HAGELIN: Remembering the fallen on Memorial Day

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Culture challenge of the week: Leaving some behind

Details about the Benghazi debacle continue to emerge — in spite of the Obama administration’s stonewalling. The implications of whistleblower testimony are troubling, to say the least.

One of the more devastating questions remaining is whether Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, his information officer and two former Navy SEALs were abandoned under fire by order of our government.

As any service member knows, the pledge to leave no one behind is a bond of steel among those who serve. And a broken pledge — if that’s what happened — would be a deep dishonor not only to those who died in Benghazi but also to the memory of all who have died in service to this country.

Memorial Day is upon us — and my heart is heavy at the thought that the welfare of our country’s bravest may have been considered less important than political strategies and goals. And as I consider that horrible thought, it serves to remind me that we must teach our families to never abandon or leave behind the memories of all who have put themselves in harm’s way so we can live — and live in freedom.

How to save your family: Never forget

Today, countless families, neighbors, citizens and service members are honoring the memory of those who purchased our freedom at the cost of their own lives. With picnics, parades and prayers, we celebrate freedom won by sacrifice.

There’s one place, near our nation’s capital, where the memory of that sacrifice is especially poignant: the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Carved into the side of the tomb is this simple but moving tribute:

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

It’s a place of honor, dignity and reserve. Military guards (proudly called sentinels) have kept continuous watch, since the close of World War I, over a tomb that holds the remains of unknown soldiers from each of America’s 20th century wars. Every minute of every day, for decades, these soldiers have kept a vigil of honor for the soldiers who died defending American freedom but whose remains were never identified. Just a few remains are buried in the tomb, but they represent “all missing and unknown service members who made the ultimate sacrifice — they not only gave their lives but also their identities to protect those freedoms.”

At the tomb, sentinels move through a precise ritual of marching, turning, standing and saluting the unknown soldiers (and those they represent). The number of steps they walk and seconds they stand in solemn silence all take place in increments of 21, in symbolic unity with the 21-gun salute these soldiers earned. The changing of the guard, held at the tomb on the hour (every half-hour April through September) is a powerful ceremony that every American should witness.

I recently came across a blog post from a year ago, written by one of the tomb guards, reflecting on his proud duty of standing in honor of America’s unknown soldiers.

He wrote, “None sacrificed more than the Unknowns. So every time I hear The Star-Spangled Banner, I remember that sacrifice. We as Tomb Guards never forget and we will walk through the rain, the sleet, the snow and the extreme heat to preserve that memory. So that anybody who visits that hallowed ground will they, themselves, never forget. From the darkest hours of night to the brightest hours of day, and years after we have left our honored post, we Tomb Guards never forget.”

As we seek justice for those abandoned in their service to our country and honor our fallen loved ones, let’s remember to always honor those whose identities are “known but to God.”

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