The Giving of Thanks on Memorial Day
It doesn’t take much to be inspired by Memorial Day in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Massanutten Mountains to the west majestically stand as the gates of the Valley. The Valley is the junction of the Civil War. More battles were fought in Virginia than in all other states, and more Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in Virginia than any other state in the Union. Ironically, had some of those battles gone the other way, the Union would look completely different. One hundred fifty years later, sacrifices of both sides can be appreciated. The history books have perverted the origin; the South fought for States Rights – a cause to be admired. Their vehicle for the argument of States’ Rights – slavery – was an abomination, but their belief that people of a state should determine and have more control over their ways, means, and application of life than an all too powerful Federal Government is the American Way. The North fought to preserve Union. The greatest testament to Lincoln’s faith in the Union was its reconstruction. He knew, full well, if the Union was not mended correctly the English, French, and Spanish, Western Europe’s three large powers, would readily attempt to retake their colonial lots.
There is also a degree of gallantry in the way the “Southern Generals” returned home from service in the United States Army or the United States Military Academy at West Point to fight for their beloved home states. Abraham Lincoln sympathized with the limited convictions of Federalism (the states make the federal government). Many thought him a tyrant for his suspension of habeas corpus, for the purpose of free men; his belief in human rights superseded his belief in States’ Rights. Yet, he was wise enough to know that a sophomoric Nation, quickly becoming the strongest in the world, was not strong enough to overcome a socioeconomic and geographic split. Before he belonged to the ages, he strongly opined “A House Divided Cannot Stand.”
Not to be outdone, Northern Virginia is also the intersection of the American Revolution. The Shenandoah Valley was not the Colonial tinderbox of Patriotic New Englanders enthusiastically dumping tea in Boston Harbor and heading the British off at Lexington and Concord. It was not the guerrilla epicenter of the Carolinas and Southern Colonies which bore the legends of the ghostly, artful incursions of militia led by men such as Francis Marion, dubbed the “Swamp Fox,” who led a loyal army of farmers. Nor was it the home base of the Mountaineers – men from what is now West Virginia, Tennessee, western Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio who would have been just as well left alone on American’s mountainous frontier. Skilled, innovative, rough men, men like Daniel Morgan, who led not because of politics or of being pushed into service, but because they knew the Revolution needed them.
Virginia produced a different Patriot. Not men of fiery temper, men of tactful deceit, or callous men more adept in the elements. Virginia produced the Gentleman Planter. Men who would write of Revolution, men who would inspire Revolution, men who would present the Revolution and the man that would lead the Revolution. Northern Virginia is the border home of eternal monuments to men who will never die and the home of memorials to mortals that have made the ultimate sacrifice.
For the last 236 years, Americans have willingly spilled blood and volunteered their lives so the endeavor of Jefferson’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would be fulfilled. Two hundred thirty six years later, Jefferson’s words are no longer an endeavor, but the embodiment of the American Dream – a dream that could not be envisioned, implemented, renewed, chased, avowed, or achieved without bloodshed. Americans have gone to war, but this day is not for them. This day is for the ones that went and never came home, and the many that have gone to war and been escorted home, honorably, in a flag-draped coffin. Those men and woman need to be honored and their sacrifice never forgotten. They have given their lives for a cause far greater than themselves, done so for those thankful for the sacrifice, and, equally, they have also given their lives for unthankful miscreants who have considered the loss of human life in the defense of America to be in vain.
This is not Veterans Day. This is not Flag Day. This is not Armed Forces Day. This is not Independence Day. It is a day of thanksgiving. It is Memorial Day. A day to remember, a day to honor the one million plus Americans that have died for Old Glory and all for which she stands. These heroes gave their lives at Boston, Yorktown, Saratoga, Charleston, New Orleans, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Shiloh Hill. They also made the sacrifice across Europe, in Northern Africa and “in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach,” Anzio, Bastogne, “Salerno and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.” American lives were lost in Beirut, Panama, Dhahran, Baghdad, Fallujah, Basra, across the steppes of Afghanistan, the mountains of the Hindu Kush and hundreds of other nooks and crannies of the world.
What absolutely cannot be forgotten is that the loss of American life has always been in DEFENSE, the defense of liberty, the defense of preservation of the Union, the defense of Americans and American interest, and, most recently, the defense of man against tyranny. As Colin Powell so eloquently stated, on foreign soil, America has never asked for more than land to bury her fallen Patriots.
In his “Rendezvous With Destiny” speech in 1964 Ronald Reagan touched upon the sacrifices – military and non-military that make America so important, “…from our side he’s (Nikita Khrushchev) heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.” And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin — just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all. You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits — not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.” You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
There is no doubt the Almighty loves to welcome His faithful, fallen servants as they pass the Celestial Gates. Unfortunately, individuals don’t get to make the face to face, physical thank you until they cross their own mortal threshold. To the men and women that have made that Ultimate Sacrifice, thank you is not enough, but it is the best a human being can say. Honor the dead by learning their stories, honor them passing on their stories, make them a legacy, and never allow them to be forgotten. For those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In closing out the graduation ceremony of the newest Navy SEAL Class, the Naval Special Warfare chaplain paraphrased the Evangelist Matthew with a phrase that sums up all emotions, feelings, tributes, and remembrances of American soldiers that have fallen in battle: Blessed are the Peacemakers. While that is Divinely true, one should also add, Blessed are those that are free because of the Peacemakers.
…There was a silence all around the throne, Where the saints had often trod. As the soldier waited quietly, For the judgment of his God. “Step forward now, you soldier, You’ve borne your burdens well. Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, You’ve done your time in Hell.”
Happy Memorial Day
Adrian Panko, Chief Steward of the American Dream
PANKO Strength & Speed, Proud Stewards of the American Dream