As I've done for some time now, a couple of thoughts for Memorial Day. Not my thoughts, but those of a man much more intelligent and articulate than I, United States Marine Corps Chaplain Denis Edward O'Brien.
Before I get to Father O'Brien's writings, a couple of thoughts--We (my wife, two children and I), never, ever miss a Memorial Day parade. We just don't. I served ten years in Special Forces and put my wife through hell in the process. But she has her own job and has spent almost thirty years knowing she has been saving lives, but she can't say who or where. It's a sort of double-dose of hell for her. She's never worn a uniform, but she's contributed every bit much as I have (more, actually) without recognition. She bears no medals, but knows that she has prevented some deaths.
When the Cadillac convertibles with the 90-year old men pass by tomorrow, I'll draw to attention and salute. It may seem sort of pretentious or as though I'm drawing attention to myself, but none of the above applies. It will be a sincere gesture to men and women better than I.
Here are Father O'Brien's thoughts:
WHAT IS A VET?
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a
jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence
inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the
leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in
the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women
who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet
just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating
two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run
out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose
overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic
scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She - or he - is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep
sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or didn't
come back AT ALL.
He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat - but has
saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang
members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the parade - riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals
with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose
presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the
memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor died unrecognized with
them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and
aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who
wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who
offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his
country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to
He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is
nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the
finest, greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just
lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most
cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or
Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC
IT IS THE SOLDIER
"It is the soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier,
Who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag."
=A9Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC