|in my own words|
|--by Mike Murray|
In the romanticized, movie version of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff -- which chronicled America's entry into the Space Age -- Pancho's Fly Inn on the outskirts of California's Muroc Field became Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club. In the film, proprietor "Pancho" Barnes (born Florence Leotine Lowe) is chatted up by a pretty barfly.
Observing pictures of test pilots hanging on the establishment's walls, the young lovely is confused. She wonders aloud why photos of hotshots like Slick Goodlin, Scott Crossfield, and Chuck Yeager aren't included. She asks Pancho just what, exactly, a guy has to do to get his picture up there.
"You have to die, sweetie" comes the somber reply.
If you have previously served in America’s armed forces, I consider you my brother or sister in arms. If you are currently serving, I join patriots everywhere in saluting you. But on Memorial Day, it’s not about you. It’s not about me.
It’s about them.
You know who they are. They are the ones who made the greatest sacrifice, the ones Abraham Lincoln once described as having given the "full measure of devotion.” They are the ones whose sacrifices dwarfed all others. They are the ones who didn’t make it back. Not alive, anyway.
They are the soldiers who died in the line of duty. And Memorial Day is theirs, alone.
This day is not even for the loved ones of the fallen. Though their pain and suffering be great – commanding our sympathy and our respect – they are not the objects of our remembrance on this special day.
Every soldier who has ever “worn the uniform” knows the meaning of this sacred commemoration. Every man and woman who has ever completed boot camp understands why this day means so much.
Regardless of duty station or assignment, any soldier can be called into action at any time. It is the nature of service that each man and woman is a soldier first, regardless of MOS (military occupational specialty). It is why Basic Training begins every military career.
Whether subsequently trained for the infantry or for computer science, assigned to a support unit in Iraq, an outpost in Germany, or a motor pool in Georgia – the call to combat can come at any moment.
I get mail every so often from the grand poobah of the American Legion, invitations to rejoin the veterans’ group. They usually begin with something like: “Michael, I think I know why you let your membership lapse.”
He goes on to suggest that, perhaps, I believe my involvement less than crucial. Wrong. I decided to let my membership lapse for a variety of reasons (none of them the one he imagines). Primary among my concerns is the fact that the Legion excludes those who did not serve while America was engaged in combat operations.
I qualify, since I served during the Vietnam era. Those who served during the eras of WWI, WWII, Korean War, and Gulf War (I or II) – as well as those who served during minor skirmishes such as Grenada – also qualify.
But for those who answered the “call to duty” at times when bullets weren’t flying, membership in the Legion has historically been denied. That’s been a source of irritation for many. For me, it’s a deal breaker.
Because those whose tours did not put them in harm’s way are as worthy as anyone else, in my judgment. They are veterans in the fullest sense of the word. Surely, they merit inclusion in a group that purports to recognize service to country.
Any hour of their tours of duty could have found them on a transport to a battlefield.
They stepped forward. They stepped up. They were fully prepared to defend their nation. That fate chose not to put them in places where “shots were fired in anger” detracts not in the least. Their commitment was genuine.
On Veterans’ Day, they are full-fledged members of an honored society. On that day, they stand as tall as anyone. To the American Legion I say this: they stand thus 24--7--365.
The sacrifices that soldiers have historically made in defense of our country, and of countries around the globe, are worthy of acknowledgement. Expressions of appreciation and gratitude are supremely appropriate.
Hardship visits everyone associated: spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends. All suffer the absence of loved ones. When death results, those who remain shoulder the burden of nearly unbearable loss.
But characterizations in newspapers of a family’s (or worse, a community’s) “sacrifice” are misplaced. Sacrifice is the sole province of the soldier. Only the person who chose to defend his or her country, who left hearth and home, who donned the uniform and prepared to fight if necessary, can be deemed to have sacrificed.
Others surely suffer. Suffer severely. But only soldiers sacrifice. And none sacrifice more than those who give their lives.
Memorial Day is theirs. Theirs alone.
Copyright © 2007 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.