On Memorial Day, we pause to remember those who have died in military service while serving our country, the United States of America. Memorial Day is a Federal holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May. Schools, banks, the stock market are all closed, in addition to no mail being delivered. Memorial Day also signals the beginning of summer. This holiday is often associated with picnics, trips to the beach, and family gatherings. It can be easy to forget why we pause to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The history of Memorial Day is that it was originally called Decoration Day. After the Civil War, the War that had the most American deaths, approximately 498,332, the tradition was started to place flowers on the graves of both the soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies. The Civil War had the most deaths attributed to it on the battlefield. Our most recent conflicts and wars have had other sources killing our soldiers in addition to bullets. During World War II there were over 291,000 killed in both theaters of Europe and Southeast Asia. Many others were exposed to asbestos on the ships or in their barracks. In the Korean War soldiers were subject to extreme cold injuries and exposure to radiation and iodizing radiation in addition to asbestos and PCB’s. In the Vietnam Era approximately 3 million soldiers were exposed to Agent Orange when they served our country. The casualty number for Vietnam is approximately 58,000. Several million soldiers were exposed in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, Iraq War. They were exposed to war-specific environmental hazards during their tours of duty. Ammunition stores which contain sarin gas, and burn pits, that also contained uranium ammunition burned constantly exposing many to long term toxic effects of these noxious chemicals. The longest war in the history of the United States, the War in Afghanistan, has had long term health effects on soldier’s health. Many veterans suffer from PTSD, alcohol abuse, depression or mental health issues that have lasting debilitating effects. Physical conditions that are related to exposure to chemicals are all being studied, particularly in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Each year in the United States approximately 2,500- 3,000 people are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma. Of that number, 1/3 are thought to be caused by asbestos exposure which occurred while serving our country. For some veterans’ asbestos exposure, Agent Orange, burn pits, these silent killers related to service to our country do not appear until years later.
This Memorial Day 2019 remember to pause and remember those who have given the ultimate service to our country, some on the battle field, some years later dying from the effects of exposure to fatal carcinogens in the service of our country.
Thank you for your service. You will not be forgotten.