Thursday, May 26, 2005

To those who have given all

I didn't know my grandfathers.  I can count on the thumbs of one hand the number of times I remember us all spending an afternoon with my maternal grandpa, and I never once met my dad's dad.   But this weekend, I am remembering them and the men they once called brothers. 

My mother's father, an immigrant from Germany, returned in the early 1940s to the land of his birth, wearing the uniform of the army of his chosen homeland.  He served America overseas with honor, and then returned to America once more, having seen his own share of death.  He carried the burden of his experiences for the rest of  his life.  For his sake, for my own sake, I will continue to remember the men who did not come  home with him.

 My father's father went to sea in the same war, and never returned.  He and his shipmates -- and so many others --  exchanged their lives for the ultimate gift of continued freedom.  The details of their efforts I will never know.  Even those who served alongside them, who came home to regale us with tales of adventure, faith, and absolute fraternity, have been unable to give me a true picture of the sailor who was my their friend.  From them I may catch small glimpses of what my grandfather's labors were. 

Both of these men, my grandfathers, were strangers to me.  I only truly know two things about them: that theirs is a legacy beyond price, and that they were not alone in building that legacy.

Nearly every citizen of this country (and a non-citizen or two) has direct connection to somebody who has served, and, therefore, with some brave soul who has given his all to protect us.

On this coming Monday, we honor those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty to America.   All over the country, and even overseas, there will be somber, sober ceremonies to reflect upon these men and women.  And yet, some Americans will do little beyond have a picnic or go to the beach, or even just have a cookout in their back yards.  They may not even think about the thousands who, over the past two and a quarter centuries, died for the ideals of our nation.  That fact, in itself, is a testament to the success of the American Soldier.  We can cook up a batch of beer brats and play backyard volleyball without any concern other than how long to cook the sausages.  Even today, in this post-9/11 world, we are comfortable enough to plan parties, load up SUVs, and gather in large crowds in public spaces, because we know somebody is out there protecting us. 

Some of those somebodies will not return home.  It is a fact.   Each year, more Americans choose to defend the ones they love by donning a uniform. Each year, more Americans are put on the list of those to be remembered, seen only in fading photographs.  We honor them all, as a group and as individuals.  Whether we met them before they died or not, we are blessed to know them for their strength, for their loyalty, for their honor, and, ultimately, for their undying love.

Greenbay 1937 copy.02
Originally uploaded by leucanthemum b.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
-Moina Michael

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