25 May 2009


TODAY IS MEMORIAL DAY IN AMERICA. Thousands of miles away in Belgium, however, young schoolchildren began their day at the Flanders Field cemetary, honoring the fallen American heroes from World War I who helped save their country at a desperate time in Belgian history. Under a clear blue sky, they sang the Star Spangled Banner and placed small American flags next to Belgian ones in memory of those who died to preserve the liberty of this great nation.

It gives me pause to consider that we're nearly 100 years removed from the first ‘Great War,’ yet small children in Belgium still take the time to learn our national anthem and pay homage to our nation’s sacrifice.

This Memorial Day evening, a family friend named Eric — an 18 year young man who just graduated from high school — ships off to boot camp as a Marine. With the world in turmoil, it pains me to think that his tour of duty will probably mean hazardous time in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nonetheless, I am proud of him — and honor his selflessness and courage.

On this Memorial Day, while we honor all of the brave men and women who fought and died in foreign wars, perhaps we should also ask, “what will we do to support Eric and others when they return home from war?”

And I wonder, will young Iraqi children pay homage to the American dead in the decades that follow?

. . .I wonder.

As a very young boy, I tried, unsuccessfully, to extract the meaning of war from my father, who served in the Army overseas during World War II. He resisted, time and again, looking rather distressed and puzzled by the notion that his youngest son — the second last of seven children — had this persistent curiosity about his time in Italy fighting Hitler and Mussolini’s troops. Being a Southerner by birth, Dad was always a private man, with little interest in divulging excessive emotion or grandiose stories. After years of pestering, he finally told me some painful stories about his fallen brethren in WWII. He had been sobered by war, to be sure — and he knew that we should never subject young men and women to its cruelty and death unless absolutely necessary.

I have a friend — a fine Hollywood actor and Vietnam veteran — who rails at many Veterans' organizations for demanding the kind of attention afforded to vets every Memorial and Veterans Day, because he thinks it glorifies war. As he ages, however, I suspect that even he must know that his sacrifice is worth such unconditional respect.

So today, I choose to give thanks to not only our veterans and those who died in faraway lands, but to the new recruits like Eric who are ready to fight with valor if asked to.

On this special day of memoriam, however, we should also thank our friends, the Belgian people.

For, thousands of miles away at Flanders Field cemetery — while most of us were sleeping — the next generation of Belgian leaders stood with their elderly citizens and paid homage to the memory of America's fallen warriors from nearly a century ago.

It’s the ultimate Memorial Day gift. And that's what friends do.

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