Monday, November 12, 2018

Never Forget

Yesterday was Veterans Day, and a special one, because it is 100 years since the cease fire, or armistice, ending conflict in World War I. This happened at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. That’s why we always celebrate on the day, whatever day of the week it is. It became a national holiday in 1938, and was changed to honor all American veterans, living and dead, serving in all wars and peacetime, in 1954.

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The poppy is a symbol of the fallen. It relates to a poem, “In Flanders Field,” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, channeling the voices of the fallen soldiers, buried under the hardy bright flowers. The poem was written in 1915, and spread widely prior to McCrae’s death in early 1918. A woman named Moina Michael read the poem in a magazine just two days before the armistice, and was inspired by it. She wrote a poem, “We Shall Keep Faith,” in response, and vowed to always wear a red poppy. She came up with the idea of making and selling red fabric poppies to raise money in support of returning veterans.

Although the poppy was originally associated with the armistice, in America we don’t typically wear poppies on Veterans Day; we honor the fallen on Memorial Day, in May.

There aren’t any WWI veterans still alive, now, after a century. And there are only about a thousand WWII veterans still alive, with an average age of 95.

This past Saturday’s Glenn Beck Podcast featured a young man, Rishi Sharma, age 21, who has made it his life’s mission to document the stories of the remaining WWII combat veterans. He tries to interview at least one a day. He started in high school, mostly going to local rest homes. And then expanded, eventually starting a GoFundMe page to make it possible. He mostly lives in his car, driving from place to place, making friends with veterans. If you want to help contribute (monetarily, or by doing interviews), you can go to Heroes of the Second World War.   

Rishi Sharma on Glenn Beck podcast, screenshot
Sharma says that often he’s the first person these veterans have told their full story to. Many of them just came home and got involved in work and family life, and didn't talk about their experiences. He says,

We shouldn’t have to wait for an obituary to find out about the most amazing and heroic people that live in our community. You know, we should be able to talk to them. We should be able to learn about it while they’re still alive, so that we can talk to them, and look them in the eyes, and thank them. And, you know, interact with them.
There are just so many interesting obituaries that you find, you know, that I find as I’m trying to find the veterans. But there’s no interviews of them. And I’m wondering to myself, here is this veteran that’s been able to live into his 90s and 100s, and no one took the time just to document his story? You know, all those sacrifices and moments of his life have not just been put into three paragraphs? They don’t deserve that.
I mean, they deserve a voice in our world, and our future world, because I think the best thing that we can do for 410,000 boys who were killed in the war—and everyone who was killed in the war across the world—is give their death some meaning. Because if we just pretend that that was a long time ago and it doesn’t matter, and continue to act the way we’re acting now, we’re literally spitting on the graves of those men.
Because, it’s bad enough that they had to die at 18, 19, 20—you know, the fact that they were born, had the middle of their life and the end of their life both before they could even drink alcohol—you know, that’s a really sobering thought. But, it’s bad enough that they had to be killed, but it would be even worse if they were killed for no reason. And I really hope that the veterans who I interview, who say that their friends have died in vain—I really hope that they end up being wrong, and that their friends died for a purpose.
Because, I mean, it was just 75 years ago, which is such a short time in the span of humanity. And, I mean, it should still be relevant and raw. I mean, I just don’t understand why people don’t talk more about it.
If we’re going to be a civilized people, it is required of us to honor those who have made our freedom possible. That is something we all ought to be able to agree on.

At a time when it’s so easy to be disagreeable, there was a response this weekend that I thought was helpful. If you’ll remember, a week earlier, on Saturday Night Live, a comic had mocked congressional candidate—now my new Congressman—Dan Crenshaw, who lost an eye to an IED in Afghanistan, on his third deployment (he deployed twice more after recovering the sight in one of his eyes). The response, on SNL this week, is worth seeing, below. It’s fun. After the humor, Dan is able to say what veterans really want to hear. He suggests that, while saying, “Thank you for your service” is good, he’d like us to say—well, I’ll just use his words:

There’s a lot of lessons to be learned here. Not just that the left and the right can still agree on some things, but also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.
This is Veterans Day weekend, which means that it’s a good time for every American to connect with a veteran. Maybe say, “Thanks for your service.” But I would actually encourage you to say something else. Tell a veteran, “Never forget.” When you say, “Never forget” to a veteran, you are implying that, as an American, you are in it with them, not separated by some imaginary barrier between civilians and veterans, but connected together as grateful fellow Americans. We’ll never forget the sacrifices made by veterans past and present, and never forget those we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete [Davidson]’s father. So I’ll just say, Pete, never forget.

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