It’s Memorial Day, and I can’t help but think about a man I never met. My Great Uncle Harry Jefferson.
Of course, he wasn’t always titled “uncle.” Long before that, he was Private First Class Harry Jefferson, United States Marine Corps. His brother William was my grandfather, also a Marine, as was their other brother James. The Marine Corps ran in that side of the family.
He, however, was the only one who never made it home.
Uncle Harry lost his life on the island of Iwo Jima when someone dropped a mortar round down the tube upside down, killing the entire crew. All they ever found of my Uncle Harry were his dog tags.
His official resting place is the Punchbowl National Cemetary in Hawaii. To my knowledge, my mother is the only member of the family to have visited the grave.
The thing is, there are a million stories like my Uncle Harry. Those are the men who fought to keep our nation free. Those are the men who stood up against tyranny.
When I was a teenager, we went on vacation to Virginia. The plan was not to go to Washington, D.C. despite my fervent wishes.
Well, a wrong turn put us there, so we ran with it.
One of the places we went, a place we had to go if we got into D.C. which is why my father wanted to avoid the town completely, was the Vietnam War Memorial. The Wall.
I watched my father cry for probably the first time in my life. “They were just kids,” he sobbed. He gazed upon the wall from a distance, not daring to get too close because he knew too many of those names.
The legacy of our nation is complicated, but at least part of it has been written in the blood of those who have sacrificed all in service to this great land.
We talk about great men, those who have gone on to accomplish amazing things, but how many of those who died would have had accomplishments of their own?
The thing is, those are great men. Those men are as worthy of our respect, if not more so, than Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Alexander Graham Bell.
Today, let us remember we fallen. Let us reflect upon their sacrifice. Then, tomorrow, let us try and remember how few of them would approve of where our nation stands today as both sides of the political divide make ready to kill their opponents.
I’m realistic enough to know how few will change their minds, but I can hope.
For Uncle Harry’s sake.