Some sleep the sleep in well tended military cemeteries all over the world, their names, ranks, and dates of birth and death engraved on white marble markers that fill rolling acres of often visited and hallowed ground. Some sleep in the deep blue sea, lost sailors who went down with their ships. Some others are scattered with the charred wreckage of aircraft hidden beneath lush green canopies of jungle growth in many a God-forsaken corner of the globe. Some are simply unaccounted for.
We honor today the servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country. We do this by flying the flag, by parades, concerts, long-winded patriotic speeches, and equally patriotic and long-winded newspaper editorials (of which this is one).
The stories of how America’s boys and girls in uniform died are seldom known in detail. Were they brave when they faced the enemy? Did their sacrifice contribute to the winning of a victory, or to the suffering of a defeat?
Did they make a difference?
Yes, that is what grieving survivors most want to know: Did losing a loved one make a difference?
The question is particularly poignant today, when the news coming out of Iraq is that cities and territory Americans fought, bled and died for are again falling into the hands of terrorist enemies.
And then, on this Memorial Day, there is “What if?”
What if this war had not been fought? What if so many of our troops and so much of our treasure had not been sacrificed for this piece of ground or that?
Think of the many potential statesmen, philosophers, scholars, doctors, teachers, writers, artists, researchers, scientists capable of unraveling the secrets of the universe or those of the human heart — think how many who might have filled these ranks had they not fallen in our country’s wars.
Modern warfare, as historians, writers and poets have acknowledged in words far more eloquent and persuasive than any offered here, is a bloody business.
Much of the romance, if indeed there ever was any, has long gone out of it. From the time man first chipped the edges of a stone to make a fist hatchet, to the sword, the long bow, the catapult, gunpowder, the musket, the cannon, poison gas, the nuclear bomb — progress in the art of making war has been measured by how efficiently one side in a political or ideological struggle can slaughter or enslave the other. It has ever been thus, and likely it always will be.
We are going through a period when our all-volunteer military is being called upon to make ever greater sacrifices for the country. This is being done at the very time our government is deliberately sapping the strength and the readiness of the services to carry out their assigned missions.
This cannot go on forever. The bravest of the brave cannot, over the long term, prevail if not given the support and the respect they both need and deserve.
In remembering those who died for their country, we must not forget those who live and serve for it.
Without them, there would be no America, no land of the free and home of the brave.