The headstones marking the graves of soldiers buried in our national cemeteries are 42 inches tall, 13 inches wide and 4 inches deep.
The surface of each, whether marble or granite, offers enough space for a name, rank and service information, a medallion showing branch of service, dates and possibly a memorial tribute, such as “loving husband,” or “devoted dad.”
That’s just not enough.
In a space that small, it is impossible for a grateful nation to express its thanks for the sacrifice of lives in support of a patriotic ideal; impossible to acknowledge the debt owed by generation after generation of people who have enjoyed unparalleled freedoms only because of the willingness of some to lay down their lives to defend that noble principle.
There’s not enough room on the headstones for what needs to be said, but then no amount of space would be adequate to do so.
The Memorial Day holiday was established to honor those who give their lives in the nation’s military in defense of cherished ideals upon which the structure of our country is built. But those who serve in the military don’t need a holiday to bring honor to their service; the service itself is more honorable than any that a holiday designation could bestow.
It is not hyperbole to say that the nation most of us love could not exist without the willingness of men and women to serve in its military. And each of those who wears the uniform knows they do so with the ever present risk of having to sacrifice their life for the nation.
We think about those realities far too seldom. Even now, the political scandal of the day or the latest hot social topic tends to overshadow the fact that as a nation we remain at war in the Middle East, and that lives are still being lost on those foreign battlefields.
Many of those who lose their lives in battle will end up in one of our national cemeteries, where they will have a headstone that is 42 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 4 inches deep to commemorate their service.
And there just isn’t enough space on those slabs of rock for an entire nation to say thank you.