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Memorial Day

Repost from 2010, with additions from a speech I gave last year. 

Punch

He scarce had need to doff his pride or slough the dross of Earth -- E'en as he trod that day to God so walked he from his birth, In simpleness and gentleness and honor and clean mirth.

So cup to lip in fellowship they gave him welcome high And made place at the banquet board -- the Strong Men ranged thereby, Who had done his work and held his peace and had no fear to die.

Rudyard Kipling

Today, we as a nation (and hopefully as individuals) honor those who gave all of their tomorrows so we could have this day.  As you travel, enjoy food and drink, or do some activity:  they gave their life so you could do those things.

They have paid the price for you to have this day.  The least we can do is remember them, on this their day.  Think of them, give thanks for what they did, and acknowledge that price paid.

Today, I will take the time to honor them as a group, and to remember some individuals.  I will remember Major Mathew Schram, whom I never met, just as I will remember my Uncle Foster who's body lies somewhere just off Japan.  I will remember Andy Olmstead. I will remember the men who paid the blood price for COP Ellis to be built, and helped usher the Anbar Awakening into Baghdad.  I will remember the men of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.  The latter groups were major parts of why I did my two embeds.  I never met them in life, but they have shaped who I am today.

I will remember Lance Cpl. Jeremy W. Burris, I man I can't say I truly met, for a nod, a hi, and a brief ID do not constitute truly meeting someone.  What I can say is that I know that which is best in you, for no greater love hath any man.  You died doing for your brothers, and I remember that this day. 

Recently, a few of us have been talking about a phrase that can quickly (for some of us) put teeth on edge:  "Happy Memorial Day"  The phrase strikes me as at best odd, and for far too many an indicator of a lack of knowledge about the day.  Trust Chuck to put things in perspective.  With his permission, I quote a part of a speech he is giving today:

Many of our fellow citizens have no understanding of the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, other than it means a long weekend.  Many people, especially those with no connection to the military, often confuse the two, citing Memorial Day as a day to thank those serving the nation in uniform.   Recently, a friend of mine commented that “Memorial Day is meant to pay homage to those who gave their lives for this country and our way of life. It is a day to honor the dead.  There is NO such thing as “Happy Memorial Day.”

Respectfully, I disagree, in part, anyway.

Memorial Day is a happy yet solemn, joyful yet tearful, partly sunny yet mostly cloudy kind of day.

We are living the days these men and women never will.  Live them well, be happy, and enjoy the blessings of liberty their service and sacrifice have bought.  Although we take pause today to remember their absence, we must also take this day to celebrate the very liberty they have secured.

Memorial Day should be a "happy" day, the same as Easter.  We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, yet we rejoice in the promise of chocolate rabbits, only six more weeks till spring (if Christ came out of the tomb and saw his shadow) and painted eggs, god-awfully early church services, plastic grass, and kids on a blood-sugar bender.  We remember the sacrifice, and the cost, of the loss of friends and family on this day.  I remember Josh wearing a cape and boxer shorts and little else, standing in the Kuwaiti desert and saluting passing vehicles.  I remember sharing stories and fixing the world’s problems over barbeque and beer with Dan.  I remember Gary creatively counseling another lieutenant who just refused to “get it.”  I remember these men fondly, and am thankful to wear the same uniform, to serve the same nation, and to carry forward where they cannot.

Dan, Josh, and Gary can't spend this day, or any other day with their families, or among us, and we are a poorer nation because of that.  I miss them, but today I pay special attention to their absence, and jealously guard my time with my family.  We will have a happy day, because my friends, my mentors, my brothers have already paid for it, in advance, with interest.

I do not mean to suggest that it is proper to tell a recent widow to have a “Happy” Memorial Day.  I know the families of the fallen, and especially the recently fallen, spend this day in grief, but they spend this day remembering none the less.  They will, in time, first recall the good things, the joys and happiness, the special days; and will lock away the days which hurt the most.  These families, these survivors, have something their warriors no longer have… time.  They have time to grieve, time to mourn, and time to heal.  They will, soon enough, spend their memorial days at family barbeques, pool openings, amusement parks, and all manner of fun and happy occasions.

On Memorial Day, these families, mine and hopefully yours, will also pause to remember all of the joyful times we spent with those who have stood their final muster, and then we too, will go on living, and have a happy Memorial Day.

To the God in Man displayed -- Where'er we see that Birth, Be love and understanding paid As never yet on earth!

To the Spirit that moves in Man,
On Whom all worlds depend,
Be Glory since our world began
And service to the end!

Final stanzas, The Choice, Rudyard Kipling

 

From a speech in 2011:

On this day of memory, I want to introduce you to some of the most recent, who have special meaning to me.

Major Mathew Schram gave his life this day in 2003.  He was the colleague and friend of someone I give thanks to be able to call friend.  On this day, he led a convoy in Iraq and when it came under attack, he and his driver personally counterattacked to a plan they had worked out in advance.  Their action caused the enemy to flee; however, Major Schram was killed in the process.  It is worth noting that aside from him, no one else died because of his plan and prompt action.  Two other soldiers were wounded, one of whom, his driver, continued the mission.  It is also well worth noting that the convoy was being followed by a vehicle with a reporter for a major weekly magazine.  When the ambush broke, they turned to flee and did so – something that would not have been possible if not for Major Schram’s action and sacrifice.  It is also worth noting that the reporter and magazine never reported on this, as it wasn’t news that a good and better man died to save his life.  From all I have heard of Mat Schram, I do wish I could have met him and known him.  I remember him this day. 

Specialist Marieo Guerrero, Captain Anthony Palermo, Private First Class Damian Lopez, and Specialist Ryan Dallam died in 2007 in West Rasheed, Iraq.  They were part of the catalyst for my first embed to Iraq, and also the reason that Combat Outpost Ellis became the lynchpin for bringing the Anbar Awakening into the area southwest of Baghdad – and into Baghdad itself.  Their colleagues and friends shared some of their stories with me, and I wish I could do more to bring them to life for you this day.  Captain Palermo inspired the men who served under him, including those that stepped up when he fell to enemy action.  The stories I heard of all these men brought forth smiles, laughter, and some tears.  Specialist Guerrero died in March, and the rest on one dark day in April to a massive IED. 

Lance Corporal Jeremy W. Burris is someone I particularly want to remember this day.  His story, to my mind, exemplifies the special people we are here to remember.  I can’t say I knew him, for I met him only in passing out at Al Qa’im on the Syrian border.  Like most Marines I’ve met, he was full of – life. 

He was one of a small horde of Marines to whom I was introduced in a blur of faces and names.  He went out on a patrol, one on which I wanted to go on but couldn’t.  While out, his vehicle was hit by an IED.  Like any good Marine, he responded and got his buddies out to safety.  There, he treated them for their injuries.  Realizing that there were items in the vehicle that would make his brothers more comfortable and otherwise help, he went back.  It was then that the second IED was detonated. 

Afterwards, I learned more about him, those things I did not get a chance to learn from him. He had a love of music, an appreciation of the opposite sex, drive, and energy.  He was in many ways, a very typical young man, who very atypically volunteered to serve his country in time of war.  He, like all who currently serve, knew what they were doing, knew the risks, and still stepped forward and chose to join.  I think of him often, and am glad I can share that very small bit of him I have learned with you this day. 

Today is a day of remembrance.  It is a day to honor those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  It is a day to give most profound thanks to whatever God you worship, that such have walked and do walk among us and, stepped up to the call. 

They are our parents, our children, our husbands, our wives, our friends.  They fight for us this day, as generations before did for them.  Next year, we will have more to remember, but we should not remember in sorrow, but with pride, thanks, and appreciation for them and for their sacrifice.  One they have chosen to make, by knowingly volunteering in time of war, and we should do nothing to belittle that choice and the costly gift they have willingly laid on the altar of freedom.

No, this is not a day of sales, vacations, and parties.  That said, in my far to brief journeys with them, I have met none that would find it wrong to be remembered in the happy setting of a barbecue or cook out.  In fact, many of them would appreciate it, for they would know that you have the freedom to choose what to eat, when to eat, and to live your lives with liberty because of them and their sacrifice.  So, eat a bite of good food for them, and raise a toast to them with your libation of choice. 

Let us remember them, and give thanks for them, this day.

LW

 

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