It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task
remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to
that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.
Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
A few nights ago, I walked a quiet mile
with hundreds of other service members. It was a clear night in Bagram,
Afghanistan. Although it was late, the birds were singing, perhaps roused by the
unusual occurrence of people walking under their trees at the late hour. Soft
voices broke the solemnity, but no words were discernible. Suddenly, as if on
cue, soldiers, airmen, seamen, marines, broke off the sidewalk and lined the
road, spacing themselves regularly and assuming a position of silent
watchfulness. The honor cordon had formed.
Heads began to turn right as
flashing blue lights appeared far down the road. As the vehicles neared, one by
one, service members assumed the position of attention and rendered the hand
salute. In the back of an open truck sat eight military members, and between
them, at their feet, was a flag draped casket.
As I rendered my salute,
I thought about the fallen soldier. I did not know his name, his unit or his
home. I never saw his face or spoke to his family. I did not know why he
volunteered for the Army or what he was doing when he was killed. But there was
much I did know. I knew he had fought and died in an honorable cause, a cause
that had little to do with our policy on Afghanistan. This soldier had
volunteered to put his very life on the line in service to his nation and his
brothers-in-arms. I see no more honorable cause that that.
In a column,
Mr. Putney has again raised the debate about the sacrifice of America's "sons
and daughters" in uniform. Some have argued that we must continue the fight to
honor their memory "so that they have not died in vain." Others argue we must
stop the wars to save soldiers from this fate. I think an essential
understanding of what motivates those of us in uniform is missing in this
We are not your sons and daughters, whom you must protect and
defend. We are your sword and your shield. We are men and women who volunteer to
place our lives on the line so you do not have to. We do not decide when or
where we will be sent. We go. You are our advocates, not our parents.
trust you to care for our families, to hold our jobs, pay for our equipment,
salary and medical care and yes, to honor our sacrifice. We trust you to vote
for good political leadership, to speak out against bad policy decisions and to
demand public accountability. However, we do not count on you to explain the
honorable character of our service. We are ennobled by the very fact we serve.
Our "high moral cause" is one of service to a nation whose principles we
believe in. We miss the point of political debate when we distill it down to
numbers of service member deaths. Debate should be about the policy that leads
us in or pulls us out of war. I, as a soldier, am personally insulted when
debate about war becomes not about policy, but about deaths, because it implies
that my service is at best uninformed or ill-conceived, and at worst valueless.
I know my life is in the hands of others because I choose for it to be
that way. I am not your daughter, a child who must be guided. I have made my
choice and pledge my honor to it. I will thank you to remember that because we
serve our nation, none of us dies in vain, regardless of the cause; end of
Every day a new Marine enlists or an airman puts on her uniform
is a reminder that our defenders come from people who still believe in our
nation and the values it aspires to, as flawed as we sometimes are. War does not
make our sacrifice honorable, death does not make our service honorable; service
itself is our honor.
We, your American service members, do not see the
cause for which we may give our last full measure of devotion, as our nation's
goals in Iraq or Afghanistan, and perhaps that is the difference. Our cause is
our nation, in all her beautiful, imperfect glory.
So on a dark night in
Afghanistan we stood under a velvet sky of a million stars to honor one man who
lay under 50. We never doubted what he died for. Pfc. Patrick A. Devoe II died
for you, the United States of America. That, Mr. Putney, is no goof.
Sarah Albrycht is a Bennington native serving in the Army in
Sunday, November 15, 2009
'. . .because we serve. .. none of us dies in vain. . '
I'd like to continue to honor veterans and Veteran's Day for a while longer. Below, reproduced in its entirety, is an article I came across back in the spring on Blackfive's website. The author, Sara Albrycht, gives a straightforward account of patriotism and military service and why some people, like herself, choose military service. All those who want to save our soldiers from themselves should take her words to heart. She's apparently responding to an article written in her hometown newspaper.