This day is a day to remember. In fact it was initially called Decoration Day – a day in which we decorated the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom. To remember causes us to be grateful. We are grateful for the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans and we are grateful for those who fought and died to preserve those freedoms.
Ten years ago Memorial Day was a day in which I was thankful. My thoughts, at that time, were more on those of the WWII and Vietnam generations. Pride best describes my feelings for a post Depression generation that essentially saved the world during WWII; sadness for an ugly side of America exhibited towards our Veterans of the Vietnam War. Yet gratitude I held for those that went and served despite turmoil at home. A decade ago my thoughts were on famous leaders and a handful of relatives who were killed in those wars, but it was not personal for me.
Today, it is personal. After a decade of war I have very real images and pain for the loss of many close friends and fellow Soldiers who remain in our hearts and photographs – Soldiers, Patriots, who will not be forgotten. War changes people, it leaves scars that do not fade with time. Rick Atkinson captured the essence of my thoughts with these words regarding the WWII veterans. “For war was not just a military campaign but also a parable. There were lessons of camaraderie and duty and inscrutable fate. There were lessons of honor and courage, of compassion and sacrifice. And then there was the saddest lesson, to be learned again and again. That war is corrupting, that is corrodes the soul and tarnishes the spirit, that even the excellent and the superior can be defiled, and that no heart would remain unstained.”
Yet war is often necessary for peace to exist. Our own President remarked, “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another – that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier’s courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause, to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such. So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths – that war is sometimes necessary and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”
Soldiers continue to line up for service despite the known dangers. These young men and women understand that much will be asked of them, perhaps all, yet they beam with pride as they dress in Blues for the first time. They are less than one half of one percent of the entire American population, and they represent us all. I am honored to serve beside them.
And so today we remember. Some of us see faces, smile at lasting memories, and feel a lump in our throats as we do so. Many Americans will go to the lake today or sit by the pool that traditionally opens on this weekend. Americans will go shopping, buy gas, perhaps drive cross county, visit family, go to the park or go camping. They will do it without fear for their safety. They will do it because they are a free people. They will do it because many gave much and some gave all, because it was worth fighting for.