(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans has some post-Memorial Day thoughts about sacrifice and recognition.
(SEAMANS) Another Memorial Day has passed with the familiar solemn ceremonies honoring our war dead. Ted Koppel read the names and showed photos of more than a thousand who have fallen since last May. Gary Trudeau listed the names of 900 dead in his “Doonesbury” comic strip that goes to 1400 newspapers. And Jim Lehrer has continued honoring the dead on his news program as their identities and photos become available.
The latest official Pentagon casualty toll for the Iraq war is 1,647 dead and 12,630 wounded. Unfortunately, few, if any, Memorial Day cere- monies explicitly honored those thousands of wounded – some so grievously injured that they face a lifetime of suffering. John Wheeler, a West Point grad who served in Vietnam and chaired the Vietnam Vet- erans Memorial Fund that built the famous wall, wrote in The Washing- ton Post that we need to honor the wounded as well as those who have died. This veteran, who has supported the cause of the forgotten wounded since World War II, could not agree more.
By law, Memorial Day is a tribute only “to those who gave their lives.” But it’s noted that, because of Afghanistan and now Iraq, the number of wounded is growing. And there’s no end in sight. For every G.I. or Marine killed, it’s estimated that at least eight others are wounded about whom we hear very little, if anything.
Military medicine is now saving the lives of more wounded than ever. The average time from the battlefield to hospitals in Washington is less than four days, compared to 45 days during Vietnam. And be- cause the favorite insurgents’ weapon is the hidden road bomb, our troops are suffering amputation wounds at three times the rate in Vietnam. This means more amputees who need more continuing care when they return. And, I might add, they also need more acknowledg- ment.
Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that the Iraq war is producing a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems caused by the extreme stress and trauma fighting a hidden enemy. These are mental wounds that do not receive the Purple Heart medal.
It’s suggested that we should start thinking about some way to honor the wounded and recognize the suffering imposed by their service for their country. Some suggestions include officially expanding Memorial Day to acknowledge the wounded, without detracting from honoring the dead. Another idea might be to establish a medal for cases not eligible for the Purple Heart. Some form of national acknowledgment would also support the families who bear the burden of the seriously wounded long after they leave the hospitals.
Let’s think about it. We owe them!
This is Bill Seamans.
Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.