Memorial Day reminds us that wars kill people. We’ve had several wars in my lifetime. I was 11 years old, reading the Sunday funnies on the living room floor, when our radio announced Japanese planes had bombed Pearl Harbor. It was December 7, 1941. Suddenly we had joined World War II.
Mario Pomponio died in World War II. He and I attended high school in Fairport, New York. He was the valedictorian of the class of 1944. I was just a freshman but he was friendly to me. Our high school had 54 seniors that year and some senior boys were drafted before graduation. Pvt. Mario Pomonio did graduate, but on Jan. 31, 1945 he was killed in action in France.
My Uncle Charlie, whom I never knew, was killed in France in World War I in 1918; I was born in 1930. But there was a large painting of him hanging in my grandmother’s living room. He’s standing in uniform in front of a tent. The artist had copied it from a snapshot, but the tent looked more heavenly than military.
My grandmother was also a casualty of World War I. She never recovered from Charlie’s death. I don’t remember ever seeing her happy about anything.
In the 1930s we called it Decoration Day, not Memorial Day. It was a day for sprucing up family graves and planting red poppies on veterans’ graves. Decoration Day was first observed soon after the Civil War. I think we started calling it Memorial Day after World War II. I remember Decoration Day parades in the 1930s in nearby Rochester, NY. They ended with several flatbed trucks carrying potted red flowers
But unfortunately or probably inevitably we’ve had several wars since then. Just about five years after we celebrated the end of World War II, America was back at war — the Korean War. The Army drafted me for that war but I never got any closer to Korea than Camp Roberts.
The fighting in Korea lasted from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953. Wikipedia says we suffered 33,574 battle deaths and 2,833 other deaths. That’s bad but in the First World War in 1918 the United States armed forces had 53,402 battle deaths and a surprising 63,114 other deaths. In the Second World War, 1941-1945, our battle deaths totaled 291,557 and we had 113,842 other deaths.
After the Korean War our next major war was in Vietnam from 1964 to 1973. The American battle deaths there totaled 47,424, with 10,785 non-battle deaths. Next the Persian Gulf War in 1991 caused 147 American battle deaths and 235 other deaths. Then came the Iraq War, 2003-2007, with 3,098 battle deaths and 699 non-battle deaths. Our Afghanistan War began in 2001 and still continues, with 1,954 battle deaths and 491 others.
We humans must try harder to get along with each other. But that keeps getting more difficult to do. The Earth is getting crowded. In 1930 when I was born there were only two billion people on Earth, according to National Geographic. Now there are almost 7.4 billion.
Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.