To Those Who Serve

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. is slated to be dedicated this weekend in honor of the veterans of that war and it’s entire generation. And besides being sooner, the dedication could not be at a more appropriate time. It will take place on Memorial Day and only a few days before the anniversary of D-Day, as well as coming at a time when our country is again at war against a terror every bit as dangerous as Japan or the Nazi ideology.

There had been controversy surrounding this memorial because some groups and individuals felt it would take away from the established visual image of the National Mall. Instead, the World War II Memorial has enhanced the beauty of downtown Washington with it’s two towering fountains, 56 pillars adorned with wreath statues in remembrance of U.S. states and territories from the war, and stunning visuals in the form of engravings and quotations that tell the story of a conflict and how a nation overcame.

Those who served in World War II have been referred to as our greatest generation. Their example of bravery, service to country, and self-sacrifice remain the standards of citizenship and honor that all future generations must aspire to meet.

Perhaps it is the countless stories of young boys who left their sweethearts back home while they went off to fight, or the cause for which our soldiers were fighting, or the strength displayed by the women of America, as nurses, mothers, and wives. There is something undeniably special about these individuals.

Young children today still listen as their grandparents, or perhaps even great-grandparents, reflect and tell stories about the war. But even in a modern world of violence, they don’t listen for the stories of battle and conflict. They listen out of respect and appreciation.

But although we continue to remember this generation with a sense of idealism, it cannot be forgotten that these men and women fought a war in which far too many of them died. One of the most moving features of the memorial is a wall adorned with 4,000 gold stars—one star for every hundred soldiers who died during the war.

Those roughly 400,000 men and women are not the only casualties from the World War II generation. Time has finally begun to catch up with America’s heroes from the past and the Veterans Affairs Department estimates that slightly over a thousand veterans from the war are dying every day. To think of how many veterans have died waiting for this memorial to come is heartbreaking. For a generation that overcame the Great Depression, stormed beaches, and conquered islands in the Pacific, time appears to be their most challenging obstacle.

Although the memorial is specific to those who served in World War II, it is symbolic of soldiers throughout America’s history. Nearly sixty years have passed since the end of that war until the dedication of it’s memorial this weekend, making it long overdue, just as appreciation for American soldiers in general is long overdue. Still, our soldiers don’t fight for monuments or thanks; they fight for honor and freedom, and for that, our collective gratitude is owed to every one of them.

This is a memorial to all who have ever served—both those who were fortunate enough to survive and those who tragically died. It is a memorial to all the mothers and fathers who gave up their children so that freedom would live, the children of soldiers whose parents never came home, and those sweethearts left behind. All of these are the realities of war.

But this memorial for our soldiers symbolizes another reality of war. As Americans come to Washington to visit the site and pay their respects, the beauty of the memorial itself will remind them how proud they are of their armed forces and their country and a sense of gratitude will surely set in. And that sense of patriotic appreciation is an ideal that the World War II Memorial will ensure is never lost. From that perspective, it is more than a memorial to a war, but rather a tribute to what can be achieved when a nation comes together.

In a city full of national treasures, the World War II Memorial adds one more. And while in the Washington area, visitors would do well to visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam Wall; to do so would honor all those soldiers who serve and remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice.