Hershel W. “Woody” Williams and 2,892,935 others
By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner
I recently saw a news story about the passing of Mr. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams. He was a corporal in the United State Marine Corps whose actions during the battle for Iwo Jima in 1945 earned him the Medal of Honor. He was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
As we celebrated our independence this July 4 weekend, I thought about Mr. Williams and his fellow Americans who served in our military since our country’s formation in 1776. It provoked me to do a little bit of research. Since the American Revolutionary War, our country has lost 1,354,664 military personnel in various “wars”. Another 1,498,240 were wounded and 40,031 are still missing in action. Put another way, these personal sacrifices equate to a city that today would be the third largest in the United States, when compared to the 2020 census.
We honor the memories of our military personnel when we celebrate different holidays like the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Individual families also honor them when they miss them around the dinner tables on special birthdays, other holidays and anniversaries. But there are also many of us who do not have any of these memories because we were fortunate enough that none of our loved ones had to make this kind of sacrifice. Whether or not we have lost someone recently, or generations ago, we should take a few minutes to remember and honor what they did for us.
We have a good amount of political and social turmoil in our country these days. Some may consider that it occurs too much, but it has existed throughout our young history. The sacrifices our service men and women made have protected our right to peacefully engage in differences of opinion. It is appropriate to honor them and not forget the privileges they have protected for us. They suffered, and in 1,354,664 cases, gave their lives for the freedoms and rights we continue to have today.
On this 4th of July, I took a few moments to read two of the most famous speeches delivered by our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln. He delivered these at the dedication of the Gettysburg Civil War Cemetery and in his second inaugural address. I ask you to please read them in their entirety.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought
forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged
in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived,
and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that
war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place
for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865
"Fellow countrymen: at this second appearing to take the oath of the presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends is as well known to the public as to myself and it is I trust reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it ~ all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place devoted altogether to saving the Union without war insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war ~ seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.
"One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves not distributed generally over the union but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen perpetuate and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war while the government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered ~ that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him. Fondly do we hope ~ fervently do we pray ~ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'
"With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
I trust that most, if not all of you, have at some point in your life read the Gettysburg Address. A lesser number may have read the Second Inaugural Address, but I hope you did just now. Think about it. Our nation had just ended the worst war, the greatest conflagration, in its history. Of the 2,852,904 total military casualties I referred to earlier, 1,129,418 were in the Civil War alone—a whopping 39%. This was a greater number than our country suffered in World War II. Northerners might have expected Lincoln to chastise the South in this address. Southerners might have believed he was going to blame everything on them and praise the North for its strength and perseverance.
Instead, he sought reconciliation. In today’s vernacular, he did not say to the South: “You are Red. You should be punished for your sins against humanity.” Nor did he say to the North: “You are Blue. You are the righteous. You should be rewarded for your moral courage and strength.” I hope and pray all of us can think and act a little more like President Lincoln. We must look beyond our individual beliefs to better understand those of our fellow Americans.
I thank the spirit of Mr. Williams for his service. And I am thankful for the service of all those who sacrificed, and those who were affected by those sacrifices, to allow us the freedom to hold and express our beliefs—peacefully and with respect for each other. When we talk in thousands and millions, it is sometimes hard to relate to the magnitude of the individual sacrifices made. But each individual who gave their life or suffered other casualties of war had families and friends back home who were deeply affected. We owe all of them our gratitude. We must engage in peaceful discourse to resolve our differences.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. If you have any comments, feel free to write me at email@example.com With summer vacations upon us. If you are looking for a nice, easy read, you can go to www.amazon.com and pick up my book – Think Straight. Talk Straight.
The data and the speeches I provided above came through the services of Google and Wikipedia if you are interested in searching for them yourself.