With ease, I could have queued up an old post on Memorial Day. The sentiments are timeless. Bravery, courage, fear, love, loss, remembrance, sacrifice, longing. Perhaps Memorial Day is about the universality of the human heart, beating within us all. How we cope with its fearsome power is unique to each of us.
This is the twelfth year I have been a Gold Star Wife. My daughter, 14, has only impressions and vague recollections of her brave, beautiful and intelligent father. Our journey began before the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. When we buried Senior Airman D. Raymyon Blackney, USAF, in Arlington National Cemetery – surrounded by his brothers in arms, it was unusual to be a 25 year old widow. It was 1998, not 1948.
Unfortunately, a new generation of Gold Star Families was just over the horizon line. More than 4,000 new Gold Star Families were created by the war in Iraq. More than 1,000 because of Operation Enduring Freedom. Dozens more due to action or accidents elsewhere around the globe where American soldiers, sailors, airmen & marines serve the cause of liberty.
For the last several days I have watched my Twitter feed, Facebook status updates & news links, regular news and right leaning bloggers discuss Memorial Day and President Obama. From outrage at his decision to attend services in Illinois rather than Arlington, I gleaned that many of my friends on the Right were missing the point of Memorial Day. As for my friends on the Left, most avoided saying much. They were been respectful, restrained and absent. Which is fine. Preferable actually. They don’t like war or warriors and have their own ideas about what supporting the troops means. I disagree with them – but on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, they are gracious.
I am grateful Vice President Joe Biden hosted Gold Star Families this morning, that he laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and delivered heartfelt remarks in the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. I have long been an admirer of Senator Biden. He is a real man, with skin in the game. He has experienced tragedy, triumphed over grief in a way that inspires me to be a better woman and person. He has been the father who worries about his son going off to war. When his son accomplishes something – you can bet Joe will be there to offer words filled with pride, love and gratitude. He’s authentic – maddening sometimes – but authentic, compassionate, empathic and a red-blooded all American man.
He spoke of love – and its presence on the battlefield. Between brothers in arms, how it prompts courage and bravery. How it saves lives. Love is the most powerful antidote to hate, cynicism and fear. It was a moving speech and one that honored those who gave the last full measure of devotion, and every man and woman who serves this nation.
I wanted Biden at Arlington National Cemetery this morning. I did not want President Obama to deliver a speech there. Yes, he was duly elected. By a landslide. He is the Commander in Chief. But holding the title does not instantly imbue the holder to magical powers of empathy, respect, understanding and seriousness. He is not automatically on equal par morally with the men and women buried in Arlington National Cemetery or any National Cemetery. Just because he can be there does not mean he should be there.
A little intellectual honesty is necessary. I respect President Obama. By all accounts, he is a devoted father and husband. He is a gifted orator. He is politically astute. But he embodies unbridled cynicism and tends towards self-reverence. He has an Ivy League education, many wealthy and cultured friends. He personifies “President” to those who view Aaron Sorkin as author of all-things-good.
Which is fine but none of those things, no pedigrees make him a moral or great man. It does not make him a hero. It does not make him worthy of being in the company of men like John F. Kennedy – who served and sacrificed, in World War II and as President of the United States. Or Audie Murphy. Or my late husband. Obama may hold a title – but it is not equivalent to the selfless service and sacrifice of those buried in Arlington’s Section 60 where so many have been buried from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I prefer to have a President who IS humble, not one who is performing an act. My late husband, and all of the fallen, deserve that much. Honesty from the Commander in Chief.
More than my husband, and all the men and women already laid to rest in our nation’s cemeteries – it is those who serve today – who matter. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines fighting right now need a Commander in Chief who respects them enough to be honest. The covert operators, the Special Forces guys, the brave souls in Clandestine service and those who serve in silence and in secret – they deserve so much more than we could ever give combined.
As we wait for them to come home, remember their hearts are full. Their minds race and obsess – how to make life good and fulfilling and special. They are survivors too. They carry a guilt for not sacrificing enough. It is their unparalleled dedication to service, to our country, to our allies and to our way of life that makes Liberty a tangible experience. Never forget – they are as devoted to us as we are to them. Perhaps more so, we are the safe untroubled harbors. We are the True North by which they set their compasses and chart their way home.
Memorial Day is about many things, expressed in each heart and every hometown uniquely. It comes down to one universal principle. Love. Memorial Day is about love. About best friends who chat about Alive Day and funerals and how the smell of fresh peach cobbler can move a fatherless child to tears, because she remembers smelling it the last time her father held her close. It is about a man who lived telling his wife-to-be about a night where the concussive force of bombs falling made it impossible to hear, about tearing off his own pants to make a tourniquet for a man that would have died, about running 10 kilometers through the dead of night as the incoming fire rained down so fiercely it looked like midday sun.
It is about war and service wearing the warriors down – and us loving them through it. It is about the man who dresses the body of a fallen friend, who quietly reads the letter from the widow before it is buried with her husband, so that someone would hear her prayers and pleading for forgiveness.
It is the unspoken binding of warrior and savior with those who love him. It is forgiveness and salvation and building a life together that honors courage and sacrifice with love.
Gold Star Wife, Blue Star Bride, Navy Vet, Army Daughter, best friend to a US Marine.