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In his inaugural speech last month, the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, seemed to emphasise sacrifice: comparing that of the past with the future. He encouraged people to look to those in current military service ‘with humble gratitude ‘ that ‘they have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages’. Speaking of the shared spirit held by living and dead service personnel he defined this as ‘a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves…it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.’  There is no escaping the transmission of remembrance as patriotism in this, yet also, in asking people to relate to those who have died and may yet die, there appears to be the intention that the sacrifice he is asking of all the American people, in terms of economy and lifestyle, might not seem so high in comparison.

 Two days before his inauguration, Obama and Vice President-elect Biden went to Arlington Cemetery to place a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier. Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is situated directly across the Potomac River from Washington DC, and was opened in 1864 in the grounds of Arlington House, the residence of the Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee.

Obama and Biden lay a wreath at Arlington, January 2009

Obama and Biden, Arlington, January 2009

 There are well over 200,000 people buried there, including veterans and military casualties from every one of the nation’s wars from the American War of Independence to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among many other notables are two Presidents, Taft and Kennedy, Justices of the Supreme Court, explorers and astronauts.

Some thirty Commonwealth dead of the two world wars are also buried here, including Field Marshal Sir John Dill and Major General Orde Wingate. The latter had originally been buried in 1944 at the site of the air crash in India in which he died. Later his remains and those of the other victims of the crash were transferred to the British Military Cemetery at Imphal, whence they were transferred to Arlington, in keeping with an Anglo-American agreement to repatriate remains in mass graves to the country of origin of the majority of service personnel. The re-interment took place on 10 November 1950.  

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Barbara McDermott, one of the two remaining survivors of the RMS Lusitania, died on 12 April.

A poster featuring Justice, personified by a full-length figure of a woman wearing robes and a cloak, holding a sword, in its scabbard, in her extended right hand. She stands above the sea in which drowning figures are visible. In the background right, the four funneled ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, sinks.The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sailing to London from New York when she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915.  Over half of the nearly 2,000 passengers on board were killed.  The sinking was condemned in Britain and America and considered significant in the later decision of the US to declare war on Germany.

This poster, showing the figure of Justice offering a sword and the stricken Lusitania in the background, is one of many that used the outrage at the sinking to encourage people to join up and fight.

Barbara, who was nearly 3 years old, and her mother, were travelling to visit relatives in England.  Both survived the loss of the Lusitania and spent the rest of the war living in England, although Barbara’s mother sadly died in 1917.  Barbara eventually returned to her father in America after the war.

We’ve recorded a number of memorials commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, mostly to individuals who lost their lives, such as Annie and Dorothy Lancaster (commemorated by a plaque in St Bartholomews Church, Keelby, Lincolnshire) and 22 year old Tertius Selwyn Warner, son of Thomas and Agnes, whose name was added to their gravestone in Whetstone, Leicestershire.

Today’s post is really outside of the remit of the UKNIWM.  It’s about an American serviceman who died last week, serving in Iraq.  He doesn’t appear on a memorial (yet at least) and if he did, it would not be in the UK. 

But, I still wanted to share this.  It’s about the personal experience of war and sacrifice and how we remember people, things that are very central to the work of the UKNIWM. 

Major Andrew Olmsted left his own memorial.  The following is part of a statement he gave to a friend, to be published on her blog, in the event of his death.

“What I don’t want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I’m dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren’t going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I’ve enjoyed in my life. So if you’re up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw ‘Freedom Isn’t Free’ from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can’t laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I’m dead, but if you’re reading this, you’re not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.

Read the rest of his statement and more about Andrew

Paul Tibbets, the commander of the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, has died.  He was 92. 

Read more from BBC NEWS

Around 140,000 people died in the explosion and later from the effects of injury and radiation poisoning.  The UKNIWM database database contains a handful of memorials that refer to Hiroshima.  These include a tree and plaque dedicated to the victims of Hiroshima in Tavistock Square gardens, London, a peace garden in Springburn Park, Glasgow, and a stone tablet in St John’s Gardens, Liverpool.