(Post 1 of 2 – Read Post 2 “What Would the Fallen Ask Us to Remember?”)
Yesterday, here in Chicago, a crowd of more than 1000 gathered in Daley Plaza for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony - including a 21-gun salute, a stirring rendition of Taps, and a parade through our downtown streets.
Pat Quinn (Governor of Illinois), and Rahm Emmanuel (Mayor of Chicago) shared officiating responsibilities – while CIA Director General David Petraeus (US Army retired) served as the Grand Marshal and featured guest speaker.
General Petraeus spoke about how honored he was to lead our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where servicemen and women have been required to perform not only in defense roles, but also as diplomats, community developers, and ambassadors of freedom.
Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice
Urging Illinois citizens to help those who served, Governor Quinn called service “the rent we pay to live on this great planet.” Mayor Emmanuel referred to those in uniform as “the 1 percent” who truly serve, and emphasized that the city of Chicago stands ready to help those who have lost loved ones in battle.
The three dignitaries presented Gold Star flags to relatives of those who have died in battle since last Memorial Day – young widows, or mothers and fathers whose children were killed – each embracing the presenter with tears in their eyes. These Gold Star families will forever be proud of those who, as Lincoln once said, “have borne the brunt of battle.” And yet, for families who are left behind, life will never be the same.
What Can You Say?
The Gold Star program director was the last person to speak. He addressed a question that many people hesitate to ask: “What do you say to a person who has lost a loved one in war?”
He encouraged us to let survivors know that we are sorry for their loss and offer our thanks for their sacrifice, while embracing them or shaking their hand.
Then he added one last thing: “Ask them to tell you about their loved one.”
I struck-up a conversation with a woman whose son died in Iraq in 2008. She told me how much her son loved the Army, and explained that he died in an ambush along with three other Soldiers. When she noted that he died doing what he loved, her conviction seemed to comfort her.
In recent years, I’ve been to many military funerals for Soldiers killed in battle. I’ve attended in my dress uniform, saluting the flag-draped caskets, and offering condolences to families I do not know. I’ve wished I lived nearby, so I could help them when needed.
Four years have passed since I came home from Afghanistan, but I still remember how my wife struggled to make do while I was away for a year. I can only imagine what it would be like if I never returned. That’s exactly what these families are dealing with – many of them, like my wife and kids, are the only military family in the neighborhood.
It’s worth remembering that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines enter the service from all over – small towns and rural countryside, big cites and suburbs. Their families are all around us. They are our neighbors, our church colleagues, our fellow employees. And when they experience loss, we should step in. It’s the least we can do.
I’d like to write more about this topic. Stay tuned to this channel for another post tomorrow. Thanks for joining me on this Memorial Day weekend riff!
Photo credit: The Chicago Tribune