Amid the rush to get out of town, preferably in the Mid-Atlantic to a place that is near a big body of water, it is easy to rush by the purpose of this week-end, remembering those who laid down their lives for this country's freedom, while serving as members of the armed forces. While I am hardly hyper-patriotic, I know this country has no small number of shortfalls, it is worth noting that many chose not only to serve this country, but to exhibit courage that led to their deaths.
As my own father who served in World War II nears his 90th birthday, I am reminded especially on Memorial Day of his oldest brother, my uncle Ralph who served in the European theatre in World War II and who was one of the sharpshooters who liberated Dachau. My father and his brothers grew up in a household that on my grandmother's side was only one generation removed from their Austrian and German immigrant ancestors. German was spoken in their home as frequently as English. When my uncle was drafted that linguistic skill and his sharpshooting skill made him an asset to the army moving north toward Germany. He and another scout thought as they advanced that they had come upon a prisoner of war camp, patrolled by a lone guard, in a watch tower. After repeated calls in German to the guard to surrender were met with blasts of machine gun fire my uncle shot the guard, and then entered with his fellow soldier what he later told my father were the "gates of hell".
I grew up believing that war is always hell. What my uncle Ralph reminded me was that there were some things that human beings did to each other that were as hellish as war, Dachau being one of them. While I try to live my own life as non-violently as possible I do know that there are situations and occasions that have challenged my non-violent ways. Remembering those who served our country in all forms of national service has helped me to see that practicing non-violence can never be confused with inaction or passivity.
On this Memorial Day, this is what I remember:
Those who have served this country and especially those who died doing so. That list ranges from those who serve in the armed forces, and the diplomatic services to the martyrs of movements of social justice and mercy, such as Martin Luther King Jr.
I remember that mercy, justice and peace walk together, and in a sinful and broken world it is always a struggle for those virtues to overtake our human impulses to triumph over others at their expense.
I remember that to practice what I believe is a privilege that I must insure is available to others.
I remember that I have been given so much and with that comes great moral, spiritual and civic responsibility.