The ghosts of Memorial Day float softly in my memory.
They are the ghosts of comrades who died in action serving my nation, friends who fell on the battlefield of our country's wars, and all those I never met who nevertheless have tugged at my heart when I learned of their loss.
Monday is the legal holiday we set aside to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and I cannot urge my fellow citizens enough to take a few moments from their holiday revelry to stop by the cemetery at 11 a.m., to bare and bow their heads when Taps is played, and pay homage to all those who have worn the uniform of our nation's armed services, and fallen in its cause.
Not every flag decorating a veteran's grave at the cemetery represents a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who died in battle. Some served, survived, and went on to lead long, full lives. But they all carried the flag of our nation in their hearts. There is something about the act of serving that stirs the patriotism in a man (or woman).
Not all who fell in battle wished to be there. Many didn't. They'd have rather been home with their friends and families than facing the terror of battle, for warfare is both terror-filled and terrible. Anyone who has seen the stark face of death march across a battlefield knows that war is the ultimate horror.
Every person I know who has ever seen combat prefers peace. Some wars are justified, and they will always and fully support the men and women sent into harm's way, but those same veterans of combat always do so reluctantly, for they know first-hand the price that must be paid -- our best and bravest.
Today, we are locked in a brutal, terrible war, one that has dragged on so long that any given casualty is left only for local papers to sadly report. Nationally, the day-to-day losses no longer make the news, only the "milestones" for each thousand who have fallen. The war rarely even is mentioned in the news any more, unless there is some tragedy of unusual proportions.
Yet literally hundreds of thousands of Americans face the dangers of a war-zone every day. They do so without complaint and with great skill and courage.
Like Vietnam, our troops are winning all the battles, but errors at the political level are robbing them of the satisfaction of victory -- or even the hope that an end may be in sight.
For every death we incur, there are another half dozen who suffer physical wounds, some of which will severely affect them the rest of their lives. The legacy of this war -- or any war -- should be counted not only in the dead, but the often overlooked maimed and disabled troops.
We can do little for the dead but honor them. We must insist that Congress and the Pentagon do much, much more than they have done so far, to take care of the wounded.
And not all wounds are physical. The mental toll due to the stresses of either direct combat, or simply just being in a war zone where death at any moment is a possibility, adds to the toll of those who need more than a pat on the back. Memorial Day should be a time that energizes us to demand that the full resources of our nation be committed to helping all who have served and need help to banish their own ghosts of injury and stress.
So let us spend some time this Monday remembering all who have died or suffered answering our nation's call to arms. Do so with a sincerity that will last beyond one day of the year.
Give all my ghosts a reason to smile and be proud of the people they served.