Editor’s note: We asked Bill Robinson, a retired officer with 30 years of active service in the U.S. Army, and long time volunteer in the Dunwoody community and his church, to comment on Memorial Day.
As we approach Memorial Day, I remember walking the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery with its row upon row of white crosses, each marking the final resting place of a soldier, and stood in reverence at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Standing on the beach at Normandy, I closed my eyes and replayed “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan,” films that described the killing field that long stretch of sand proved to be. Walking through the adjoining cemetery with over 9000 American military dead made me feel deeply humble. As a history buff, I enjoyed touring Gettysburg, Jamestown, Valley Forge and numerous other battle sites, walking in the trenches and redoubts, imagining the appalling conditions, and visualizing the action of the troops as they deployed.
Memorial Day is unique. Unlike the Fourth of July when we celebrate freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, Veteran’s Day when we honor all veterans who have served in our military, or Presidents Day when we remember all presidents but especially George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died in battle while serving their country. As such, it is a somber, reflective moment when we pledge never to forget those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Monday I will join others at Brook Run Park for a special ceremony. When Mayor Davis commands “Colors Post” and they march forward, I will remember countless parades and ceremonies when the unit colors, with numerous battle streamers hanging from its tip, flanked on the right by the American flag, move front and center to “Pass in Review” or to begin the ceremony. Each streamer represents a battle in which that unit participated, and each soldier can recite with pride the reason that honor was awarded.
As we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I am reminded that when we pledge our allegiance to the flag, it is a symbol of “the republic, one nation, under God,” words that immediately follow. I know the courts have declared that burning the flag is protected under Article 1 of the Bill of Rights, but I will never understand how anyone who enjoys freedoms bought at such a terrible price, can desecrate this sacred standard.
When I hear the national anthem sung, I envision myself standing next to Francis Scott Key as we shout for joy when we see Old Glory still flying, and once again the meaning of those words are as fresh as the first time I heard them.
When the flag is lowered to half-staff, I think of those who have fallen throughout our history, protecting out nation from enemies who would do us harm, wishing they could be here to be honored but knowing that is not possible.
The prayer brings back memories of chaplains who offer prayers and solace to troops as they prepare for or return from battle, comfort the wounded, and give last rights to the dying. How people who, having decided that “freedom of religion” is “freedom from religion,” have the audacity, in the comfort of peaceful surroundings, to challenge this right is beyond me.
When I listen to an inspiring speech by an Army officer who continues to serve his country in dangerous assignments, I am thankful that there still are men and women who volunteer to protect us, which allow us to do things both profound and mundane.
Then, as the buglers play taps, I recall the innumerable times it has been used to conclude a military funeral as the flag is respectfully folded and handed to the grieving spouse or parent. With great clarity, I remember when, as a survival assistance officer, I had to tell a young mother with a small baby that her husband had been killed, held that child as she collapsed in her father’s arms, handed her that flag, and helped her through the necessary paperwork at a time she only wanted to grieve.
As the colors are retired and we return to our everyday lives, I will say a silent prayer that our leaders will use great wisdom to guide us, and will keep our military strong. We will always pray for peace, but history tells a different story.