Thank you, U.S. soldiers, for your courage

By Angie Vogt, political commentary

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. — John Stuart Mill (1868)

On this Memorial Day weekend, I leave behind the seeming adolescent subject of politics and elections.

There is too much joy in the air over the return of Washington state’s finest men and women from long tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, our two current wars.

There is that inexplicable joy that catches our breath at the sight of strong and resolute men cradling the infants they left behind or the healing sight of mother soldiers reunited with their babes once in arms.

There too is that burning-in-the-throat anguish of husbands, wives, children and parents who are left with only the stories and memories of the soldier they sent off so many months ago, clutching their hearts with lingering pride and reluctance. Too many said their goodbyes thinking, “there will be better times when this is over,” only to have their hope violated by dignified, somber messengers at the door, delivering a flag and a prayer.

These are the scenes of reunion and celebration, pride and relief, grief and loss during times of war. Our nation’s finest return from unspoken hardships, unimagined emotional stresses, hellish sights and smells, all in the name of what we cherish most, our freedom.

The soldier has volunteered to carry out the cause of others’ freedom and has sacrificed his own comfort, risked and sometimes given, his or her own life. Those who return often carry deeper wounds than the loss of life or limb. They carry the trauma, the delayed invisible demons of anxiety, sleeplessness, exhaustion and fear. They walk a tightrope of trained defensive posture ingrained from months of tedious duty interrupted by a sudden hour or two of terror.

Now the stalwart defender returns to civility and must resume the duties of responsible citizen, tender father, supportive husband, nurturing wife or mother, obedient son or daughter.

There is another oft-played scenario here at home during this holiday weekend. There are picnics, concerts, tributes, neighborhood barbecues and boating in the sun. There are the fireworks, homemade ice cream and the season’s first watermelon. This is America after all, land of abundance and prosperity, a lifestyle never known to the world before our great founding.

We at home cherish our national birthright in sentimental and recreational ways, though it is right to remember that such times are what these better angels among us, our soldiers, fight for on our behalf.

We may treasure our freedom by reveling in it, but we are unworthy of it should we ever forget from whence it came.

Welcome home brave ones. May God shed his grace on those who never made it back. May God forgive those of us who never say “Thank you.”

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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