the elite United States Army 3rd
Infantry Regiment guard the
Tomb of the
Unknowns 24/7 365 days a year, year in year out
for any reason
“A memorial is an object which serves as a
focus for memory of something, usually a person (who has died) or an event
The most common type of memorial is the
gravestone or the memorial plaque. Also common are war memorials commemorating
those who have died in wars. Memorials in the form of a cross are called
(Monday May 27, 2013 Arlington
National Cemetery, VA) In a sense every man or woman who ever donned a uniform
of a branch of the United States military is an unknown soldier. Here there is
a special tomb containing the literal remains of unknown soldiers from almost
every war this country has ever fought. Not far from that stolid marble
structure, seemingly endless rows of white crosses each a stark icon marking a
grave of a fallen soldier, sailor, airmen or marine. The names of those buried
beneath these simple white crosses and Stars of David, are cataloged; the
identity of the occupant of each plot is recorded in a master ledger.
Unless you have been in the
military or are a relative, family or friend of a fallen soldier, everyone who
has ever served and is serving now, is an unknown. We see on the TV news and
read in the papers about battles being waged in far off lands. The “military”,
as mentioned in the media, is a collectively anonymous bloc, a force of young
men and women who are tasked with defending our nation; they are the latest
members of a long line of patriots stretching back to our Revolutionary War.
Our history as a Nation is
punctuated by wars. Our country was born out of a war and with disturbing
regularity, we have found ourselves involved in conflict, conflicts were we
have sent our men and women to places to endure incredible hardships, to
sacrifice all and to constantly exist in an environment in which their own
mortality is not an abstraction but a very real and present possibility.
Marine saluting in Arlington National Cemetery
Those among us who have not
been initiated on the field of combat cannot call on any sufficient measure of
imagination to understand what war, combat, is all about; the way it feels and
smells, what is sounds like and how the echoes of each firefight and dropped
bomb resound forever. Battle is harsh and it is hell. It is death, destruction
and darkness that test the very soul of those involved. It is not orchestrated
or precise, not organized or choreographed despite the most elaborate plans
crafted by the “brass” safely ensconced in Washington DC half a world away from
the often ill-defined frontlines. It is confusion and fear interspersed with
anger, rage and determination. It is messy, sloppy and the actuality of the
most primitive of man’s instincts being called upon to persevere, to survive.
After all, it is, at its core, all about making death.
We have troops here and there
doing this and that while we sit comfortably on the couch and change the
channel when the story becomes boring. Unless you have blood on the field it is
not truly yours to embrace yet, what transpires in these far flung locations,
is all about us; our nation’s safety and security is on the shoulders of those
anonymous soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen; support troops of every stripe
toiling for a cause greater than themselves and often beyond their full
When the draft was suspended
and ultimately eliminated by 1973, we, as a society, as a people lost the sense
of a shared experience, of a commonality among us that transcended everything
else; religion, race, region and beliefs were supplanted by camaraderie,
cohesiveness and training and that rarest of bonds that only men and women who
have fought together ever know. It was a different country when virtually all
our elected officials had been in “the Service.” The sacrifices were shared,
born by every family in every city, town, hamlet and village.
Now our wars are designed and
conducted by men and women who have absolutely no clue of the brutality of the
situations they seem to readily commit our Nation’s lives to. Wars have become
political footballs tossed cavalierly from one side of the political aisle to
the other, dissected from afar by experts and pundits who wouldn’t last 30
minutes under fire. It is easy to proclaim your patriotism loudly while you sit
in the Senate or House chambers or behind the desk of a cable TV news program.
Passion is easy to proclaim from a distance.
We collectively thump our
chests, apply patriotic bumper stickers to our cars and talk about “kicking
ass”. This disconnect is startling. We are a Nation still engaged after 12
years of brutal wars; American blood is shed virtually every day as it has been
since October 2001 when we first sent troops to Afghanistan to route al-Qaeda
and their hosts, the Taliban after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
We have created a generation of warriors and we owe them a debt of gratitude
that is not always paid.
We like to say that “Freedom
isn’t Free” but only those who have ever slogged through the mire, choked on
the dust or trekked through a distant jungle know just how much we pay, they
pay, for that freedom.
We are an imperfect Nation of
imperfect people governed by seriously flawed, selfish, often corrupt and evil
people. We make mistakes and will continue to do so but, for any of us to think
our military is not trying their hardest and forever struggling towards
reasonable, practical, effectiveness and efficiency, often imperiling
themselves in order to conduct themselves in the high standards of our military
principles and fundamental morality that has put America unique above other
nations, we should remember who it is that are on the killing fields, and all
those wearing proudly their country’s uniforms.
For all who have sacrificed
and all those who sacrifice today, we salute you.
Thank you for your service.
TAGS: MEMORIAL DAY, TOMB OF THE UNKNOWNS, ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY