26 May 2011


American national holidays, with one exception, are celebrations. Christmas and Easter celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. King Day celebrates Dr. King’s life and ministry. Presidents’ Day celebrates some presidents who deserve it and the rest, too. Independence Day celebrates just that. Labor and Veterans’ Days celebrate the hard work of all Americans and the service of those who took up the citizen’s greatest duty before returning to hearth and home. Thanksgiving Day celebrates and gives thanks for our bounty.

But one is different. Memorial Day is not a celebration as that word is understood today, although it is a celebration in the classic sense. It is the day on which we are supposed to stop and remember the men and women who, on far-flung battlefields, in fiery skies, and shell-splashed seas, gave all of their tomorrows for our today. They gave their everything that we could celebrate all the rest of the holidays.

Most of them were just kids. They had the same dreams that we did, but they never got to realize them. Instead, those dirty, tired, skinny men, pressed on into the cauldron of war. They did the job of giants, faithful to the end!

Some were the dog-faced infantry who stood and fought at Bunker Hill, Sharpsburg and Chickamauga, at San Juan Hill, at Chateau Thierry and the Marne. Some were gunners and pilots, high over Germany or Japan or Vietnam. Some were torpedomen and gunner’s mates and cooks and bakers on the 55 submarines “still on patrol.” Some were the Airborne who—to the everlasting glory of the infantry-- shivered and held at “the Bulge” or Rangers who “led the way” on the streets of Mogadishu. Most recently, they fell at Ramadi and in the cold mountains of Afghanistan.

A few were “Doc,” who died with them while ministering to their wounds at “bloody Omaha,” Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir and the Pusan perimeter. Others were “Padre,” such as Father Vincent Capodano, who died shielding a Marine with his body while praying with him.

And a fortunate few were Marines--riflemen-- God’s most magnificent creation. We are assured that, having served their time in the hell of Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, the Reservoir, the Ashau Valley and the Arizona Territory , at the barracks in Beirut and in al Anbar, they are now on duty, guarding the streets of heaven until, in God’s good time, we are finally allowed to rejoin them. Semper Fideles!

Some still rest where they fell, while others made a final trip home to rest. Their gallantry and sacrifice ought be remembered every day, but it is not. So, on Monday, precisely at Noon, 21 minute guns will be fired on posts and stations across the world. Taps will be sounded, and at 1221, the flag will be once again two blocked after hanging at half-mast for the morning. And some of us, in our hearts and memories, will be with those men in those times.

I will ponder once again the beautiful words of Laurence Binyon’s To The Fallen:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Lest we forget. (And the people respond “Lest we forget.”)

No comments: