Since the war for independence from Great Britain 232 years ago, almost 1.5 million Americans have died in wars and skirmishes: the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Iraq War.
Spread over the life of the United States, that’s equal to 6,465 military deaths a year.
San Juan Island’s Valley and Catholic cemeteries are the final resting places of some 285 military veterans. Along with other islanders lie the remains of veterans of the military occupation of San Juan Island and six of the above-named wars.
Among the dead are Patrick Beigin, a veteran of the joint military occupation commonly known as the Pig War; and Peter Buzelle, whose grave marker bears the initials of the Grand Army of the Republic, denoting Civil War service.
More than 50 soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines with local ties have served in the Iraq War. Since the war began in March 2003, more than 4,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq (for a complete list of all confirmed civilian, contractor and military casualties, see www.icasualties.org).
Two soldiers with San Juan ties were killed in action, two others were injured.
Sgt. Michael Bitz, the son and grandson of San Juan islanders, was killed March 23, 2003 when he and other Marines were attacked by Iraqi soldiers that had pretended to surrender.
Marine Pvt. 1st Class Cody Calavan, grandson of Shaw islanders, was killed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, May 29, 2004.
In December 2003, Army Warrant Officer Carrie McLeish of Friday Harbor was injured in a vehicle collision in Tikrit.
On Aug. 25, 2005, Army Sgt. Richard (Buzz) Robertson and his Special Operations unit was in an up-armored Humvee when it hit a mine. Several of the men died. Robertson was believed to be on his fourth mission in Iraq.
What is most remarkable about each of these casualties — and the veterans who survived the battlefield — is that they came from all walks of life. Some were foreign-born, other American-born. They worked in city stores and on rural farms. They had ambitions and dreams and families.
They may not have agreed with the purpose for war, but they went — willing to sacrifice their comforts and their lives for the nation’s cause.
Today, U.S. forces are in a war that is so controversial it may help determine the outcome of the November election. While opponents question our nation’s motives for going to war in Iraq, none question the dedication and devotion of those serve — and have died — in the name of the United States.
At this time, the week of Memorial Day, we again honor those who have given their lives. And we pray for resolution, restoration and healing in Iraq and for the safe return of our military personnel there.
Here are a couple of ways you can let military personnel know you care:
The local American Legion Auxiliary collects items for care packages the first Saturday of every month at Friday Harbor MarketPlace. There are currently eight military personnel on the list. To add a name, call Minnie Knych, 378-4662.
San Juan Physical Therapy is collecting goods for care packages to send to the troops. Cash donations are used for postage and for purchase of phone cards.
To contribute, visit San Juan Physical Therapy, 570-B Spring St., Friday Harbor (behind Inter Island Medical Center). Call 378-4112.
San Juan EMS is also collecting goods for care packages to send to the troops. Deliver items to the Frank Wilson EMS Building on Spring Street. Cash donations can be made by check; note in the memo line that it is for soldiers serving overseas.
Here’s a list of items that are being included in the care packages:
— Any salty snacks.
— Breakfast bars.
— Canned food dips.
— Chewing gum.
— Canned meats.
— Cat flea collars, worn on boots to repel sand fleas.
— Chips (Pringles travel best).
— DVD movies.
— Dental floss, toothpaste, toothbrushes.
— Eye drops.
— Flip flops.
— Foot powder.
— Hand sanitizer.
— Hard candy.
— Individual packets of hot sauce.
— Lip balm.
— Peanut butter.
— Phone cards (AT&T).
— Polarized sunglasses.
— Sardines, smoked oysters or clams.
— Socks, green or black.
— Sunscreen and skin lotions.
— Vienna sausages.