BY DUANE A. VACHON PH.D. – It was a typical beautiful balmy Hawaiian morning when U.S. Unknown #14756 was laid to rest in the hallowed ground of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on May 24th 1956. On March 31st 2011, almost 55 years to the day since # 14756 was laid to rest, he was disinterred by staff at the National Cemetery and transferred to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base Pearl Harbor.
We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in America he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Korea. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the country; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved or if he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them.
Soon, however, with the persistence and modern technology of Jpac, we will know who this American was.
The short drive from the National Memorial Cemetery to Hickam Air Force Base is the beginning of the journey that should end with #14756 having a name, and his loved ones being given the opportunity to bring him home.
This Unknown Soldier honors’ the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for America. His grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.
Because the Korean War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat – we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.
But, in honoring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true. For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.
On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together, to look after our buddies and to never forget them or leave them behind.
The Unknown American Soldier whom we disinterred last week was one of those who, by his deeds and his death, proved that real nobility and grandeur belongs, not to empires and nations, but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.