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May 29, 2005

In Memoriam

Once more into the breach, dear friends...

Until very late last night I didn't really know whether I would be sitting here this morning. But here I am. Yesterday while reading the paper I started thinking. Remembering things that have happened, faces no longer with us.

I was reading a Letter to the Editor from Pat Tillman, Senior. He was angry. Very angry. He feels the Army has not been straight with him. This is not a story that will - that can - have a happy ending. It is one I have been watching with sadness for a very, very long time. The television was playing softly in the background and about that time, a public service announcement came on. A Memorial Day reminder.

In Memoriam.

It felt odd, a sort of numbing time warp, for strangely there were no pictures of fallen Marines or sailors or soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan. Only ghostly white crosses standing at attention in rows, silent sentinels in a hazy cemetery. There were no mourners.

Evidently the dead of this war press too close for comfort. Their shades crowd our holiday cookout plans, our trips to the beach, our poolside preparations. Sorry - no tears allowed.

My mind, no stranger to rebellion, kept wandering off the chosen path. For I am haunted by other faces, some I have written about. Heroes. Men who have performed great deeds. And some who have not, but who served with honor nonetheless. And one in particular whom I have not written about but who is never far from my thoughts. And who I cannot write about really, except obliquely, for too many reasons.

Tomorrow I will remember them all. I know many of you will too. I fear that most of America will not, however. For to truly remember, to recognize the full measure of what we have lost, is painful.

The history of Memorial Day is interesting. There is some evidence that unofficial observance of the Day began in the South before the end of the Late Unpleasantness when ladies in graceful hoopskirts decorated the graves of the Confederate dead.

On May 5th, 1868, Gen. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic issued General Order No. 11 designating May 30th as a day when flowers should be laid on the graves of both Union and Confederate war dead. His words recall a more reflective time when people did not rush heedlessly from one activity to the next. There was no multi-tasking: each task was completed in its appointed hour with full attention devoted to duty.

Can we not, for one instant this weekend, stop our headlong and often meaningless rushing about to contemplate the sacrifices made on our behalf by so many?

Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

Last year at this time I asked some of you to light a candle for those who are no longer with us. I ask it again this year. It takes only a moment to strike a match against the darkness in reflection, however pale it might be, of their service.

That face I remember... he took his own life a little over a year ago. I do not condone what he did, or the pain it caused. But I recognize that war can do strange things to people. And I know he did not come back the same man he was before he left. Many - most I think - do somehow manage to come safe home to us. John Kerry's myth of the shattered, psychotic Viet Nam vet did incalculable damage.

We like to think of the success stories: the heroes, the ones who come back with their shields, or on them. And they deserve both our thanks and our praise. We don't like to think so much on the ambiguous stories: the wounded, the friendly fire deaths like Pat Tillman, those with PTSD. But we owe it to ourselves and to the fallen to face the whole cost of war unflinchingly, without either minimizing or covering up or (on the other hand) going off the deep end and forgetting the mission in a fury of self-loathing and recrimination. The media likes to portray our failures just as much as the military likes to portray our successes. They are all part of war and military service.

I have thought about this a lot in the past year and a half. Perhaps too much.

And I suppose I have come to a different conclusion. While I have never been a fan of the touchy-feely relativism that wants to glorify everyone in the military, that wants to call every wartime act equally 'heroic', on this Memorial Day what will make the memories of the fallen, no matter how they fell, bearable for me is the memory of their service. Because military service - a military career - does not boil down to a single instant. A heroic act. A single decision. Every day one puts on the uniform matters. It is an affirmation, at least to me, of what makes this country work. A visible testament to our democratic ideals. The fixative, if you will, that makes the ink of the Declaration of Independence permanent and imperishable.

We see this when newly-minted immigrants rush to join the ranks of the armed forces, those ideals shining in their eyes and ringing in their young voices. And for this reason I utterly reject the implications of failure and dishonor and gloom and doom of Ted Kennedy and the New York Times. Yes, there are individual failures. Yes, there are friendly fire deaths, we have our Lyndie Englands, mistakes are made. Courage sometimes fails. So does faith, or health. So often it does not and this goes largely unnoticed and unremarked, for it is not unusual. But we did not see Ted Kennedy damning the teaching profession for one Mary Kay LeTourneau or calling all blacks oversexed rapists for the sake of Mike Tyson.

Overall, the system works.

I have never worn a uniform. I will never go to war. And for those two statements I can thank many men (and not a few women) who lie in graves both marked and unmarked, in hallowed and unhallowed ground on shores foreign and domestic. And so tomorrow when the Unit grills our steaks or whatever ritual beast we choose to sacrifice to the great Leisure God, I will light a candle and once again offer this prayer:

Dear Lord:

On this Memorial Day, gather gently the souls of the fallen. Shelter them under Your loving arm, as they protected us during their time on earth. Comfort their families. Send them happy memories and replace their tears with the peace of knowing their dear ones are in Your care. Anoint the wounded with the balm of Your love: ease their pain and speed their healing.

For those on the battlefield, we ask courage and strength to face the trials and dangers of war. Hold them safely in the palm of Your hand and grant them safe return to their families. And if they must fall, may Your light shine upon them to guide the way home.

We thank you for our brave coalition allies, who defied a storm of world opinion to stand with us in this fight. Bless our leaders with wisdom and courage. Give them strength to withstand those who would undermine them during this difficult time. But above all, make us worthy of the sacrifice made on our behalf by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Help us to live up to the ideals they fought and died for.

And never let us forget their service or their sacrifice.

I hope you will join me.

Posted by Cassandra at May 29, 2005 06:11 AM

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Comments

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Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2005 08:51 AM

Welcome back Cass!

Posted by: MathMom at May 29, 2005 08:56 AM

I have built a monument more lasting than bronze....I shall not wholly die

-Horace Odes, bk.1

Posted by: spd rdr at May 29, 2005 09:35 AM

Yes, welcome back Cass!
Sadly, I had forgotten about this till just a couple of days ago. Last year at TOB, it was "The Other Scott" who told us about how his family would spend part of their Memorial Day. They would go to a cemetery, find the obviously unkempt grave of a war Veteran, clean it up and decorate it. They would also jot down *information* from the headstone about the Veteran and then, as a family, at some point would do some research to see if they could find out more about him or her. I thought that was a pretty cool Memorial Day gesture.

Posted by: CKCat at May 29, 2005 09:48 AM

Scott is a good man :) That does not surprise me.

...then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers


Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2005 10:27 AM

Welcome back to the game friend.

Outside my window, it quit raining. If only JL were so lucky.

Posted by: KJ at May 29, 2005 11:41 AM

Hello KJ :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 29, 2005 12:47 PM

Welcome Back Cassandra!!!

If you're interested in a good column, read Jef Jacoby ( who's column is the only good thing published in that liberal rag the Boston Globe)

JEFF JACOBY
Death of a Marine
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/05/29/death_of_a_marine?mode=PF

Posted by: Frodo at May 29, 2005 12:54 PM

NICE http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,157958,00.html">Tribute to soldiers (in general) from Neil Cavuto over at FOX.
I got choked up reading the very matter of fact, short, simple, sincere piece.

Posted by: CKCat at May 29, 2005 04:35 PM

OOPS! "Clean up in aisle 3, Cass"

That's what I get for being overly confident with my html linkage w/out previewing!

"Saluting the Unknown Soldier" from Mr. Cavuto here...well... *there*! A very quick and worthwhile read.

Posted by: CKCat at May 29, 2005 04:39 PM

Back with an emotional bang, Cass! Thank you.

As someone who has seen friends die in service, it is both tragic but undeniably noble. As someone who has been in combat, it has been a privelege to serve this nation. It is our duty to honor those who have gone before in service to the United States of America.

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, 1863

As you prepare to go to bed tomorrow night and say your prayers (or don't), please know that there is an American young man or woman wiping sand out of the sleeping bag, thinking of home, and preparing for the fight tomorrow. Where do we continue to find these men and women? America. And God bless them all.

Posted by: Buzz Patterson at May 29, 2005 05:20 PM

Cass, welcome back. Thanks for this wonderful post. I will light a candle with you...

Posted by: Barb at May 30, 2005 02:14 AM

Cassandra, welcome back.

And, yes, I will join you in your prayer - it is beautifully, simply eloquent and heartfelt. Thanks so much for posting it!

Posted by: Romeocat at May 30, 2005 06:18 AM

Well, I spent my memorial day being chewed out by a general ... how's everyone elses day gone!!!

Posted by: Frodo at May 30, 2005 09:09 AM

At the office writing a brief. When I get done, I can start an Amicus brief.

So, great.

Posted by: KJ at May 30, 2005 09:12 AM

It's been a great weekend for us. This is the first time in the past three Memorial Day weekends that all of my children have been home. Safe. Out of harm's way. We even have the addition of JarheadNiece, my lovely little granddaughter. And yes, we have been partying!

We had about 20 over for a big cookout yesterday. Your normal American fare such as crawfish bread, crawfish etoufee', salmon, london broil, and a wide variety of baked goods lovingly prepared by The Lovely Bride. Of course we had a small pony keg going strong along with more normal ale and bitters. The hilarity was highly enjoyable. We were shameless and I have the head to prove it! Just another group ignoring the reason for the holiday? Not hardly!

In our little group we had 3 Gulf War Vets, 2 active Marines home on leave, a retired Navy skipper, and a retired fly boy from the Air Force. Also in attendence was a brainwashed evangelical Air Force Cadet. Just your typical gathering of non-appreciative drunks. BUT, when we broke out the champagne after all the massive gorging and feeding frenzy was over the time came for the customary toast. To friends, brothers, and fellows of the uniform. I was even allowed to participate even though my old uniform doesn't count in the line of service. As we made the rounds we all mentioned names of those we lost over the years. It was not with sadness that we remembered them as you would expect on such a solemn occasion but instead we celebrated their lives. We celebrated their deeds. We toasted those two young Marines standing there totally uncomfortable looking at their shoes and shuffling. Just doing their job and so self-conscious that they each turned a different shade of red. They in turn celebrated those we buried from the last deployment. We told the stories. We named the names. And we partied!

To me, Memorial Day is a time to dance. It is a time to celebrate my friends lost. I refuse to allow myself the selfish moments of sadness. Why is that? It is simply because that is how they would've wanted it! Make no mistake, my heart aches for the loss of friends. Lord knows we've buried too many over the years. I could possibly be downright morose but I knew these guys. I knew the devilish mischief they used to get into. I know their stories the same as the stories we told last night. For hours on end. Until the wee hours. Our friends will NEVER, EVER be forgotten as long as we celebrate them the way we do year in and year out. Yes it is sad that we have added 8 more to the list. Yes it is sad that we will add more before the year is out. That is NOT how they would want it. They are sitting On High laughing, yes that is right, laughing at our antics and our remembrances. THAT is how I want to be remembered!

And today we have our family cookout. Every Memorial Day is a private affair. Thankfully this year we do not have the empty place at the table although we will still have the empty chair. And we will celebrate yet again! Da Grunt is home. Safe. Sound. Scrawny. But home nonetheless. He will depart again way too soon but for now it is all good. He was home for his Mom and Dad's anniversary and his Mother's birthday. He got to hold his brand new niece. He got to see his buds that he grew up with. He leaves for war again soon enough. But today we celebrate. He is home. And that is enough!

Semper Fidelis!

Posted by: JarheadDad at May 30, 2005 10:59 AM

Beautiful, in its entirety. You are one profound lass, and you were missed.
-Jack

Posted by: camojack at May 30, 2005 04:14 PM

Amen, JHD.

Posted by: Cricket at May 30, 2005 05:11 PM

Beautiful. Thank you so much.

Posted by: Beth at May 30, 2005 07:02 PM

Welcome back Cassandra, how have you been and how is your nephew doing?I wished I could've said the same about our Memorial Day as JarheadDad spoke of his.We had a family picnic and event though my dad who is Vietnam Vt and my Grandfather and his twin brother were the only Vets there.Black folks are so embarrasing,the men and women both, all our people think is that all these holidays are is just a time B-cue and sales.I've never seen such a combination of Decadence,cowardess,and cluelessness in my life.As Jarhead did remark they celebrated but they also didn't forget about comrades lost,and what the real many of what Moemorial day is all about. That is why I consider you guys a refuge in the midst of all that negativity that I have mentioned,and I plan on being around more people such as yourself because many of the bunch I hang around are nothing but some dried out old boobs.

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at May 31, 2005 02:33 PM

I am fine Lisa - thanks for asking.

My nephew made it through the first round of chemo. Unfortunately they have not found a bone marrow donor for him - that was a big disappointment. But there is a possibility of a blood donor and we will pray for that since the other did not work out. He did not lose too much weight and was actually cracking jokes the other night :)

Try not to be too hard on your family. I don't know if I would remember the military if my parents hadn't taught me to and I weren't surrounded by it. It's hard now that we're not living on a base, not to forget sometimes and slide into complacency.

It sounds like your Dad has a lot to be proud of - your support for the military is very much appreciated, Lisa.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 31, 2005 02:59 PM

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