|Anno Domini: On this remembering day|
|November 07, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
Nearly all of us have created what’s become known as a “bucket list” – those things we’d like to do before we shuffle off this mortal coil (I’ve always liked the way the Bard could spin a phrase.)
One thing I think should be on everyone’s bucket list is a visit to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. “Taps” has always been a haunting melody, but hearing it at Arlington was especially poignant for me.
The sentries at the tomb are carrying out a charge of honor. Even after Arlington closes to the public at night, the ceremony continues. These men and women, representing all branches of service, are showing respect for the honored dead, symbolic of all unaccounted for American combat dead.
Inside the marble tomb are the remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II and Korea. The inscription reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are twin bookends to the same story. For the American soldier, it’s only one explosion or one bullet that separates the two.
And like its Memorial Day counterpart, Veterans Day encompasses a larger idea than its original purpose. It was in 1954, on the anniversary of the ending of World War I, that President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation that November 11 be expanded to pay special tribute not only to those who were in the Great War, but all veterans, no matter their branch of service.
November 11 is more than just the day we signed the armistice to end World War I. It’s a day to honor those who served, who still serve, and those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.
The phrase has been overused to the point of being hackneyed, but it’s still true that freedom is never free. War is a ghastly business and only an insane person would consider it as a first option.
Sadly, the world is full of insane people, tin-pot dictators, mullahs and other spiral-eyed crazies. That’s why the military is necessary – to keep the bad actors off the world stage. As George Orwell so appropriately wrote: “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
That’s what Veterans Day is all about. It’s taking time to thank those who served and those who continue to serve, going wherever they’re called by their Uncle Sam. They fought, bled and died for a cause greater than themselves, to preserve what President Lincoln called the last, best hope for mankind.
“Saints in armor” is how writer Ben Stein referred to them. In a 2006 column in American Spectator, he said “The most heroic, ethically courageous, morally resolute men and women in the world today are the Americans, British and other forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
A lot has changed since then. We now have a government that seems intent on driving righteousness from the military, and also from our society. But that’s a gripe for another day.
Speaking at Arlington in 1985, President Reagan said that when a serviceman dies, it’s a tear in the fabric of society. It’s something beyond our power to repay. All we can do is remember and be grateful. And I’ll be among them who are grateful.
Stein wrapped up his column like this: “I support them, pray for them, am humbled just to be on the same planet with them. With every morning I wake up, every meal I eat, every walk I take in freedom, every night I sleep in peace, I ask God to look after the men and women who guard the ramparts of this blessed island of peace and decency called America. Without them, we would be nothing.”