Memorial Day. When you hear those words, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? The “unofficial” start of summer? Backyard barbeques, getting that boat out on the lake, camping, fishing, time with family and friends, drinking beer? That is not incorrect, as that is what usually takes place over Memorial Day weekend. But the real meaning of Memorial Day is to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, in service to our country. May 5, 1868, was the first established Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of war dead with flowers. That day evolved into what is known as our present-day Memorial Day and is traditionally celebrated on the last Monday of May. The Lettermen of the USA (LotUSA) would like to take this opportunity to recognize one serviceman or woman from the wars our country took part in. We would appreciate your time in reading through the short biography of each one, in honor of those who gave all.
Spanish American War
On February 15, 1898, during the Spanish American War, the battleship USS Maine sank in the Havana, Cuba, harbor. 266 of the 354 crew members lost their lives. Because of the location of the initial explosion, only two officers were killed. The rest of the dead were enlisted men, most of them very young. Among them was Gustav C. Ording, Carpenters Mate 3 rd Class, of Newport, Kentucky. While he was initially listed as missing, his body was located as the recovery mission continued.
A young man was so anxious to serve our country that he used an alias, Harry Fisher, to enlist in the U.S. Army. In June of the year 1900, he became a United States Marine using his real name of Franklin J. Phillips. Sadly, not even a month later, in July of 1900, Phillips was killed during the Boxer Rebellion. He became the first U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism in battle.
The first World War was a global military conflict that involved most of the great powers of the world at that time. There were 121 men who received the Medal of Honor for their actions in this war, 34 of them posthumously. One of those was David B. Barkley, Army Private. Private Barkley died near Pouilly- sur-Meuse, France, in November of 1918. He swam the Meuse River and reconnoitered German positions under heavy fire, but sadly, Barkley drowned while trying to swim back.
The death toll of World War II was a staggering 75 million people, including roughly 20 million military
from all countries. WWII also was the first war where women were recognized as playing a vital role,
and as many as 543 women died in war-related incidents. Ellen Ainsworth was a 24-year-old Army nurse
from Glenwood City, Wisconsin. During an enemy artillery bombardment, a shell hit the hospital where
Ellen was working. She very calmly moved her patients to safety even though she herself was wounded
and died 6 days later of her injuries.
Lieutenant Commander Herbert Lester Baslee, Jr. was the Navy pilot of an F9F-2 Pantherjet fighter and
the Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 52 aboard carrier USS Valley Forge during the Korean War.
On March 17, 1952, while on a combat air patrol, his aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft fire. It crashed
and exploded. Lieutenant Commander Baslee of Hill Valley, California, was awarded the Purple Heart for
giving his life in service to America.
An estimated 58,144 American servicemen and 8 service women were killed in battle during the
Vietnam War. Wilbur Jerry Siegrist was only 19 years old when he became Private First Class Siegrist.
PFC Siegrist was part of C CO, 1 st BN, 5 th Calvary, 1 st Calvary Division, USARV and hailed from Johnstown,
Pennsylvania. He was only in Vietnam for 4 weeks when he encountered hostile ground fire and was
killed instantly. He died just 6 days before his 20 th birthday.
Operation Urgent Fury was a 1983 U.S.-led invasion of Grenada, a Caribbean island nation located 100
miles north of Venezuela. Communications Sergeant Sean P. Luketina of the 82 Airborne Division was
injured by friendly fire to the 82 nd Airborne’s 2 nd Brigade. He slipped in and out of a coma before passing
away 8 months later from uremic poisoning due to shrapnel that had entered his liver.
On the night of 19 December 1989, the United States invaded Panama. During the invasion, Navy SEALS
platoons were deployed on a mission to deny use of Panama’s Punta Paitilla Airfield to General Noriega
and other key Panamanian Defense Force personnel. As the SEALS neared the hangar, they were hit with
several long bursts of fire. During the intense gunfight, ENC Don McFaul intentionally laid himself across
a teammate to protect him. ENC McFaul was killed and awarded both the Navy Cross and Purple Heart
medals for his heroism and ultimate sacrifice.
Gulf War I
Also known as Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War commenced on 16 January, 1991. Iraq carried
out provocative Scud missile attacks during this war. 28 U.S. soldiers were killed and more than 100
injured when an Iraqi scud hit makeshift barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The barracks housed the
475 th Quartermaster Group, an Army Reserve unit based in Farrell, PA, a small town near the Ohio state
line. Killed in this attack was reservist Beverly Clark, 23 years old of Indiana County, Pennsylvania. She
was the first female killed in the Gulf War.
Gulf War II
Starting in 2003 and officially ended in 2011, Operation Iraqi Freedom was a two-phase U.S.-led
occupation of Iraq. Army 1 st Lt. Michael L. Runyan, 24, was assigned to the 52 nd Infantry, 2 nd Stryker
Brigade Combat Team, 25 th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He was killed in Iraq on 21 July,
2010, after insurgents attacked his convoy vehicle with a bomb. He was a native of Ashland, Ohio and
attended Xavier University before joining the Army.
Operation Enduring Freedom was the third war of the Gulf Wars. The last remaining troops are
scheduled to be pulled out of the area no later than September, 2021. On 27 April, 2011, nine members
of the 438 th Air Expeditionary Wing were shot and killed when an Afghan gunman entered the Air
Command and Control Center at Kabul and opened fire with a 9 mm Smith and Wesson. Captain Nathan
Nylander left a nearby conference room to try and take down the shooter, but died of gunshot wounds
sustained during the shootout when his gun jammed. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for