Wednesday, June 02, 2004
On Memorial Day:
The last vestiges of America's Greatest Generation gathered on the National Mall for the dedication of a long overdue memorial to a war whose scope and effect remain unprecedented in recorded human history.
It is, to quote Lincoln, fitting and proper that we should do this.
They came from far and near, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, gold star mothers, sons and daughters. They gathered on the National Mall, just a short distance away from where many of their fellow warriors lay entombed below the uniform headstone rows of Arlington. They are, for the most part, an unassuming bunch. Never the less, it is a rare sight to see a few dozen Medal of Honor recipients in the same place at the same time.
Their country, and indeed the world, called them. They answered in droves. Many of their friends never made the return trip and lie in cemeteries in the foreign soil they so bravely fought to liberate. Truly, they are the greatest generation ever produced by this great nation.
On Memorial Day I happened, much by accident, upon a very old cemetery in a small town in Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. Yes, I'm one of those people who walk around cemeteries and actually look at the headstones. I'm not weird. Really, I'm not.
This cemetery stands out in my mind because of people who lie buried there. Next to many of the headstones I found small markers, placed by the American Legion, designating the wars in which the person buried had fought. Several were marked with the inscription "War of 1812", some from "The Great War", and still others marked simply with the number "1776". Nearly every American War was represented in this cemetery. Most of the headstones were worn with time, the memories of those beneath them lost to nearly everyone except those who place flags at their gravesite every year. This cemetery, though far from Arlington, is just as important in the hearts of those who take it upon themselves to remember those within.
I was there reminded of the final scene of the motion picture Saving Private Ryan. The battle is won, but Tom Hanks' character is mortally wounded. With his last breath, he draws Private Ryan close to him and whispers the following phrase:
It is incumbent upon us, my fellow Americans, to live our lives in a way by which we may earn the fruits of the sacrifices of those who have come before us, and indeed those who now struggle daily against the enemies of freedom and liberty.
What are you doing to earn it?
Here endeth the lesson.