This morning I was walking through the living room when the opening notes of the Star Spangled Banner sounded from the television. I stopped in place, came to attention, and presented a salute to the flag standard that I visualized in front of me. I sang along silently, each word a tender morsel for my soul. I thought about the men and women who had given their lives for us, that we might be able to honor them today. They didn’t die to be remembered, but if we fail to remember them today, they have died in vain. That salute, that honoring of the anthem, is a part of today.
Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day by civilians. Some crabby ex-military types get all wound up when strangers thank them for their service on Memorial Day. To those of us who served, and lost friends, it’s a sacred thing. You see, we do use that day to remember our fallen brothers and sisters. But if your heart is in the right place, that bit of thanks to the living isn’t really out of place. We all know we could be one of the fallen. We all wrote that check payable to Uncle Sam for the price of our lives, we just didn’t see ours cashed in service to the nation. I would ask my fellow veterans to be gracious when someone thanks them: they mean well.
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With each passing year, I find myself a little more mellow on the issue of my service. Part of it is that I am grateful for that experience, and saddened by the loss of friends. As the decades have unreeled, I mourn for more and more of the people who have been killed in service during the current conflicts. Conflicts. Nice word. They are wars. When you grab a gun, or a helicopter, or a pair of swim fins, and go out to engage enemies, you’re at war. I see their names in the news, and say a prayer for them and their families. Because whether you die in Georgia near a Waffle House when your C-130 crashes, or you die in the mountains of Afghanistan, you gave your life in service to your country.
Some of the sadness is for the ones who come back from service wounded and take their own lives. I have come to understand that all of us who served in any kind of role were wounded in some way. For some the wound is a limp, or damaged hearing. For others, its a trauma that wounds the soul. Some of our company take their own lives. The pain is too great. I consider them combat casualties as well.
On Memorial Day we will gather. Young vets, old vets, family, civilians and clergy. We will honor the fallen. And then a lot of us will adjourn to the local VFW and tilt a cold one for absent friends. And whether you served last week, or in Korea, you will stare at the bubbles for a few minutes and think about the sacrifice they made for the nation.
I am humbled to have served with some, known others, and read about the rest.
God, please bless them all. And, while you’re at it, Bless the United States of America.
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