A Couple Thoughts on Memorial Day

There are so many thoughts I have on Memorial Day: Of noble lives that never lived past their 21st birthday; of beautiful lives that have recently passed on to eternity, of the few who still remain; and of the memories that will be left when all are gone. I didn't used to think of Memorial Day, a day of remembrance, like that - partly because I was too little and partly because I just didn't understand. The truth is that we will never understand, but we can grasp at parts, bits, and pieces. My realization came a couple of years with the last WWI veteran, Frank Buckles. I had written a letter and was planning to meet him, if possible, but it was too late. Mr. Buckles passed away just a little after his 110th birthday, and just before I sent me letter. 

A few months ago, my family and I visited the National Museum of the Pacific in Fredericksburg. It must have been 10 years since we had last been there, and we were enjoying seeing the expanded exhibits.  While walking through the section on the Battle of Okinawa, I pressed a button for short oral histories, not knowing what to expect, and what I heard was deeply stirring to me.

Burt Cooper had been a medic during the Battle of Okinawa. One day he was taking care of a young Marine. The boy didn't have long to live, and both knew it. So, distraught, he said to Cooper, "I'm an orphan. I don't have any brothers or sisters. When I die, who will there be to remember me? Who will know what I did?" Cooper told him, "Don't worry. I will remember you."

Across the aisle from the boy lay a Gunnery Sergeant, a "big ugly Marine who everybody loved." When Cooper came over to him, the Marine said, "Doc, who will remember me when I die. No one knows be back home. Who will remember me?" Again Cooper  said, "Don't worry. I will remember you." Within a day or so, both the orphan and the ugly Marine died. Cooper finished his oral history, "Ever since then, not a day has passed that I have not thought of the orphan or the GySgt. And if I don't remember during the day, I think of them when I lie in bed at night." Thanks to Burt Cooper, those two brave Marines will never be forgotten.

My dad wrote something for Memorial Day that was so perfect and beautifully written that I had to include it here.

The Twilight Men: For some years now our family has lived in a world of twilight men - the sun is setting for all of them. They know this. That is why many of them are spending some of their last moments saying goodbye to friends they left behind more than seventy years ago. The names of those friends are etched in the stones before them. To the hundreds of thousands that look on these stones each year, those names are impersonal reminders of a battle that took place long ago. But to the twilight men, the sight of the etchings produce images in their minds of boys who were flesh and blood - souls of inestimable value. They can see their faces and hear their voices and feel once again a brotherhood shared in the midst of world changing events.

This is what is on the mind of these twilight men before it is their turn to leave. These memories are more fresh than yesterday’s news. For so many long years they have remained silent. Because who could possibly understand their feelings, joys, hardships, and bonds they experienced with those left behind? They are too personal. Too sacred. But in their dreams the twilight men are eighteen year-old boys again walking with their brothers on distant shores. Theirs is the kind of steely brotherhood only forged in the furnace of warfare. And those of us who are privileged to walk among them one last time, look for moments to capture glimpses of those memories, feelings, and experiences. We feel an urgency to do so before the sun sets and to communicate to others the value of lives well spent.

Never forget. Never stop remembering. When you look to the future and plan what the next 10, 15, 20 years will be for you, remember this: that someone had to give up his future so you can live yours.  This is a noble thing, and should not be forgotten.