A day to remember those who died for us

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and pay homage to the brave heroes who bought our freedom with their lives.

On this Memorial Day, the flags in countless numbers will gloriously wave, tugging mightily at the heart, the soul.

They went away to places they maybe had never heard of, maybe could not spell, maybe could not pronounce.

Places like Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Belleau-Wood.

Places like Leyte, Okinawa, Guadalcanal, Anzio, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Ardennes.

And Inchon, Pyongyang, Seoul.

Dien Bien Phu, Saigon, Chu Lai.

Baghdad, Fallujah, Basra.

And Kandahar, Kabul.

And many more.

So many, many more.

They went away in great numbers.

And many of them – o’ so many of them — did not come back.

Young, most of them. Or just past young.

Ripped, yanked from the lives, the ways, the routines they had known.

Away — some for the first time — from the umbilical cord of home.

Away from that which was familiar, cherished.

Away from wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, relatives near and distant, friends, acquaintances.

Sent away on bouncing, rolling, tossing, smelly ships and roaring, crowded, shaky, uncomfortable airplanes. On buses. And trains.

Frightened. Uncertain. Homesick.

With no idea when they might get back.

If ever.

Certain, perhaps, only of what was expected of them, of what they must do when they got there.

There to those far-off places they maybe had never heard of, maybe could not spell, maybe could not pronounce.

Let alone locate on a map.

Yet they went.

Duty, loyalty, purpose, expectancy summoned them.

And, in the end, duty, loyalty, purpose, expectancy claimed them.

Claimed them in great numbers, numbers too large to precisely count.

Estimates must do.

So on this upcoming Memorial Day we remember them.

Or should.

What they did.

The price they paid.

The price extracted at such staggering, brutal, heavy cost.

Proudly, reassuringly on this special day the flags in countless numbers will gloriously wave, tugging mightily at the heart, the soul.

Even at memory.

Majestically, buoyantly the bands again will call up the tunes – the fanfares, the overtures — that inspire.

Bring lump to throat.

Tear to eye.

In person and in photographs and in videos and in the 20-20 vision of the mind’s eye – though in some instances maybe blurred, dimmed by the passing of time — we will go to the national cemeteries and other cemeteries where by the hundreds of thousands those who went away are at deserved, honored, peaceful rest.

There where, in many instances,  the row upon endless row of markers collectively and soberly and somberly remind of the incalculable price that has been extracted.

Painfully paid in full.

And then some.

Paid so that those of us who are here this upcoming day can go on and have opportunity to be all that we might be.

To pursue fulfillment.

And fulfillment’s blessings.

And so that those who come after us can too.

In another time, I found myself in Washington, D.C., and spent the better part of a day thoughtfully, reflectively walking the seemingly boundless expanses of Arlington National Cemetery, hours of solitude spent step-by-step absorbing the enormity of it all.

The endless sea of graves, with its wave after wave of white markers, in one sweeping view proclaiming the story of this place, a story brought hauntingly to mind and to an awakened, appreciative heart.

The Tomb of the Unknowns served as something of an ever-on-duty sentinel, seemingly there to silently but assuredly and perpetually, even prayerfully, watch over all who are within its reach.

It was autumn and the trees with their turning, seasonal  mixture of oranges and reds and burgundies  and golds and yellows and browns  painted a serene, kaleidoscopic portrait, a fitting backdrop for those at their final, earthly home.

Now and then, soothing and uplifting bird songs blessed the day. A full yet comfortable sun gently kissed the quiet and hallowed grounds, as if to salute those interred there.  A welcoming, soft blue, cloudless sky seemed to compassionately smile and say to them:

“Well done.”

I walked.

I looked.

I wandered.

I wondered.

I wondered who the one now at rest at this particular marker just before me might have been.

Or the one at the next marker.

Or the next.

Or . . .

A father? A mother? A son? A daughter? A husband? A wife?

And what might they have become?

A doctor? A lawyer? A merchant? A mechanic? A police officer? A nurse? A teacher? A minister?

A career soldier or sailor or airman?

A friend?

What were their dreams? Their hopes? Their goals?

Their assignments are over, achieved through valor, commitment, purpose.

Our dreams? Our hopes? Our goals?

They endure.

Made possible in large measure by what those whom we remember this upcoming day did when they went away to those places they maybe had never heard of, maybe could not spell, maybe could not pronounce.

Still, they went away.

So that we could stay.

And now they are here in these final resting places and their wars – their wars of long ago, their wars of not so long ago, their wars of this very moment – for them are over.

And what are we to make of the priceless, full measure, selfless gift they gave to us?

Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico, England and a world of curiosity and creativity.

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