I am thinking of the soldiers as we go into this Memorial Day weekend. How can you not when you look at the sea of American flags waving at us from the cemeteries as we pass? Each flag is a story, a history lesson in itself. They are stories of pain and heartbreak, bravery, and unbelievable courage. Yet, they are also stories of real lives lived.
I met a man once, a former soldier. His name was Erv. He was anxiously awaiting joining his wife in the great beyond as he was over ninety and it was high time he moved on. Erv showed me a scar on his neck, a raised slash of healed skin. It was his souvenir of his days overseas. I feel remiss that in these years since he did, indeed, join his wife, that I don’t remember the battle. But he and an enemy soldier surprised each other in the forest. The soldier came at Erv with a bayonet and stuck him in the neck. As he lay bleeding, it was clear that if he didn’t act quickly, this other soldier would end his life right then and there. He said that he could never forget their eyes locking on one another for a split second, gauging who would take the next action. Erv was able to pull out his gun, before the other lunged for him again, and shot him dead. All these years later, he was still haunted by the humanity he saw in other soldier’s eyes as they looked upon one another knowing that one would not walk away. He often wondered about that man’s life back home, his family, his community.
This brings me to the mothers and the fathers of these brave souls. Those soldiers that did not make it home again, well, their death serving their country, was only the ending of their lives. Not the sum of the whole. They were someone’s child, wobbly walking across the room in their first pair of shoes, then running about mother’s skirts and father’s legs in play, then as a teen venturing out into the community for school and jobs, maybe taking a sweetheart, then charging across a battlefield toward what may be the greatest challenge of their lives. For those at home, not knowing if their soldier would return or not must be a torture that does not end.
Every flag-adorned stone dotting our cemeteries represents the story of a soldier, an individual, and a family. The stones are a monument to a real, living, breathing soul that touched this earth of ours for a brief, shining moment in time. They all left a mark, whether large or small. They all meant something to someone, and their stories mean something to us all.
Let us not forget that and remember this Memorial Day, not so much with tears, but with thanks for the courage of our soldiers and their families. If you know a soldier, sit with them a while and listen.