Memorial Day, 2017
Today is the day our nation pauses from hurling itself ever forward down the tracks of progress, to stop and take some time for reverent reflection in honor of those whose lives have been cut short by armed conflict while securing our country’s future. It is the very least we can do, lest we lose our own souls amidst a rising tide of self-absorption.
Dying is not what makes our fallen heroes special; we all face our own inescapable mortality. Rather, it is the manner in which they died and what propelled them to that place of peril that sets them apart.
General Douglas MacArthur said, “There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity.” He was right, both in peacetime and conflict. We have choices presented to us every day, and the outcome of those choices determines the direction and quality, and often times the length, of our lives. There are always risks involved, and a cost to be paid for the choices we make.
General Omar N. Bradley, who effectively executed the D-Day invasion of France, said, “This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live.” In this reflection, Bradley has bequeathed to us the essential truth that underwrites the value of every fallen soldier’s sacrifice. It is not the length of one’s life that determines its inherent value, but rather the inner qualities of character applied to life’s challenges. It’s how we live, not how long we live, that creates value.
Those with the courage to be proactive in their own lives more fully experience the satisfactions life has to offer. Personal empowerment is a potent motivator, especially when it is applied in a meaningful way to a larger purpose, such as liberty.
Each fallen warrior made a choice, when faced with the most extreme set of consequences. That choice was to press on into the face of adversity, to stand and not be bowed, to lean hard into the hurricane of peril, unflinching. And to die if necessary, in pursuit of something greater. Their lives, however short they may have been, were lived full of purpose and beautiful determination, and the afterglow of that mighty blaze of courage and patriotism is our inheritance from them. We never glorify war itself — but glory is every fallen warrior’s due. That, and our undying appreciation, mingled with tears.
There are some things worse than death. As Eisenhower said, “In the final choice a soldier’s pack is not so heavy as a prisoner’s chains.” He followed with the observation that “The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice; their choice!”
Today we thank those who chose liberty over life. God rest you well.