- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

On previous Memorial Days, we’ve reprinted Douglas MacArthur’s call to the cadets at West Point and Ronald Reagan’s commemoration at the cliffs of Normandy. But so much has changed since MacArthur invoked the long gray line and Reagan read the roll call of honor of the boys of Point du Hoc. A wall has fallen in Berlin and a statue has fallen in Baghdad. Our finest were bloodied in Somalia and Kuwait, they consecrated the streets of Panama City and the mountainsides of Tora Bora. Above all stand the sacrifices that Americans made out of a clear blue sky on September 11, 2001.

So, on this Memorial Day and in this changed world, how should we honor our first citizens — our soldiers and our veterans? Millions have been freed by their sacrifice, millions remain free by their vigilance. What tribute can we possibly pay to those among us who gave — and who are still giving — so much for the cause of liberty? How do we properly memorialize them today?

It begins with the simple things.

• With the red, white and blue. Memorial Day is a day for Americans to proudly wear their patriotism on their sleeves and shirts — and hats and skirts. Veterans should see the flag that they fought under, the colors that still call them to duty, flourished everywhere. The display shouldn’t be limited to a patriotic outfit either. Put the flag on the car antenna or the bumper. Hang it from the window or on the porch.

• With a cheer. U.S. troops should be applauded loudly, whether it is at a church service in which they are marked or a parade in which they are marching. While ticker-tape parades may not be held for the heroes of Iraq, soldiers should be showered with audible accolades, wherever they are recognized

• With a moment to remember. The White House Commission on Remembrance has requested that Americans take a minute — a mere 60 seconds — on Memorial Day to remember why they are celebrating. The pause might be observed by spending a moment of silence, by playing or listening to “Taps,” or by turning on a driven vehicle’s headlights. While the commission suggests that the moment be observed at 3 p.m., it can be done at any time of the day. More details can be found at www.remember.gov.

• With a heartfelt thank you. Especially for those who came home from combat unnoticed, or even worse, despised. Although Korea ended in a stalemate and Vietnam ended in defeat, our veterans of those conflicts were no less brave, no less committed to the cause of liberty, than those who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan now. A pat on the back, a handshake or even a round of adult beverages would still be appropriate, even if it comes three or four decades late.

• With a gift. Soldiers may love mail from loved ones, but they don’t mind care or calling cards from strangers. Operation Uplink, run through the Veterans of Foreign Wars Foundation, provides prepaid calling cards to servicemen and servicewomen stationed abroad. Donations can be sent to Operation Uplink, VFW Foundation, 406 W. 34th Street, Kansas City, Mo., 64111. Many houses of worship also have support ministries for soldiers and their families, which are worth checking into, and, even more importantly, writing a check to.

• With financial support for families of the fallen. Many charities take to heart the charge made by Lincoln in his Second Inaugural. One of the best is the Armed Forces Family Scholarship and Assistance Fund, administered by the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, which provides educational scholarships to the children of all members of the armed services — both United States and Coalition forces — who fell liberating the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The organization also gave substantial scholarships to the children of the men and women who died at the Pentagon on September 11. Donations, 100 percent of which go directly to recipients, can be sent to AFFSAF, P.O. Box 37, Mountain Lakes, N.J., 07046.

Yet, Memorial Day is more than giving to the living. It is also remembering the dead — who they were, where they fell and why they fought. How do we remember them today?

It begins at battlefields and burial grounds.

• By walking the silent pathways at Arlington Memorial Cemetery and by running a finger across the names etched into the Vietnam Memorial. By traveling to bloody fields like Gettysburg and Antietam, where liberty’s fragile seeds somehow flowered amid the thunder of cannon and the hail of shell. By paying our respects and by offering our prayers at the thousands of markers of sacrifice across the land, from Pearl Harbor to Ground Zero, from Yorktown, Va., to Shanksville, Pa.

• By seeing for the first time the service embodied in the statues passed by blindly each day. The determination of Adm. David Farragut, whose likeness as he led the way into New Orleans stands high in the middle of Farragut Square. The dedication of perhaps the greatest strategist of the Revolutionary War, Nathanael Greene, who sits astride his horse at Stanton Park between Fourth and Sixth streets NE. The devotion of the Japanese Americans of the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, who gave their lives for the country even though the government had taken their freedoms away. Their patriotism is commemorated at the National Japanese American Memorial just a few blocks from Union Station.

• By learning of the self-sacrifice displayed by the fallen. Learning about Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, posthumously nominated for a Medal of Honor for holding off an Iraqi counterattack at Baghdad International Airport. Learning about Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randall Shughart, both awarded the Medal of Honor for fighting to the death while defending the critically injured crew of a downed helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia. Learning about Cpl. Matthew Commons and Sgt. Phillip Svitak, who fell in Afghanistan while attempting to rescue a fellow soldier during Operation Anaconda. The Department of Defense maintains a list of those who have fallen in the war on terrorism at www.defendamerica.mil/fallen.html. Each name is a study in sacrifice, each memory a memorial to dedication.

• By viewing exhibits of courage and pictures of grief. Washington has many well-worn places to mourn and to remember, ranging from Arlington National Cemetery to the September 11th display at the National Museum of American History. Portraits of Grief, the New York Times monument of memory of those who lost their lives on September 11 is still maintained at www.nytimes.com.

• By remembering the courage of the civilians who fought as the finest American soldiers when so suddenly summoned to duty on September 11. Remembering Jeremy Glick, Louis Nacke and the rest of the heroes of Flight 93. Remembering Rick Rescorla, a hero of Vietnam who successfully evacuated each of the 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees under his charge at the south tower of the World Trade Center and died in the tower collapse while looking for stragglers. Remembering Barbara Olson, who fought back with the only weapon she had — a cell phone — until American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Remembering Robert Evans, Thomas DeAngelis, Frank Palombo, Raymond York and the rest of the 343 firefighters who rushed into the fight and fell into the night, in the ruin of the World Trade Center.

Above all, Memorial Day is a day to renew our dedication to the American ideal. The valor of our veterans would mean far less if their cause were not so great. So, how do we set the echoes of liberty resounding across the land once again?

It begins with a pledge, a promise.

• A promise to never forget our founding principles. At the Pentagon’s Web site, each obituary for those killed on September 11 ends with the phrase “We will not forget …” On that day, each American was targeted, each American was touched simply because of the ideals they represent. Dedication to those same principles put Americans in the sights of British Redcoats at Breed’s Hill; in the fire of German fieldgrau at Normandy; in the range of Chinese regulars on the Yalu River. Every American is endangered today because of his or her recognition of — and dedication to — those same self-evident ideals.

• A promise to renew our devotion. Memorial Day is a day to commit to taking not just a single minute on one day, but several moments each day to renew our commitment to this Republic and the principles on which it was founded. To recite the Pledge of Allegiance, hand pressed firmly over heart. To bow a head or doff a cap when passing by the weather-etched markers and newly dug graves at Arlington. To remain still for a few seconds after the last note of the national anthem, taking the brief space before the game starts to remember those who are in danger while others are at play.

It is a new time of constant danger and continuous combat, of sudden terror and terrible weapons, but the old ideals still ring true. Those ideals are based on simple principles and upheld by humble actions. Notwithstanding the awesome sacrifices of the many we memorialize this day, America’s greatness has been built largely with the craftsmanship of smaller moments — the small remembrances, the almost insignificant gifts, the brief displays of devotion.

Memorial Day begins each day that Americans honor their soldiers, remember their heroes and pledge allegiance to their ideals.

Memorial Day begins today.


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