By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
As they said their goodbyes and prepared to embark on a journey from which they would never return—what was it like? Did a mother’s grief permeate the air? Did a father stand stoically, fighting back his emotions, as his child began a journey he had taken decades before?
Siblings, too young to realize what was happening, enviously watching the departure, conjuring up visions of a heroic return marked with medals, stories of combat and enemies’ bodies piling up. A spouse beginning the stressful countdown of a return that would never come. Children, too young to understand the happenings around them, catching a last fleeting image of their parent, an image that would dissipate with time.
What went through these patriots’ minds while bidding farewell to family and friends? Did they envision a homecoming complete with medals and accolades, or did they correctly forecast their fate?
How much horror and anxiety did they experience in those last moments of their young lives? Did they watch their buddies being blown apart or vaporized by mortars or artillery rounds, fearing they would soon suffer the same fate? Did they, after being mortally wounded in an ambush, lay on the battlefield screaming for their mother to come and save them?
Was death’s suffering slow or quick? Did they die alone, or were those last moments spent being comforted by a comrade? Did they have the benefit of clergy? Were their last moments spent with a nurse whose motherly caring assured a calm voyage across the river and into the ages?
Stateside, how was the death of the loved one taken? A mother who bore the pain and joy of childbirth, nurtured and watched her child grow into adulthood, now along with her husband and children faced a future void of their patriotic family member. A spouse realizing that the love of their life and their promising future together had been taken from them in a far off battlefield.
This coming weekend we, the living, will hopefully remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. I say hopefully because I know that many will take advantage of the long weekend to go to the beach, golf, shop or just spend the day relaxing at home with their family—a luxury that was taken long ago from those we honor.
On my way to honor and remember these men and women, vehicles displaying license plates indicating the owner served in a war zone will be going the other way.
This is not a day to thank the living (that’s done on November 11), but to remember those who died giving the ultimate sacrifice. Those dead also include those who returned home suffering death as a direct result of their service in combat. This runs the gamut of succumbing to wounds and disease years later, to losing one’s life to suicide, alcohol or a drug overdose—many of these deaths causing additional harm to family and friends.
Lastly, politicians marching in the parade would do well to remember that the venue is about honoring the dead, not providing exposure for the upcoming elections. Instead of leading the parade, smiling, waving and glad handing, perhaps they could make the ultimate political sacrifice by attending and instead of seeking recognition meld anonymously into the crowd.
Finally, let us always remember the words of the great Roman statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (There is no greater love than to give one’s life for their country.)