Monday, May 30, 2016

The American Soldier

Today, in America, we pause to remember the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in defense of our freedoms. 

There is something about the death of an American soldier that causes us all to just stop for a moment, to catch our breath, to consider what it is that we have. Our eyes are drawn to the movie screen, where Hollywood tells the stories of war, and you'd think we are grotesquely obsessed with it in some way. But it's more than that. 

It's what happens when we see our flag draped over a casket. It's what happens when we see that tell-tale triangular fold, war-weary hands on top and bottom and tear-stained hands just the same. It's what happens when we hear the fire of a 21-gun salute, hollow shots ringing out into empty air. It's what happens when we hear the first few notes of that old familiar bugle call...


A few years ago, I had the honor of playing Taps at a memorial service for a Navy veteran. It's not all that difficult a call, if you can hold back the emotions that choke the wind right out of you when you think about the family that serviceman is leaving behind, when you are haunted by knowing that everyone knows what this call means, even though most have never heard it on an actual battlefield.

Leading up to that memorial, I practiced that call. I practiced that call dozens of times a day. The neighbors, I'm sure, were sick of it. But you know what? Out of the corner of my eye, over the top of the fence, I happened to see that every time I practiced that call, the neighbors stopped. They just...stopped. It didn't matter what they were doing (I don't even know what they were doing). They stopped walking and just stood there. Stopped talking to one another and just sort of stared into the skies. Over and over again as I practiced that call, life next door came to a pause. No matter how many times I played it. No matter what time of day it was. No matter what else was going on. From the very first note, there was reverent stillness.

That's what happens when an American soldier dies. That's what ought to happen.

But something else happens, too. Something that's so hard for us to wrap our minds around, especially in an age where young people take a lot of grief for being entitled, self-centered, and wholly disconnected from the world around them. What happens when an American soldier dies?

A band of brothers is born.

These guys, these men and women, these soldiers - they give everything they have for one another. No soldier left behind. They crawl through heavy fire to get to a wounded brother. They run into the burning wreckage of a bombed-out truck in hopes of a heartbeat. They tear their own uniforms to tie a tourniquet around a wounded buddy. Where blood mingles on the battlefield, it is the blood of a wounded soldier giving every last drop of his own life for the sake of his brother. 

And then, when one of these guys, when one of these soldiers, gives more than everything and gives it all, something incredible happens: a whole new generation of brothers steps up. A whole new class of soldiers enlists. A whole bunch of guys (and girls) who probably never thought about a career in the military let out a collective, "Oh, hell no" and sign up to go into the same war-torn regions of the world that took this soldier's life. They strap on their gear and set their sights on the same enemies who took out our man. 

At precisely the moment that the opposition thinks they have weakened the American military by killing its soldier, we are strengthened by the half-dozen young recruits who sign up to defend his honor. And with all America at a collective hush as Taps rings out, the only sound that remains is the sound of those boots on the ground...

...marching out to war...

...because we will not be defeated...

...and we will never forget. 

God bless our soldiers, their families, and their legacies this Memorial Day. 

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