They came, and still come, from all walks of life, from wealthy families and poor ones, bearing recognized last names and obscure ones.
They have fought, and still fight, in the wars our country undertakes, from the Revolutionary War to the present Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts.
They have been widely divergent individuals, brought together by everything from honorable desire to mere circumstance.
But they became family, in a kinship no one wanted for them: the family of men and (more recently) of women who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.
Sometimes they served in wars where high ideals and noble purposes banded together in defense of freedom, of our way of life, of America herself. Other times, they were caught up in political realities beyond their control, sent to fight and to die by lesser men for venal purposes wrapped up in the flag and coated with faux patriotism. It mattered little when their still and lifeless forms made the journey home; their heroism and sacrifice did not depend on truths that in some instances wouldn't be known for some time after the last cease-fire, and the cowardly decisions made by political leaders don't ever taint the honor these men and women deserve for their willingness to lay down their lives, if necessary, for each other, for their families' peace and security, and for all the citizens of a too-often ungrateful nation.
It is a grave and weighty duty to send the men and women of our armed forces into harm's way. This duty should never be undertaken by people who don't understand the gravity of the sacrifice, the sobriety with which any such decisions ought to be made, or the moral imperative to consider deeply and with great caution whether a war is just, whether it is necessary, and whether there is any realistic chance of success. To send our soldiers around the globe to be glorified security forces is to betray the line of heroes who have gone before into battle--gone, and not returned alive to the shores of the land they loved so greatly.
It is easy for those in power to loose sight of that, though. In the lifetimes of many of us, this sacred compact between those in power in our nation and those who go to fight, and even to die, on our nation's behalf has been broken again and again. If we were a nation of serious men and women, we would demand that the criteria for going to war be tightened, so that only when the war is clearly just, clearly necessary, and clearly able to be won without recourse to evil means would the awful step of declaring ourselves to be at war with another nation ever be contemplated. Instead, it seems as though our leaders have made it easier and easier for war to be entered into, sometimes without even those steps our Constitution envisioned as being necessary for the declaration of war. This is wrong; we risk trivializing the lives and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, when they can be sent into battle without the minimal safeguards needed to ensure that the sacrifices being asked, even demanded, of them are being asked in justice and with humble awareness of the possible and terrible costs.
On this Memorial Day, as we pray for the souls of those who have died in service to and defense of our nation, let's also ask God for the wisdom and courage to hold our political leaders accountable for the prosecution of every war, and to insist to them that as Americans we will not make light of the sacrifices our troops are asked to make. Let's ask God to strengthen our resolve to demand that our nation enter wars only when they are just, necessary, and possible to win (with a definition of "success" being defined at the outset of the conflict, not midway through it). And let's ask Him, too, to protect all those still currently in danger in those faraway places, where they stand for us, and for our nation.