Every year as Memorial Day approaches, I search for some meaningful way to express my gratitude to all of our military personnel. The day commemorates those Americans who have fallen in battle, and rightfully so. Their supreme sacrifice evokes an emotional admixture of deep patriotic pride, tempered by intense personal gratitude and a profound sadness.
It is a difficult elixir to give proper expression to, frankly. War is a singular event in that it tends to distill the best of many individuals under the worst of circumstances. Like lightning flashing against a dark hillside, great character, bravery and selflessness are often sharply illuminated in brilliant contrast to the surrounding blackness, seared indelibly into our memory. Although I make a point to remember and appreciate these fallen warriors every day, as do many others, our collective national homage is offered on Memorial Day each year.
As I mentioned previously, I seek for a way to honor all veterans who have served or are currently serving. The fallen deserve our special honor and devotion on this bittersweet day of national remembrance.
Yet, there are those who fought alongside them, observing their sacrifice firsthand. They were comrades-in-arms, men and women who entrusted their very lives to each other’s vigilance and courage. These are the soldiers, sailors and airmen under fire, who shared whatever provisions and munitions they possessed to secure the integrity of their combat unit. They are the unsung heroes who persevered through deprivation, peril and hell to complete their missions, all the while watching friends and brothers fall in combat.
For them, the faces of those they’ve lost never go away, nor does the peculiar guilt that accompanies being one of the lucky ones who “made it home” when others didn’t. I have encountered this battlefield phenomenon in the testimonies of so many combat veterans, who watched a comrade fall, and had the instant reaction of “poor bastard” followed immediately by “I’m glad it wasn’t me“.