At a Memorial Day ceremony amid the white stone markers and green rolling hills I saw humanity, patriotism, honor, diversity and most importantly, unity.
We live in a nation currently divided by political parties, identity politics, narcissism, media and class.
On a day when we honored the fallen I found myself witnessing example after example of what is wonderful about this nation and its citizens.
There before my eyes and the lens of my camera was arrayed the great melting pot.
As buses carrying disabled and aging veterans arrived at Quantico National Cemetery groups of grizzled veteran bikers from the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association, Rolling Thunder and Military Vets moved with a sense of purpose to the bus doors. As each retired veteran emerged from the bus in varying states of health—a fellow veteran stood ready to help with a smile or a steady shoulder to lean on. The smiles and hugs among the fragile men and women and the leather-vested bikers offered a glimpse of a bond that unites warriors past and present.
The most senior and disabled were moved to the front row of seats—where the sound of a Marine Corps band created glistening eyes, chests full of pride and crisp salutes with hands now wrinkled with time.
Within the assembled crowd gathered to honor our nation’s fallen were veterans, currently serving military, grounds-keepers, scouts, veterans organizations and families of all colors—they stood united as Americans focused on flags of red-white-and blue. In the crowd, I heard accents from all corners of the globe—yet they all stood with hand on heart in unison.
There are many schools of thought on how to properly honor, remember and salute our nation’s fallen servicemen and women on Memorial Day weekend.
The greatest honor is to simply walk among the white stones of a national cemetery.
Take a moment to note the names on the markers. When did this service-person fall? Was it on a battlefield or did they go on to live a long life? Who was this person?
Imagine losing everything for your country. Many have and still do.
Memorial Day is not for those who served or serve that’s Veteran’s Day. It should be squarely focused on the 19-year old who sacrificed an entire lifetime for the person fighting next to them and our nation. I think about the Italian immigrant son killed at Iwo Jima whose mother took her life in grief in the weeks after his burial. I think about the young mother who died when a hijacked plane crashed through her office in the Pentagon on 9-11.
Coming from a military family and as a former soldier, it has always been important for me to encourage my children to experience the company of veterans. As a child and as an adult I found comfort in being surrounded by the military. I grew up in a world where “we all” were green and the only thing that we worried about was taking care of each other.
There’s a promise among soldiers that holds true no matter the situation, “I have your six.” This promise means that you are covered by your comrades from all directions—that you will never be left or forgotten. Good luck finding that level of protection in the civilian world.
I believe it is essential that our children know the cost of history and freedom.
Each year as the motorcycles rumble by on Memorial Day I explain to my kids that the leather vests are a warrior’s mosaic, a snapshot of their military service.
They know the reasons they ride. They know the scars that many of them carry inside and out.
They know the honor that resides amid the rumble of their engines.
They know the love of country that dwells within their hearts.
The ceremonies of remembrance, regardless of scale or location should be attended.
We owe the brave fallen that moment of reflection.
It hurts to know how many things in life these men and women gave up…and it should.
We mourn them, but we also owe it to them to honor their memory by living the best life we can.
Refuse to be divided. Improve your communities with your actions.
Politicians create wars, they never fight them.
Ask yourself how it must feel to a veteran to see cities fall after paying for each block, each hill and yard with the blood of comrades. It must be hard to see wars won then given away to appease politicians, media trends or public opinion.
There amid the rows of stone markers I see crosses, stars and crescents—there I see the best side of our nation. A nation with honor, unity, humanity and historical perspective.