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Memorial Day 2014

History, National Issues, Perceptions

Well, here we are again. Winter's over and we're enjoying the unofficial first day of summer, at least in Wisconsin. Time for visiting Grandma, or the Dells for the first time this year. Or maybe a backyard get-together complete with brats, beer and friends and neighbors. Perhaps rather just enjoy the three-or four-day--if you took Friday off to extend it--holiday quietly with a good book. Might be a good time to get some yard work done after a rough winter. Holidays are great. But this one, Memorial Day, is special. I wonder how many of us actually think about what it really means.

Of course it's about honoring our servicemen and women and veterans, right? Well. yes and no. It's actually about remembering those who died to preserve our freedom and all the privileges we enjoy as Americans. President Obama recently awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country's highest honor, more often than not awarded posthumously, to a soldier who, in Afghanistan, had thrown his body on a grenade about to explode to protect his comrades in arms. The grenade exploded, grievously wounding him but he miraculously survived due to a peculiar characteristic of explosions. If you read the article, did you ask yourself why someone would do such a thing with every expectation of dying? Acts like this were not rare in our military. What motivates our young men and women in uniform to perform such life-threatening acts of heroism, or even just putting themselves in harm's way for their country?

The answer has to do with military service for our very special nation, the United States of America. Other nations' military members rarely perform similar acts of heroism. On D-day, 1944, at Normandy, France, thousands of American soldiers slogged ashore in the face of a nearly solid wall of Nazi machine gun bullets. Many never made it ashore, but no-one broke and ran back. We prevailed that day and the war was won. There are many similar stories from World War II and subsequent conflicts. The bravery of the American fighting man often dismayed and gained the grudging respect of the enemy. A German Me-109 fighter pilot escorted a crippled solitary B-17 bomber back to safety out of respect for the courage shown by his adversary.

Something happens when you put on the uniform of your country. You realize you have become a part of something much greater than yourself. You are defending your country and its freedoms. The folks back home are depending on you. It's a life-changing experience. I know, I experienced it. As a shallow young man entering the United States Air Force, it suddenly--yes, suddenly--dawned on me that I was responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands, I and my compatriots in the Air Defense Command. Our mission was to intercept and shoot down Soviet nuclear bombers. To a man--and we discussed it--if we were out of rockets and there was a target left, we would ram him to prevent him from dropping his nuke. We knew that ramming at the speeds and altitudes involved was likely not survivable.

So, this Memorial Day, and all those subsequent, think of those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Pause a moment and remember those who gave all, and perhaps even shed a tear for those vibrant young lives who never were able to realize their ambitions for the future. We owe their memory ("Memorial") more than we can ever pay. Scripture says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he give up his life for a friend." 

In the end, it is all about love.

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