By Allen Hamrick
My country claims me all, claims every passion, her liberty henceforth be all my thought; for her, my life, I’d willingly resign, and say with transport that the gain was mine. Martyn
Here we are once again at Memorial Day, a day that we mourn and remember the American fallen. We visit cemeteries that entomb our soldiers who died during the wars as well as those who passed after returning home from a battle that couldn’t be won, a battle that raged inside that began on fronts that the common person could never know the horror of. No one can understand what our men and women have gone through unless you were there, unless you experienced it. There was no Hollywood, no glory, no marching band and no easy heroism, just men and women called upon by their country to fight a foe at the cost of their lives. What we consider heroes are soldiers who had the backs of their fellow soldier, who did what it took to get home safe. They do not consider themselves heroes, nor do they want fanfare; they just want peace, and sometimes the grave is that peace.
The day was cloudy, a light summer wind blew up from the south, and it felt like rain was in the air. The cemeteries that used to be full of people paying their respects to friends and family who were cut down in their youth by war were not overcrowded anymore. The birds were singing like it was just another day, but their song was comforting and a sense of peace was over the grounds thicker than the clouds overhead.
I could see in the distance an older man standing slumped over with his hat in one hand and a letter in the other. He was in the shadow of a great oak tree, almost hidden from view, standing beside the graves of his family. I approached slowly as it seemed the burden on his shoulders became heavier. So heavy that he soon fell to his knees. His hat fell to the ground and rolled to one side as he wiped tears from his eyes. He was a frail man, not more than 150 pounds. I noticed he was reading the letter quietly as I got closer. I cautiously inquired if he was okay and if there was anything I could do to help. No reply, he just wept. I stood closely by looking at the headstones as most do and thought no one should have to bear such a burden alone. He stood to his feet, placed his hat back on his head as if he was getting ready to leave.
I said, “Sir, it is no business of mine, but is there anything I could do?” He turned, took the hat back off his head and replied, “Sure would like to talk.”
We sat on a nearby bench where he told me that he had lost his wife a year ago and his son to the war ten years ago. The letter he was holding was the last letter he had received from his son, and he liked to read it on Memorial Day to remember what his son went through. He asked if I would like to read it. I was a little hesitant but didn’t want to disrespect him. I read…
Dear Mom and Dad, not sure how long I have to write, and I’m not sure what to say other than I love ya and hope to see you soon. I’m not really sure if this letter will even reach you. We have been defending this ridge for a week now, and I’m sorry to say that I’m not even sure why. Most of my friends are now dead from gunshot wounds or disease. I want to come back home, but I know It will be hard. My sleep is hindered by nightmares, all I see is death, and writing this letter makes me feel like you are right in front of me. It is my connection to home. The Sergeant says we may get some time off tomorrow when fresh troops relieve us. I sure hope so, it has been a long time. I hear bombs in the distance, and I have to get ready. The Sergeant says they are coming again so I have to sign off for now. I love both of you and don’t worry. I’ll keep my head down, and I will see you soon. With love, your son Danny.
The man said the next letter they got was from the war department saying Danny died in service to the country and that they were very proud of him. He stood up, folded the letter and put it back in his pocket. He said nothing else as he walked away, still slumped over as if the weight of grief was too much to bear. I left the cemetery a little more in tune with how blessed I truly was because of the freedoms I had.
The lives sacrificed by so many are a burden we each must bear. They did it for their country and its people, and we must remember them and the ones that are left behind to suffer the pain of loss. Each man or woman would have loved to have had the opportunity to live full lives, but they checked in to cemeteries all over this land, in the oceans and the seas, and across foreign lands. They remained dedicated to the people, to their oath to defend at all costs the Constitution of the United States, and at all costs, they did. Those who have never tasted war have no idea the lasting mental impact. The fact is that many soldiers in the field were scared, starved, sick, without ammunition and alone. They stood in the face of the enemy and met them toe to toe at the price of their life! All so that we wouldn’t have to.
These men and women became our brothers and sisters, our kindred spirit, family. They are a part of all of us because of their great sacrifice and the love they had for you and me and this country. Something to consider as you think about your freedom: the Revolutionary War claimed 6800 Americans; 625,000 perished in the Civil War; 116,000 killed in World War I, 405,000 killed in World War II; 36,000 casualties during the Korean War; the Vietnam War claimed 58,000; Afghanistan claimed 2,300; in Iraq, 4,500 have made the ultimate sacrifice, and it continues to grow as time and country remain.
This country is nearly 250 years old, and it is because of those who charged into a hail of fire to defeat an enemy bent of destroying our freedom, whose very lives were switched off in that hail of fire. They had families, they had jobs, they were our brothers and sisters, they were our family. There is no greater love than a man that lays down his life for a friend. Are you appreciative of the freedoms you have, the country you call home, the sacrifices that it took for you to have what you do???