Tears that I had held back while delivering a eulogy poured down my face as the guns sounded outside the funeral home chapel: three blasts, followed by ‘Taps.’ We didn’t feel lucky that October day five years ago. My Grandpa Bligh, Carl Conrad Corp – Navy Veteran, and survivor of WWII’s horrific Pacific Theater – had lost his last battle, against his own white blood cells. At the time, it seemed ironic that a man who had survived an impoverished and sometimes abusive childhood, a war so scarring that he wouldn’t talk about it until late in life, business struggles, and the deaths of two wives could be defeated by mutations in his own DNA.
Our family was wrong that day. We were lucky. Grandpa was one of the lucky ones. Two days ago, NPR's All Things Considered aired a segment by a reporter embedded with the 101st Airborne outside Kandahar City in Afghanistan. Two soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. Private First Class Andrew Meari and Specialist Jonathan Curtis didn’t get the opportunity to die in their own beds, to have last good-byes, last ‘I love you’s with their families and friends. Specialist Curtis left behind a child. His grandchildren will never hear ridiculous tall-tales from their grandfather. They will never hear a booming voice shout out “Hey, there!” as he walks through the door.
Neither young man, nor any of the men and women that we send to die on foreign soil, will get the chance that the lucky ones, the rest of us, have – to make mistakes and fix them, to love and to lose, to build something of our lives, watch it crumble to dust, and to pick up and build it again.
I am a pacifist. I believe that wars are, more often than not, fought for the aggrandizement of a few powerful men. Yet, those who put their lives at risk, do so, not for the leaders of their governments, but for something far more specific. They fight and die for the people and ideals that they love.
We owe it to our soldiers to choose our leaders wisely, to engage ourselves in the process of government, and to stay informed, to keep up a dialogue even when we disagree. And, we, the lucky ones, owe it to those who will not return to make the most of our chances, the chances they will never have.