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Baltimore, Maryland. (May 24, 2023): An angry mob surrounded the soldiers as they paraded down main street on September 17, 1863. Towns people cursed and spat at these newly minted American troops, members of the 1,000-strong 4th United States Colored Infantry Regiment.
This was the reception Black troops received in those days, even those willing to fight and die for the Union. Into this whirlwind stepped Christian Fleetwood, a Baltimore native and the son of a butler to a wealthy sugar baron. The baron’s wife saw to his education, and like few Black men of the time, he learned to read and write. Fleetwood attained a formal education and had a bright future in the sugar business when the Civil War broke out.
It was late September 1863 when Fleetwood joined the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry and, due to his advanced education, was promoted to the highest rank available to colored men, the enlisted rank of Sergeant Major. Despite the rude reception they received, the troops of the 4th Infantry fought valiantly in a series of engagements to eject the Confederates from Virginia. Sergeant Major Fleetwood received his Medal of Honor for actions during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, Virginia, on September 29, 1864.
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Naval Base Kitsap-Bangon, Washington. (May 22, 2023) In this photo by MC1 Brian G. Reynolds , Machinist's Mate (Nuclear) 1st Class John Brillhart, assigned to the Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada, meets his son for the first time upon his return to homeport . The Nevada is one of eight ballistic-missile submarines stationed at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor and is a crucial leg in America’s nuclear deterrence.
Currently, the U.S. has 14 Ohio Class nuclear submarines in service and another four have been converted into conventionally armed guided missile boats. The Ohio Class, also called “Boomers,” routinely deploys for up to six months at a time. Sailors in the nuclear navy often “disappear” for months at a time for security reasons, placing even further stress on young families.
While America pauses this Memorial Day to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, it is important to keep these active-duty troops and their families in mind.
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Biloxi, Mississippi. (May 22, 2023): In this photo by Master Sgt. Eric Burks, Colonel Jason Allen, Vice Commander of the 81st Training Wing, administers the oath of enlistment to trainees recruited from the local area at a Biloxi Shuckers baseball game at MGM Park. The trainees are currently in the Delayed Entry Program awaiting their Basic Military Training ship date.
Unfortunately, these fledgling recruits are the exception lately as fewer and fewer young Americans are considering the U.S. military as a career. The trend has caused the Army to miss its recruiting goal by 15,000 active-duty soldiers, or 25 percent, last year. As a result, the Army is cutting its active-duty strength from 476,000 to 466,000 and prospects for next year remain grim. The Army is our nation’s largest land force whose missions are increasing in Europe and the Pacific while its workforce is being reduced by as much as 7 percent.
What accounts for the lessening of interest in military service?
First is the economy. Unemployment is low right now which always makes it harder to recruit new talent into our armed forces. The labor market is extremely tight, which has caused the private sector to increase wages and offer generous incentives to attract the best talent. The U.S. military is struggling to compete for the best and brightest. In short, young folks have options and their willingness to consider military service has plummeted from 13 percent before the pandemic to just 9 percent last year.
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Twentynine Palms, California. (May 23, 2023): In this photo by Lance Corporal Isaac Cantrell, Marines render a rifle salute at the funeral ceremony of retired Sergeant Major Ray V. Wilburn to honor his 32 years of honorable and faithful service to the United States Marine Corps. SGM Wilburn took part in World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War.
America has rendered military honors for veterans like these since the founding of the Republic. This ceremony typically involves two or more uniformed service members folding and presenting a U.S. burial flag to the family and the playing of Taps. A three-volley gun salute by a rifle squad is reserved for veterans who were either retired from military service, service members killed on active duty, or Medal of Honor recipients.
The veteran’s casket is draped with an American flag to honor the memory of their service to their country. The ceremonial folding and presentation of that flag is a moving tribute for a veteran’s family and friends and is followed by the playing of Taps.
A properly proportioned flag will fold thirteen times on the triangles, representing the thirteen original colonies. The folded flag is emblematic of the tricorn hat worn by the patriots of the American Revolution. It is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin or a close friend or associate of the deceased veteran if there is no next of kin.
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Washington, D.C. (May 24, 2023): In this photo by Sgt. Paige Behringer, Soldiers of 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” Fife and Drum Corps march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment is the oldest regiment in the Regular United States Army and is best-known for its ceremonial duties at Arlington National Cemetery.
Since 1948, the 3rd Infantry has provided funeral support to Arlington National Cemetery including round-the-clock guarding of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and ceremonial support to the Military District of Washington. The unit guards the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam all day, every day, in every kind of weather.
The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is the only unit of its kind in the armed forces whose musicians wear uniforms patterned after those worn during the American Revolution. The uniforms date to 1784 and consist of black tricorn hats, white wigs, waistcoats, colonial coveralls, and distinct red regimental coats.
The 3rd Infantry also fields the Continental Color Guard, a precision drill team whose mission is to showcase the U.S. army’s precision nationally and internationally. The five-person unit is comprised of two armed Guards and three-color ensigns who carry the National Colors, the U.S. Army Color, and the Color of their parent unit.
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Camp Pendleton, California. (March 23, 2023): In this photo by Lance Corporal Juan Torres, Marisa Borzoni, the life partner of retired Marine Lt. Col. Clark Henry, spreads his ashes in the sea as part of his Memorial Services held here recently. Henry enlisted in the Corps during World War II, received a field commission during the Korean War, and received the Silver Star for his service in the Viet Nam War.
The ritual spreading of the ashes of the deceased dates to the ancient Greeks who customarily scattered a small amount of the cremated remains across the ground as a memorial service to the departed.
The Hindus, who have a long and honored tradition of scattering the ashes of loved ones, believe one’s salvation (nirvana) is achieved when their ashes are spread into the sacred river Ganges.
Some Christian communities connect scattering ashes with Genesis 3:19 which holds that "for dust you are, and to dust you will return."
Americans are familiar with the tributes to the fallen performed each Memorial Day, but other nations have their own practices and customs when it comes to honoring their war dead. In France, Armistice Day is observed with a moment of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month — Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day in the United States.
The day is full of ceremonies, special church services, and everything is adorned with poppy flowers. The holiday originally commemorated the 1.4 million people killed during World War I but has come to include all French citizens lost to armed conflict.