Harriet Freiberger: They fought for me


Today, I'll go to the cemetery on the hill, and I'll be one of the crowd that gathers for this Memorial Day's ceremonies. As we come together on a Monday morning, happy in a noisy way at first, talking with friends unseen during winter's snow-filled days, a palpable silence will slowly spread among us. Seeing the honor guard approach, our voices will drop to whispers, and we'll hear only footsteps crunching on the gravel path. As the gently waving flag above us is lowered to half staff, each of us will stand tall with pride while humbled by sadness.

Whenever I stand amid stone-marked graves, loved ones who were part of my life come to mind; but today their voices speak as part of a larger chorus, from men and women whose final resting places have been marked with carefully placed small flags of red, white and blue. And from thousands more -- from all those buried in other cities, other states, other countries; some not remembered by anyone alive, anonymous in places unmarked.

They fought for me.

Here at the cemetery on the hill, VFW and American Legion members will stand at attention around a granite monument, honoring soldiers who fell in battle and, too, all those who, during their lives, served in our country's armed forces. We'll listen as eight names are read, our community's veterans who died during this past year, and we'll think of all those others, who died as youths, never reached old age. Memories of their brief lives rest heavily on our shoulders and in our hearts. Only the oldest among us can recall a father who reported for duty after declaration of war on December 7, 1917; but some of us heard for ourselves, on another December 7, a radio message about a then little-known place called Pearl Harbor. Now, six years into a new century, grandparents tell about fighting in Korea and Vietnam, and middle school children remember parents coming home from Desert Storm. We pass the memories from generation to generation. Here, in our small town, far away from Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a young man in Army dress blues will command a symbolic changing of the guard. Our silence will deepen, penetrated by reverberating sharp snaps of the soldier's shoes as his slow deliberate strides cross the expanse of red bricks.

We remember.

Our war, now ongoing, against those who would destroy our trust in one another as they destroyed our towers, has claimed 2,425 lives. From photographs on a newspaper's page, their eyes meet mine: expressions smiling and serious; faces fair-skinned and dark. Their stories speak to me: a lieutenant who didn't get to have a honeymoon before being deployed; a Marine who talked with school kids; a soldier who never saw his third child, a young woman who had been an honor student and class president during every year of high school; a Marine who had survived the student shooting at Columbine and served two tours of duty in Iraq; an army private from Cortez whose father is finishing the car restoration they began before the war; a sergeant who excelled as a wrestler at Niwot High School; and a national guardsman from Hayden whose retired identifying tag at Colowyo Coal now bears an American flag.

I want to touch those who have been left behind, express my gratitude, offer my respect. We who have not waited through weeks and months for word of a son or daughter, husband, wife, sister, brother or friend, cannot know the desolation upon learning of their death. We who have not heard the guns of war cannot know the sounds of battle. Because the sands where our soldiers fight are far away, we rest our head on pillows, safe at home.

We owe them.

As bugle notes bring today's ceremonies to a close, familiar words will play in our heads, " Day is done; gone the sun -- from the lakes, from the hills, from the skies..." Quieted, we'll leave the cemetery on the hill, pausing at the traffic light that separates and returns us to home and family, to holiday pleasures. We know we can do that because of those who placed themselves between the darkness of attacking enemies and the brightness of the life we live every day.

They are mine; they are yours; they are ours.


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