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We can pay respect to our fallen military personnel by being better Americans

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., pays tribute to the 16 million Americans who served during the war. Granite columns at the memorial represent each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War II. (Christina Lords/Idaho Capital Sun)

We are all part of one country and should wake up and act like it this Memorial Day, writes guest columnist Jim Jones.

Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to honor and mourn U.S. military personnel who died in service to their country. There have been many. America suffered 623,468 deaths in its major conflicts since the beginning of World War I. We owe these dedicated men and women our lasting gratitude for putting their lives on the line to protect and preserve our freedoms.

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, Idaho Public Television aired a program titled “Betrayed: Surviving an American Concentration Camp.” It told of the Japanese Americans who were rounded up along the West Coast in 1942 and incarcerated in the Minidoka “Relocation” Camp. I was born that same year and grew up just 6 miles from the camp.

These people were loyal Americans who just happened to be of Japanese ancestry. Many young men in the camp volunteered to serve their country, despite the fact that their families were in detention. William Nakamura was one of them. His family had been uprooted from their home in Seattle, arriving in the camp in 1942. He joined the Army the next year.

On July 4, 1944, while serving in Italy with the 442 Regimental Combat Team, Nakamura died after single-handedly attacking and destroying one German machine gun emplacement and then attacking another. His unit, entirely composed of Japanese Americans, was the most highly decorated in the war. He initially received the Distinguished Service Cross, but 56 years later, upon a review of his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

I often think of the tremendous debt we owe to people like William Nakamura, who gave their all for the benefit of their fellow Americans. What would they think if they could return to see what a mess we are making of the legacy they left us? Instead of working together in common purpose to improve the lives of all Americans, we are at each other’s throats.

The just concluded primary elections saw many hundreds of thousands of dollars going into scurrilous political ads attacking candidates with lies and distortions. Very little was said of what anyone proposed to do to make our state better, to improve infrastructure, to combat the greatest threat to the future of our planet – the increasing temperature of our atmosphere – or anything else. I believe the William Nakamuras of the past would sincerely grieve for the state we are in and wonder whether their sacrifice was worth it.

We should not just mourn our fallen on Memorial Day. We should make sure that the time and opportunity they gave us to make a better country is not wasted. Instead of exploiting differences, we should be building bridges with other Americans. We might just find that we have more in common than we thought.

Instead of placing credence on weird conspiracy theories that show up in some corner of social media, we should build on facts that are in front of our faces in our communities. We should not be living our lives just to “own the libs” or put down the “deplorables.” We are all part of one country and should wake up and act like it. Imagine if our service personnel in wartime all wanted to have their own way all of the time. That would create chaos.

Our soldiers worked together to achieve their objectives. Many did not make it home. Let’s mourn and honor them on Memorial Day and pledge that we will not let their sacrifice be for naught – that we will live up to their expectations by working hard to improve the lot of our fellow Americans, regardless of race, creed, economic status or any other type of demographic difference.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.