Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

When I was in elementary school, I once earned honorable mention in a literary contest for a poem about Memorial Day. I don't remember a word of it, and unfortunately my Mother made me clean my room some time in between the 6th grade and moving out after college, so there is no record of the verse by which scholars can debate its greater significance.

Unfortunately, Memorial Day has taken on a very different meaning for me this year. In addition to Shane Mahaffee, I recently learned another classmate of mine from the MCAC (Mobilization Civil Affairs Course) at Ft. Bragg has also been killed here in Iraq.

So it was with a heavy heart that I attended today's Memorial Day Commemoration at Camp Victory. The ceremony was held outside the Al Faw Palace, which sits on a landfill in the middle of a manmade lake on the Western edge of Baghdad. [Update: I previously had written that the palace was in the middle of the Tigris, which was geographically incorrect. My error.] Against a backdrop of swaying palm trees and the morning sunlight shimmering on the water's surface, Ambassador Khalilzad and LTG Peter Chiarelli addressed an audience of U.S. servicemen (with a few Iraqi generals prominently positioned in the first row).

While fighting back the tears through prayers and renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Taps," my mind went back to President Lincoln's words commemorating those who had given their lives defending their nation at Gettysburg:
In a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Shane wrote from his hospital bed that he had to get better because "This job is not finished!" Without knowing it at the time, he was the embodiment of what Lincoln must have meant when he said "From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."

The friends lost in this conflict will not have died in vain if we can consolidate the tentative victory that democracy has won over terror here in Iraq. Instead of being memorialized in stone, Shane and the others' will have a living monument of a nation freed from tyranny and repression.