By David J. Miller
A wave of patriotism swept through this land of ours nearly 60 years ago.
Nobody under the age of 50, myself included, really knows what it was like to
live in America at that time. Americans were united in purpose in a way that
this country hasn't seen since. Children collected tin cans, rubber and
paper. Women planted Victory Gardens, saved fat, and hung service flags in
their windows. Men were called to become soldiers.
They were called from their lives as farmers, accountants, carpenters,
doctors, and all professions. The rich and the poor alike were called away
from their homes, their jobs, their families and their friends to take an
oath to defend the Constitution. To leave behind everything, and swear to God
to defend something that many of them had never read before. This meant
training to become soldiers, and being a soldier means that you are trained
to kill. Good men, reluctant men, were told that they would be shipped to
Europe, or North Africa, or to the middle of the Pacific Ocean; to fight and
to kill the enemy of the Constitution, the enemy of Freedom. To fight against
It is said that, "All of them gave some, and some of them gave all." There
are 9,386 of the men who gave all, buried in a cemetery at St. Laurent-
sur-Mer. This cemetery is located on a bluff, overlooking a beach in
Normandy, France; which, in June of 1944 was known, simply, as Omaha.
It is in this cemetery that a recent film makes its start. Saving Private
Ryan is a story about a squad of Rangers who are ordered to penetrate enemy
lines to locate and retrieve a soldier named Ryan. This soldier had three
brothers who, unbeknownst to him, were all killed in action and it was
determined that the last Ryan should be returned home, lest his mother lose
all her sons in the war.
So eight rangers risk their lives for one man. One man that their commanders
decided was more important than any one of them. Needless to say, not all of
them are thrilled with the prospect of piercing the enemy's line to bring
back just one man. These men had sworn an oath though, and so they went.
As it is in war, it is also in war movies, not everyone in the squad survives
to the end. When one of the rangers is hit with enemy fire, he motions Ryan
over to him. He says two very important words to him. Two words, before he
In that moment, that soldier became every Veteran speaking to every American.
"Earn what we all fought for and what many of us died for. Think of us often.
Remember our names. Do not forget us." And that is the request of all the
young men who have died in all the wars - from Normandy to the Cho-sin
Reservoir. From Da Nang to the Gulf. From Somalia to Kosovo.
I have since realized that my own free and bountiful life has been baptized
in the blood of the soldiers of World War II, and of all other wars. I have
realized that the 9,386 men buried at St. Laurent, though a fraction of the
total that died, did for me in a very real way, what those Rangers did for
Ryan. I have realized that the men who fought, and lived, and came home and
are living out their lives right now did the same... For me. Perhaps I owe
all of them an accounting of how well I've lived, of whether I've earned what
they've bequeathed to me and the world.
I struggle today, wondering if I can ever make the equation balance. Deep
down I know that there is nothing that I can ever do to earn what they did
for me. There is no accounting, to balance the equation of even one man
dying... for me, let alone... thousands.
But it is worthwhile to try.
How do we even begin to give an accounting? We begin by remembering.
Remembering the fallen soldier who never returned. Remembering those that did
return, scarred and scared, and different somehow.
Then we must be thankful. We must express our thanks to those men and women
who fought against tyranny so that we may be free. Don't assume that they
know the world is thankful. Do your part, tell a Veteran today that you are
thankful for the sacrifices that they made, on the altar of freedom.
Finally, we must let our light shine. You know the children's song, "This
little light of mine." Well that is also what we need to do to begin to "earn
this." Don't hold back any action that is good. No matter how small and
insignificant it may seem, do it. Edmund Burke once said that, "All that is
required for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing." The gift that
we have all received from our Veterans is Freedom, and the cost of Freedom is
eternal vigilance. We must guard and protect this rare and costly gift. We
must be vigilant, we must not allow evil to triumph easily. A small bit of
good now may prevent a great evil later.
On Veteran's Day, on Memorial Day, and everyday, this is what we all need to
do, to "earn this." Remember; Give Thanks; and Let Our Light Shine.
Remember all the men and women who gave their lives for us. Give thanks to
all the men and women still with us, who gave of themselves when it was
required. And finally, don't let the torch go out. Keep the light of the
torch that they passed to us burning brightly by adding just a little of our
own light to it.
These are the things that we all need to do as Americans; so that we may
continue to enjoy Freedom, Liberty and Justice for All.
©2001 by David J. Miller. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to freely distribute is granted by the author.