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A Salute to the Generosity of Our Soldiers

This Memorial Day offers a chance to remember the heroism and sacrifice of American soldiers. Let's also remember their generosity in the most difficult of circumstances.

Right before Christmas 1944, with World War II raging, a Belgian father published an open letter in a newspaper to "General Eisenhower and his brave warriors."  He wrote about the great compassion of American soldiers sharing food with Belgian children who were growing up in Europe's ferocious war zones.

This was the time period of the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive of the war.  It was during this battle that American soldiers helped to feed civilians caught in the conflict.

Later in the war, American soldiers took part in one of the greatest missions of the conflict, airlifting food to the Netherlands during the"starvation winter" of 1945.

The heroism continued after the war during the Berlin Airlift of 1948, when American planes brought in food and other supplies to the city which was blockaded by Soviet troops, an episode of the Cold War.

Such humanitarianism was carried on during 1945-1946 in less dramatic, but vital, ways.  Think of American officers, with their British allies, working to make sure Austrian children could receive school lunches at a time of great food shortages.

The task of an officer coordinating the relief activities of charities in Austria was significant, even if it did not make headlines.  There are countless stories similar to these and each one helped rebuild a war-torn society.

Some other stories are simply amazing.  An American paratrooper, James Sheeran, arranged food shipments to a town in France where he hid from the Nazis after briefly being captured. He ended up sending a total of three tons of food and clothing via a C-47 airplane.  Sheeran’s giving spirit continues on with his daughter, Josette, who runs the United Nations World Food Programme, which saves millions of people each day from starvation.

Another veteran, George McGovern, has dedicated his life to fighting hunger after witnessing the suffering in Europe during World War II.  This month, at the age of 87, McGovern continues to fight hunger in Kenya and Uganda with the World Food Programme.

McGovern and others were greatly influenced by the suffering they saw on their tours of duty, particularly by the children searching for food.  General Eisenhower said that “every man here who served with me in Europe has witnessed this with his own eyes.  How can we expect children who are reduced almost to an animal life level of existence—who struggle each day for any kind of food that will keep them alive—how can we expect them in the future to be apostles of peace?”

Long after the fighting of World War II ended, millions in Europe and Asia faced the staunchest of all foes, hunger.  It was the compassion of American soldiers that helped win the peace following World War II.  This was the essence of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe.

Today, American servicemen are continuing that great tradition of generosity.  In Afghanistan, child feeding programs are taking place to save young children from the malnutrition that can cripple them forever.  Senior Airman Rylan Albright wrote this week how Afghan parents in the Farah province “were very happy and thankful for the feeding program.”

You may not see this story in the headlines, but it is one that can make a difference for the future of a peaceful Afghanistan.  In other countries, similar humanitarian acts by U.S. military members occur everyday.  In fact, Sergeant Gary Morris, a Marine advising the Liberian military, visited a mud-hut school where the children could not get lunches.  Morris did not stand idly by; he set up a school lunch program for these impoverished kids.

Now those children can receive life-changing nourishment and improve their education.  Imagine if the example of Sergeant Morris and his initiative was followed on a global scale.  It could change the world.

The generosity and compassion exhibited by our military on duty in countries around the globe is the untold story of our American soldiers.  It is worth remembering on Memorial Day.

HNN Special: Memorial Day

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