On this weekend we celebrate those who have served our country by placing themselves in harms way. If you call them heroes they quickly answer they were just doing their job. That, in of itself makes them a hero. On Memorial Day we remember their service and the sacrifices they have made to defend this country. Some will be able to join in celebration and unfortunately some will not.
Several years ago I wrote a piece for our Memorial Day story. It was call “Shadows in the Mist.” To this day out of over almost a hundred articles I have written for AHR over the years this is still my favorite. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you all take a moment out of your busy schedule to remember those who have given so much so we can enjoy those hamburgers and hot dogs in relative peace and safety today.
Shadows in the Mist
The day was cold and damp not typical weather for the end of May. No sunshine or warmth just dark and dreary. Somehow this fit the mood of the small group of elderly men who slowly walked past the simple white stone markers. Their jackets closed tight against the chill covering their well-worn uniforms from days gone by. The creases in their trousers as sharp as the day they first wore them.
Respectfully they moved between the rows of stone that have stood at attention alone for so very long. Silently doing their duty as did those they are honoring. In the thinning mist they walk along a path well marked and well-worn by those that have come before them. Their eyes looking straight ahead but not seeing the forest of stone before them but rather the cold rain and wind at Verdun; the blistering heat and humidity of Okinawa, the freezing snow at Chosen; the bug infested jungles of Vietnam or the searing heat and blowing sand of the Middle East. And always there is the terrible fear and the death.
It was a lifetime ago but here, in this place among so many brothers and sisters in arms it was as if it all happened just yesterday. Yet here they are, coming to see old friends as they have done on this day for most of their lives. The walk down the narrow path was easier when they first started, the long endless rows not so endless then. But no matter how many they add, the names always appear to be the same. Spread out before them are generations that never were and as each generation passes into history less tread this narrow path. They wonder who will remember their friends once they are gone.
Finally they reach their destination. Several markers of names they recognize. But they are more than just names etched in stone to these men. They are friends, comrades in arms….brothers forever. They bravely stand straight and tall but their eyes cannot hide their true feelings. The pain they had not time to feel then haunt’s them in the quiet darkness of every night since.
Friends and family tell them they were the lucky ones but none of them ever felt lucky. People and governments tell them they are heroes but to them the real heroes all lay beneath the markers. They stand there still as statues lost in thought…allowing the old emotions to flood over them.
Suddenly the crack of rifle fires breaks the stifling silence. Before the echoes of the first die a second then a third quickly follow. The men turn in the direction of the reports and snap to attention as a lone bugler begins to play the chilling opening notes of Taps. Tears begin to well up in their eyes and slowly slip down their creased skin as the mournful sound cuts through the damp morning air. Patiently they wait, each with his own thoughts….remembering all those that never made it home. As the Bugler falls silent leaving only the faint echo of what was the men snap their salute, crisp and sharp.
They say their silent farewells to their comrades, their friends, their brothers and turn back down the narrow path until they are only shadows in the mist.