We honor the fallen by not forsaking their values

(This is my column in today’s Greenville News)


Ask any emergency room physician like myself what he or she thinks of Memorial Day, and you’ll probably see them roll their eyes and begin a litany of stories from years past, and anxiety about the future. Memorial Day weekend, is the beginning of summer madness; a time of lacerations and motorcycle accidents, snake-bites and drunken fistfights, car crashes and plunges from waterfalls. We dread it, even as we get some of our best stories during the several days that make up the holiday, which might just as well be called ‘Drunkmas.’

It’s ironic, really, that so many people take Memorial Day as occasion to put themselves, and others, in danger. After all, this is the holiday originally meant to honor those who fell in the Civil War. It was, of course, extended to include those who were lost in all America’s many armed conflicts. I imagine, if we could canvas those hallowed dead, and ask them how they’d spend Memorial Day if they were still walking among the living, they would wish to do everything to enjoy life, and treasure their time on earth.

For the fallen, for those whose blood was spilled in war, whose lives were forfeited for freedom and country (or at least for comrades and friends), the mundane things of life would probably seem more precious than ever, were they given the impossible gift of returning to this world. They likely understood, in the heat of battle, in the press of danger and pain and loss, in the smoke and fire and shells, that life’s struggles and gifts were inseparable and that every moment above ground, or above the deep of the sea, was paid for with a price.

I’ve contemplated their sacrifices. I have, like many men, felt a strange envy for those who passed through those fires. I’m not fool enough to glorify the death of warriors too easily and thereby cheapen it. However, I am man enough to respect such death, and often compare my own life’s accomplishments to those bygone feats of arms, and hold my own struggles as small by comparison.

But as I’ve grown older, and a little wiser (in part from watching what people do on Memorial Day), I’ve come to understand that every life has its skirmishes, battles and wars. Soldier or mother, sailor or father, paratrooper or businessman, pilot or builder, every life has hardship, every life has conflict. In every life, suffering is the price of survival, and the entry fee to greatness.

All too often, we believe that heroism is for soldiers, that life-shattering conflicts are for those in uniform, and that the rest of us can simply kick back and enjoy the freedoms they purchased.

But I disagree. You see, I believe that when we abdicate their spirit of greatness, we show them disdain and we demean their memories. The very fact of their sacrifices should prod us to work harder, to do more, to preserve life and family, to defend the Republic, to protect the innocent and downtrodden. Just as the 300 at Thermopylae bought time for the rest of Greece to rally against the Persians, the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and airmen buy time for us.

They buy us time to enjoy meals with our families, to play games with our children. They buy us time to take our spouses on dates, to love them in the chaos of daily life. They buy us time to make America more just and our laws more true to the Founders intent. They buy us time to cure diseases, to explore the universe. They buy us time to love God and man by teaching the ignorant and feeding the hungry. They buy us time to win our own battles, or die trying, as they did.

As a child, I spent Memorial Days decorating the graves of my family in beautiful hillside cemeteries. A few of my line, like my father (on his ‘Southeast Asian Vacation’), served in time of war. The rest served God, family and country by dedicating themselves to the daily war that is life on earth.

Our glorious fallen deserve our honor and gratitude. But we honor them best of all with lives lived with the same service, courage, humility, ferocity and sacrifice with which they gave their all.

This Memorial Day, when so many will risk their lives for nothing, we would do well to live well, and so offer respect all those who died well…for us.

0 0 votes
Article Rating