Mr. Veteran, Sir,
I went to Normandy last year. It was only a few days before another D-Day anniversary. I remember the awe as I walked onto American soil in the heart of France. Reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery, white crosses flank the right and left and north and south. It creates a sense of smallness; you're enveloped by so many crosses, too numerous to count. But you're also surrounded by so many lives lived well; lives given on your behalf.
I didn't get that very well. Not in Arlington, and not in France. I thought of distant heroes who won a great war, but I didn't wander too far into the gritty details. I read the history throughout the indoor museum, but only from the historical perspective. Not from the human side.
I walked the crosses, counting the souls that left this earth on the very same day they landed ashore. I counted the number of Jews who fought--and died--for other Jews to be freed. I compared divisions and companies and battalions. But for every single cross, every single gravesite, a life laid in the ground. A story much like my own, laid dormant, obedient to Fate's demand.
Saving Private Ryan was on tv Sunday. I needed it. Within the grotesque depravity of war, the human story prevails beautifully. And I needed that reminder. I needed to see again that some guy like me had a future and a hope and dream to be something big. Someone with a purpose. Aspirations and imaginations that ran wild.
And then it was over.
He didn't get to live out his dreams and grow old with his wife. He didn't get to raise a son or buy a house.
It was over in a flash.
Soldiers give themselves for us. It's cliche and underappreciated now. But it wasn't then. Those men are heroes, not just because they did save the world, but because they gave all they had.
Some made it. Many didn't. But every last one of them is a hero. Then, and now.
What if my life went that way? I never see it ending like that, so unhappily ever after. Cut short before I figuratively conquer the world. But if it happened just that way, and I don't live out the imaginations I envision, I can only hope my life will have been found so honorable.
Here's to you, Mr. Veteran, Sir.
And thank you.