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Featured Opinion

Greater love: Honoring those who died in uniform

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Memorial Day is the day we as a nation set aside to remember those who died in service of our country.

Not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, a time we celebrate all those who served in our Armed Forces, Memorial Day is when we pay homage to those who paid the ultimate price for our peace and freedom.

The Prussian General and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”

What is death? No one truly knows. Is it the beginning of a grand and glorious welcome into eternal bliss or just the end of life? What we do know is that life is beautiful, wonderful, precious and amazing. The men and women we honor on Memorial Day relinquished all of life’s magnificence, for us. It is, therefore, our duty as the recipients of so great a gift, to give proper meaning to their sacrifice.

Have you ever gathered with your community on the courthouse lawn to hear the names of the fallen read aloud on Memorial Day? Have you ever watched the children playing on the grounds, vaguely aware of the moment’s meaning, while older veterans meditate upon their service and those who were lost?

It is a profoundly moving experience.

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And, as our flag is raised quickly to full staff, then slowly lowered to half-staff, there is, for most of us, a tug on our heartstrings, unlike any other observances.

At noon, our flag is returned to the top of the staff. There, under the Star Spangled Banner, waving at noonday, our sorrow gives way to hope. The promise of one generation to another that liberty and justice for all will not vanish under this flag.

Memorial Day is without a doubt, of greater importance than any observance we undertake as a nation.

Those of us who work in the world of politics understand the words of Pericles when he said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!” The foundation of our political system rests on the will of the people, which means we all share in the making of war and are morally tied to every act of war and peace. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant that our Nation’s ability to make war is strong, but is also judicious and inline with our shared values.

Just a few years ago, there was a disagreement between a State Senator and a State Representative over how to spend tax dollars on a county project: One wanted to build a war memorial; the other a baseball field for the children of the county.

My wife’s father was a POW, and mine was a combat veteran, and yes, we talked about which side they would be on. Since they had both passed on, we had to examine their lives to know how we thought they would choose. It was the ball field hands down. While the war had shaped their lives in unimaginable ways, they dedicated their lives to their children to the prospect that we would have better lives.

We need memorials. We need statues and symbols that remind us of the sacrifice others have made so we can better understand the burden we must carry. Susan’s father was awarded a bronze star for being a prisoner of war. He reluctantly accepted the honor which he felt more rightly belonged to others who had done a lot more than just survive.

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I disagree.

Susan’s dad weighed less than 90 pounds when he was liberated from the POW camp. Being a country boy, he knew that dandelions were an excellent source of nutrition (vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper). He taught his fellow prisoners how to pick them and add them to a watery soup, which was the only meal they were given. He never thought if it saved a life, it was just something he knew that would help those who were enduring the same fate. He was placed before a firing squad several times to make him talk, suffered other horrible tortures, but just like my dad, seldom spoke of the war. Neither of these men felt they were heroes or had done more than what was expected of them. They served because it was what was necessary.

We as a Nation have cheapened the word “hero” to the point that it has no meaning. As a result, questioning the political purposes of a particular war, or the military’s actions has become next to impossible because such critics are deemed unpatriotic.

We as citizens should question every act taken in our name by politicians. We should always stand ready to lend our voice to descent, rather than blindly following like sheep. Questioning those in authority is another way of honoring the memory of those who died for this nation. Shared sacrifice, shared service to our country is happening less than ever, and the virtues of service have given way to self-service and personal gain.

The men and women we honor on Memorial Day deserve to be revered and lionized.

The scriptures in John 15:13 teach that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. Our honored dead proved their love, and we should not only remember, but pass that love along.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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