Tunisia is one hot bitch and I mean that in the very literal sense.. One of my goals when fleeing (?!) the island of Sicily was to finally visit this hot, sandy north African country and specifically the North Africa American Cemetery and War Memorial.
It’s not easy getting there. The first day I attempted to find it ended in immense frustration. I took the train north to Sidi Bou Said to begin my quest and with my back to the beautiful sea and Sidi Bou Said’s famous whitewashed buildings I walked.
And walked some more.
Although I faithfully followed every street on my map, I couldn’t find it. Beaten but not broken, I was determined to try again.
The next morning after a couple of more hours I finally found it. Ready to faint from the heat I made my way up to the entrance and met the Tunisian guard. Clearly concerned and maybe even slightly puzzled he asked “Are you an American?”. Sweating like a proverbial pig I said “Yes. Yes I am”. He then shook my hand, smiled and said “the Tunisian people owe you thanks”. I was speechless.
Tunisia was scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in Africa. Although Americans had comparatively easy victories in Casablanca, Oran and Algeria, Tunisia was when they were forced to operate deep in Africa and even worse, to face Axis air power based in Sicily. The losses were bloody and big and the result was spread out right before me in the form of 2,800 headstones. Perfectly lined up were headstones of crosses, stars of David and, equally important, crescent moons, underscoring that fighting the axis was not limited to any particular religious affiliation.
Again I walked.
And walked some more.
This time, in meditation, past all 2,800 markers because I thought it was the least I could do for all of these men and women who were quite ordinary, but were asked to do extraordinary things. More importantly they paid the ultimate price: giving up their today and everything after so that not only could I have a tomorrow, but also millions of people that they didn’t even know or whose language they didn’t speak.
They were America’s finest like Foy Draper who was the winner of the gold medal 4×100 meter relay in 1936 Olympics. He joined the military afterwards and served as a pilot on a twin engine attack bomber. He flew off to take part in the battle of the Kassarine Pass and thus began his permanent station of duty at the cemetery.
Yes, I said permanent station of duty.
Foy Draper, like the other departed at the cemetery, is still on duty and the moment we stop visiting and remembering is when we as Americans are committing a dereliction of duty.
Regardless of your political affiliation or pacifist leanings, remember that it is not the press that guarantees your right to freedom. It is most definitely not the politician either. It is the soldier that does that.
As of this writing, there have been roughly 700,000 U.S. military deaths ranging from huge wars like World War II to smaller conflicts like the Philippine-American War. All deserve to be remembered and revered.
Also take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of others and remember their dead. It hasn’t been all about the United States. We have lost brothers in arms like the British, and Canadians who helped us liberate Europe, and even lesser known countries have fought side by side with us and they have lost theirs too. Countries like Australia, Turkey, South Africa, Poland and Greece are home to mothers who love theirs sons as much as we do. They have defended the principles of freedom just as adamantly.
War should never be entered into lightly.
Something I am reminded of as I continue to walk, as these fighting men and women in Tunisia have walked.
And they walked.
And they fought.
And they died.
It’s good to remember that when you think your life has a little drama going on. You are not an ordinary person who is asked to do an extraordinary thing as these men and women have. No, you are like me. Comparatively speaking you are a pussy and a coward and today is the day you remember that.