Words are often just that – words. Sometimes it’s very difficult to put into context the gratitude that we have for the fallen. Men and women who died so that we could embrace the freedoms we have and are often glossed over without a true comprehension of the sacrifices they made. Some of you may have members of your family that have died during battle. Others may have family that served and recently passed. The sting never really dissipates for those who loved someone so much that the presence of their sacrifice is always with them.
I have a family that has many veterans. I also have family who died in battle and who served in many different wars including World War II. I can only tell you the stories they passed down. What’s real though is that the men and women who served, saw things the average person never will. They saw how their services were affecting other areas, they didn’t take a single day for granted because it wasn’t promised. They lived in the here and now. Soldiers understand a higher level of physical activity than most of us know. They push through the pain. They don’t have time to complain about anything because everything is a task that needs to be done and they follow orders.
When my cousin George was alive, he would tell me stories of how he was a POW and served under General Patton. George always spoke of Patton with respect and honor. He would tell mom and me of fights that he was in along with stories of watching his comrades fall victim to grenades and shootings. He didn’t mince words. I always called him GE. His middle name was Early but to me he was always GE. He teased me relentlessly that he wasn’t named after the electric company. He might have been much older than I was but the man could shoot. He could easily have been a sniper and never told me.
Then there are men and women that I went to college with at East Carolina who were involved in Desert Storm and never came back. My heart sunk when one of those men that I knew was killed. He left behind a young wife and daughter and I was friends with the entire family. Funds were almost non-exempt for them because the daughter had been born with a serious heart abnormality. Desert Storm was just one of the wars that I had finally begun to experience the seriousness of war.
The Vietnam War took more lives than it should have. War is something you never completely get over. PTSD is very real. Soldiers see things that are indescribable. The horror that they experienced can make the most violent horror flicks that exist seem like they are no where near horrific. When men and women are watching their comrades and brothers and sisters be blown up in front of them, with no time to process anything until after the fact, it leaves a mark on their psyche that will never be the same. Sometimes it’s not even war that causes soldiers to sacrifice their lives. It can be protecting civilians or even their brothers and sisters in arms. Whatever the reason, their sacrifice is great. Many of them are never truly acknowledged. Our society seems to praise athletes and celebrities more than it does those who died protecting our freedom.
So today, be sure to thank the veterans that are still alive today. Hug your family if you can. Let them know what they mean to you. None of us are promised tomorrow but at least we can recognize those that have fallen and remind ourselves that the freedoms we have were never free. These men and women paid with their lives for us to be able to argue, complain, bicker, and advocate for each other. Their contributions to our world are celebrated not just today, but every day that we can continue to fly our flag.
We may have been quarantined for longer than most of us would have liked, but we still have freedoms. We have the freedoms to express our frustrations, the freedom of speech, and even the freedom of religion. We may not be able to worship in churches but the churches are just buildings. So thank you to the fallen. May we honor each of them with tributes of gratitude and thoughts of the future. Without those who have fallen, we would never have been able to stand up. Happy Memorial Day everyone.