Two Faces of Memorial Day

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The god of Memorial Day is Janus, looking to the future as well as the past.

Memorial Day looks back, but it also warns of something coming. The list of war dead is incomplete. It always will be.

Each generation looks at its wars and finds something final, but the end never comes. Memorials never end while man roams the earth.

When I see the Vietnam Memorial, with its rows and ranks of lost warriors, I see, too, the invisible ledger that stretches to the horizon. Empty granite awaiting the engraver’s hammer. The list of names who’ve given the last full measure of devotion only grows. It never stops.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but Memorial Day now seems both about the brave heroes who’ve gone before and about the heroes who will follow. Every young man and woman in uniform holds a ticket for that grim lottery. Two and a half million Americans serve, active and reserve. Two and a half million tickets. My dad held those tickets twice, in World War II and Korea, but he survives still. I held a ticket for over nine years, but here I am. Two of my boys hold tickets in the Navy now, and another is a new firefighter. I pray those numbers don’t come up.

But those lottery balls spin and bounce in their cage. Politicians roll them out. Numbers line up. Names are called. And the engraver’s hammer strikes the granite. And it will again.

On Memorial Day, as we honor the noble dead, I also think of the noble living. The hammer will strike for some of the living who’ve put themselves between us and harm. I know war will never end, so I can’t forget that some of our fallen heroes walk among us today.

God love them all.