I was invited by the American Legion, Post 13 in Pasadena to a special reception and ceremony for the traveling exhibit of Remembering Our Fallen, a state specific memorial for the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Wars on Terror since 9/11. The exhibit is photographs of the 700 military service men and women from California who died while serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. So many IEDs, so many killed in combat action. Men and women, young and middle-aged. Some almost children, still in their teens. Some fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, grandchildren. All daughters and sons of a mother and a father.
As I sat in the audience on the lovely patio beneath the clear blue skies of Southern California on a lovely Saturday evening, I began to realize what I was attending. The ceremony was to honor the seven young men, all under thirty years of age, who gave the ultimate sacrifice and to honor their families, who also gave the ultimate sacrifice. For in the audience were the Gold Star families of these young men—their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and stepfathers. I began to realize that the grievances I have experienced since the war began in 2002 are tiny or perhaps insignificant to what the Gold Star families experienced and still experience. Their sacrifice is far greater than I can imagine. The solemnity of the occasion was palpable. I could feel the tears they have shed. I could feel the sorrow knowing that their child would never come home again and sit at the table for dinner. They would never hear the knock on the door or feel the kiss on their cheek.
The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute with the mournful serenade of Taps played in the distance. Memories of my father surfaced as they do every time I hear the mournful cry of the trumpet. Memories of my childhood came barging in when I watched the seven Marines dressed in blues point their rifles to the sky and solemnly salute. It truly was a solemn occasion and an honor to bare witness.
This morning as I write, questions emerge. What is the next story to be told? How can I help bring it to the page? Is it time for the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, wives and husbands of the fallen of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to tell what they have to tell? If they do write what they know what it means for their loved one to give the ultimate sacrifice for this country, who will listen?