This Memorial Day, we should not only honor the fallen soldiers of past and present wars, but also live up to their standard of duty and sacrifice.
Published May 31, 2004
Sixty years ago today, American soldiers were making final preparations for the D-day invasion, perhaps the most decisive battle in a war that was itself one of the most important military conflicts in history. Just two days ago, a group that included some of those soldiers formally dedicated the World War II Memorial in Washington, a belated but worthy tribute not only to the millions of men and women who fought in that war, but also to a generation whose sacrifice set a noble example for those who followed.
The monument - with its neoclassical arches, stately monuments and soothing fountains - speaks not of the horror of war, as nearby monuments to the Vietnam and Korean conflicts so eloquently do. Rather, the memorial's simplicity of design and favorable placement evoke a timeless need to create meaning out of chaos. It lies between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, symbols of other great generations - one that forged a nation whose values were worth dying for, and another that preserved those values with so much of its blood.
Memorial Day is a time to honor the fallen soldiers of those and all generations. At the new memorial, 4,000 gold stars adorn a wall to represent the more than 400,000 men and women who died in that conflict, a reflection of the ritual of mothers who had lost a son or daughter in the war hanging a gold star in the front window of their homes. It was a way for an entire nation, both neighbors and passersby, to be reminded daily of the sacrifice made by a few for the many.
As we have learned in the decades since World War II, neither the risk to our soldiers nor the duty of citizenship has lessened. While succeeding wars may have lacked the certitude of purpose, that fact has not lessened the bravery of our men and women in uniform or the debt we owe them and their families. In the Balkans, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, young Americans stepped forward, willing again and again to put their lives on the line.
There is not yet an established memorial for those soldiers. With the World War II generation quickly fading from our sight, it took too long to acknowledge their contribution. We should not make that mistake again.
Many parks and public places throughout America have statues or plaques honoring the fallen soldiers of past eras. We should erect others for our age - not elaborate memorials necessarily but the gold stars that continually remind us of those fellow Americans who chose the path of duty and sacrifice. For the rest of us, each generation has not only the chance but the obligation for greatness. This Memorial Day, we should not only honor the soldiers, past and present, who have embodied the best of what we are, but also vow to live up to that standard.