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The Insiders
Posted at 10:50 AM ET, 05/25/2012

My small offering on Memorial Day

I'm not sure I can add much to this weekend's tributes to our veterans, but I would like to try. Memorial Day, of course, honors those who died in service of their country. But I would like to consider the day in the broader context of those who survived.

The grim fact of battlefield triage is that in every major conflict it has made remarkable advances in saving lives. In the Civil War, of course, many more soldiers died from disease than from actual wounds: About 400,000 of the 620,000 casualties were attributed to infectious diseases like typhus and to sepsis after treatment.

Battlefield medicine took giant leaps forward in World War II and in the Korean conflict, and by Vietnam, battlefield triage was entering a new era of speed and sophistication. But more medical miracles were to come. In Vietnam, 24 percent of wounded soldiers died from their injuries. By Iraq, that percentage had decreased to 10 percent. In Vietnam, on average, it took the wounded soldier 45 days to reach a stateside hospital; by Iraq, that time had been cut to four days.

The consequence of these advances, of course, are that soldiers are surviving horrific wounds that would have killed them in any previous conflict. For a grim glimpse into the reality of those wounds and the triage that operates in today's war, check out this link. It is not for the faint of heart.

The sufferings and challenges of these wounded women and men have been well-documented. They have terrible physical and emotional challenges that will last for a life time. There are high suicide rates. And families and caregivers face crushing burdens.

So we have to help. That is my small offering on Memorial Day. Thousands of people already are helping, and many more will. I want to take nothing away from the meaning of this holiday, but the survivors of war need more than our flowers and our thanks and our remembrances. They need our help in a collective national embrace.

Of course, it is not always easy to know how to help. There have been unfortunate examples of fraud by charities claiming to help. For some help in navigating among the various groups that help veterans generally and wounded warriors specifically, click here.

The relatively obscure poet Wallace Bruce had a good thought for Memorial Day. "Who kept the faith and fought the fight. The glory theirs; the duty ours."

By  |  10:50 AM ET, 05/25/2012

 
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