“I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Every soldier who enlists in the Army learns this mantra as it is ingrained in their minds through the continuous repetition during basic training. But have those powerful words -known as the Warrior Ethos- lost their meaning to the country as the last generation to feel the guilt of not keeping the promise ages?
The last warfighters to know the anguish associated with leaving their fallen comrades behind, on a massive scale, is those who belong to the Vietnam-era generation.
As you drive down a road in any town of America and spot a POW/MIA sticker it is likely next to a green, yellow, and red ribbon. As of June of this year, there are still over 1,600 Americans unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
The sad truth is most of our country’s unaccounted for sons of our wars will never make it home or receive the recognition they deserve.
During the Korean war, 7,800 men were lost and unrecovered with as many as 5,300 buried in a country with no access- North Korea.
“Of the more than 83,000 missing persons who have yet to be accounted for,” GAO reported, “recovery of only an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 persons can be reasonably expected, due to the circumstances of some of the losses.”
Many of our missing lie in mass graves in the countries they were fighting in. Unknown to their families, their comrades, their country, they lie only known to their God.
Of those fortunate enough to make it home, not all of them come home entirely.
Coming home in a flag draped coffin can be somewhat of a privilege. For some, taking a smaller seat with what remains of their sacrifice, years after their loved ones have passed -missing their opportunity to properly grieve- is the best the United States can offer.
In 2013, a Delta Airlines employee who coordinates their Honor Guard program released a video of the remains of two servicemembers who were killed in Korea returning home.
But one is not like the other.
The first soldier exits the aircraft in a flag draped coffin after being lost in Korea soil for 63 years. The second deplanes is a small cardboard box as only bone fragments made it home on this trip.
Every American, whether they made a commitment to the Army’s Warrior Ethos or not, should understand their “price of freedom” is to honor these men until their return and after.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet during WWII, said it best: “They fought together as brothers-in-arms. They died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation”