I stood next to a group of elderly veterans in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Friday, silent as a lone bugler played taps out across the National Mall.
Tears filled my eyes as I watched old men stand at attention, unsteady on their feet but determined to honor fallen comrades. The scene was just one of many I observed while in the District of Columbia for the start of Memorial Day weekend.
Roses were left by Gold Star families under pictures of their fallen loved ones. Men and women stared with hollow eyes at the memorials dedicated to wars they fought in. Veterans clustered together, clasping each other on the shoulder and murmuring about shared experiences.
These are men and women that need our support. They need our compassion. They need our advocacy. And, this can be given regardless of your views on the American military.
I am strongly against using American soldiers to police the world. I think many recent deployments have been wrong. I think the United States Department of Defense consumes far too many taxpayer dollars. I think the way our military operates desperately needs to be reformed.
Yet, I stand in support of our soldiers. Why? Because they remain separate from the military machine. Because their role will be necessary as long as humanity remains flawed.
President Rutherford B. Hayes put it well:
“Wars will remain while human nature remains. I believe in my soul in cooperation, in arbitration; but the soldier’s occupation we cannot say is gone until human nature is gone.”
We can disagree on deployment, on war, on spending. Even in the midst of our disagreement on the function of the military, we should be able to rally in support of our soldiers. They return scarred, traumatized, in wooden boxes. For this, they deserve our respect and support.
My brain will never forget the picture of an elderly veteran, sitting alone in his wheelchair. He clutched a rose and stared out across the National Mall, memories of fallen soldiers flashing in his eyes. This Memorial Day, let’s join him in remembering our fallen while supporting our living soldiers.
All gave some, some gave all. Honor their sacrifice.
Photo is of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, taken by Kelvey Vander Hart.