On Veterans Day this year I attended the dedication of the Illuminating Courage memorial at Spokane’s Veterans Memorial Arena. It was a beautiful fall day, and a large crowd of people gathered to dedicate this new memorial to honor Washington state military people who have died in the line of duty from 9/11 to the present.
It’s an impressive memorial. I can’t do it justice by trying to describe it here. I’ll let photos do that. Information about the memorial is here: http://www.illuminatingcourage.org/
I think it’s appropriate to honor people who make the ultimate sacrifice, and this memorial does this in a dignified and inspirational way. The ceremony to dedicate the memorial was also dignified and inspirational, with family members, veterans, civic leaders, military members and members of the public all gathered with the single purpose of honoring our departed brothers and sisters in arms.
The memorial contains the names of the departed, and that’s a good thing, for we don’t want to forget them. But on this day there were much more poignant reminders of the people whose names appear on the memorial. Placed around the perimeter of the ceremony area were poster-sized photographs of these people. It’s one thing to etch a name into stone for posterity. It’s quite another thing to see the face of the person whose name is inscribed. Each name represents a person who lived, loved, laughed and cried who will do so nevermore, and the photos placed around the ceremony area brought that reality home. Their humanity was on display, not just their names.
I found I couldn’t look at the photos without being curious about who each person was, where they lived, what they did in the military, the places where they served, and how my experience in the military may have been similar to theirs. I could imagine myself serving alongside any of them. I could imagine being in their shoes, because in a way I have been. It just happens that I was never sent to war in 24 years of active military service, and they were. That they didn’t return makes frivolous any complaints I may have had about my military service.
I wish all of our current presidential candidates could have been at this ceremony. One of the most important decisions any U.S. president will make is the one to send our troops to war. Such a decision is, literally, a matter of life and death and requires the utmost consideration of the finality of death long before the political reasoning comes into play. With a group of would-be presidents who have almost no military experience among them, seeing the faces of those who died in service to their country would have been a very important reminder to those candidates that with great power comes great responsibility, especially when human lives are at stake. A president’s effort to impose America’s military might on an adversary always rests on the backs of the individuals who will answer the call to duty. No president should ever make that decision for any reason other than to serve the very best interests of our country, and only after the greatest consideration of the consequences of going to war.
If you have the chance to visit the memorial, please do so.