What little I really know of our military comes from my infrequent stops at a Starbucks in Clarksville, Tennessee. There, men and women from Fort Campbell sit with their children and family and, it seems, live within a context most of us have not experienced.
While most of us go about our business as if our military and our country is not at risk; while news channel "situation rooms" fill our plasma screens with collages of talking heads arguing about tie pins, clergy endorsements, misspoken words, and the attitudes of retirement home residents in Florida, these courageous families go about their errands in Clarksville, simply hoping and praying that their family members return. They wonder if the sacrifices they and their military family members are making will be recognized by the Congress and the public through a commitment to provide the mental and physical care that will be necessary to heal bodies and minds subjected to the trauma so many of the rest of us simply choose to ignore.
This essay will not address the anomalies of military health care and the odd administrative silos created through Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs facilities. The issue for Memorial Day is not to argue on behalf of one mechanism of support over another; our obligation is not just to pay tribute to the Fallen; more deeply, our responsibility is to plead for broader recognition of a remarkably brave and deserved body of American citizens whose primary concern is supporting one another through difficult times as those they love serve in foreign and often lethal venues.
Let us hope this Memorial Day that we remember not just the Veterans of our past great wars - Europe, the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam - but also those who have only recently fallen and those many hundreds of thousands of people who either current serve in the military or support someone who does; let us hope for the physical and psychological recovery of those who pay a dear price for their military service; let us hope that our Nation wakes up to their daily effort.
When my father and his generation speak of the war through the dimming memories of decades, it seems increasingly like a myth. When you buy a cup of coffee in the Clarksville Starbucks, you see the present with a poignant clarity not usually found on television; it's just real people, living real lives, hoping for a good outcome.
And if you make it to the Clarksville Starbucks, think about picking up the tab for the mother, grandmother, or grandfather in line behind you. Odds are someone they love is making a far greater sacrifice than most understand. Let's do more to hold up our end of the bargain these strong families have made.
Thanks to those who serve or who have served; those who love them; and those who care for them.