Memorial Day is a time to remember those who died to preserve liberty
War is a dirty, smelly, fearful and mean-spirited business. It's a grotesque funeral that often lasts for years. All combat soldiers have walked into this dark night of terror and dared death to have the last word. Sadly, and much to our sorrow, sometimes it did.
Memorial Day is a time to remember these who stood tall for this country during our military campaigns and had their lives snatched from them while doing their part to end these conflicts and preserve liberty for millions around our world.
This year's Memorial Day observance spans a timeline extending from our War of Independence through America's involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These military actions have silenced approximately 1,317,804 voices forever. (This does not include those still missing in action.) But the true essence of this day involves individual human beings, not a compilation of assorted statistics.
As a helicopter medical evacuation pilot who flew nearly 1,000 missions in Vietnam, I've been front-row-center for a lot of devastating action. I've often had an unrestricted close-up view of unspeakable battlefield carnage where unexpected, life-changing events swirled around everyone like fog in a rainstorm. That is where a soldier realizes in a flash that harm and death don't befall just the wicked. It's a place where I've heard my medics tell critically wounded comrades, time and again, "Hang on, buddy, you're going to be all right." A lot of the time we, and perhaps even those wounded, realized that this was undoubtedly a well-intentioned lie. These visions of violence are not cherished highlights in anyone's memory bank.
The real champions of our nation's wars have been those men and women who innately understood the horrendous risks and still left their safe havens in an attempt to preserve freedoms for others. These were freedoms that so many of them would never get to experience or enjoy much past their teen years, once they raised their right hands and took their enlistment oaths. The first things that had to be discarded in combat were any rose-colored glasses. These soldiers knew there would be little glory, no glamour, only darkness, destruction, disease, dismemberment and death. But still they went, willing to swim into piranha-infested waters or no-holds-barred confrontations to do their duty.
That's why the chalky-white tombstones stretching from Arlington to Gettysburg and across the Pacific Ocean to Omaha Beach, in addition to hundreds of other once violent places around our planet, speak so eloquently of America's military personnel over the course of its illustrious martial history. They voluntarily risked death to provide peace for the rest of us. And we must learn to live for it, too. Our fallen heroes have found their peace. Those of us fortunate enough to remain must continue to grope for ours in a world that still appears as dangerous and uncertain as ever. But even for we who remain, haunting memories and often nightmares may still persist long after the guns on distant shores have fallen silent.
Memorial Day is a time of solemnity and remembrance. We honor the dedication of those who were seized from us by the ravages of war and relive the pain of their loss. Armed conflict has always proven that not everyone survives these confrontational situations. Our fallen realized that the enemy was always lurking in the shadows with a goal to terminate their existence. They also accepted the fact that the odds were often stacked against them. When everything in close vicinity had descended into havoc and potential disaster, they all failed to be whiners, cowards or quitters. And they were intimately aware that in battle you can't call a time-out because you're tired, beat-up or outnumbered. It's an undeniable truth that rivers of warrior DNA flowed through each of them.
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