Memorial Day is here. It is a chance to remember lost loved ones. There are also the stories of others that may be lost in time, but not in value and spirit. Let’s remember them too.
A dedicated soldier, a member of the American Relief Administration after World War I, who lost his life to smallpox while trying to feed the hungry and sick.
Or a young lieutenant who was given the task of feeding the starving in Montenegro, a region in Europe that had been devastated during that war.
This part of Montenegro was a mountainous area, and with the onset of winter in 1918-19, it was a major challenge to bring relief supplies. Heavy snow had arrived and with damaged bridges and roads, people had given up hope they could be saved.
The New York Times reported on the grave circumstances and the rush of American officers to save lives. People were already living off grass and the death rate soared as winter set in. It would be hard for large supplies of food to reach the suffering.
The starving people told the young American lieutenant,“you can’t save us.”
The lieutenant replied, “Yes, we can.” He planted an American flag on one of their churches and went to work. The American Relief Administration used cables to swing food over broken bridges. They used burros and horses to move food over miles of snowy mountain trails.
The lieutenant’s report on the heroic mission exclaimed “we did it. The people in this district are now happily eating American flour and pork. They have stopped digging graves and are, instead, planting their crops for this year’s harvest.”
That is what American humanitarianism is all about. Helping others, giving them a chance to survive and restore themselves. The American Relief Administration also provided free school meals in war-devastated countries, which brought millions of children back to health.
The same thing is being done today in conflict-torn Mali by Catholic Relief Services, through a grant by the U.S. McGovern-Dole program. That program was named after two veterans of the Second World War, George McGovern and Bob Dole.
It was Herbert Hoover who said famine is the inevitable aftermath of war. We saw that after both world wars. Only humanitarian aid prevented mass starvation. We are seeing the effect today of war in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and other countries where hunger escalates as a result of conflict. The World Food Programme, the largest hunger fighting organization today, is rushing aid to Syrian war victims as we speak.
On this Memorial Day remember too the humanitarian heroes, such as the amazing officers of the American Relief Administration. They were part of the American Army which won a war that many hoped would be followed by lasting peace, freedom for all, and freedom from famine.
While those goals have not been achieved, we need keep up the fight for those ideals which they so bravely pursued. This is the best gratitude we can give them.