If you happened to catch the PBS broadcast of the 25th anniversary of the National Memorial Day Concert last night, hosted by Gary Sinise and Joe Montegna, you are no doubt feeling immensely proud and profoundly saddened this morning. The line-up of orchestrational expertise, notable vocalists and performers, and military dignitaries was impressive, but what was perhaps even more striking to me was the solemn demeanor of the massive crowd gathered in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Thousands sat in respectful silence as patriotic songs were rendered, actual war film viewed, and a number of heartfelt speeches delivered to pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. Of course, those serving today were honored with applause and appreciative words as well.
In that crowd were many of the young men and women who've returned from duty forever broken. Those in wheelchairs, those who have suffered loss of limbs, those who can no longer remember, and those who remember and wish to God that they didn't, sat with tears streaming down their faces. As I questioned the "why" of it all, the answer became crystal clear. These people believe that freedom is worth fighting for, even dying for. However we who live in America and enjoy that freedom and take it for granted don't possess anything remotely akin to the passion of the soldiers who are consciously willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. We barely give freedom a second thought except maybe on holidays designated specifically to remind us of how lucky we are to live in this great country of ours.
One of the honorees, John Peck, a young man who at the age of 25 lost both arms and both legs in Afghanistan, truly touched my heart. As I listened to his story, and watched the tears flow, I couldn't help but join him in his emotional release. I felt extremely guilty that this man will never walk again, never hold anyone in his arms, never be whole. I, on the other hand, having done nothing to preserve our freedom, not only can walk, but skip, jump, climb, and run. Having done nothing to preserve our freedom, I can not only hold someone, but use my hands in countless activities that give me great pleasure. And, I am whole without ever lifting a finger to preserve our freedom. John Peck is my hero and I am humbled by his greatness.
Another upcoming holiday, June 6, 1944 is known as D-Day. During World War II, our troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and were mowed down by the Germans even before they had a chance to defend themselves. I suppose this day of remembrance is extremely special to me because I was born only three months after over 6,000 Americans lost their lives that day. I somehow believe that one of their spirits wandering over the earth entered my soul and still lives within me even now. He keeps reminding me that I enjoy my freedom because he was willing to forego his own.
Please remember all those who have served and continue to serve not only on Memorial Day or D-Day, but throughout the year. Whatever you can do, deem it an honor and do it with the same passion that those in our military faithfully exhibit for you. Maybe this can help a little to assuage the guilt we all must bear.