On This Memorial Day
First published 31 May 2010
"From now until the end of the world, we and it shall be remembered. We few, we Band of Brothers. For he who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother." William Shakespeare (King Henry V)
There is a chain made of blood and iron. The heavy links are anchored in Valley Forge and stretch through Gettysburg, Normandy, Iwo Jima, the Coral Sea, and a thousand battlegrounds. New links are being forged now in the streets of Baghdad and Kabul.
On this Memorial Day, in cemeteries from Flanders to Arlington, we place flags on graves to honor warriors who made and guard that great chain. On this Memorial Day we feel the chain near us, vibrating with its awesome power—pointing to a future that promises more blood and iron.
We know that men and women are in the hallowed ground because they swore an oath to defend our nation and to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Many gave up their lives to that purpose.
Soldiers, sailors and airmen who have gone before, and who serve now, have always obeyed the commands of civilians elected to high office. Today, the highest of those officials have never worn a uniform. They have never gone in harm’s way, they have never known a soldier’s fear, and they will never engage in deadly defense of the republic. Even so, those officials have also sworn an oath to protect the nation and the Constitution. So the soldiers obey.
But those who fell in great battles and in places with forgotten names are still on guard. If America’s leaders betray their solemn oaths, our fallen guardians will stir in their resting places; from jungles and deserts and ocean deeps, from one end of the earth to the other, they will rise.
In the dawn of that future Memorial Day I will hear footfalls of my risen brothers in arms beneath my window. They will march on the city, and above them there will be whispers of more phantoms in parachutes. Then they will assemble in a great formation before the Capitol. Once again their bodies will be whole, their uniforms clean, and their worn rifles and sabers will be renewed.
That morning the living will muster with the dead. Around the ghosts wearing three-cornered hats and steel helmets, Americans from every town and city will come to give their voices to the silent legion. They will demand an accounting. They will demand a rebirth of the freedom and liberty for which their forefathers fought and died.
On that coming Memorial Day.
Chet Nagle is a Naval Aviator, former CIA agent and author of the cautionary thrillers The Iran Covenant and The Woolsorter’s Plague.