Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

When duty called…

This is the time in which we honor those who have passed before us–both veterans and those we knew and loved in our families and circle of friends. For many Americans Memorial Day is simply the Monday that provides us with a three day weekend to start to summer–and it is a good way to do it! However, I fear we have lost sight of its original intent and I think that is sad.

We have almost no solemn occasions left in which our entire country pauses to honor those who died that we might have a country at all. I understand the need to value all heritages and countries of birth, but I regret that in doing that we seem to have neglected, to the point of dishonor, the price so many have paid to make the United States of America a country to which millions of people have come for a better life or better opportunities than they had in their original home countries. They may go back when they have gained the financial goals they had for coming here, but the fact still remains, they had to come to this country to do it. And this country has been kept safe by Americans who gave their all, over many generations.

A short history review: Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was started to honor those who gave their lives in the Civil War (The War Between the States, as some still call it.) There is ample historical and anecdotal information to indicate the practice of setting aside a day of memory was one of those simulataneous events in many parts of the north and south after the war, although Waterloo, Iowa is listed as the “official birthplace” of the day.

My father’s ancestors fought for the Confederacy and my mother’s ancestors fought for the Union, and I find the history of that war to be tragic no matter which side is considered. In a small town near my birthplace in Georgia there is a Civil War monument, erected in 1903, which reads,

“May we never forget the cause for which our honored dead gave their lives and sacrificed their futures. Though their motives be maligned we know the love of family, country, fellow-man and a just God that beat in their hearts. The purity of their thoughts need no justification and time will shine upon their precious smiles and valiant deeds.”

I have a newspaper article from an Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper in 1908, which I found between the pages of an old book I added to my collection not long ago. I was thrilled to find a treasure within a treasure! The headline reads, “Plea Is Made For Sons Of Veterans To Assist.” It was an announcement asking all the veterans of the Grand Army (the Union army), and their male descendants, to participate fully in a solemn day of remembrance on Memorial Day. It concludes with this paragraph from the official proclamation:

Cemeteries shall be marked with flags, and flowers will be strewn on graves of the fallen comrades of the days of the civil war. And in every other way possible the members of the Grand Army of the Republic shall be made to understand that their own flesh and blood will never allow Memorial day to be diverted from its original purpose, and that after the Grand Army is no more, their sons and grandsons and great grandsons in all succeeding generations shall keep fresh and green in the memories of rising generations the illustrious deeds of valor and patriotism of the heroes of the civil war, who saved this nation from being rent asunder by the armed forces of rebellion.

Incidentally, I went to the Indianapolis Star newspaper online, to see how they were remembering their honored ancestors. The front page was about the Indy 500 and rising gasoline prices. There was a small link at the top with the question, “Do you want to thank a veteran?” I went to that forum and found almost all the comments were humorous, “I want to thank a veternarian.” Or, they were against the current political and war situation, so they were flippant or viciously rude. The few serious comments were given insulting responses.

You and I can’t change anyone–especially not those who are so lacking in decency and honor that our efforts would be mocked, or so lacking in knowledge about history that they do not understand the debt they owe to others. But, we can do our own part to remember and honor those who gave their lives, no matter what our political or philosophical views. We owe them that.

The photograph at the top of this post is of my brother, Julian R. Lewis, who wrote the poem for the Denver Police Department memorial. It is fitting for many causes:

When Duty Called

When duty called, there was no thought but answer,
No question but the task that must be done.
Though death their final payment for the victory.
For honor was the battle fought and won.

No monument stands higher than their valor,
No words replace the loss of heroes, slain,
But if their names, remembered, give us courage,
Their sacrifice shall not have been in vain.

I hope you had a weekend that marked the beginning of Summer in a good way. If you didn’t visit a cemetery and honor, at least in your thoughts, those who gave their lives for our country, do that sometime soon. It is a good habit for us and our children–and perhaps in that way it will be a habit for our children’s children and their children, as well.

May 25th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work | 6 comments

The Burma-Ledo-Stillwell Road: “A Man’s Life For Every Mile.”

Several years ago I spoke at a meeting of Veterans of the China-Burma-India Campaign from World War II. Some of them had been engineers involved in the building of the Ledo Road, later called the Stilwell Road which improved and connected to the Chinese portion of the Burma Road. Now you see why it has been described as one of the greatest engineering feats of WWII–and perhaps in any war.


The Ledo road portion of the Stilwell road ran about 1,100 miles in every kind of environmental condition from jungle to mountain top, and was built by 15,000 American soldiers and engineers (60% who were African-Americans) and 35,000 local workers. 

In brief, here is the story: It was built to move supplies from India to China, through Burma. It was a vital supply line for our friends the Chinese, through the nation of our other friends, the Burmese, who we wanted to liberate from our bitter enemies, the Japanese, as we fought with our Allied friends Great Britain and Russia against the Axis powers, including our other bitter enemies, the Germans. (Great Britain had “annexed” Burma after a war in the late 1800s, and exiled the rulers to India.)

I’m not being flippant when I say this: Doesn’t it seem, throughout history and up until today, that we could save a lot of lives, property, money and heartache, if, every time there is a conflict, we could pretend that it is 50 years in the future?

The Veterans group I spoke to years ago were a wonderful group of men and a few women, and they were patriotic and enthused about life. They laughed and sang and had a great time. One of them was talking to  me about the 1,100 people, both soldiers and locals, who died while building the road. (Terrible construction accidents were a daily event, as were malaria outbreaks and strafing by Japanese planes.) He said, “It was Hell most of the time, now that I think about it. But in a strange way it was fun. We all had a job to do and we did it faster and better than anyone thought we could.”

Shortly after Buma was liberated and after they gained independence from the British Colonial system, the road stopped being used and the jungle reclaimed large portions of it. Many said the lives lost were even more tragic when one considered how little time the road was used and what became of our relations with China and Myanmar (as Burma is now called by the military government). Nevertheless, it was extremely valuable at the time. It was also a monument to brave men and women, doing the best they could in an incredibly challenging situation.

Since May 3rd when Cyclone Nargis destroyed large portions of coastal regions, you have likely read a great deal about Myanmar. You know now, if you did not before, how repressive (one might even say, murderous) the military government is. Myanmar is also a country of tremendous religious intolerance, and non-Buddhists (entire communities are involved in some cases) are not only persecuted, they are exterminated when possible–statements to the contrary by government leaders notwithstanding! (Buddhist monks who are opposed to the current military regime are also being persecuted and executed.)

Ironically, because the nation is so undeveloped, from the viewpoint of industrialization, utilities, transportation and other aspects of a supportive infrastructure, it also is a natural preserve for many animals and birds that are no longer found elsewhere.

You can read about Burma/Myanmar on many websites, and I encourage you to do so–I will refrain from picking and choosing the links for you, because views vary and not everything can be substantiated. Perhaps this recent tragedy will finally bring the conditions of Mayanmar to the attention of the world and every respectable country will become involved in finding solutions.

While you are reading, read about the Ledo Road. It is a fascinating part of history. But read it with respectful remembrance as well–especially since Memorial Day will be here soon. Look at the 24 switchbacks of the Ledo road, shown in the photo, think of the grit and determination involved in building it, and say thank you–maybe once for every torturous curve in the road!

May 21st, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 6 comments