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Every age has honored its soldiers who die in service to their country. The United States is not unique in setting aside a national holiday to commemorate their dead. In American the original date was May 30, 1868, chosen because it was the only day which was not the anniversary of a battle.
My dad was a military man and I grew up on rousing songs and stories of soldiering. He always told me that every veteran, regardless of rank, from colonel to private, was entitled at his death to a full military funeral with the bugle, the gun salute, the whole stirring ceremony.
I was young, and too many of MY friends died needlessly and heedlessly in Vietnam, so I wasn’t much listening to my father. But when he passed away several years ago, Dad received a military service funeral. Family and friends gathered at the grave site, nestled among the lush greenery that only Virginia seems to produce in such lively abundance.
And there they were -- these baby-faced soldiers, cradling their rifles exactly so, protecting the flag-draped coffin until the moment when two other equally baby-faced men removed the flag from the coffin, and with military precision, folded it and handed it to my mother.
When the guns resounded over the beautiful Virginia countryside, I admit that I cried, not just for the loss of my father, but for the twenty-two year old man he’d once been in a foxhole on Iwo Jima -- and for every young soldier throughout history whose ultimate sacrifice ensures freedom for me.
British poet Wilfred Owen wrote a poem during World War I, a line of which is “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” a Latin phrase which means literally “Sweet and proper it is for country to die.”
We may argue with the sentiment of the words, and Owen meant the poem as bitter irony, but I think we agree the world over that a nation’s greatest honors should go to those who serve their country.