I’m a bit disappointed in my inability to come up with anything special or original to say about the 11th day of the 11th month. I’m always humbled when I consider the sacrifices so many have made to give me what I’ve got today.
Our World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1100 per day. Korean War vets are in their 70’s and 80’s, and we’re losing them, and their memories, all too quickly.
I’m posting a piece I got via email several years ago. I think it bears repeating, especially now, as our country is at war, and facing an internal acrimony that concerns many. After the essay, there’s a great short video I found on Google.
Read, watch, and consider the veterans in your life. You might not even know who they are.
A wave of patriotism swept through this land of ours nearly 60 years ago. Nobody under the age of 50, myself included, really knows what it was like to live in America at that time. Americans were united in purpose in a way that this country hasn’t seen since. Children collected tin cans, rubber and paper. Women planted Victory Gardens, saved fat, and hung service flags in their windows. Men were called to become soldiers.
They were called from their lives as farmers, accountants, carpenters, doctors, and all professions. The rich and the poor alike were called away from their homes, their jobs, their families and their friends to take an oath to defend the Constitution. To leave behind everything, and swear to God to defend something that many of them had never read before. This meant training to become soldiers, and being a soldier means that you are trained to kill. Good men, reluctant men, were told that they would be shipped to Europe, or North Africa, or to the middle of the Pacific Ocean; to fight and to kill the enemy of the Constitution, the enemy of Freedom. To fight against tyranny.
It is said that, “All of them gave some, and some of them gave all.” There are 9,386 of the men who gave all, buried in a cemetery at St. Laurent-sur-Mer. This cemetery is located on a bluff, overlooking a beach in Normandy, France; which, in June of 1944 was known, simply, as Omaha.
It is in this cemetery that a recent film makes its start. Saving Private Ryan is a story about a squad of Rangers who are ordered to penetrate enemy lines to locate and retrieve a soldier named Ryan. This soldier had three brothers who, unbeknownst to him, were all killed in action and it was determined that the last Ryan should be returned home, lest his mother lose all her sons in the war.
So eight Rangers risk their lives for one man. One man that their commanders decided was more important than any one of them. Needless to say, not all of them are thrilled with the prospect of piercing the enemy’s line to bring back just one man. These men had sworn an oath though, and so they went. Reluctant warriors.
As it is in war, it is also in war movies, not everyone in the squad survives to the end. When one of the Rangers is hit with enemy fire, he motions Ryan over to him. He says two very important words to him. Two words, before he dies.
In that moment, that soldier became every Veteran speaking to every American. “Earn what we all fought for and what many of us died for. Think of us often. Remember our names. Do not forget us.” And that is the request of all the young men who have died in all the wars—from Normandy to the Chosin Reservoir. From Da Nang to the Gulf. From Somalia to Kosovo.
I have since realized that my own free and bountiful life has been baptized in the blood of the soldiers of World War II, and of all other wars. I have realized that the 9,386 men buried at St. Laurent, though a fraction of the total that died, did for me in a very real way, what those Rangers did for Ryan. I have realized that the men who fought, and lived, and came home and are living out their lives right now did the same… For me. Perhaps I owe all of them an accounting of how well I’ve lived, of whether I’ve earned what they’ve bequeathed to me and the world.
I struggle today, wondering if I can ever make the equation balance. Deep down I know that there is nothing that I can ever do to earn what they did for me. There is no accounting, to balance the equation of even one man dying… for me, let alone… thousands.
But it is worthwhile to try.
How do we even begin to give an accounting? We begin by remembering. Remembering the fallen soldier who never returned. Remembering those that did return, scarred and scared, and different somehow.
Then we must be thankful. We must express our thanks to those men and women who fought against tyranny so that we may be free. Don’t assume that they know the world is thankful. Do your part, tell a Veteran today that you are thankful for the sacrifices that they made, on the altar of freedom.
Finally, we must let our light shine. You know the children’s song, “This little light of mine.” Well that is also what we need to do to begin to “earn this.” Don’t hold back any action that is good. No matter how small and insignificant it may seem, do it. Edmund Burke once said that, “All that is required for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.” The gift that we have all received from our Veterans is Freedom, and the cost of Freedom is eternal vigilance. We must guard and protect this rare and costly gift. We must be vigilant, we must not allow evil to triumph easily. A small bit of good now may prevent a great evil later.
On Veteran’s Day, on Memorial Day, and everyday, this is what we all need to do, to “earn this.” Remember; Give Thanks; and Let Our Light Shine. Remember all the men and women who gave their lives for us. Give thanks to all the men and women still with us, who gave of themselves when it was required. And finally, don’t let the torch go out. Keep the light of the torch that they passed to us burning brightly by adding just a little of our own light to it.
These are the things that we all need to do as Americans; so that we may continue to enjoy Freedom, Liberty and Justice for All.
© 2001 by David J. Miller All Rights Reserved. Permission to freely distribute is granted by the author.