My family has been blessed. My father, uncles, cousins, and friends all returned home from their wars. Make no mistake: each of them left something on those battlefields of Europe and the Pacific and Korea and Vietnam and Iraq. My father only tells three or four stories about World War II, all of them fairly tame and mostly humorous. Stories of brawling and mixing it up with officers. The rest–the worst of it–is left unsaid. “We lost a lot of good men,” is as detailed as he gets.
My uncle–all bluster and macho bravado and obscene tattoos–liked to tell those “safe” war stories, too: all of them entertaining and honed by years of retelling. But when the subject turned to a kamikaze attack on his ship, he burst into tears and walked away. For a man of his character and generation, that wordless act conveyed more horror and despair than any story ever could. After that, you don’t need to hear the details. You don’t want to hear the details.
My closest friend was a well-known author who refused to speak to interviewers about his time in Vietnam, where he was shot twice by snipers. I asked him why he never talked about it. He simply said, “It sucked. There’s nothing else to say.” A couple of his stories contained images from the war: horrifying images which had the vivid character of memories. I once asked him if they were real. They were. I never asked about the war again.
Everyone who goes into battle is changed. Today we remember the men who paid the ultimate price, and their families. We need to recall the final words–a prayer, really–of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The best we can do is to make sure the widows and orphans of the fallen are cared for, to pray for them and all who have borne the burden for the rest of us, paying the final and greatest price. And, most of all, we must pray for a lasting peace.