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Richard Larsen: Memorial Day – Time to Remember Sacrifices for Freedom

May 26th, 2009 by Halli


By Richard Larsen

While Thanksgiving is a time to pause and give thanks to God for the things that we have, Memorial Day is a time to pause and give thanks to God for the people who have fought for the things we have, the most important of which are intangible. That was the way my parents inculcated into me the important role of Memorial Day in our holiday observance. The picnics, family weekend getaways, and outdoor excursions are fine, but the reason for the day should never be lost to us.

Having just finished perusing “House to House: A Soldier’s Memoir,” by David Bellavia, my immense gratitude and respect for those who wear the nation’s military uniforms is reaffirmed. Bellavia was in an infantry unit involved in the battle for Fallujah in 2005. Not for the squeamish or the fainthearted, the account is riveting, poignant, and awe-inspiring for the heroism, gallantry, and humanity of our service personnel.

His perspective on his job there was clear. Regardless of the reasons that brought them to Iraq, there are “bad guys” (the way he describes the enemy to his young son back home in New York) trying to kill innocent people and his fellow soldiers. His job, which he and the others volunteered for, was to eradicate the threat to the innocents, which by default was mitigating the threat to America. As he says it, with his brothers in uniform, his rifle, and the American flag on his sleeve, there’s nothing he can’t do.

Undoubtedly many of our returning champions of freedom wonder why they made it back and some of their fellow soldiers did not. Bellavia writes, “I know that there are families out there right now, mourning the empty chair. I am guilty for having lived when my brothers did not. I mourn them, and do not feel worthy to live on without them.”

Bellavia describes a sobering experience after his two tours in Iraq. He returned to Fallujah as a civilian, walking the streets, observing the normal daily routines of those who had returned to their homes. He was on another type of mission on this trip, however. He was going to the streets, fields, and houses where he had lost some of his closest brothers. On one street he placed a carnation for his fallen captain whom he had held in such high regard. He muttered a prayer, and then was startled by an Iraqi woman watching him. He started to leave, and after several steps stopped, and turned back to watch the woman. In his words, “She was kneeling in front of my flower. Tenderly she placed her own weeds alongside my cheap carnation. She touched her heart, then the ground, and uttered a prayer. She kissed her hand and touched her heart again. My mouth fell open. She looked over at me, and as our eyes met again, my heart broke. All the emotions suddenly broke free. Tears rushed down my cheeks and I began to sob uncontrollably. She regarded me sadly, then left without knowing the gift she’d given me.

“She wasn’t the reason I came to fight in Iraq. But she reminded me of the importance of why we fight. The soil in Fallujah and all of Iraq has been consecrated with the blood of our dead. And her reverence reminded me of that. This old woman showed me that my time in Fallujah was a life-altering privilege. It was here that we fought for hope. It was here that we fought to end the reign of terror that had descended on the innocents of a city.

“Through it all, I witnessed the best of human condition – the loyalty, the self-sacrifice, the love that the brotherhood of arms evokes. I realized then that I am complete for having experienced that. Those who died gave their lives for their brothers. They gave their lives for a noble ideal: that freedom from tyranny and oppression is a basic human right. We were the force to do that, and my brothers paid the price.

Regardless of the reasons for entering the Iraq conflict, and the Bush administration offered several, those who objected to it have focused on the most questionable of them, the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction. The weakness of that one argument does not negate the others, and most importantly, does nothing to diminish the immense contributions of Bellavia, his brothers in arms, and our own local heroes who have served there, including Blake Stephens and Nick Gummersall, who consecrated that barren Iraqi soil for freedom, with their own blood.

There is nothing glorious in war. Would to God that it would never be necessary. However, as long as there are evil men in the world who tyrannically seek unrighteous dominion over others, war will necessarily be a part of the human experience. Regrettably, contrary to the naïveté expressed in bumper stickers, sometimes war is the answer. And we should be ever grateful for those who through the years, whether willingly or unwillingly, sacrificed for us. America and all who love freedom thank you and your families for your sacrifices in our behalf.

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