It was only one battle but a decisive one.
It was January 1781 in rural South Carolina. Rebel colonists had been fighting British forces for nearly six years. Brigadier General Daniel Morgan with the Patriot forces gathered 300 riflemen and 700 militiamen with the intention of attacking the British fort, Ninety-Six. The British caught wind of it and sent 1,150 Redcoats and Loyalists to intercept Morgan. Morgan backed his men up to a river at Cowpens, a pastureland north of the British fort.
On January 17, 1781, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton attacked. Morgan told the militia to skirmish with the British but to leave the front line after firing two rounds.
The British thought the rebels were retreating and ran right into a surprise volley of rifle fire. By the element of surprise, the rebels won the battle, an important victory that would lead to the British defeat later that year at Yorktown, Virginia, the last major Revolutionary War battle.
A dozen Patriots and about 100 British soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day.
It was only one military operation but a decisive one.
Just as American Patriots had successfully used the element of surprise to defeat the British at Cowpens during the Revolutionary War, Russian soldiers fighting the advances of the German army during World War II used surprise and “maskirovka” (deception) to successfully carry out Operation Bagration, named after a Russian hero in the war against Napoleon. Beginning with surprise attacks behind German lines on June 19, 1944, and continuing with air attacks and advances under the cover of darkness, by July 3 of that year the Soviet forces were able to recapture Russian cities that had been overtaken by the German army and to advance into Poland.
With 28 of 38 German Army divisions decimated and anywhere from 350,000-400,000 German soldiers killed, the German Army never recovered from the loss of manpower and resources during Operation Bagration, which was launched just after Allied troops landed in Normandy.
On the Soviet side alone, 180,000 soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice during Operation Bagration.
October 25, 1983, has no meaning for most of the world. For citizens of Grenada, it is Thanksgiving Day.
That is the day United States forces through Operation Urgent Fury invaded this Caribbean island nation of 91,000 inhabitants. Grenada had gained independence from the United Kingdom not even a decade before in 1974. In 1979 Maurice Bishop became prime minister.
In 1983 the Revolutionary Military Council took control of the government and executed Bishop along with several cabinet members and other leaders. Grenada’s Governor General Paul Scoon asked the U.S. to intervene. With 600 medical students from the United States on the island, President Ronald Reagan was concerned there could be a repeat of the Iran hostage crisis.
Six days after Bishop was executed, U.S. troops landed on the island. Within a matter of weeks, by December 15, 1983, troops defeated and deposed the military government and restored the nation to democracy, which it has enjoyed ever since.
Involved in the operation were Army rangers, Marines, Navy SEALs and other combined forces.
Nineteen U.S. servicemen made the ultimate sacrifice during the invasion.
What unites those fallen soldiers on Memorial Day is their ultimate sacrifice. Some fought before there was a unified country to defend. Others fought to free their land from tyranny and to stop the progression of evil. And still others fought to bring liberty to strangers who would never know their names but could attribute their valor to their Thanksgiving Day.
Our troops, and those of other countries willing to die for freedom, have fought on the sea, in the air and on the ground. They have lost their lives by bayonet and bomb. In some cases only God knows where they rest.
But He knows. He knows how they stood up and where they went down.
And He has marked their graves with a cross.