A View From the Cheap Seats

September 3, 2009

Fallen Heroes

Filed under: Uncategorized — trzupek @ 11:53 am


By Rich Trzupek

Another Memorial Day is in the books. The barbeques have cooled, the sales are over and we’re back at the day to day grind.

Not so for those whom we honored this weekend, or those we should have honored. Memorial Day is a time to remember all of those who fell in defense of our nation and of liberty throughout the globe.

It’s unfortunate, but many people don’t understand the difference between Veterans Day, which honors everyone who has served in the armed forces, and Memorial Day, which is strictly for those who died.

It’s a uniquely American institution, Memorial Day, one that arose almost spontaneously after the end of the Civil War. Each spring, people would place flowers on the graves of the men who had died in the bloodiest of America’s conflicts. More soldiers died during the Civil War than all of our other wars put together.

General John “Blackjack” Logan noticed what had been happening and, in 1868, issued General Order Number 11, establishing what was then called Decoration Day, and that we now call Memorial Day.

The most touching ceremonies, of all the remembrances going on around the nation, takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery. We don’t use the word “shrine” too often in America, but if there is a shrine to the valor and dedication of the men and women who serve in the military, this would be it.

There is something uniquely American about this place too. The “Old Guard”, the 3rd United States Infantry regiment, guard the tomb, twenty four hours per day, 365 days per year.

Watching them pace, back and forth, in eternal vigilance, there is a message in their gait. It’s a simple march, without pretensions. Tyrants, history tells us, like for their troops to put arrogance on display, even in the way they march. The Nazi goosestep, for example, was a visible manifestation of supposed Aryan superiority, not a matter of military efficiency.

But the American soldier is a citizen soldier, even though the American soldier is also a professional soldier. That is something that, up until American proved it, the tyrants and warriors of the world said could not be done. Indeed, until World War II settled the question once and for all, European leaders sneered at America’s armed forces.

Hermann Goering, himself a distinguished fighter pilot during World War I who knew something about armed conflict, famously opined that Americans might be able to produce razor blades, but tanks? Left unsaid was the corollary: that Americans could hardly stand up to the courage and skill of the SS and the Wehrmacht.

It is not recorded whether fat Hermann still held to that opinion by the fall of 1944, when American troops followed up on the invasion of Fortress Europa by liberating France and charging pell-mell for the German border. But, clearly, fellows who work in razor blade factories were also capable of handling rifles and carbines with skill and courage.

They were, unfortunately, as capable of stopping a bullet as their enemies and they do so to this day. We are blessed to live in a country with such men and women, who put their lives on the line, willingly, citizen-soldiers all.

It is a remarkable thing, for they have a choice. They don’t have to serve. They choose to serve. And surely, though they love their country, they also fight for each other – to protect and support their comrades, as part of a trial that few of their fellow citizens will ever truly understand, but from which all benefit.

Veterans don’t forget Memorial Day, or what it means. The rest of us? I’m not so sure.

I hope that you, like me, took some time this weekend to think about all those who have fallen and, like me, you took a moment to turn your eyes toward the heavens and say those two simple words: “thank you”.


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