My dad was drafted during the Korean conflict and he didn’t love that experience. One of his brothers fought in WWII but – thankfully – he didn’t die in combat.
My only relative who actually perished in a United States war – as far as I know – was my great, great grandfather Samuel Robert Edmiston who died on September 18, 1862. You might recognize that date if you are a history lover.
My great great grandfather died from his injuries the day after the Battle of Sharpsburg, also known as the Battle of Antietam – “the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.” My great great grandfather was fighting against the United States of America. He was wearing a rebel uniform. His family owned slaves.
This is shameful to me – both the slave-owning part and the fighting against our country part. It’s a worse story if you happen to be the great, great grandchildren of those slaves. There is nothing I can say that will make up for that time in our nation’s history. Nevertheless, I imagine that my great, great grandfather believed he was doing the right thing and fighting for Something Important.
Regardless of this – my own personal history – this is the day that all of us take some time to reflect upon the sacrifices made by military families. I am among the privileged whose fathers and grandfathers were kept safe at home, going to college and working on farms and raising their families while so many thousands perished far from the arms of their loved ones. I am among the privileged whose siblings and cousins did not return home broken after witnessing unspeakable things on battlefields. I am among the fortunate for whom Memorial Day is a day to wave flags and remember with gratitude – not a day when I weep beside a grave.
Fighting and dying for something bigger than ourselves is something Jesus talked about. I am grateful for those who have died for the sake of our freedom. I am grateful for those who died believing it was about freedom even when it wasn’t exactly like that. I am also grateful for people who have died for something bigger in different kinds of war:
- the war against virulent disease.
- the war against racism.
- the war against human rights abuses.
- the war against random gun violence.
There are so many human beings who are more selfless and more committed to justice than I am. I would like to believe that I would give up my body and my life for Something Important. Today let’s be grateful for all of them – both in the military and beyond.
Mosaic images of fallen soldiers and where they died (from top right corner, clockwise): Crispus Attucks (Boston), Pat Tillman (Afghanistan), Sandy Levit (Afghanistan), John R. Fox (Italy), Lindsay Whiteside (English Channel), Lori Piestewa (Iraq), Quentin Roosevelt (France), Kenneth C. Alvarez (Afghanistan), Mary Theresa Klinker (Vietnam), Joanna Dyer (Iraq), and in the center Ernie Pyle (Japan.)