Why do soldiers die?
I remember very clearly as we drove down the long road in Arlington National Cemetery the first time. I had read about it and seen pictures, but as we got out of the car the scene was overpowering. Standing there in person was like being in another world. I was overwhelmed to see the countless rows of white headstones as far as you could see; each one marking the place where a husband, father, son, daughter, or cousin had died for their country. There are no words to describe it. It’s a sobering reality that the life we have does not come without a cost. And through 250 years of American history, over 1.3 million lives of American soldiers have paid that price without regret. And still hundreds of thousands more still stand prepared to do the same.
Growing up I was very privileged to have parents who took the time to take us to national parks and monuments. I’ve been to Valley Forge where George Washington’s American Continental Army camped in 1777 while fighting to found this country. I’ve stood in the fields of Gettysburg where some 50,000 American’s died defending their freedom. I’ve been to Europe and stood where American soldiers broke down the gates to concentration camps. When you first step foot onto those hallowed grounds you stand in awe and wonder. You begin to smell the gunpowder in the air and hear the wishing of bullets around you. You can sense the tension still in the air as you picture soldiers battling. When you’re young and you’re introduced to these things it’s cool. You read stories about the war and pretend with your friends that you are fighting for the cause. You want to buy the toy musket from the gift shop and make believe you’re George Washington or General Lee.
But as I’ve grown older the realization and recognition of such events becomes more sobering. You reach out and touch the tree where a musket shot still lays buried and you know this was no small choice. While so many Americans are passionate about their lifestyle, beliefs, and freedoms all of those come with a price only a few truly understand. I’ve been blessed over the past few years of my life to come to know great friends and family who have reminded me that freedom isn’t as free as we think from our couches. I’ve seen their love and dedication to an ideal that is bigger than themselves. To preserving a way of life for Christians and Atheists, Conservatives and Republicans, Gays and Straights, Billionaires and Welfare Recipients.
Memorial Day is a time to reflect on what we have and what it took to get here. It’s a time to be thankful for those willing to do what many of us are not. And as we fire up the grills, poor a cold drink, and stand in our yards remember that a soldier somewhere is protecting your right to listen to Justin Bieber.