Memorial Day Reflections

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It was a typical scorching hot summer day in June of 1970 as I stood having meaningless chatter with some high school buddies in the cool of the shade from the big cottonwoods on the grounds of the Pleasant Oaks Recreation Center in Pleasant Grove where we grew up. It was just a short bike ride away from the Prairie Creek beds where in earlier years we explored the world, got into mischief, and played army in our Stand By Me days. A stocky gray silhouette appeared against the bright sunlight walking toward us from McCutcheon Lane. We all squinted. “Really?” we wondered. It was, it really was. Our old friend David Broach was back home. We couldn’t believe it! We hadn’t seen him since he dropped out of school and joined the Army. Everyone’s attention shifted to David as he walked up. There he was, standing by us. He’d been dropped in the jungle and survived his tour in Viet Nam and had come back home. We were so glad to see him, so glad he was home. We wanted to hear all about it. But he was quiet. He seemed glad to see us, but he didn’t have much to say. As we cajoled him, it was apparent he was preoccupied. We asked why. He finally he acceded. “My Buddies,” he said. “My mind is on my Buddies 9000 miles away from where we’re standing, and the new ones arriving every day.” Then without fanfare, he told us. “I re-upped. I’m going back.” “Why would you do that, David? Why?” we all asked in astonishment. He said, “I’ve been there and survived. The hardest part of survival is the first 5 minutes after jumping off the helicopter. If you can survive that, you have a chance. I know what to do and the green soldiers don’t. If I have a chance to save one brother with my experience, I’ve gotta do it.” Subdued, we continued our meaningless chatter then went our separate ways. I watched for a moment as David’s presence became a silhouette again.

A month later he was back in-country. Two weeks later word came: Specialist Fourth Class E4 from Co. K, 75th Infantry Lrrp, 4th Infantry Division, Earl David Broach was dead. I didn’t “see” David again until 1992. When working in DC, I walked across to the Mall, to the Viet Nam Memorial. As I strolled solemnly along the long black granite wall searching through the endless names, I finally saw David again. I ran my fingers across the etched name of my friend. There he was with 58,190 other names of the American boys (and girls) who went to war in Viet Nam (now over 58,300 names), and never came home again to their moms and dads, brothers and sisters, and friends.

David is in my thoughts tonight as I reflect on Memorial Day, and so many more. I think of my father, a Navy man, sitting on a lonely stool in a crowed bar on shore leave in Algiers in 1943. And my father-in- law that same year eating that “rare, unexpected, amazing” chicken dinner in his Chabua barracks at the base of the Himalayas with his buddies as they prepare to fly the treacherous “Hump” again the next day. I think of Daddy Claude, my grandfather, and his son, my uncle Carroll, who serendipitously met up in the South Pacific while serving respectively aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Heermann and battleship U.S.S. Saratoga—that same especially dark year in the Pacific of ’43. I’m reminded of my grandfather’s double sacrifice, his second call to duty, having first mustered into the Army 26 years earlier in 1917 during the Great War. I think, too, of my second cousin, Josh Wilson, and his wife Sara, both West Point grads and veterans of the Iraq War, and of my nephews, Retired Air Force Major Robert Babb and Michael Bond—a multi-tour veteran in Afghanistan and the terrible PTSD he struggles he’s left with. I think about so many others in my family who served in the various Services and the Guards and the countless others in our country who have served and sacrificed so much for us through the years.

As I reflect, I am struck by those famous words by President Lincoln on that solemn day in 1863, when on that short ride from Washington to Gettysburg he penned the words “that last full measure of devotion,” as he thought of those on both sides who gave their lives on that now infamous battlefield. It rings in my ears as I think of David, and for those many who at this very moment are taking off or putting on their specially fitted legs and arms, and for those who feel as though there is nothing left to live for having lost their way back here at home, no longer having the comradery of the “brotherhood” of war.

What more noble and courageous thing can one do than lay down his life for his friends, for his family, for his country? What more ignoble thing can human beings do to each other than go to war? We see the best of ourselves in the sacrifice given; we see the worst of ourselves when we kill each other. War is hell!

I think of David and all my family members who gave so much to this country and then I watch the TV these days. I think of George Washington, and the advice he gave his fellows in his Farwell Address in 1796. He says a couple of things we so easily forget these days, words of challenge to ensure the preservation of the union for which so many sacrificed so much. We must always remember that we are one (e pluribus unum as the original American motto said). And that to keep that union we are called to goodness. We must be a people of moral virtue. When we fail at these our sacrifices become lost in a fog. We lose our way. It’s worth revisiting President Washington’s wise advice in his Farewell Address.

The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;

. . .

The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles.

. . .

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State . . .. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of hisown elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

And then he says,

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. … A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is too easy to garner sacrifice under the banner of excessive partisanship, grievance, and revenge and thereby tarnish patriotism. Good judgment becomes clouded and the exercise the power becomes unbound from its proper restraint. Patriotism and “Party-ism” not underwritten by the centripetal force of virtue makes everything fall apart, as Yeats captures in his poem The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

Patriotism must be born of virtue in service of the common good, underwritten by the “religious principle.” The due honor for the sacrifices of my friend David Broach and the many who have sacrificed so much for this country derives from virtue in pursuit of the common good of all. As Washington urged us to remember: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.” As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

On this Memorial Day, let us honor those who have given that last full measure of devotion … and who did so in the constant belief that their sacrifice was in the service of the good. Let us give honor to those who sacrificed so much by giving themselves in pursuit of the good of the One who is the source of the Common Good, the One in whom is the basis of our liberty and the tie that binds the many into one.

God Bless those whose sacrifice secured and sustain our liberty, including my friend David. God, bless us all in such a way that our greatest happiness should be found in sacrificing ourselves in pursuit of Your goodness; for when we fail at this, we whitewash the sacrifices of those we memorialize on this day.

Copyright James M. Roseman

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