A list too long

May 27, 2018

The unit designation on the cross is 407 BOMB SQ 92 BOMB GR. The home state and date of death reads, Missouri, July 28, 1943. The name is one Jerre M. Algeo.

Regular readers of this column will recall Jerre as the Golden City man who in the summer of 1942 received his draft notice in the mail. As a farmer whose food production was critical to the war effort he could have claimed his exemption from military service but instead at the age of 34 he reported for duty on October 1, 1942. A reporting that had him in England the following summer and taking off on his first mission as a waist gunner on B 17 42-3116 the morning of July 28, 1943.

A morning that would be his last. As but a few hours later, attempting to bail out of his crippled ship Jerre was cut down by cannon fire from a German Focke-Wulf-190 fighter. His lifeless body going down with his plane in a field outside Gorinchem, Holland.

I didn’t even know the story of Jerre until a chance twitter encounter revealed him to me three years ago. Yet in my youth he was the image of the fallen that came to mind when we’d go to the cemetery each Memorial Day. A no name American, known only to family and friends, who when the call came, answered.

I grew up with Memorial Day being about the men who never came back. The recent confirmation of Gina Haspel as the first woman director of the Central Intelligence Agency got me to thinking about the women who have also given all for their country.

Thinking, which in this age, transported me to Google, which clicked me through to the words of author Cate Lineberry. A woman whose biography includes being a “staff writer and editor for National Geographic Magazine and the web editor for Smithsonian Magazine.” The woman knows her history.

A woman who five Memorial Days past wrote:

“Every Memorial Day since I was a child, I’ve thought of my 22-year-old cousin who was killed while bravely serving in Vietnam in May 1969.

I’ve also reflected on the many other courageous men who gave their lives for our country and the more than 150 women who have been killed since 9/11.

Until I started researching my book “The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines,” however, I never knew just how many women had died in the line of duty since they were first allowed to serve with the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908.

Though they were not granted any rank within the military, at least 359 military nurses gave their lives during World War I. The first two female nurses to be killed, Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, died on May 20, 1917, when one of their ship’s guns exploded during a practice drill on its way to France. Most of the other nurses who died during the war contracted influenza while caring for patients during the worldwide epidemic.”

Her column went on to tell of the over 500 military women who died during World War II and of those who came after in Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. And those who went before as well with a fact I’m sure you do not know: “At least two of the four hundred or so women disguised as men who fought in the Civil War were killed at Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.”

In closing her 2013 column Ms Lineberry reminds us that: “Though the total number of women who lost their lives in war is quite small compared to the hundreds of thousands of American men who were killed, their sacrifices were no less.”

On Ms. Haspel’s side of war, the secret side, there is a wall in Langley Virginia with 125 stars carved into a wall of Alabaster marble. A wall of remembrance of those who also gave their lives in the service of this nation. Of those able to be named, there are two women to date. Barbara Robbins, killed in a car bombing in Saigon, South Vietnam in 1965 and Leslianne Shedd who died in 1996 when a hijacked Ethiopian airliner crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Be they tall, strapping Missouri farmers like Jerre or a 21 year old daughter of a Colorado butcher like Barbara, be it on the battlefield or behind the lines, man or woman, the list of those who gave their lives that we today live ours is far too long. It is a list of debt that can never be repaid and of gratitude unending.

And it is that list, not mattress sales or furniture blowouts, that matters. Never, ever forget that. God rest their souls, each and every one.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the May 27, 2018 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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