My brother returned, safe and sound, from Iraq this week. A soldier in the National Guard, he was called up a year ago and spent about nine months overseas. His first son was born while he was active and training to go over. Though we both aspired to it, he chose the military path that I did not.
My brother and I don't get along well. We're both libertarian-leaning. We're both aspiring entrepreneurs. We're both opinionated, stubborn and hot-headed, but our differences are just enough that we don't get along. I suppose that's the way of some brotherly relationships. He probably wouldn't approve of me writing this, so I won't use his name in any way.
When we were boys we moved about the country as Dad went where the work was. In Georgia, we visited Stone Mountain and its relief carving of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, as well as the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield. Living in central Pennsylvania, we took a trip to Gettysburg as Webelos with the Cub Scouts. We stood upon the same ground as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top, surveyed the field from Cemetary Ridge and walked Pickett's Charge across the fields. About a year later visiting family in Philadelphia, we drove up to Valley Forge. A trip to the Jersey Shore took us to the Monmouth Battlefield. Washington, D.C. was not complete without seeing the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. When we moved to Missouri, Lexington Battlefield and the World War I Memorial were on the docket. We saw dozens of forts, battlefields and memorials when I was growing up, and I am still fascinated by them.
The trips that most affected me were the cemeteries. Arlington, Gettysburg and others fill my memory. They are always quiet places. Beautiful in their tragic way; filled with white stone markers signifying a father, husband or son who did not come home. More and more, those stones also represent mothers, wives and daughters who never saw their loved ones again.
This weekend, we will celebrate Memorial Day. Most people view this day as the official start of summer; students in the South as the official start of summer vacation, and in the North as the harbinger that summer vacation is on its way. We have parades and picnics and family reunions. We visit the beach, the mountains or the amusement park.
We usually forget the real purpose of Memorial Day, however: To honor the lives of those who gave everything they had to ensure our nation would become and remain free. They liberated us from tyranny, terror, fascism, communism. They fought for state's rights and the rights of men.
They fought for their families at home.
They fought for us, though we hadn't yet been born.
Mostly, they fought for each other.
This Memorial Day, while visiting your family, having that picnic, or watching the town parade, please take a moment to remember the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who have given their lives so that we can enjoy the peace, prosperity and freedom that so many of us take for granted.
While we're at it, there is no need to wait until Memorial Day (or Veteran's Day) to remember veterans and fallen soldiers. Every day we live in freedom is Memorial Day.
God Bless the United States of America, and protect her men and women in uniform.