Monday, November 12, 2007
Today, at my kids' school, they honored veteran's with a patriotic mix of music, reading and a skit meant to thank the invited attendees for their service to the nation. It was a moving event and good to see that in some circles the service of those who sacrifice to keep us free is greatly appreciated. There were parents and grandparents who were recognized and applauded individually. But for me, one of the most touching moments was when an elderly gentleman, who looked to be in his late eighties, asked to take the microphone from the school principal. "Thank you," he said, "for taking the time to remember us."
Is that the epitome of the citizen soldier, the servant leader, the veteran to which we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude -- is that not the picture of why we hold these veterans so dear? He fought the war ... and he's thanking me for simply remembering.
The implication was obvious. With the possible exception of November 11, most people don't really remember. We go to the mall, or watch Monday Night Football, or start our Christmas shopping, or whatever it is we do ... without ever giving our ability to do those things a second thought. We take it all for granted. It made me think ...
I thought of the rag-tag gang of idealists who, without uniforms, banded together at Bunker Hill to begin a process that won a newly-birthed nation its independence.
I thought of the descendants of those idealists who, at Gettysburg, charged downhill at Little Round Top, out of ammunition but with bayonets fixed, and held the left flank of the Union Army. One of them, Colonel Strong Vincent, was my wife's great-great-great uncle. Just a mile or so to his north, General Lewis Armistead, mortally wounded at the infamous stone wall during Pickett's Charge, sent apologies to his best friend, General Winfield Scott Hancock, for his decision to fight against him on the Confederate side.
How are men compelled to perform such courageous acts?
I thought of the horrors of the "War To End All Wars" and the optimism the world shared when it ended on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the commemoration of which eventually became Veteran's Day in 1954.
I thought of another group whose missing or ragged uniforms left them a frozen, suffering gaggle of men who, somehow, still continued to fight during The Battle of the Bulge. And of the teenagers who left the landing craft at Omaha Beach, only to be mowed down by German machine gun fire. It was on that beach 50 years later, that Bill Clinton posed for a photo op as he placed a group of staff-planted stones into the shape of a cross.
How dare he even set foot on that beach for that purpose.
I thought of Frozen Chosin, and Pusan, and MacArthur, and Truman and the "Forgotten War" that my uncle, Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Francis Adams, never forgot because he suffered in the cold there. It haunted him until his end.
I thought of the two men I admire most who were sitting on either side of me during the ceremony today. My dad, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Bob Perry, and my wife's dad, Army Colonel Joe Vincent, who fought, and watched friends die, in the most unpopular war in America's history -- Viet Nam.
I thought of all those things in an instant. The remembering brought pride and admiration for those who have gone before me. But more than anything, the thought that haunts me today is for the future.
In a time when our enemy wears no uniform but vows to obliterate the American way of life and all who hold it dear; in a time when they have attacked us on our own soil and vowed to do worse; in a time when rogue nuclear weapons lurk in places unknown with persons who would use them without a hint of conscious regret; in a time when too many of our leaders seem reluctant to defend our national moral purpose against those who defile it; in a time like that my son has willingly volunteered to defend the cause of freedom. At the same time, each of his younger brothers have either taken intentional action, or showed every inclination, to do the same.
How are such young men compelled to perform such courageous acts?
Yes, I served 8 years in the Marine Corps. But only for the selfish purpose to fulfill a childhood dream of flying jets. My dream came true without ever having to endure a day in combat. Without ever having to know the fear that someone nearby was doing their level best to kill me. I served in a time of comfort. The same cannot be said for the sons who follow me.
So today I simply thank all those who are so inclined for remembering in a different way than we practiced today at school. Don't just remember the past. Remember the future.
Remember to pray.