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War Memorials

10/07/08 7:55AM By Larry Doane
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(HOST) This September 11th, a memorial was dedicated to fallen members of the Vermont National Guard. Commentator and Guard Captain Larry Doane offers a soldier's view of its significance.

(DOANE) Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can't think of a single day where I haven't had a close friend somewhere in harm's way.  At this very moment I can think of several who are grinding out their tours in places with names like Baqubah or Kandahar.  And I am not unique in this.  In mess halls and cafeterias across the military, men and women eat and chat beneath countless televisions permanently tuned to cable news stations.  Usually the TVs are dominated by election news or the turbulent economy.  Economic bailout plans and failing stocks continue to pull our national attention far from the fighting overseas.  Occasionally, though, news of an attack on American troops overseas breaks through.  During these moments, soldiers quickly look for which unit was hit or where the attack occurred.  Most of the time the news reports an unfamiliar unit, and I return my thoughts back to matters closer to home.  But sometimes the unit under attack is one I know, one where I have an old comrade-in-arms serving.  At that moment, I am instantly far from the green hills of Vermont.  I am back in the desert, fighting for breath in the heat and the sand, and saying a silent prayer, one familiar to anyone who has been in a war: Please, God, let my buddies be OK.

The Vermont National Guard has just dedicated a new memorial to honor the Vermonters who left for the mountains of Afghanistan and cities of Iraq and never came home.  Its a wonderful design, and I'm proud that I, along with so many generous businesses and individuals, have donated to help with its construction.  Still, I carry my own smaller memorial on my wrist, a simple steel band with the name of a fallen friend inscribed on it.  When I joined the Army in the years before 9/11, such adornments were rarely seen.  Today they are commonplace, and the true rarity is meeting another soldier still untouched by these wars.

I know that the wars overseas can seem a distant thing to most Americans.  I understand how the demands of everyday life can blind us to a struggle half a world away.  I guess that's why we need memorials, why I still wear this bracelet on my wrist.  I don't need it to remember the man whose name is engraved upon it.  His face and voice - his courage and deeds - are forever etched into my memory.  What this bracelet reminds me, instead, is to stop and take the time to remember him.  It reminds me to pull away from the minutiae of everyday life and recall the magnitude of his sacrifice.  It reminds me of that cold autumn day when I learned that he would not be coming home again.  It reminds me to appreciate that I am still here.  It reminds me to stop, far from memorial parades and monument dedications, far from national holidays and politicians' speeches - and remember.
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