Memorial Day is not for me

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- “Happy Memorial Day,” a greeting I’ve heard over the past few days here in the St. Louis area, but Memorial Day is not for me or those like me.  It’s for those who once stood strong, but now lay ever so still. In the modified words of Charles Dickens, it is for those who “have done a far better thing than I have ever done, who have gone to a far better rest than I have ever known.” This day is about blood, and about the bodies of those who have constituted the great and terrible payment for liberty, justice and mercy.

Throughout history we’ve often heard quotations about blood and what it accomplishes, like Thomas Jefferson said, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But these are not merely polite suggestions, to be mused about in well-cultured pretenses. They reflect a chilling truth that exists where tread meets road, in the most serious business there is.

This Memorial Day is for those who have perished in hallowed places from Gettysburg to Guadalcanal, and from Ticonderoga to Tikrit City. This day is for the 2,200* Americans who bled and died in Afghanistan. To them we say “we remember.” It is for the 25,000 Americans of the American Revolution and the 625,000 of the Civil War. We remember. It is for the 117,000 Americans of World War I, and the 405,000 of World War II. We remember. It is for the 4,500* of Iraqi Freedom and so on throughout operations, both storied and covert throughout our 240-year history. And it is for David Lyon, and for Charlie Keating, and Weston Lee, and all those like them, who stood on walls and bridges, towers and trenches, ranges, seas, sands and skies, giving their last full measure of devotion. We remember.

Gen. H.R. McMaster once said, “victory comes only through sacrifice.” It is the victory that is found only in the grit, sweat and tears of those who love until it hurts -- until they bleed. It’s the power that holds our nation up, that binds her together however wounded, or callous she may sometimes be.

In the words of our Star Spangled Banner’s little known final verse: “Oh! thus be it ever, when free men shall stand Between their loved home and the war’s desolation! … Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’” Whether I sit in a sandy deployed forward operating base or in the comfort of my home station, I offer this challenge to myself, as much as I offer this challenge to you as well as to myself:

Earn it!

Do your part to help our nation become worthy of their sacrifices. Honor their memory, not only this day but each day you live. Earn it by rebuilding the old waste places, repairing the breaches and restoring paths. But most of all, do it by imitating their example of love that gives until it hurts. For as Hemingway said, "When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve." Today this is my wish, and I hope, in your own way, it is yours as well. Do not abuse the blood soaked freedom they've won for us.

Let’s fulfill our sacred obligation to those who have given their everything. Let we who serve, be happily at peace when we can, and send us happily to fight and maybe to die only when we must. And when we do, tell our stories.

See, Memorial Day is not for me. And it is only as happy as it is solemn. It is for those who have done a far better thing than I have ever done and gone to a far better rest than I have ever known. It is a day to remember blood that has been given with purpose and honor. May God bless America, as we remember. 

(Editors Note: *figures are approx)