This op-ed piece was written by Stephen Knight and published in the Record Journal on Sunday May 27, 2012
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, one of the most important days on the American calendar, because it is a day we set aside to honor those who have paid the ultimate price so that we may be free. Most often, this column covers local Wallingford political events, but those matters fade into utter triviality when one considers the significance of this holiday, and so that will be my topic, admittedly borrowing heavily from previous “From Wallingford” submissions on this subject.
I will start by making the observation that, over the years, while the day has lost some of its solemnity, Memorial Day has somewhat evolved into a second Veterans Day, where we not only honor those no longer with us, but also extend gratitude to those who are. Given that, with every passing day, there are so many that have served who are reaching the end of their time on earth, and given that our country is at war, with so many past and present members of the military having been placed in harm’s way, many never to return alive, it is entirely appropriate that we do so.
So, tomorrow, we honor those citizens among us who have answered the call and continue to answer the call to serve in the armed forces of the United States. From Valley Forge to Lake Champlain to Gettysburg to Verdun to Normandy to the Chosin Reservoir to Hue to Kuwait to Baghdad to Kandahar and countless other places in the world, the American soldier has stood and defended this country with honor and distinction, first with the ferocity and determination to win the battle, and then the kindness and compassion to win the hearts and minds of those they have liberated. They have always conducted themselves under the rules of international law and those of common humanity, and have been quick to condemn those incredibly few within their ranks who would stain that record of honor. And in their service, the American veteran — whether protecting the freedom of hundreds of millions of human beings in peacetime or liberating many hundreds of millions from tyranny and enslavement in wartime — has been a positive force throughout the world and has brought credit to this country. However, there is one special trait that, in my mind, makes the American soldier, sailor or airman an almost-unique figure in the history of conflict. Consider that, in almost every armed conflict you can name, one side was pursuing conquest and the other side was defending itself from that subjugation or annihilation. The defenders had a personal stake in the outcome, that oftentimes being survival itself.
But if you examine the history of the wars in which America has been involved, especially those in the 20th and 21st century, you see our involvement not only to protect the security and interests of the United States but, in a larger sense, to defend the concept that liberty and freedom are a basic right of all of humanity. To have risked their lives in defense of this high ideal and not just the protection of their homeland puts US military men and women in a category unique to human history.
He may no longer be president of France, but Nicholas Sarkozy, speaking to the US Congress, described this concept beautifully: “America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.
‘What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.
‘The men and women of my generation heard their grandparents talk about how in 1917, America saved France at a time when it had reached the final limits of its strengths, which it had exhausted in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars.
‘The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how in 1944, America returned to free Europe from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave it.
‘Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young Americans lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole.” To view photographs of the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France where 9,387 US servicemen are buried renders one speechless at the contemplation of such heroism. It is an honor to call them, and all who have put on the US military uniform, our fellow citizens.