In a way, my friend Leland C. McFarren’s death is a hard reminder of the exorbitant price exacted by war and the sacrifices required to preserve freedom.

My friend Leland C. McFarren, 86, died last week. But his age wasn’t the reason. His death was an unfortunate result of severe leg injuries he suffered nearly 70 years ago as a GI fighting in World War II.

In a way, Leland’s death is a hard reminder of the exorbitant price exacted by war and the sacrifices required to preserve freedom.

His generation, the Greatest Generation, is the only reason ours even exists.

Leland wrote about his experiences, but there’s a reason many who have been in combat often are loath to talk about it. Happy endings require a lot of suffering.

Long reach

Even when a soldier manages to emerge from a war uninjured, it doesn’t mean he or she escapes unscathed. Memory has a long reach, and those fortunate enough to survive the maelstrom of blood, confusion and inhumanity of battle carry the memory all of their lives.

On Feb. 25, 1945, elements of the 330th Infantry and the 83rd Infantry Division were assigned to capture the towns of Pattern and Mersch in Germany.

Leland was a tank commander with D Company of the 736th Tank Battalion, which was supporting the offensive. While assisting the crew of another tank that had been disabled by attack, Leland’s tank also was shelled.

Though seriously wounded himself, he aided his young gunner in escaping the burning vehicle. The gunner later died.

Leland’s right leg was so severely damaged, the bone was exposed. His letter home, and a telegram the Army sent to his mother, failed to mention this.

It’s hard to imagine that one ever gets over being in war, even when it’s for a clear cause. You can only try to find ways around it, but it’s no wonder that some people never do.

But Leland found his way through the cause of education. During his recuperation, a doctor made him promise to return to college upon his discharge.

He became a teacher and, eventually, superintendent.

Few for the many

Today, less than 5 percent of Americans are not only bearing the burden of two wars but also ensuring a way of life that the rest of us have taken for granted for so long, it’s no wonder we come undone at the slightest bump in the road.

The American soldier’s sacrifice is the reason the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the burial mix-ups at Arlington National Cemetery are unconscionable.

For his courage under fire, Leland earned a chestful of medals, including a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and a medallion from his 2006 induction into the Ohio Military Hall of Fame.

The medals were on display at his calling hours on Monday.

It was the way it should be. He died a hero’s death.

Contact Charita Goshay at charita.goshay@cantonrep.com.