Note: This column first appeared in Delta Farm Press in 2004.
Of all the heart-tugging, emotional Memorial Day observances, perhaps the most touching came in the most unexpected place: television's in-your-face news magazine, 60 Minutes.
Prefaced by a few remarks by consummate curmudgeon Andy Rooney, there followed 17 uninterrupted minutes of photos of the 800-some-odd U.S. men and women who had to that point been killed in Iraq.
With the solemn strains of Samuel Barber's “Adagio” as background music, face after face scrolled across the screen: a montage of mostly very young men, looking solemn or happy or pensive or macho in their dress uniforms, but also young women, and older guys, some in their civvies or camos, a few holding infant children — in color, and black and white, and bit-mapped digital photos, we were transfixed as each lost life passed before us, though we knew not a single one personally.
In reality, though, we knew them all. They were our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters. They were America, and their deaths diminish us all.
However much we may agree or disagree with the rightness or wrongness of the Iraq war, those photos were stark reminder of what is being sacrificed there. Beyond the billions of dollars per month in monetary cost, those 800-plus men and women — and those who have died since, and those who will die before some end is ever achieved for our involvement there — represent a most grievous loss.
Their children have lost all the joys of fathers and mothers; their parents will never see their sons and daughters realize their dreams; their communities and their country will not have the benefit of the contributions they would have made as citizens, businessmen, educators, leaders in the professions they might have pursued.
There will be no more children or grandchildren of theirs to carry on their unique genetic histories.
And beyond all these too-early dead, there are the other men and women from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, whom we only occasionally read about or see on TV — the many hundreds whose lives are forever changed for having been horribly maimed. Their shattered, disfigured bodies, their pain — both physical and mental — must also be counted as we sum the costs of this endeavor.
As I was writing this, Memorial Day morning, an electrical transformer on a pole in the back alley popped with a window-rattling explosion. It was startling, a noise out of place in the normal pace of a quiet holiday.
The thought occurred: As abnormal a happening as that explosion was here in suburbia, American men and women, half a world away, are hearing far worse, day-in and day-out, as are the (mostly) innocent citizens of those countries, for whom conflict has been a way of life for decades. All are enduring hardships we can only imagine as we sit in the comfort of our homes, watching snippets of the battles on CNN or the evening news shows.
For all that these lost and maimed lives have purchased for us, in whichever of the wars that have littered this country's history, we should be grateful — not just on Memorial Day, but every single day.