The purpose of the original Memorial Day was to honor those who died in the Civil War. Its purpose today has evolved into remembering and honoring all who have died in the service of our country. What better way is there to honor and remember them than to honor and remember their living comrades, those men and women who have and are currently honorably serving in America’s Armed Forces.
Someone a lot wiser than an Ole Seagull said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Since the earliest days of our history, America’s Armed Forces and their families have assumed the risk and paid the price for the freedoms and privileges that we, as a Nation, all enjoy and sometimes take for granted. Memorial Day gives us a unique opportunity to not only honor the dead but to pause, honor and say “Thank You,” to those who have and are currently serving and their comrades who are still Missing In Action.
The very act of going into the Armed Forces puts one’s life at risk. Immediately upon being “sworn in,” members of the Armed Forces have given control of their lives to their military and governmental leaders. It is a control that is absolute and, from an honor point of view, irrevocable.
It could be exercised through an order “to take that hill,” in the face of withering machine gun or mortar fire, to patrol a neighborhood in Baghdad, or the assaulting of a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan. Or, it could be an order to serve in a supply depot, training facility, or hospital thousands of miles away from the battle. Regardless of where or how one serves, the risk to their life is an inherent part of serving and is omnipresent.
History records that it is the politicians, and those in power, who start wars and that it is the men and women of their Armed Forces and their families who pay the price of those wars. It is a price paid in separation, stress, blood, suffering, anguish, and, sometimes, death.
Theirs is not the job of judging whether or not the politicians and those in power are risking their lives in a noble or just cause. Their job is to do their duty. Some have served in conflicts that were “popular” such as World Wars I and II and Dessert Storm. Others served in conflicts that were not as “popular,” such as Korea and Vietnam. Through it all however, the men and women of America’s Armed Forces and their families have done their duty, sacrificed, and given unstintingly of themselves.
The eloquent words of William James remind us that “No matter what a man’s frailties otherwise may be, if he be willing to risk death, in the service he has chosen, that fact consecrates him forever.” Since the beginning of our Republic the members of our country’s Armed Forces and their families have assumed that “risk,” done their duty, and ensured that a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
For that we owe those who have served, dead, living and Missing In Action, as well as those who are currently serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, our undying gratitude, honor, respect, and support, not only on Memorial Day but, every day we as a Nation enjoy the fruits of their efforts, sacrifices, and service. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.
This column is respectfully dedicated the Military Order of the Purple Heart and those it serves.