As we approach Memorial Day in a few days, Jim Lacy over at National Review Online has a great article up about the sacrifices made by American military leaders:
Last month over 1,500 family members who have lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan gathered at Arlington National Cemetery at the behest of an organization called Faces of the Fallen, which has assembled dozens of artists to paint portraits of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the keynote speaker. While his speech managed to strike a few emotional chords, it was what he did after speaking that was remarkable. Hours after his speech concluded General Myers was still standing out in a cold drizzle talking at length to any family member who wanted to have a word with him. As the man ultimately responsible for ordering the missions that resulted in many of these American deaths, this must have been an incredibly hard thing for him to endure. Still, he never hurried a single person and listened as bereaved family members told him about the child, the spouse, or the sibling they had lost.
It would have been an easy matter for General Myers to claim pressing business and escape as soon as his speech concluded. In fact, he could have ordered a subordinate to represent him at the reception and spared himself the pain of meeting these families. Of course, no real leader would do such a thing. Like General Eisenhower, who felt compelled to go visit the paratroops on the eve of D-Day and meet the men who were expecting to take 90 percent losses, General Myers could not send anyone else to do what must be the most difficult part of his job.
I am reliably informed that General Myers starts each workday with a full briefing on the circumstances of every American casualty in the previous 24 hours. I can think of no more emotionally searing way to begin what are often long, arduous days. This is not something he has to do and I imagine he continues it only because it is a daily reminder that any decision he makes can have a dire consequence for the men and women who make it happen. During World War II, General George Marshall, the first chairman, did much the same thing. Every day he sent the casualty list to the White House to remind the president that real people died as a result of every order given. General Marshall continued this despite a White House request that the practice be discontinued.