I’m thinking about the servicemembers and families here, and around the world, affected by violent conflict.
Below are my remarks at this morning’s assembly.
Today we remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have fallen in service to our country.
For those of you unfamiliar with this holiday, it began after the United States Civil War to honor the war dead. Then, it was called Decoration Day as families would decorate tombstones and spruce up graveyards. We still do this.
This day strikes home for your families and teachers, as we know that wherever wars are fought, they are fought by young people.
In Bethel, we have two war memorials. One, on the commons by the Bethel Inn, dedicated to the fallen veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. This memorial lists 19 names. The more prominent Civil War memorial stands on Main Street and lists no names. I asked Randy Bennett at the Historical Society about the lack of names. He said that there had been a wood sign listing Bethel’s Civil War fatalities but the sign had fallen into disrepair and was removed. Thankfully the names on the sign were written and preserved by Ed Vachon, Gould’s headmaster from 1959 to 1967. Ed was a World War Two veteran, serving during his time at Gould.
It is fitting that a committee has been formed in town to identify Bethel’s Gold Star veterans, our fallen, from all of our conflicts. Thank you to this group and their ongoing work.
I’ll admit, though, that the lack of names on the Civil War memorial has its own poetry and power for me. The polished marble facets evoke an open-ended question about the impact of war. For, we know that it goes far beyond our friends and loved ones fallen in major conflicts.
We know that a great deal of service and sacrifice does not rise to national celebration or notice. And we know that the impact of war extends beyond the battlefield.
So today we think about those who have served and sacrificed. Young people who willingly took on a job that would ask more of them, and take more from them, than anything else they would do. Regular people, who would never describe themselves as heroes, who proudly took on a burden for the rest of us, a service that we cannot repay. Let’s take a quiet moment to reflect on those who have willingly put themselves in service of our country while the rest of us enjoyed the opportunity and bounty of this great nation.
When I was in the Navy, I worked with a family who’d lost a son in battle during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. I saw first hand their confusion and anguish. Parents and a wife unbelieving that such a good man was gone. They read letters to an infant son from a distant spot in the ocean that would be the only advice from a father to his only son. I listened to brothers commit themselves to their little nephew and his mother, that nothing would be in vain. And as the last note of “Taps” faded at the funeral, nothing was resolved, but a family came together and did their best to look forward.
And so, today, we also think about the mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters who have received the terrible news of loss and injury. Families who have struggled in the face of the unthinkable and, with pain and love and grace, cared for their returned and injured beloveds. On a typical day in our busy and abundant lives, it is easy to forget the struggle of others. But on this day, we should recommit ourselves to supporting families here and around the world who grapple with the consequences of war. So let us take a quiet moment to think about those who care for their loved ones or stay awake at night worrying about those in harm’s way.
So in Bethel, we have two memorials. One with names, one without. Either way, we know that the lists are long. Too long. Our job is to make sure that our care and support is greater than the list of names. That no veteran or their family member falls through the cracks, feels forgotten, or lacks the support they need. And that as a society, we make decisions carefully. For we love our brave sons and daughters who carry this burden for us and we can’t imagine our lives without them. We should think and act accordingly.