A “What If” Memorial Day

by Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

Memorial Day
Memorial Day
The Center For Vision & Values
The Center For Vision & Values

Grove City, PA -(Ammoland.com)- The news could not have been worse. Starvation, malnutrition, diseases such as typhoid, smallpox, dysentery, and pneumonia, along with freezing temperatures that assaulted thousands of shoeless feet bloodying the snow, attached to bands of “walking skeletons” exposed to the elements by threadbare garments.

They all combined to claim 2,500 lives from General George Washington’s army of 12,000 Continentals, who struggled through their encampment at Valley Forge during the 1777-78 winter.

One bitter soldier wrote, “Poor food—hard lodging—cold weather—fatigue—nasty cloaths—nasty cookery—vomit half my time—smoak’d out of my senses—the devil’s in it—I can’t endure it—Why are we sent here to starve and freeze…?”

Why, indeed? Desertions were rife—“astonishing,” according to one observer—and mutterings of mutiny escaped from cracked lips of desperate, shivering volunteers, many of whom vowed to liberate themselves from their confinement as soon as their enlistments were up. Rumors of replacing General Washington were whispered in some ears—was there a conspiracy lurking in this misery? Finally, a detachment from the Continental Congress showed up to query the good general about what was going on.

Washington exploded: “I’ve been leading this band of rabble under the worst conditions imaginable against the most powerful country the world has ever seen, and you have the unbridled impudence to question my leadership? That’s it, I’m done, I resign!”

And he stomped off in fury, mounted his horse, and galloped away. Within three months, the British attacked what was left of the garrison, and the Americans aborted attempt to gain their independence and secure their rights for themselves and their posterity was quashed. History took a different and very uncertain turn.

That is not what happened, of course; but Valley Forge is just one instance representing many scores of crucial “What If” experiences in American history, involving the battles, agonies, and wartime hardships that American soldiers have endured on behalf of their country, often receiving due credit for their sacrifices, and, to our country’s shame, occasionally not. Indeed, who can plunge into the soul-numbing specifics of any combat in America’s wars without being humbled by accounts of bodies blown to bits, of mortally wounded soldiers still leading charges, of bravery so profound that it mocks our efforts to describe it? But describe such bravery and sacrifice, we must. And remember, we must. Indeed, who could forget?

Who could forget a “What If” scenario of the Normandy invasion, to cite another instance? What might have happened if Erwin Rommel had persuaded Hitler and General von Rundstedt to alter the Reich’s Festung Europa defense in ways that would have slaughtered Allied forces on the beaches? A re-energized Germany is one answer, perhaps in a position to bolster its position on the Eastern front and fight the war to a stalemate with the Soviet Union, leaving the continent enslaved by two totalitarian powers while a demoralized United States, Great Britain, and Canada contemplate another invasion attempt in a year or so. All the while Americans at home wonder why we got into that war to begin with, as they read about General Dwight Eisenhower getting sacked and President Roosevelt dying even more prematurely from a heart attack.

Indeed, the “What Ifs” about the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country fill books, all of them fascinating, all of them disturbing. One last point needs to be made. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Normandy American Cemetery—several times, in fact—bereft of speech and breath as my lonely steps walked softly and lightly among those perfectly aligned rows of crosses, with a scattering of tiny flags fluttering here and there. Then you come to a particular cross and stop. And read:

Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God

I ponder this, of course. Silently. Reverently. I think of those intrepid 18, 19, and 20-year-olds storming the beaches of Normandy, facing murderous volleys of German machine-gun fire from MG-34s, and the terrifyingly high muzzle reports of Maschinengewehr 42s. Then my thoughts wander from those young heroes to some of their counterparts on American college campuses today, clamoring for “safe spaces,” demanding “trigger warnings” for speech that hurts their feelings, and sobbing about “micro-aggressions” that make them “uncomfortable.”

I, for one, love the America that has survived all those horrible “What Ifs” of our history. I love the America where our fallen heroes are revered and our serving men and women are held in the highest esteem.

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma
Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

Let us all thank God that He has blessed the America that we have, and always remember those courageous men and women who sacrificed their lives to secure it, for us and future generations.

About the Author:

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a retired professor of political science and fellow for American studies with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”

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The “what if” represents a look back at history and what happened. For some a look back at history also means looking at how things might have turned out had different decisions had been made. Sure, there were right and wrong decisions made. However right decisions were made most of the time. And we continue to learn and make corrections although at times it maybe painfully so. To move forward without understanding history is a society doomed to repeat mistakes of the past and a society perhaps doomed to failure. I believe the current state of American society is directly… Read more »


here’s a ” What If ”

What If the South won the war ? What flag would be flying ? I have been asking this from the time all this BS started .

Matt in Oklahoma

We don’t “What If”.
I wasn’t raised by the generation before me that way and I didn’t leave the ones I raised that way and I’m confident they will continue. Everything we love is on the line when we gear up.
Remember those that didn’t make it as you grill a burger and swim and enjoy the holiday.
Always Forward


As I look back on the history of the United States from the safety of time, I understand the glories and the errors of our path from 1776 to the present. As any child knows, trials and errors are the way you learn as you grow and a Nation such as ours is no different from a child moving out into the world to face the daily disasters that befall any of us. The difference is that our Country has worked hard at recognizing the problems, facing those problems and putting them behind us as we move forward. On Memorial… Read more »


This is an excellent article! Should be read aloud at every home as part of our way of honoring those who have given all so that we may enjoy the freedom we have today. May we likewise handoff those same freedoms that have been passed to us to future generations!