In the USA, Memorial Day is when we remember the fallen. Well-meaning Americans often thank veterans on this day, and I hope we will take those thanks in good grace as something offered in well-meaning generosity, but it’s not really our day. We have Veterans’ Day for that.
At times like these we think of the fallen, and we recite Laurence Binyon’s elegiac poem to them; as British as it is (he was Poet Laureate of England, when Poet Laureate was someone actually accomplished at poetry) it expresses a sentiment that knows no time and no nation. Go ye and find it.
We think of Ron, a teammate sidelined by injuries who kept serving selflessly as a civilian and a citizen soldier in what capacities the wreck of his back permitted. Ron was erased September 11, 2001, while taking risks he was warned against. His partner survived by blind luck; Ron’s remains were found, months later, and identified by the serial number in his crushed Glock.
We think of Chris, with whom we were never close, and whose indomitable toughness kept his wrecked body, blown 100 feet in the air and fundamentally skinned by fire, alive until the hospital and his immune system couldn’t keep pace with the infections,and courage alone couldn’t keep the Valkyries at bay.
We think of Jeff, another friend, gone in an instant, never touched by an enemy shot but slain by the brainless random action of a pressure-plate mine.
We think of the Air Force crew that launched for our firebase, but never arrived.
And we think of all the losses or our Regiment, the great guys we’ve never had a chance to know, but we know we would have liked most of them, and worked well with all of them. That’s the way SF is.
We don’t think about their families, actually, except when a memory of a funeral intrudes: weeping women; strong fathers bewildered and shattered; children still in denial. We don’t think about that. Too much pain lives there, pain and sadness and inadequacy.
Do not go to that dark place on this bright day. Celebrate the lives they lived, not the friends we lost. Live your live with verve and delight. Extend a hand to their bereaved families. And yes, crush their enemies, for they remain your enemies.
Be proud, be happy, be grateful; be supportive,and if you can’t be fearless, well, fake it. Live this day, the lives that they may not. In this way, you honor the mission, honor the men, and honor the nation.