29 May 2007

The Kneeling Marine

Memorial Day
May 28th, 2007

Memorial Day is a Holy Day which is often observed as merely another holiday. The word “holiday” is a contraction of the older term “Holy Day” and the people we have become in these times tend to forget the original meaning altogether and we just look for a fun way to celebrate! Our holidays are typically filled with fun and games – we tend to eat too much and to drink too much and treat the entire holiday week-end as a festive occasion.

Memorial Day, however, was not intended to be celebrated in the spirit of a festive occasion! Today is a Sacred Time set aside for calling to remembrance the names and faces of those who gave what Lincoln referred to as “The last full measure of devotion” for our benefit. This is not the time for saving a bundle of cash on a new used car or for a ‘shop ‘til you drop’ marathon at the major department stores. Today is a time to come together with Reverence and Humility and give thanks to God for the Spirit of Sacrifice and Heroism that has inspired hundreds of thousands of Americans to give their lives for the things we hold dear!

The great 19th century Philosopher, John Stuart Mill wrote:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
John Stuart Mill

He was right! War drives a hard bargain – even when you win you have to lose! We never come to the end of the conflict with what we had in the beginning! Individually we lose friends and Brothers – we lose our youth and vigor – we lose the best years of our lives – we lose opportunities that will never come again! Collectively, as a Nation and as a People, we lose many of our best young people – the promise of our future! These are, invariably, the young men and women with the courage and strength of character to put their lives on the line for the hope of a better world.

Having committed ourselves to war there are two facts that always apply: Someone must die – someone must remember... and there is no easy way out!

I don’t usually quote from my own work but this time I would like to read you a very short piece – it is called “A shot in the dark” and it gives some idea of the horrible and brutal way death so often comes in combat..

“His body trembles against me,
Iron fingers clutch my shirt...
(Waking suddenly in a sweat,
I feel them twisting there!)
The back of his head missing...
A hole in his chest...
Gray lips whisper,
“Tell Mama... tell Mama...!
Tell Mama what?
....The gray lips never said.”

Someone dies – someone remembers -- and that memory will never fade. There are many here who will have had experiences similar to this one; they will remember how hard he died and how they continued to lie to him about how “everything is gonna be all right” even in spite of the pain and the fear in his eyes that said he knew he was dying. They did what they could and then they continued the fight. They went on to fight the next day and the next and prayed that they might forget – but, that didn’t happen! This is a burden they will carry for all of their lives. You cannot choose what happens to you in war – you may die or you may live to carry the burden of remembering the death all around you. As I said before – neither way is easy.

This little poem was a description of a nightmare flash back but it only tells part of the story. Lets look at the same death from another perspective. “Tell Mama...” he said, and we never know what to tell her. We may never see her anyway but someone will tell her in words she will never be able to forget – words that will seem, to her, the most cruel and heartless thing possible to say – someone will tell her, beginning with ‘We regret to inform...” and her life, her world, will be changed forever. She was not in the fight but her sacrifice is as great as that of either of the young men in the flashback poem. The pain of her sacrifice must not be forgotten on Memorial Day.

These words and other sounds will burn themselves into her heart to play like a broken record – the guns, the bugle and, when it is almost over, the words “On behalf of a grateful nation...” as the flag is slipped into her hands.

For a combat veteran flashbacks which seem to drag him right back to the worst days of his life may be triggered by certain smells or sounds or other seemingly harmless things – for her it will be the words “We regret to inform... On behalf of a grateful nation...”

Researching Memorial Day to get ready for today I ran across some pictures taken at the funeral of a young Marine buried at Arlington. One picture I thought perfectly caught the spirit with which we should all approach this Sacred Day. It had just the right mix of Pride and Humility, Strength and Grace; it was a picture of the young marine’s Father seated with the family and, kneeling in front of him a Marine Gunnery Sergeant presenting the folded flag “on behalf of a grateful nation...” If we can capture that spirit – we will have come close to a proper observance of Memorial Day.

In closing – I know there are a lot of recipients of the Purple Heart here today and though I don’t know the individual details I do know in a general way, how you earned that medal so I want to say “On behalf of a grateful nation – thank you for your service and thank you for the blood you shed!” Welcome Home!
Copyright May, 2007 -- Doug Todd & Monument Press -- All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Doug Todd said...

I am not a public speaker but recently I seem to be "Drafted" frequently; I am also not a "Joiner" but I have recently signed up with some of the service organizations because I see a need for them that I had not previously recognized. We need to educate the next generation as to the reality of our military and what it does. So much is distorted in the way it is usually taught. We also need to be there for our Brother Veterans -- whether of Vietnam or any of the later wars.

I know Vietnam Veterans tend not to join the service organizations in large numbers -- but may we should take another look at that?