Honoring veterans

May 20, 2014 

"On behalf of the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense…" So begins the tearful presentation of the American flag that had just been draping the casket of the deceased soldier to the parents, widow, or children. It always brings a tear to my eyes even when the honored veteran has lived a long life and died of causes that are associated with old age.

However, when that ceremony takes place for a soldier who only a couple of years earlier was attending their high school prom, it really hits you at the true and very expensive cost of freedom. For this nation and any freedom loving nation, the cost of freedom comes with sending young men and young women into harm's way and while most come home, many come home on military transport to the grieving family.

On this coming Monday, this nation will pay homage to the men and women who paid the price in the service of this country. In the morning, the flags around this country will be displayed at half-staff to honor the war dead. At noon the flags will be raised to honor the war injured and at dusk the flags will be lowered, folded, and kept safe until the next use.

Years ago, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day when citizens would decorate the graves of the fallen. At some point, the government changed the name to remember the battle injured and the term Memorial Day came into our vocabulary. That is our role — the remembrance of their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the family. We need to tell the children in our sphere of influence of the sacrifice and we need to impart into young ones the importance of the phrase, "Lest we forget."

Freedom doesn't come from flowery speeches made by politicians or great orators. Freedom comes to us because members of one generation buy it for the next generation with military service.

It came at Lexington and Concord and at other battles of the American Revolution. It came during the War of 1812 and again in the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other battles and skirmishes during our history.

Two weeks ago I happened to meet an elderly gentleman who was having difficulty walking. I noticed his hat, which identified him as a Veteran of the USS Lexington. I thanked him for my freedom and his sacrifice to ensure that I did not grow up speaking German or Japanese and his reply was, "Well we did the best we could."

I looked back and told him, "The best you could?" I then added, "You and your fellow Veterans saved the world from despotism and you sound like you let us down."

I told him I was forever grateful to each Veteran for the sacrifice. Like all the others, they don't take credit for their own actions but deflect it toward the others with whom they served.

When we walk into the voting booth in a few days and cast our ballots in free elections, it will be because people like him stood up against the military forces of enemy nations and paid for our right to vote. So this Election Day don't sit it out and then complain about the outcome. They sacrificed for us so that we could vote.

During our history, more than one million veterans have died in battle; millions more wounded in battle with American blood spilled in so many spots around the globe all in defense of liberty — the very least we can do is to take time to honor their valor.

Whether you attend a parade, a ceremony, decorate graves, fly a flag, or involve yourself in an activity, it is the act of remembering their acts of sacrifice that is important.

So on Monday the president will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Taps will sound, many will read of the poppies in Flanders field and the stories of the sacrifices will be shared again during orations as this nation honors those who gave the last full measure of devotion so that we get to live free. We may want to add to our remembrance the "Soldiers Poem:"

"And when he gets to heaven,

To Saint Peter he will tell;

One more Soldier reporting, sir.

I've served my time in Hell."

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