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Although it would be appropriate to remember those who gave their lives in the service of their country every day, Memorial Day was designated so that we the living, we the protected, we the beneficiaries of their ultimate sacrifice might pause just long enough in our busy lives to contemplate what it means to be the descendants of heroes.
Written history has a way of conforming the past to beliefs of the present and in doing so sterilizes or makes mute the voices that were once so ardent and vital. In matters of duty to country, it is not our privilege to look back from a higher ground and select who or what cause was worthy enough to merit our acknowledgement of respect.
We are a nation of many persuasions, religious beliefs and philosophies, but we are also the direct beneficiaries of those who offered the ultimate sacrifice to their fellow countrymen — we are the descendants of heroes.
In the nation of “E. Pluribus Unum” it would be a travesty not to attribute the greatest honor to those who put aside their personal lives, their hopes and dreams, their individuality, their day on earth so that we the living might enjoy our moment in history.
On May 3, 1915, Maj. John McCrae, an Army surgeon, wrote “In Flanders Fields” just outside of Ypres, France after a 17--day period of intense fighting during World War I. The poem was inspired by many events and factors leading up to this “seventeen days of Hades,” but the loss of a close personal friend, a fellow Canadian and former student, seemed to trigger his plea that those who had died would never be forgotten.
It is not enough just to remember our dead; we must never forget the justification of their cause, their immediate, undeniable circumstances. To simply look back through the lens of those who have “seen what might have been for those who died” and to pronounce it unworthy or insignificant would be to rob them of the significance of their lives and, in a sense, cheapen ours.
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
Remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And consider for a moment that the vantage from the perspective of “looking back” is always clouded by distortions we cannot appreciate nor correct for.
Give our heroes the respect they deserve — without judgement, without contemporary correctness, but with a willing admiration truly fitting of the descendants of heroes.
Editor’s Note: This letter was originally published May 28 and is May’s nominee for the Elizabeth Swindell Award for local commentary. Swindell Award winners and monthly nominees are selected by the Times editorial board. A separate honor, named for Times founder John D. Gold, is awarded by public online vote.