Memorial Day is a time of great emotion for some of us. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying your day off with hot dogs and beer, some of us would ask a few moments for a group of men, and some women, who will not be enjoying those things ever again.
For me, it is a day of remembering a few such men in particular. They can join in neither somberness nor revelry, but it is my earnest hope and desire that they are received by God with the same acclaim and respect that we, who are left behind, remember them with.
Some, in particular, left this earth with special distinction and heroism. Some, I had the honor of knowing first hand. Men whose voices I could recognize, whose faces I will never forget. I knew what sort of laugh they had and whether they were inclined to smile broadly or smirk. I am not their blood family, and I will never know them as intimately as their true families did. I do, however, consider them my brothers, nonetheless.
One such man is 1st LT David R. Bernstein. He died on a night that I will never forget– 18 October 2003. On that night, his patrol came under fire with small arms and RPGs. Lieutenant Bernstein was shot in the leg, yet staggered under fire to the other side his Humvee, which had flipped and thrown the driver out. There, he freed the pinned driver and even managed to get the vehicle up off the berm. He later succumbed to his wounds, as he had been shot in the femoral artery, and bled to death shortly afterward, despite the best attempts of the medics and flight surgeon. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Also on that truck, serving as gunner for 1st LT Bernstein, was PFC John D. Hart. Hart expended all his ammunition in that engagement, bravely standing behind his exposed turret-mounted machine gun as enemy fire fell all about him. Hart left this world somewhat with merciful swiftness, as he was shot through the neck at some point in the battle. He simply staggered to the side and sat down one on of the benches, probably dead before he even sat down. I do not know, but I would like to think that at least it was so quick he felt little to no pain or fear.
Others that I had the honor of knowing would join them over the years. Men like Keith Eisenhower, Damion Campbell, Russell Bell, Edwardo Loredo, David Rice, and Sascha Struble. I cannot do anything more for them now, besides remember them and hope that they have had a soft landing, at that last jump onto God’s drop zone.
Or can I? I know that while they are now beyond any powers of this earth, I may still honor them: by striving to live the life that they died to give my fellow Americans and me by remembering the flag for which they fought, and everything it symbolizes while attempting to preserve everything it stands for. In this present age, one where so much of all our once cherished values and principles are under siege, I will strive to honor those men and their sacrifice by fighting for those values. I will fight even when it has become unpopular, even when I am spit upon, insulted, and denigrated for refusing to follow the crowd down the path of least resistance, and certain ruin.
All men and women die at the hour and moment that God has chosen for them. Some die violently, in pain, the victims of others, seeming to us taken before their time. We, who yet live, cannot erase the agonies of their last mortal moments, but we can render them a final service if we strive to at least ensure their deaths were not in vain.
Nothing could be so dishonorable, offensive, or loathsome, as allowing them to die for us, and then squandering their sacrifice. How can we look at ourselves in the mirror, or into their eyes when at last we cross that threshold to where they now are if we allow the cause for which they died to go quietly in the night, wasted and under-appreciated by those they gave so much for?
These heroes died trying to save a ship that has half of its crew or more, uninterested in staying afloat. We, who are still among the living, must now be heroes whether we are mighty or low, rich or poor, famous or anonymous. Those heroes died carrying a torch, a radiant beacon of our free, Christian, American values that shine out across the land. Are we going to pick it up and carry it ourselves, or allow it to sputter in the dirt, forgotten along with the men who carried it?