Remembering to Remember

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point I realized our country seemed to have forgotten why we celebrate Memorial Day. When I say “our country” I mostly mean me. I had joined the throngs that watered it down and celebrated our military as a whole, our country, our freedom, red, white, blue, the flag, a day off of work, beach time, hot air balloon time, family, friends, barbeques…. whatever I could add to the pile. The more the better, right? It seemed to have become just generic patriotism…or less.

At some point I heard that screeching vinyl in my head (kids….you at not understand what I mean by that, but I have a turntable and already scratched records….I can show you sometime) and something inside of me said “What are you doing????? When did you forget to remember?”

Memorial Day is for the specific purpose of honoring those who have died while serving in our country’s military. That’s big. That’s huge. It should not be confused with anything else (including Independence Day or Veteran’s Day) or watered down to mean nothing. I don’t know the number of those our country has lost (does anybody know besides God?), and am not sure that I want to know. I am sure I would be horrified. As a pacifist who is also a realist and someone who on one hand thinks we need to defend both freedom and the oppressed, but on the other would rather our country not engage in wars at all, it’s a struggle for me.  I weigh the loss of lives invested for this purpose and am not sure I believe in the trade-off…yet, how many others have those lives saved? I know I have no clue. Still….I can’t compute the value. My brain is too small to know what the right answers are, and I gladly abdicate that responsibility to others. But I do wonder sometimes whether these very human individuals are making the right decisions. Not enough to do anything about it, I must honestly say. I hope others are better watchdogs than me and I hope God holds those leaders close.
Each of those lives lost was precious…and are worthy of respect and remembrance. The potential our country lost with their lives, the loves lost, those who lost their spouses, their great loves, their friends, their parents, siblings, their grandparents and great-grandparents they would never know, the skills and knowledge and hearts gone with their lives. The friends who served with those who died and witnessed it. Some seeing great acts of heroism and bravery, some seeing their friends die for seemingly no purpose. The guilt suffered by some who survived, or the lack of guilt. It takes lives in many ways…both physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Most of us don’t know what it is like to serve our country in this way. I never wanted to join the military (can you blame me with my mixed up mind?), but I love many who have. From those I have talked to, the reasons that folks join the military are numerous. How many signed up for a college education? How many signed up as a challenge? How many signed up for tradition? How many signed up for patriotism? How many signed up to learn a trade? How any signed up because it was thought they needed discipline? How many signed up to travel the world? How many signed up because they imagined living in a movie? How many signed up because it was an adventure? How many signed up because they needed a job? How many signed up because they were drafted? How many signed up because they simply had nothing better to do? Truth is, it doesn’t matter why. They did it….and they were soldiers.
I was having a bit if a rant about signing up “kids” to fight in wars one day and the wise person I was talking to (a veteran) said something like “We have to sign up kids because they have no fear. Because they don’t know what could happen. Because they will take orders and take chances. Even me….with my background…with all my training….as I have gotten older I have lost the ability to act without question or reason. In that way, I am not as good a soldier.” I saw the truth of his words and it gave me chills. In a way a real life Hunger Games. But yet we also discussed other reasons. Physically these “kids” are in their prime. They are fast, their minds are in high gear, they are enthusiastic. They are some of our best and brightest stars because they are willing to work to become what they need to be to be a good soldier.
I don’t think many people enlist to die…..but from those I know, most soldiers have considered the possibility and say they are willing to do so if necessary for the freedom of others. That is sobering. Whether you are against war, pro war (you know who you are!), trusting and supportive of whatever our military leaders decide, or if you struggle like me….it doesn’t matter. These Americans have given up their lives for us, without our asking. They protect and defend our country. They guard our freedom. They paid the ultimate price with their lives. On this one day of the year….can’t you find a way to honor them? It doesn’t have to be a big and showy demonstration (because really, it’s about them and not you), but take a moment and remember the sacrifices. Think of those news reports where they tell us “another troop has been killed.” Remember the history….and the stories of valor. Pray for their loved ones and fellow soldiers….who do hold Memorial Day in significance. Because as a country, on Memorial Day we vow to remember those whose lives were lost. They are not numbers, or white crosses, or names on monuments. They all are our people. They represented us. We should give them the courtesy of respecting their day.

I’m thinking of a face of a stranger this year. In this internet age it is easy to do. I’ve got a special place in my heart for Navy Seals, so I simply Googled “Navy Seals killed in action”. I easily found the webpage of the Navy Seal Foundation. I randomly picked Thomas Retzer…..simply because he was a communications specialist. I found a little bio. and more info on his death and service.

Tom (I found that is what he went by) will be the face I think of this Memorial Day. He will be the stranger whose face I remember and whose loved ones I pray for. I encourage you to find a face to plaster on your mind this year. They may be gone….but let’s not forget them. (And feel free to share in blog comments who is on your mind this Memorial Day.)

Thomas E. RetzerInternal Communications Specialist 1st Class (SEAL)Afghanistan26 June 2003
IC1 SEAL Thomas E. Retzer
Born March 10, 1973
Died June 26, 2003, from injuries suffered in service in Afghanistan
He is not forgotten

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