Memories of the Real Memorial Day – May 30th! World War II War Dead Statistics Mind-Numbing! Countries with very few war dead is revealing!

Bob Grafe
The Gazette-Enterprise

Published May 28, 2009

Most senior citizens recall the Congressional debates back in 1971 when the National Holiday Act changed the traditional Memorial Day observance from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

By so doing, Congress effectively undermined the very meaning of the day to the point where many of our citizens (and most, if not all, non-citizens) think that Memorial Day simply marks either the end of the school year, the beginning of summer fun, or both.

And why shouldn’t they think that? Memorial Day parades and public speeches in remembrance of our country’s war dead are almost a thing of the past. There are still a few parades and public commemoration events remaining throughout the country … but very few.

By contrast, there are Memorial Day “sales” at many nationwide big-box stores. Some communities have “arts and crafts” events, chili cook-offs, barbecues and 5-K runs — all under the banner and publicity “hook” of “Memorial Day.”

It just seems as if many of the general public do not want to concern themselves with a day of remembrance for all those who have died in defense of our country while serving in the United States military.

Fortunately, there are still some local Memorial Day observances by various (sometimes combined) veterans’ organizations. Many such observances are held on the last Monday in May while others are held on the traditional Memorial Day — May 30.

Regrettably, most Memorial Day observances are poorly attended by the general public — even though they are usually encouraged and invited to attend by event sponsors. Even the public schools do not seem to have enough time with their busy test-driven schedules to educate their students about the history and meaning of Memorial Day.

Perhaps it is that we don’t really want to think about the reality of just how many of our friends, neighbors and relatives actually lost their lives so that we might live in peace.

The death-total numbers are actually quite mind-numbing.

For example, just take World War II with approximately 419,000 American war dead or the Vietnam War with approximately 58,000 war dead. Those numbers seem staggering when compared with our war dead resulting from current-day “wars” in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Memorial Day should possibly also be a day that includes a sincere thanksgiving that our loss of precious American lives in all wars hasn’t been even worse. That kind of remembrance and giving of thanksgiving historically seems to apply to World War II the most.

Historians seem to agree that World War II probably exemplifies the deadliest military conflict in history. When we take that war alone (with war dead estimates ranging from 50 million to more than 70 million), we realize that United States casualties of nearly 419,000 (including about 1,700 civilians) war dead was tragic — but it could have been much worse had our military and its civilian commander-in-chief at the close of the war, President Harry S. Truman, not made courageous decisions and acted decisively upon those decisions.

By comparison to American war dead statistics during World War II, Poland experienced 5.6 million war dead or just over 16 percent of its population. The Soviet Union lost 23.1 million of its military and civilian population or about 14 percent of its population. France lost approximately 568,000 military and civilian citizens — or about 1.35 percent of its population. Yugoslavia lost 1 million of its population or 6.67 percent; China lost 20 million of its 518 million-population or 3.86 percent; and, the United Kingdom lost about 450,000 citizens or just less than 1 percent of its population.

Hitler’s Germany lost about 7.2 million people or just more than 10 percent of its total population. With the war-ending atomic bombs being dropped on Japan, that country’s loss was 2.7 million of its population or nearly 4 percent.

While the American lives lost during World War II were terribly high, they represented only 0.32 percent of the population of the United States at the time.

By contrast, Cuba lost only 100 of its 4.2 million people; Ireland lost only 200 of its 14.3 million people; Mexico only lost 100 of its 19.3 million people; Switzerland only lost 100 of its 4.2 million people; and Spain only lost 4,500 of its 25.6 million people.

Several of today’s Middle Eastern “hot spots” such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran were effectively neutral during World War II — in some cases secretly providing oil and other needed supplies and support simultaneously to rival warring countries. Those Middle Eastern countries combined war dead loses are estimated at less than 2,000 total personnel — counting both military and civilian.

Memorial Day these days may not be observed with the reverence and sacredness the way it once was done during the lifetimes of most senior citizens — at least not by many of today’s general public.

But, I’m confident that more than a few of those senior citizens and others reading this column today will be in attendance at H.U. Wood Post 245, The American Legion, 618 E. Kingsbury Street, Seguin, Texas at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 30 for their traditional Memorial Day Service.

Hope to see you there.

© Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise and a former commander of H.U. Wood Post 245, The American Legion.


Life begins at 60!


Published April 16, 2009

Does life begin at conception or does life begin at birth? The argument that never dies. Well, at least for some, that often heated debate is finally over.

Life begins at 60!

According to some demographers, two-thirds of all men and women who have lived beyond the age of 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today. How demographers verified that conclusion is beyond me.

Maybe they just used statistical averages to arrive at the magic number of 60 years of age for the beginning of “life.”

After all, according to the Bible, Adam died at around the age of 930; Noah managed to reach the age of 950; and Methuselah managed to hang on until around the age of 969.

Can you imagine what kind of driving records they must have had?

“Noah. You’re speeding again!”

“But, officer. I’ve only had 200 speeding tickets during the past 500 years!”

With an estimated 45,000 Americans currently over the age of 100, it does appear that we are spending many more years as senior citizens than in the past. And, if predictions are close to accurate, there will be at least one million baby boomers who will reach the century mark within the next few years.

So, if age 60 is at or near the time when “life” really begins these days, seniors have a near full-life ahead of them as they begin those “retirement” years — a life that can and should be filled with excitement, challenges and meaningful contribution.

Is that possible in Guadalupe County, Texas? Of course it is.

Take for example the fact that Louis Pasteur, in 1885, was only age 62 when he gave the first injection against rabies. We have a brilliant team of medical practitioners locally, many over the age of 60, who just might make the next medical miracle discovery.

Some of our Guadalupe County elected officials are over the age of 60. Is it time to just send them out to pasture because of their age? Of course not.

In 1940, Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Great Britain at age 64. His country, and much of the world, was either at war or under the threat of war when Churchill made a vow that would forever change the outcome of history.

Churchill vowed, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Our local officials may not face the exact same challenges that Churchill faced — but, they certainly do face very real challenges every day they serve.

Like Churchill, our local “senior” officials have an abundance of practical experience to draw upon to get them successfully through the crisis of the day — without surrender.

It was Lillian Carter, President Jimmy Carter’s mother, who joined the Peace Corps at age 68 and spent the next two years of her life in Bombay, India working as a nurse.

There are many seniors in Guadalupe County, just like Ms. Carter, with the health, strength and desire to provide similar service to others.

And, it was nearly a quarter-century after Ben Franklin turned age 60 when he added something to his long list of helpful inventions — bifocal glasses.

Which Guadalupe County scientist, inventor or “Curious George” will come up with the next invention that will change our way of living for the better?

Interestingly, it was Robert Frost who recited his poem “The Gift Outright” from memory at the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy. He was age 86 at

the time.

When will the next local poet of genius, gift and talent recite his or her insightful poem before an appreciative audience in Seguin’s Central Park or the Schertz Civic Center improving the circumstance of the day for the listeners?

Pablo Picasso was still working as an active painter at age 90 while Grandma Moses didn’t start her serious painting until she was in her 70s. She continued to paint for another 20 years.

Think about the positive impact on the aesthetics of downtown Seguin that the recently completed wall mural has had across from the courthouse.

Who among us is the next local senior citizen with that inspiration to make positive changes for the better for all of us?

This is a call to all those ageless spirits in Guadalupe County who have much to contribute to moving this great boat along on the right course—a boat that we are all in together and that we call life.

Life certainly begins at least at age 60 — or that’s when we finally let it begin.

© Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.

Senior ‘wild life’ can be truly entertaining


Published May 14, 2009

One of the advantages of being a genuine, bona fide senior citizen is the ease in which one can set aside one’s previous “younger days” wild life — for the wildlife.

Once a senior citizen gets into the graying of America, the thrill of fast dates and even faster cars, exotic dinners by moonlight later resulting in a romp in the pond — skinny-dipping of course — becomes a wee bit passé.

That is, of course, unless you are spending your senior days where the real wild life for seniors still exists … in rural America.

If you are at least partially out in “the sticks,” there is no longer a need to chase or attempt to attract the elusive prospective mate or to worry about whether your car or your new dress is “hot enough” for the occasion or whether there’s still enough money on the credit card when the bill for the gourmet meal arrives at the fancy restaurant table.

Relax. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy and reflect upon the true lessons of life taught by others who continually practice the real wild life … our wildlife friends.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I discovered that our pond, in the rural part of our county, was a natural attraction for both wild and domestic water fowl. We first started to notice that when we become a featured watering hole for our flying feathered friends when blue herons began to arrive on the banks of the pond with complete fishing regalia — including their long and sharp beaks.

For hours upon hours these very skinny-legged birds would stand without movement in the shallow edges of the pond just waiting for a delicious perch, bass or catfish to wonder into their small spear-fishing zone.

One day we observed a heron pull a near-two-pounder catfish from the water and attempted to fly off with it still speared by its beak. No luck. Three attempts down the runway was enough for this resourceful feathered pilot.

With the large catfish flopping around on the bank, and still thinking he had a chance to get away, the hard-working heron began his butchering duties resulting in several flight-size filets which were quickly flown off to wilderness parts unknown.

Enough senior wild life? Hardly. It gets far more exciting than just providing a meal or two for some drop-in (make that fly-in) friends.

Numerous other species of birds make our habitat their home for a day or two … or in some cases for months at a time.

For over half a year now, we’ve observed most of the antics of two black bellied whistling ducks. No surprise. There now are 10 whistling ducks who receive their forwarded mail at our rural address.

We’ve learned a thing or two from this sometimes noisy fowl family.

Yes, we acknowledge that we were a little taken aback when we concluded that the original two whistling ducks were not legally married when they first arrived. At least, they were one male and one female duck. That gave us some comfort.

Shortly after their arrival, mamma duck disappeared and papa duck decided to perch himself atop our roof where his view of the countryside was unobstructed. This became the perfect outpost to provide protective surveillance from.

For several months, papa duck performed his protective duty never failing to ward off potential predators. From other fowl to an errant rooster to several wandering dogs and cats, papa duck kept them all at bay.

Even Rambo, our fully-horned “bull” sheep was totally intimidated by papa duck’s wing span and strength when aimed at the unsuspecting king of the herd.

After one unsuccessful attempt at getting close to where mamma duck was suspected of being perched upon her nest performing her motherly duties, the wrath of papa duck swooped down from the rooftop directly into the face of Rambo. The forever lame barnyard bully never came close again.

Then one day, we were taught more by our two pond guests. All of a sudden, there were eight more little ducks following the now visible … Octo-duck! Yes, we now had a family of 10 frolicking (even skinny-dipping) in our pond. Sometimes at midnight to the light of the moon.

Four months later, the eight newborns are nearly as big as the parents. They forage for themselves, have been taught by the parents to swim, to talk nicely among themselves, and now they can even fly.

For the most part, it appears that mama duck has taught the children most of what they now know while papa duck has seldom slept while providing constant protection for his “wife” and children.

In the meantime, our commercial feed-fed domestic ducks raised by us from week-old ducklings, six in total, continue to wonder around basically clueless. They “mess” around — not a married pair in the flock — and the males constantly fight. The females wouldn’t know a nest if they tripped over one.

We call them our welfare ducks. They can hardly fly at all and rely on us for most of their daily bread — literally!

Lessons learned by this senior moment experience: New neighbors who take care of themselves may become good friends; even those with the biggest horns in town have very real fears when you get in their face; and its tough to get off welfare once you have perfected the habit.

It’s past 8:30 p.m. Shut off the light. I’ve had enough senior wild life for one day.

© Grafe is a former managing editor of the Seguin Gazette Enterprise and a former chief juvenile probation officer for Guadalupe County.