Delaware honors military service members, both living and dead

DOVER — About 16 million Americans, or around 11 percent of the nation’s population, served in the military during World War II.

Vietnam saw about 2.7 million Americans fight, with approximately 9.2 million serving in the military during the conflict.

By 1990, the military’s strength was down to around 2.1 million members. Today, about 1.3 million Americans — around 0.4 percent of the country’s population — are in the armed forces.

That decrease, veterans advocates said, makes events like Monday’s wreath-laying ceremony all the more important.

Dozens of people, ranging from state officials to fourth graders from Holy Cross School, turned out for the sixth iteration of Wreaths Across America at the state capitol. A small tribute that has grown into an annual recognition in all 50 states and abroad, Wreaths Across America seeks to celebrate the men and women who have joined the military.

“Their mission — to remember our nation’s fallen, to honor those who served and to teach future generations the value of freedom — has become a beautiful national movement. … This democracy is a delicate experiment and our success is not preordained,” Michael Peeler, commander of the 436th Operations Group at Dover Air Force Base, told the assembled audience. “There’s a goup of folks who fight every day to keep that democracy safe.”

While it was a cold, gray day with some sprinkling of rain during the ceremony, plenty of people, including many veterans, came to show their respects. After remarks by several people, veterans, state officials and fourth graders placed wreaths at seven monuments around Legislative Hall that honor the men and women who have fought for Delaware over the centuries.

The First State has a “deep military heritage,” Col. Peeler said, noting Dover Air Force Base has the only port mortuary in the country. Because of its status as the receiving place for the dead, the men and women stationed at Dover know better than most the perils of military life.

Gold Star families, who lost an immediate family member who died while serving during a time of conflict, were also honored during Monday’s ceremony.

America has an “unwritten contract” with its servicemen and -women it must honor, Delaware National Guard Adjutant General Michael Berry said.

While it’s easy to forget just how many countries servicemembers are stationed in and how many engagements U.S. soldiers have fought in over the centuries, Americans should never lose sight of the sacrifices others make, he said.

“All of you by being here today are saying thank you for your service,” he said.
Delaware Veterans Coalition President Dave Skocik urged attendees to keep in mind family members, noting spouses, children, parents and siblings of active-duty personnel also must bear heavy burdens. Having to frequently move or go without seeing a family member for months is difficult, while some people may pay an even heavier price.

The Gold Star families at Monday’s ceremony served as a reminder some sadly never get to see their loved ones again after they are deployed, an example of the costs of war that go far beyond dollars and cents.

Whether on the plains of Georgia, in the forests of Belgium or by the deltas of Vietnam, American after American has paid the ultimate price in service of their country. In all, nearly 1.2 million American servicemembers have died while in the military, including more than 650,000 killed in battle, while 1.4 million-plus have been wounded.

Service is often handed down, said Larence Kirby, the executive director of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs. Both his father and cousin joined the military, with his cousin losing his life in Vietnam two days after turning 19.

“They instilled in me a need to serve my country,” Mr. Kirby said, encouraging people to study the names on the monuments and look some of them up afterward. Each veteran, he noted, had his or her own story and dreams, hopes that were snuffed out by war.

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