"This country will remain the land of the free so long as it is the home of the brave." ~ Elmer Davis
It didn't seem right to enjoy the day off without doing something to honor the reason holiday, so this afternoon I drove out to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and found my grandfather's grave marker. As with funerals, cemeteries are for the living, and as far as cemeteries go, this one is top of the line, a truly beautiful spot.
I stopped at Trader Joe's after the gym and bought a beautiful bunch of irises to leave at the grave, but not surprisingly, I forgot them on the kitchen counter. I felt bad about not having anything to leave on the stone; it seemed important to leave something, to show that someone had been there. As I was wandering around looking for the site, I found a pinecone that I thought might suffice.
The pinecone seemed insufficient though, so ... I really hope that this doesn't make me a bad person - I thought about it for a while, and I'm pretty sure that it doesn't...I borrowed a rose from an arrangement that had been left at a nearby stone by a less scatterbrained visitor.
Walking around Fort Rosecrans, you can't help but be struck by the sheer number of veterans and their families who have been laid to rest there. I was also struck by the number of headstones on which the birth year was the same as my grandfather's but the year of death was 2006 or 2008. How great it would have been if my grandfathers had lived long enough for my siblings and I to really get to know them.
Most of the headstones were twenty to sixty years old and marked the grave of an older veteran who presumably died of natural causes. Some of the stones, however, were newer and seemed to suggest that the soldier had died in action. There was one stone in particular that gave me pause... He was two years younger than me, an apparent casualty of the war in Iraq. He would have been twenty-eight last week, and his loved ones had obviously been to his grave to commemorate his birthday.
As I have said before, the importance of service, the responsibility that we all have to country and to our fellow man, is something that is ingrained in my DNA. Both of my parents grew up in military families and themselves joined the Navy after college, both of my grandfathers fought in Korea and in World War II, and two of my uncles served in Vietnam, and so I have always had a deep respect for the men and women of the armed forces. Nothing has brought that respect into sharper relief than the past nine months that my brother has been laying it all on the line in Afghanistan.
I have always been able to intellectually understand the magnitude of the sacrifice that the men and women of the military make, but it wasn't until it was my brother making the sacrifice that I really got it. One month from today I will be in Vermont welcoming him home for good, and until then, I hold my breath. Today there are hundreds of thousands of people holding their breath as they await the return of their brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and children. So today I thank the many thousands of men and women who are willing to lay down their lives to protect us, and I am equally indebted to the people who love those men and women, the people who are willing to hold their breath until their soldiers come home.
War should belong to the tragic past, to history: it should find no place on humanity's agenda for the future. ~Pope John Paul II