Wednesday, November 17, 2004

My Mother Has a Flag.

It was presented to her "on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation".

My grandmother has one like it.

My sister will some day receive one too.

My wife never will. And I cannot express to you sufficiently how much I regret that. I would dearly have loved to serve in the Navy just like my father and my grandfather and my brother-in-Law. But God in His infinite wisdom saw fit to let me be born with a body that disqualified me. To borrow from St. Paul, "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." How ironic that one who has such admiration for the military would not be allowed to join its ranks. How glad for all of us that we have had so many over the years whose ability and willingness were present in equally sufficient proportion.

I probably should have written these words on Veteran's Day, but it was not that holiday that inspired these thoughts. To be honest, they're thoughts that have haunted me my entire adult life. But what brought them to the fore was the opportunity I had last night to watch perhaps the year's finest hour of television: a PBS documentary called Arlington: Field of Honor. The show chronicled a day in the operations of Arlington National Cemetary, interspersed with a report on the history of the place. They focused on the honor guard and the pains they take to honor our dead, in their uniforms, conduct, and demeanor, as well as showing several funerals conducted that day, ending with a funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. Many have called this the most moving scene in the documentary, but for me, it was the funeral of a Navy veteran whose only attendees were his widow and the "Arlington Lady" who was there to assist her. It was during this funeral that the words of the flag presentation were aired. That's where I lost it. The rest of the documentary was beautiful, and poignant, but that moment was the most personal for me.

When thinking of phrases spoken throughout our history to honor our war dead, several spring to mind. "Last full measure of devotion." "Above and beyond the call of duty." I could go on. But for me, forever, the ones that will mean the most are, "on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation."

May they be eternally true.