"Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined forever behind a glass frame,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a bound leather frame?"
- Green Fields of France,
His photo always sat unobtrusively on my uncle's mantel. One evening, as I held the framed brown-tinted photograph of this young uniformed stranger my uncle put his arm around me.
We were both silent for a few moments, then my uncle said, "He was about your age when I bought him his first hunting rifle." As I turned, I saw this old man holding the photograph in both hands and weeping as if he were desperately trying to pull his lost child close once again.
Ervin, my cousin, had died in the attack on Iwo Jima while trying to bring ammunition to his men. He had never died in my uncle's heart.
A young soldier playing with two toddlers in the emergency room of a local hospital reminded me once again this week of the total devastation of family life caused by men responding to war.
As his sons played around our feet, he related that he expected to be in Afghanistan by the end of next month. I made a lame remark, to try to lessen the emotion of the moment, that perhaps having two sons who needed him here would delay his deployment.
He turned his shaven head toward his sons playing on the carpet nearby, folded his tanned arms across his chest, and said "Why? I'm not the only guy out there with family, and someone has to fight this war!"
My young acquaintance obviously had the moral fiber and dedication this country seeks in its military, and he was passing that principled standing on to his sons. His influence on them was apparent during the short period I observed them together. However, should he not return, what would their ethic be molded into? Would they, as adults, be the same strong-willed and morally solid men he dreamed them to be?
Whenever life takes its toll on me, the image of my high school friend returns. Bill wanted to be a minister. When my memory hears him quoting some verse from the Bible, I realize that no matter how rough life might get at least I have the opportunity to experience it.
Bill was killed only three months after arriving in Saigon. My older brother, named for our cousin killed on Iwo Jima, was reminded every time he wrote his own name that he needed to fulfill life as much as possible in order to immortalize his namesake.
Likewise, veterans and families across our country have been affected every day by sacrifices made decades ago on foreign soil. Our memory of those events causes us to strive harder to make sure their death was not in vain - that the life we lead will fill the void left by their untimely departure.
Thus, America, in some part, is the product of the fallen's influence. It's the result of the comrades they saved in battle, the ethical fortitude they imparted to their families and the quest for victory over adversity they left on the moral fiber of their country.
The tapestry of American life is the unfulfilled promises of our fallen heroes woven together with the hope inspired by their gallantry.
A few years ago, I took my new bride to Marietta National Cemetery where my father and mother lay in eternal rest. As we stood beside the small white tombstone marking their grave, I stared across the rolling hills at the row upon row of similar stones.
It occurred to me that they not only marked the final resting place of brave men who had fallen for their country; they marked the end of family relations, dreams left unfulfilled and perhaps lives never began because these men chose to defend the right of future generations to freely select the course of their future.
These fallen brave opted to preserve freedom for others rather than fulfill their own promise of life. These stones, some marked with only a name and age, serve as bookmarks to the forfeiture made not only by our fallen but also by families who will forever feel the empty, cold message of the day that changed their lives, and the lives of generations yet to come, with those immortal words, "We regret to inform you"."
Therefore, while their names and histories might not be familiar to us, these honored dead shall never be simply forgotten "behind a glass frame."
So long as men live to dedicate their individual freedoms to the preservation of liberty for all mankind, those who placed their own bodies on the sacrificial altar of democracy shall remain permanently embedded in the frame of American history and in the landscape of the American spirit.
Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.
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