“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
— Bible, John 15:13
The records I can find state that there have been 4,486 American casualties in Iraq and 2,227 American deaths in Afghanistan since the start of the wars. That’s 6,713 Americans who loved you — who loved this country — enough to die for you. There may now be more; but that number will do for our purposes.
In the effort to prevent another terrorist attack like that of September 11, 2001, 6,713 American patriots earned a Memorial Day observance; as had many, many more prior to 9/11. According to the official website for Memorial Day, the observance is for:
“Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.
“Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.”
It is well to remember those who died. Even though I cannot thank them I can and do remember them. It is the living I have a problem thanking. Now let me explain before you jump down my throat.
In my effort to acknowledge those who served, I have written many poems and tribute pieces. I have tried to capture exactly what it means to many of us who sincerely appreciate the sacrifices of those who serve. It’s not just the sacrifice of lives that allows freedom to live: it is the sacrifice of time, effort, limbs, sight and separation from family that also leads to freedom’s continuance, and to my effort to make it clear that some of us recognize and appreciate that sacrifice.
How difficult it is to state that sort of appreciation: it leaves me grasping, searching for the right words. The depth of my — and others’ too, I’m certain — feeling for our troops means that all we can do is support the organizations that support them (Wounded Warrior Project and others) and thank the service members we meet. We can try our best to honor them, but what good is a “Thank you for your service” and a hand shake, compared to what they have done for us?
Even in buying them lunch, it is small in comparison to their many months (and if they do several tours, years) away from their families and in harm’s way. It is with great emotion I thank them, usually with tears in my eyes because I am so truly grateful to them for their service. Yet, I always feel my “Thank you” is inadequate.
As an Air Force brat who married an Air Force brat who served for twenty-two years, and whose father and father-in-law and two of my brothers-in-law all served over twenty years each (over 100 years of A.F. service right there); and my brother also served a few years in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force life goes deep into my family background and even my great-aunt, Etta, served as a W.A.C. and flew airplanes from air field to air field and factory to stateside service. Uncles, cousins, and others in my family also served in the Air Force. My sisters, two brothers-in-law and I took Air Force Junior R.O.T.C. in high school. I know what it means to live a military life. As my bio says, I bleed Air Force blue.
As you can see, I understand what those who serve go through. I understand it from their family’s viewpoint and from the military members’ viewpoint via talking to my relatives. But no matter how much I understand it, no matter how much I want to, no matter how hard I try and what words I use, I never feel as though my “Thank you’s” are enough; probably because I understand.
Memorial Day is Monday, May 27th this year. If you see a service man — whether you think they have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, are newly enlisted, or weeks from retirement — be certain to shake their hands and thank them. Thank the retiree who served in Vietnam, Korea, and other deployments, too. If you get the chance to buy them lunch, do so. If you get the chance to express in words what I have tried and — in my own humble opinion — failed to be capable of doing, please do so. (Then write to me and tell me how to thank them enough.)
“Tis that delight some transport we can feel
Which painters cannot paint, nor words reveal
Nor any art we know of can conceal.”
— Thomas Paine, What is Love?, 1800
I know how much I love my country; our military members’ sacrifice proves how much they love it — and me — and that makes me love them. It’s a circle, I suppose. We both love our country and because of that, we love each other. A thought just occurs to me. Maybe those are the “magic words” I’ve been searching for: “Thank you, I appreciate your service and I love you for it!”
Happy Memorial Day and GOD Bless Our Troops!