In my last entry, I told you about the most comical (and frustrating?) experience of my trip South. But my most memorable experience–in a marking, sobering sense–was the visit my mom and I made to Washington, DC. It was on a cloudy day that we walked around Washington’s Mall, stopping along the way at three memorial monuments. The first was for WWII veterans and soldiers still missing in action (MIA). My mom sat near the marker that symbolized the US battles in Alsace, where my family lived for two decades, and was deeply moved by the thought that so many selfless, brave men died there for a country that despises them today.
Some of the bas-relief artwork surrounding the beautiful site was breathtaking.
But more breathtaking yet was the thought that some of the elderly gentlemen visiting the memorial might have once been fighters in the war, might have lived through D-Day and suffered the emotional and physical consequences of their sacrifice for the rest of their lives, and all simply for the good of nations they neither knew nor were indebted to. I desperately wanted to go up to the man on this picture and ask if he’d been in the war, but he was clearly living private moments I didn’t want to interrupt.
We also visited the Korean War memorial, which was visually stunning and sobering…
…and the Vietnam Memorial, which I’ve always wanted to see.
You might wonder why I am so fascinated and moved by memorials like these. I think it’s the concept of giving one’s life for a higher cause. It’s the thought that these men who were fathers, brothers, and sons were so committed to something beyond themselves that they died by the thousands to defend it. They had nothing to gain personally from risking everything in Vietnam, Korea, and Europe. They simply had orders and the conviction that freedom for others was worth their own death, if that’s what it required.
I’m not talking politics here. I’m talking about self-sacrifice for the sake of others. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of families that were irreparably devastated by loved ones who followed their convictions to the grave. I’m talking about something that is greater than any of our personal ambitions, more valuable than any of our most cherished possessions, and more meaningful than just about anything else one can do in life. It’s called sacrifice. It’s called giving for the sake of giving, with no guarantee that it will change anything, but with the kind of courage and VALOR that makes NOT acting a greater loss than doing something and gaining absolutely nothing.
I’m reminded of a statistic I read recently: twice as many men died during the practice run for Normandy’s D-day than have been killed so far in the battles of Iraq. Again, I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the notion of self-sacrifice, even to the death, that used to be an integral part of our thinking and motivation.
Would I be willing to give up my own life or the life of a loved one for something that is morally good, even if it has no direct impact on my own life?
I hope I would be….and I hope that the small sacrifices each of us make each day can be measured in terms of what they do for others rather than what we gain from them.
At the end of a long and tiring day in DC, my prayer was of gratitude for generations of valorous soldiers who died for the freedom of nations who have forgotten. It was a prayer of thanks for their sacrifices, of repentence for my own lack of commitment to their ideals, and for the protection of the brave men and women who still defend our most basic rights in the toughest places on earth.
May God give each of them–and their families–His peace and comfort today.