Doane: A Memorial Day Resolution
05/22/09 5:55PM By Larry Doane
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(DOANE) One of the great dangers of professional soldiering is falling mindlessly into a routine. Endless patrols, inspections, and all manner of tasks can begin to lull us into the ease of routine. One might think it impossible, but even something as important and solemn as Memorial Day can begin to feel routine. Each year we put on our dress uniforms, march in parades, and listen to speeches endlessly extolling the sacrifices of our war dead and lamenting their loss. And just as routinely, we trade our dress uniforms for fatigues, return to training, and allow the solemn words of yesterday to slowly fade. Time passes, and before we know it Memorial Day is upon us again, and the routine begins anew. And before long and without even meaning to, we find ourselves simply remembering to remember the day and not the reason behind it.
Over time I have allowed Memorial Day to become an abstract act, much like going through the motions at church without having any real faith. This year, though, I am resolved to change this. To me the real danger of memorials is that they can so easily trap the fallen within the granite and steel of a monument. Their memory becomes static, defined not by the life they lived, but by the way it ended. We forget that these heroes led lives full of joy and vigor, struggle and triumph. Too easily they simply become names etched upon a rock and nothing more.
Perhaps it's the sheer enormity of the sacrifice laid at freedom's altar that keeps us from seeing the men and women behind the names. The seemingly endless lists can overwhelm and even numb us to their gravity. And it is this numbness, this remembrance by rote that I will struggle against this year. To do this I will perform a simple act. From the lists or our war dead, I will choose an unfamiliar name and find out who they were.
Like David J. Hart, a 22 year old sergeant in the 101st Airborne. While a young man Sergeant Hart crisscrossed the globe from Tahiti to Romania as the son of missionary parents. He played the drums and bass and married his high school sweetheart at the age of 19. He believed deeply in the ideas of respect and diversity and lived in Lake View Terrace, California. His wife, Nicole, said of him, "He was perfect in so many ways. Not a day went by without him telling me how much he loved me."
When Memorial Day comes this year I will remember Sergeant Hart and the life he led. I will try to imagine who he was and think of the soldier I will never have the chance to meet. As flags dip and volleys are fired I will hold his name in my heart and know that liberty endures because of courage like his. I will remember him as not a number or a name, but as a life. And in this I will remember not just the sacrifice, but the man who made it.
(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Larry Doane on line at VPR-dot-net.