The English poet John Maxwell Edmonds is credited with the authorship of this famous inscription that nobly defines the lost dreams of any fallen warrior:
“When you go home, tell them of us and say … For their tomorrow, we gave our today.”
His verse is thought to have been inspired by the epitaph written by the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos, which honored the Spartans who fell at the Battle of Thermopylae.
The greatest fear of anyone who serves or has served in the armed forces is that their fallen comrades will be forgotten.
A close friend, high school classmate and combat veteran recently told me how he honors his fellow paratroopers who did not make it home.
“Twice a year, a few of my paratroopers and I meet at Arlington Cemetery for our walks,” said Noel Rivera, a retired Army master sergeant and combat veteran of the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. “One quote that we reflect on says, when we forget to tell their stories, we forget their faces!”
So how do we properly honor, remember and salute all our nation’s fallen servicemen and women on Memorial Day weekend? We remember their names and stories.
Between the cookouts we should all take a walk among the white stones of a national cemetery—like the one here in Culpeper. Perhaps we can attend a Memorial Day ceremony or recount the stories of those who have fallen in defense of our nation in an unbroken line from the Revolutionary War until today.
Each gravestone and each memorial tell a story. When did this soldier fall? In what war did this sailor fight? Did they fall on a battlefield or did they die of old age?
My brother Owen, a uniforms curator at the National Museum of the United States Marine Corps once told me his thoughts regarding Memorial Day. His daily work focuses on preserving, studying and displaying countless museum artifacts associated with Marine Corps history.
He tells me that when he speaks to combat veterans, past and present, the survivors carry a heavy burden. World War II Marine veterans have stared into his eyes and said, “Memorial Day is not for those who served or serve. It is for the 19-year-old hero who sacrificed an entire lifetime for their comrades and nation. We remember all the ones who fought to protect fellow Marines.”
The ceremonies regardless of scale or location should be attended.
I have memories in my lifetime that hit home when it comes to honoring the fallen. I grew up in a military family. I remember friends losing fathers in Vietnam. I remember losing a friend in a training accident during my own military service. I remember attending the service for another friend’s sister who died in the Pentagon during the 9-11 terror attacks.
As a journalist I recall another memory that still brings out my emotions.
In 2011 I wrote a feature on a benefit hunt for Families of the Wounded held at Rose Hill Game Preserve.
It was an hour after sunrise. Hunters had gathered for a cup of coffee as they smiled at an energetic four-year-old girl named Bella who pin-balled her way through the room giggling and snagging the occasional pastry.
On the mantle of a fireplace a row of photographs provided an intimate glimpse into the life of a loving family where the same little girl was obviously the center of a young couple’s world.
There was a photo of a shampoo-mohawk crafted with her daddy’s loving hands. Another large photo showed a little girl tightly holding her Marine father’s hand one last time before his deployment to Afghanistan.
The Marine in the set of photos was 1st Lt. Jason D. Mann, 29, of Stafford County, who served with the 6th Marines, 24th Marine Expeditionary Force. He was killed when the roof of a building collapsed on him during a mission in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. In the Marine Corps, he was an Arab linguist and a reconnaissance officer. I learned later that three close friends served with him in language school.
The beautiful family in the photos were Jason, his wife and then two-year-old daughter, Isabella. The little girl previously referred to as Bella.
I think about Second Lt. Leonard M. Cowherd Jr., 23, of Culpeper, who was killed in Iraq in 2004 as I cross the bridge named in his honor at Yowell Meadow Park.
I think about Private Edward Jackson, of Culpeper, who died in Dijon during World War I. He was listed as a colored soldier. He served in the 341st Quartermaster Labor Battalion. He died in 1918. To this day Jackson rests in Plot A Row 16 Grave 6, in the St. Mihiel (American Cemetery), in Thiaucourt, France.
I still want to find the rest of his story. I felt that I should not leave Private Jackson behind—even if it’s just remembering his service and sacrifice. Any and all leads will still be greatly appreciated from his hometown.
Essentially, what I want to stress is the hope that our world has not become so distracted that we forget the names, faces and stories of the men and women who gave all in service to our nation this weekend.
Memorial Day should also be a warning that a decision to go to war carries great cost.