Memorial Day Reflections

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Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. By long-standing tradition, all across the "fruited plain," Americans hosted ceremonies and parades honoring America's war dead—those men and women who have given that "last full measure of devotion" to protect our God-given freedoms enshrined in our United States Constitution. Unfortunately, as we have celebrated the holiday that announces the end of the school year and is the harbinger of the summer to come, too often the reason for the Memorial Day holiday—to remember and honor America's war dead—gets somewhat obscured by the picnics, cookouts, and family gatherings. And even when we remember the day's significance, we often too easily move on to other things until the next Memorial Day. For those who have lost loved ones, however, the pain, the loss, and the memory are still there.

So, before we put this year's Memorial Day completely in our rearview mirror, let us each one pause for a moment more to reflect on what we owe these men and women who have died to secure and defend our freedom.

I have heard it said that we are "the land of the free" because "we are the home of the brave." In times of crisis and danger, we have always found men and women willing to come forward and don the uniforms of all our military branches and put themselves in harm's way and risk their lives for our freedoms. Sadly, in all of our wars, some of these brave Americans have been killed defending us.

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And, alas, given the fallen nature of man, a fact testified to eloquently and frequently in the pages of human history, armed conflict is sometimes the price required for continuing to live in a civilized society.

While I was a financially struggling Ph.D. student in England in the early 1970s, my wife and I were always keen to find inexpensive ways to enjoy ourselves. One thing we did was to visit old English churches. My wife would do "brass rubbings" (even one or two brasses of her distant ancestors) while I poked around reading inscriptions and exploring the nooks and cranny of the crypts and graveyards. In one such picturesque Norman-era church, I was confronted with a memorial to those horrifying large numbers of men who died in the carnage of World Wars I and II. This memorial contained an inscription that moves me deeply. It read, "In England's hour of greatest need, they sacrificed all their tomorrows that England might remain free." How profoundly and tragically true.

All of the men and women who were killed defending our country died before their natural time. Most of them were in their late teens or twenties. My father, a World War II Navy veteran with 13 battle stars from the Pacific, was in his first battle at the age of 20. To the day he died, he remembered vividly the men he served with who died in their early 20s far from home. They indeed sacrificed all of their tomorrows, never becoming fathers or grandfathers, or even husbands, because their lives were tragically cut short defending our freedoms.

I had two boyhood friends (childhood playmates and little league teammates) who died before their 20th birthdays in a faraway placed called Vietnam. They sacrificed all of their tomorrows because their country called upon them to serve. I have often thought about these two friends at significant points in my own life—when I got married, when I became a father, and when my first-born got married. They sacrificed all these things and much more.

Before we say a final goodbye to Memorial Day for another year, let's all give one final thank you to our beloved war dead—heroes all. And let's also remember to say thank you to all of their families for their sacrifice and their service.

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