Today in the United States we remember the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, and the Marines - and the Coasties and merchant mariners who have died in almost every corner of our world. These soldiers didn’t intend to be killed or to die when they joined up and likely not even when they got up on that last day. Some experienced fear, some loneliness, some numbness, and for some it was just another day. Some thought they couldn’t be killed, and some in those last few minutes or seconds knew they would be.
These soldiers died because of us and they died for us. Whether as part of a great invasion or as a lonely sailor floating in shark infested waters, or perhaps trapped in the hull of a ship as it sank beneath the waves, they died so that we might be able to live in freedom, with liberty, and yes, pursuing our own versions of happiness.
These soldiers have been proclaimed heroes in victory, and decried as baby killers in a war we wanted to forget. They have been pawns in international maneuvering and critical martial weapons in stemming oppression and tyranny. They have been jeered by the people they have tried to relieve, and they have been begged for by those in untenable and inhuman situations.
These soldiers, regardless of their personal views of politicians and the necessity of their particular war fought beside their comrades often against odds that were overwhelming. Many of their exploits are enshrined in citations for bravery, for forgetting self and fighting - even while wounded - to save others. Many have come home because of the life blood given by those who did not.
These soldiers would not think themselves brave, or gallant, or heroic but to those whose lives were spared, to those who witnessed the repeated willing exposures to wounding and death, to those of us who remember and who live still free in the best country on the planet, they are our brave, gallant heroes. To us, they are life itself.
These soldiers have in their ranks some who did come home - for a time. Being physically present they could not be free of the demons and torments they had left - but hadn’t left - behind. They tried to come home, back to lovers, to children, to parents but it has been too hard, too unrelenting in its terror to live with what they have experienced, what they have seen, what they have done. To many, it seems that it would have been a mercy to not have had to come home at all.
These soldiers are remembered today by their partners, their children, their parents, their friends, their coworkers, and their comrades. We will remember voices, smiles, laughs, twinkles in their eyes, hugs, kisses, and their corny jokes. We will remember the grace they were in our lives and we will mourn. In our mourning they will for a time become present with us and we will remember. We will remember.
These soldiers will be remembered by presidents, governors, and a variety of lesser officials. There will be wreaths and flowers, suits and shiny uniforms, and flags, raised and half-lowered. There will be silent salutes and noisy vollies, there will be plaintive bugles and white stones, row after row. But there will also be half smiles and half glances as we almost meet each others’ eyes; there will be tears and deep breaths as we remember but avoid getting too close to those memories; there will be funny stories and clasping of hands between those who are left; there will be raised pints and toasts to their memories; there will be pictures caressed and final letters read one more time and then slowly refolded and placed back in their box.
These soldiers haunt us and yet are welcome. They are often out of mind and yet drawn back to us on days like today. They belong to our past but help frame our now. They form holes in our hearts and souls and yet as we remember, those holes are filled by memories, thoughts, emotions, and images of them. Somehow though, despite the memories, the hole remains and we weep.
These soldiers are remembered because we love them, because we miss them, because we carry in our hearts and souls parts of them and their love for us.