The images sometimes feel as if they’re part of our DNA – Washington at the helm of a small boat crossing the Delaware to do battle; gaunt but resolute men in blue and gray; yellowed photos of doughboys standing above the trenches; Hollywood images of bloody battles on the beaches at Normandy, exploding ships in Pearl Harbor, savage combat on Heartbreak Ridge, in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in so many more places around the world.
Major battles, minor clashes, police actions, incursions, invasions, or skirmishes are all descriptions of the same outcome: sacrifice.
Perhaps, on this final day of a three-day weekend, we should spare a few moments and think through that long list and then decide how best to observe Memorial Day.
In military cemeteries around the United States and other countries rest the men and women who made this three-day weekend possible.
Consider the sacrifice that not only the soldiers, sailors and airmen made, but also take time to think of the pain of the loss millions of families suffered when their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and any other relation you can name did not come home alive. There is hardly a family in America that has not felt that loss at some level.
But there are other types of pain. And far too many families are still suffering with it. Millions of our servicemen and women have suffered dreadful injuries in battle or while in service. Some of those injuries are clearly visible; others not so much, but just as devastating. Veterans Administration hospitals remain filled with disabled and ailing men who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. They deserve the very best treatment our citizens can provide.
Continuing revelations that these veterans did not get the best care possible is a stain on our nation.
Walk through Arlington Cemetery or the Punch Bowl in Hawaii, the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Los Banos, or any national resting place where our country’s honored dead lie, and you will see the white headstones in columns.
They are not just pieces of marble with names and ranks. They are the places where real people are interred. They are 18-year-old kids from small towns in California who were wide receivers on the football team, husbands from Ohio who doted on their 3-year-old babies, and mothers from Wisconsin who decided to enlist after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They were people who were leading normal lives – who enjoyed standing around the barbecue knocking back a beer with their families on Memorial Day – when they felt the call of duty.
So think about them while you’re doing that, raise a toast to them, and try to honor your debt to their memory. If you have loved ones who gave the ultimate gift to the United States, know that our gratitude is enormous. Be a good citizen, work hard, become informed, vote and remember that you are here because they are not.