Below is from a tribute I wrote in December 2010 upon my uncle’s return from Afghanistan:
As children in an American military family, my siblings and I were aware of the sacrifice that soldiers and their families make during active duty – especially during war.
But the war zone was still something that usually remained comfortably distant, often in the realm of movies, history books and Your Story Hour tapes featuring stories of soldiers spending Christmas in the trenches and prisoners of war plotting to escape.
One such story was of Keith Argraves, a man of Faith who served as a medic and paratrooper during World War II. We did not realize until much later that this man who escaped from being a POW in Italy was a cousin of our great-grandmother. To me, that was a surprising reminder of how easily we forget our own history nowadays.
I’m sure it’s not uncommon for citizens to be related to such heroes and just fail to remember it. Americans are used to safety and distance from the conflicts that summon our troops. Soldiers leave, some return, and most recognition of them eventually fades when peace follows. Besides, battles in recent memory were always fought on mysterious foreign soil instead of in our backyards – perhaps in places that didn’t even exist in some people’s minds. Oblivion is bliss.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were a rude awakening for my generation. Once again, our soldiers would spend years in mysterious foreign countries – this time fighting an evasive network of Islamic terrorism that is in some ways different from enemies in the past.
But then, at least for a moment, the mission of our troops became more tangible. Why is war often comfortably distant from our minds? Because our soldiers are willing to walk into a war zone so that our home doesn’t become one.
This evening my siblings, cousins and I got to welcome home our uncle Lt. Col. Steve Sayers, who is back from Afghanistan. He represents one of those with the patience and honor to defend our country and help the helpless abroad despite how impatient, confused and forgetful the rest of us may be in the wake of conflict.
As we offer a genuine “Thank you” to him and the rest of the troops this Christmas season, we should remember the message written to us by John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail centuries ago:
Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.