacrifice.”

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