Last year, I had the privilege of sharing this post on Seeking the Timeless Anchor for Alyssa's annual Memorial Day countdown. This year, I want to share it - and a poem I wrote inspired by it - with you.
May we never forget.
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
Since the United States was born during the American Revolution, over 1 million American men and women have died in service of our country. That’s 1.3 million lives lost on the battlefield. 1.3 million bodies broken, spirits departed, families grieving.
We set aside one day each year to recall to mind these 1.3 million brave souls, to honor their sacrifice. To remember them, we visit their graves, raise our American flags, and mournfully play Taps or our National Anthem.
And yet another war rages on. Another soldier dies.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
On Memorial Day weekend in 1971, a group of over 200 Vietnam veterans marched through Massechuests to protest the ongoing war overseas. These men who had given their bodies and souls to this unjust war and received nothing from it or from their country stood up on Memorial Day and declared a new kind of remembering. Instead of just putting out flowers and mourning so many brutal or even unnecessary deaths, why not choose to make something of it? Why let those soldiers’ sacrifices be in vain? Why continue to fight for the freedom they had already won? Why wage a war to gain peace?
Those gathered there that day knew a great travesty had occurred. Our country had shifted its focus off of liberty and serenity and onto greed, chaos, hatred, and bloodlust. And that dramatic shift left us to remember vain sacrifices, fruitless attempts, and ignoble deaths.
My grandfather fought and almost died in Vietnam. Had it not been for the grace of God that spared him, my grandmother and aunt would’ve remembered my grandpa as a man who gave his life in a place he barely knew, for a country that despised him. He told me himself that he never would have chosen to fight in Vietnam. Had he been faced with the choice to take up arms to defend his country and protect his family, he would have without a second thought...but he would not have fought in vain in Vietnam.
In the end, those who have died and those who will die don’t know what they die for. They cannot know, for their deaths are only given meaning once we do something about them.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.
Those veterans asked their country decades ago to give their fallen comrades purpose. To sacrifice for them. To change because of them. They asked that their brothers not be remembered as dead soldiers, but as beacons of hope and peace.
Memorial Day is not just a day of remembrance...it is a day of action.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We can choose to spend this day grieving at gravesides...or we can give our soldiers something to have died for. We can make something of their sacrifices. We can embrace the life they have given us, strive to make things news, create a better world for our children and our grandchildren. That is, after all, why they died. To give us a hope and a future. Not for us to squander it on more wars and conflicts, but to look upon the days ahead knowing that it is finished.
Christ was our ultimate sacrifice. Because of Him and His death upon the cross almost two thousand years ago, we do not have to die for our sins. His death gave us life.
And like that, our fallen soldiers, our Dead, have laid down their lives that we may have life, that we may no longer have to fight for what has already been given us.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
Will you remember our Dead in weeping for their crushed spirits...or in joy for the new life, the second chance, they have given us?
~ further reading ~
(Please note that I don’t agree with everything in these articles; however, they did provide the historical facts and statistics I included in my post, and they do offer a different perspective on Memorial Day and our military):
~ poems quoted ~
“The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak” by Archibald MacLeish (first three excerpts) – https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-young-dead-soldiers-do-not-speak/
“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae (fourth excerpt) – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields
“We Shall Keep The Faith” by Moina Michael (fifth excerpt) – https://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/moina-michael-we-shall-keep-faith.htm
~ remember me ~
As the son you raised
The boy you taught
As the spirit who sang
And chased the wind
As the man you loved
And who loved you in return
As the soul silenced
And rent from your arms
As cannons blasted and guns blazed
And fire struck us on every side
And shrapnel rained from the sky
As the life sacrificed
To pay the price
For a world that knows not love
For a people who lust for war
For a hate that is bone-deep
As the heart that beat
For goodness and honor
For righteousness and love
And ceased to beat
To bring you peace
As the soldier
To give you
A second chance
Remembering is often all too easy. It's making the most of these brave individuals' sacrifice that is so hard.
This Memorial Day, remember the lives lost to grant us freedom...and honor them by making the world they fought for just a little bit better.