News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Veterans Day, responsibility and sacrifice

On this Veterans Day I might be expected to focus on the many sacrifices military members have delivered while performing services to our nation. We expect, sometimes as a matter of fact, sacrifice to be part and parcel of their mission. We expect them to step forward in our stead to be delivered up into harm’s way.

We send our best, our brightest, our youngest, and our poorest forward to defend this nation. Evidence of their commitment, their sacrifice, has been left in the fields of Gettysburg, in trenches of France, on the beaches of Normandy, in the jungles of South East Asia, and most recently in the streets of Baghdad. They have never failed to respond when called to carry our colors.

However, how often do we consider our responsibility to sacrifice so that our military is able to pursue our interests, often under extreme conditions? Today many people use this holiday as a vehicle to usher in the winter season and get ready for the holidays. Little thought is given to the day’s true meaning.

For me the meaning and importance of this day can be found in the lines of a poem written by a Canadian army captain serving in a small field hospital near Flanders, Belgium in 1915. He stepped outside the confines of the hospital and gazed upon the disheveled countryside littered with freshly covered graves of so many soldiers and within five minutes scribbled down the now famous words of “In Flanders Fields.”

The last verse, reads,

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies

Grow, in Flanders Fields.”

The verse clearly expresses the tragic human experience and consequences of bitter conflict and the price often paid by those, who step forward to defend a nation’s way of life. The verse is often omitted when read in public because it suggests a controversial demand to uphold the honor of the fallen. I, however, see the fallen soldiers calling me to remember my duty to take personal responsibility to sacrifice, to do my part to ensure that my country’s liberties, its values, and its mores remain intact for all to enjoy.

In doing so I affirm the tenant that freedom’s price is eternal vigilance; that it is every citizen’s civic responsibility to sacrifice, to maintain our liberties through proactive engagement with our communities, state, and nation.

It’s not important how we assume this responsibility, only that we do accept the responsibility. I, and many fellow Oregonians, choose to take responsibility by serving in the armed forces. We serve our nation, states, and communities in times of war, in times of natural disaster, and civil strife.

Others may choose a different path to follow in an effort to sustain our liberties. It matters not what path is taken only that we make the conscious decision to take the steps and stay the course.

Thomas Paine wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” The veteran has chosen to fight to secure freedom, however its maintenance is a shared community responsibility in which every citizen must participate.

We must personally sacrifice, by engaging in and supporting community activities if we are to maintain our freedoms. In light of this country’s current circumstances I believe it’s time for everyone to make a commitment to take personal responsibility, make sacrifices to help develop our communities’ health and sustain their well-being.

In doing so we take up the quarrel with the foe, the foe of indifference, the foe of ignorance, the foe of apathy and neglect. In effect we take up the torch dropped on Flanders Fields, dropped on the sands of Iwo Jima, dropped in the jungles of Vietnam and in the deserts of Iraq by those who gave their full measure so that we should remain free.

If we accept the mantle of responsibility and sacrifice just a little, the fallen will continue to sleep where poppies grow.


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