We use this word “remember” a lot. We have memorials and mementos and memos and remembrances. We build monuments and statues and even whole buildings “in memory of …” We hold days of recollection. And, as on this very day, we dedicate whole days to remembering. We remember people (e.g., Martin Luther King) and events (e.g., VE Day, Rosh Hashanah, New Year). We remember important causes (e.g., Earth Day). We remember religious commitments — Christmas, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.
Why? In honor and celebration of those events, no doubt. More than that, though, I think. We remember lest we ever forget. It is too easy to fall into our daily routines, where we are most comfortable. Life, daily life, is not too bad. We find a way to get through the day, to do what we need to and still have time to do what we want to. We pretty much like to see the rest of life as beyond our control. There are big issues — local, state, federal, global — about which we basically tend to think that they are beyond our control. As long as those who deal with such things don’t do us much damage, we ignore both them and their issues and just live our daily lives.
But it is just that kind of forgetfulness that eventually leads to the kind of tragedies that we are asked to remember today. We need to remember, not just the women and men who gave their lives in the service of their country, but the terrible misdeeds of those who drove those women and men into that frightening exposure. We need, on this day, to remember, not just the deaths of those women and men, but the horrible, ugly, frightening things to which we exposed them. I remember today my father-in-law, who spent World War II as a Marine, crawling through the jungles of the South Pacific. Most of all, though, I remember those precious few times when he was willing to recount the horrors he faced at the age of seventeen. I will not recount them here, but two things are true: they were horrific beyond anything I ever experienced, and when we send our youth to war, we routinely expose them to just such horrors.
For me, I honor these women and men in two ways by remembering them. I remember those horrible things we asked them to do. Then, I remember that I must do whatever I can to make sure that we never ask our youth to face such things again. War is not inevitable. It is the result of a colossal failure, the failure of those in charge to resolve their problems by peaceful means, and the failure of people like you and me to think about and care about critical issues beyond ourselves. If those lives, those seemingly endless rows of white crosses at Arlington and veteran cemeteries across the country and the world are to have real, ongoing meaning, it is our care for others that will preserve that meaning.