I’ve never been to war. Not the official kind declared by Congress and waged between countries, that is. But a war has landed in my lap, nonetheless.
In an odd stroke of fortune, a family member’s private treasury of World War II era snapshots came into my possession. Dozens of photographs, seen by only a handful of people during all these years, show soldiers with artillery, in training fields, at bombing zones, and more.
None of the faces are familiar to me, yet when I browse through the photo collection, as I do from time to time, I hear these soldiers speak.
Across the decades, they chant, “I am willing.” Willing to cross oceans and foreign terrain to protect my homeland. Willing to defend the freedom I too often take for granted. Willing to risk their lives and limbs–for me, for us.
As I study images of what many call “The Greatest Generation,” the story of war in general takes shape, and details draw me deeper.
Tiny hints, like the wedding band this bandaged soldier wears, add layer upon layer to the tale. What about this soldier’s wife, for example? Did she pine for him as she washed laundry and dishes, wishing his items were among the soiled because that would mean, at least, that he was home? Did she keep his portrait on the mantel, her heart wavering between pride and heartbreak each time she passed through the room?
Did she pray for him night after endless night as she, resisting fitful sleep, feared her worst nightmares might come true? Did she wait daily upon the front stoop with bated breath for the postman to deliver the latest news that all is well, if life on the battlefield can ever be so?
Did that good news arrive?
Silence washes over me as I sift through these rare snapshots of war’s destruction.
All representing lives shattered, forever changed.
What will I do with these amazing pieces of history? Store them away, as I’ve done since the day I received them? Perhaps. Draw upon the stories they reveal to pen a future novel? I hope.
But today, I share a few of them with you in hopes that together, we will be mindful of our service men and women, past and present, and remember that freedom comes with a price too many have paid in full.
This Memorial Day, between lighting our backyard grills, diving into our swimming pools, and slicing our season’s first watermelon, let us pause to honor those who have fought and died to protect our little patch of America. Let us answer their unspoken battle cry, “I am willing,” with a heartfelt, “THANK YOU!”
And most of all, let our lives be worthy of their sacrifices so they will not have served and died in vain.