Harriet Freiberger: On Memorial Day, look back and remember
May 27, 2017
Today is Memorial Day. On this Monday morning, men and women and children of our community will stand together in this place that is our home, feel the passage of time, hear its sound in the rhythm of hoof beats. The riderless horse of age-old military tradition will walk the gravel paths of our cemetery on the hill, circling among the flags of red, white and blue that designate our soldiers' final resting places, signposts of the past.
More than the changing warmth of seasons that Earth's creatures sense, humans have gained the knowledge that can be passed from generation to generation. In the emptiness that follows death, there remains the fullness of memories that a lifetime has created. The horse's empty saddle carries the indelible presence of all the soldiers who have offered up their lives as our protectors. Beneath the saddle, stirrups hold a pair of boots turned backward, speaking to those of us whom the dead have left behind, pointing toward the place where we now live. We call it home.
Bigger than our houses, towns and cities, it is the bold idea that is America, looming large, encompassing all the markers that history has established, like stone monuments along the horse's path. Here flies the flag for the Marine who fought at Normandy, and there, another on the grave of the pilot who flew over Korea. They, and all who fought, live in chapters written from lands across the seas — Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. We read the pages and listen to the hoof beats.
In the saddle of the riderless horse they sit: the ones, two centuries ago, who rode into battle against a king who would have ruled; the ones who rode almost 100 years later to preserve the Union; the ones, three quarters of a century ago, who drove in rumbling tanks through German forests; and the ones who traveled only a few years ago in camel-less caravans across Middle Eastern deserts. Through the years, they dug the trenches, felt the heat of blasting grenades, heard the machine-guns' deafening roar, saw their fellow warriors fall.
Yet, out of every conflict where our soldiers have been sent, their steps forward moved ahead toward a freedom growing more inclusive than ever before. Though we can look back at what might have been mistakes and disagree among ourselves — often, with too much ugliness and rancor — America continues, rising tall. Our soldiers stand firm above the fray.
In a perfect world, everyone would respect the right of the next person to live as he or she chooses. Sadly, our planet yet holds those who would subject others to a singular belief. We who think otherwise have become their targets. Our soldiers stand at the ready to defend us against those who hate and fear the liberty we love. This day honors them and the promise that is America.
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Twenty-one rifles will be fired, a final salute to the ones whose lifetimes left their imprint upon the passages of time. And then, the soothing melody of "Taps" will prompt us, the rest of us, the ones who never fought in battle, to look into our neighbors' eyes, reach out toward each other with new and clearer vision. Perhaps because we watched the empty saddle pass and listened to the silent voices of those who stood on our behalf, we can grasp a greater understanding.
Now, we can look farther. Springtime has come to our valley. New green covers the earth. Red, white and blue mark our soldiers' graves. We humans mark our time and we remember.
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