They died for their country

| 24 May 2012 | 01:47

Since the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) through today, with our military still in harm’s way, this nation has sacrificed approximately 1,315,475 lives. Lost in war, lost in time, but never lost in the hearts of loved ones.

We recognize the names of some who perished in those wars. Here are a few whose names are etched in history.

George Armstrong Custer - 1839-1876

Born in Rumley, Ohio, raised in Michigan. What he lacked in finances and good grades in school he made up for in confidence and determination. He convinced his congressman to support him in his entrance into West Point.

His rebellious nature at the academy resulted in his finishing last in his graduating class of 1861. His career was saved by the start of the Civil War and the desperate need for officers. And Custer found his niche; he was good at war.

He led the cavalry in the Battle of Bull Run, brazenly sporting a red necktie onto the fields of battle. As the war raged on, Custer and his cavalry fought hard and were instrumental in Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865.

For his valor Custer was given the table that was used at the signing of the peace documents.

After the Civil War Custer turned his warrior eyes elsewhere. The young nation was expanding West, the Lakota and Cheyenne dominated areas along the frontier and as a result an attack was planned, the Battle of Little Bighorn, in 1876. There were three Army units involved, Custer leading one of them.

Custer was over-confident and his decision to divide his unit and advance ahead of the other units was a devastating mistake. They came up against thousands of Indian warriors and the entire unit, including Custer, perished.

He was a hero on the battle field and a rebel who actively sought notoriety. He attained multiple ranks, from Lt. Colonel to Brevet Major General. But it was his final and fatal decision that has gone down in history as Custer’s Last Stand.

Glenn Miller - 1904-1944 Glenn Miller’s approach to jazz took the country by storm in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His music is enjoyed to this day; think “In the Mood,” and “Moonlight Serenade.” The Glenn Miller Orchestra scored 70 Top Ten hits within four years.

Born in Iowa, his family moved around, settling in Colorado. At each stop along the way, Miller’s musical talents were evolving. He traded in his mandolin for an antiquated horn, he played a trombone in school bands. His mother was known to worry aloud if he would amount to anything, spending so much time with his horn.

After high school Miller took a job with a band then went on to the University of Colorado. His college career was brief and he moved into the world of music. He wandered the country playing trombone and working as a musical arranger, studying composition and music theory. He burst onto the popular music scene in 1938 with the formation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Miller married his college sweetheart and adopted two children. He had success and a family but in 1942 he left it all behind to serve his country by enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Force. He became a captain in the Army Specialist Corps and organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, re-working the Army band and raising the morale of the troops by playing popular songs like “I’ll Be Around” and “My Blue Heaven.”

As an interesting aside, when Miller was selecting members for the Air Force Band he opted not to pick Henry Mancini, a young piano player. Ten years later, Mancini wrote the title theme for the movie “The Glenn Miller Story.”

Under Miller’s direction, the band held over 800 performances for the troops. In 1944 Miller was flying to Paris to make arrangements for the band when his plane disappeared over the English Channel. The aircraft was never recovered, the cause never identified. It’s been suggested that inclement weather brought the plane down, others believe that is was accidentally hit by Allied planes jettisoning their munitions after an aborted mission.

The Sullivan Brothers “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your sons, Albert, Francis, George, Joseph and Madison Sullivan are missing in action in the South Pacific.” So said Lt. Commander Jones to Tom and Alleta Sullivan, parents of the five young men.

“We stick together,” the brothers had told a Naval recruiter a year earlier. Although separation of siblings was preferred, it was not usually enforced. The brothers took their cause to the Navy Department in Washington, D.C., and the five young men from Waterloo, Iowa were soon assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau. When the Juneau sailed out of New York and into the history books, she was carrying eight other sets of brothers as well.

On the morning of Nov. 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a Japanese torpedo hit the ship, forcing it to retreat and head towards a rear-area base. Later in the day as the ship was withdrawing it was torpedoed again. It’s believed that this second strike hit the ammunitions stores. The Juneau exploded and quickly went under the waves.

As other battle-scarred ships were withdrawing, the decision was made that, because there was so little hope of survivors, the retreat would continue, taking the remaining ships out of harm’s way. A signal was sent to bomber patrols and Allied headquarters to send search parties for survivors. Due to radio-silence in the aircraft and later paperwork backlogs, it was not until days later that an actual search began. In the meantime, approximately 100 of the 698 crew members were left afloat in the water, dying of wounds, exposure, thirst and shark attacks.

Ten survivors were rescued from the ocean eight days after the fatal attack. They reported that three of the Sullivans, Francis, Joseph and Madison died instantly. Albert drowned the following day and George survived another four or five days. Some said he was driven to insanity by his grief and plunged from his raft. One survivor reported that before he died George could be heard desperately calling out for his brothers.

In the end, they stuck together.

No salute to those who sacrificed their lives would be complete without remembering West Milford’s most recent war heroes:

Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Parrello, 19, died on Jan. 1, 2005, Iraq

Army Staff Sgt. Jason M. Butkus, 34, died on Aug. 30, 2007, Iraq

Army Sgt. Eric Hernandez, 26, died Dec. 4, 2007, Iraq

Thank you from a grateful nation. Rest in peace.