Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Visit with History

Anyone who's read any of the stuff in my blogs knows that I am a sap for history, for anyone in the service, active or otherwise, and particularly for those situations where the two come together.

The other day I had an opportunity to visit the WW2 memorial in Washington DC. The memorial is significant and long over due. Considering that more than 5 million Americans served in World War 2 and more than 400,000 died, fighting for freedom overseas, the 50 years it took to build the memorial is cause for embarrassment. But that's not the subject ...

In my mind, World War 2, was the last easy to understand war. In World War 2 the enemy was a stated and practiced oppressor. There was ample evidence that the axis powers were in the war to one end - world domination. They believed they were better than anyone else and they were out to rule the world, killing off whomever they didn't like and taking whatever they wanted with reckless and ruthless abandon. When they thought they were strong enough and when they thought it was time, they attacked us and when this had occurred we responded.

It's really the "we" that this is about. As Americans, there is a great deal of pride in what happened in WW2. We established ourselves as a 20th century super power. We saved Europe from Germany and at the same time on the other side of the world we saved Asia from Japan. Other nations were involved and other sacrifices occurred, but in a very real way, had we not entered the war - had we chosen to remain isolated - the outcome would have been much, much different. But that's not about the "we."

The "we" is about the veterans themselves. Movies like Saving Private Ryan and Flags of our Fathers, and series like Band of Brothers give us a window into the realness of the valor of the American civilian soldier. Visiting the World War 2 memorial gives us a chance to honor them.

On the day that I was there there was a veterans flight organization there with about 100 WW2 vets. They were being escorted around the memorial by active service personnel in their combat fatigues. Some of the vets wore their uniforms. Most wore blue T-shirts with the flag and their state and the name of the organization on them. Seeing them in this place in this way, seeing them talking with the active service members, most of them crouched down in front of their counterparts' wheelchairs, was a poignant reminder of the nature of their courageous gift to the US and to the world.

Their tears, the way they listened and thanked the countless strangers who approached them and thanked them for their service, the stories they tell and the memories they share, both horrific and heroic, author a meaningful memory in an all too trite world.

This is not about whether or not wars are right. They're not, although I'm a firm believe that sometimes they are necessary. It's not about Iraq, or Obama or McCain. It's just about these guys and this place and what a special thing it is that though too long delayed, they have this place as their place and we can visit them there and thank them for the meaningful and courageous thing they did. We should.

No comments: