I’m somewhat of a WWII buff, dating back to my parents’ stories about their experiences. Recently, I saw a human-interest news clip about a WWII veteran in his 90’s whose wife of almost 70 years is in an adult care facility, isolated due to COVID-19. The staff arranged a golf cart “drive-by” set up like a parade review, with residents and other socially-distanced well-wishers waving banners and flags.
For the first time in almost two months, he was able to get within 20 feet of his wife who was seated in a wheelchair outside the facility. No surprise there was quite an emotional exchange of waves, words and wishes. The veteran wore an embroidered military cap. Veterans who proudly wear these cherished hats are heroes. Their fellow servicemen who didn’t make it back are honored the last Monday of May on Memorial Day.
I wondered if this couple had a similar greeting some 75 years ago when he didn’t use a walker and she didn’t need a wheelchair. Were they apart two years instead of two months? Did they run to each other and lock in an embrace when he returned from overseas? Did they immediately get married and have kids? Settle in one of the new post-war suburbs in an affordable starter home? What kept them together for 75 years? How did they commemorate Memorial Day and honor his comrades who died in battle?
Their moving story evoked distinct memories, three decades later, of my time as a Special Agent assigned to the Presidential detail. I was honored to witness several commemorative U.S. military celebrations up close: at the 40th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, standing on a bluff in the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach; at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier wreath-laying in Arlington National Cemetery; and a host of special events at the WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam Wall Memorials on the National Mall.
It sounds cliché, but I truly believe the freedoms we enjoy today came at the expense of those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our democracy and its ideals. Pain, suffering, loss, and death have always been associated with human conflict. Today, we fight another global battle, an invisible medical scourge that is yet to be defeated. There are heroes who have already paid, and will pay, the ultimate price to free us from the pandemic.
I’m compelled to encourage you to enjoy the holiday weekend, maybe at a socially distanced gathering or barbecue, but please remember those who served in past conflicts, who fought battles we can’t even imagine. This year they can’t be honored with familiar neighborhood parades, although American flags will still fly and virtual memorials will occur.
Never let us forget those who fought to keep us safe and free. Let us also pray for those who are fighting right now to release us from the iron grip of our invisible enemy.