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The Guardians

Monday, November 12, 2012

They have kept a rendezvous with death, stiffened their sinews in times of alarm, and made the best of the misery of the battlefield and the tedium of the long watch in wars both hot and cold.

Editor’s note: this article first appeared in THE AMERICAN on November 10, 2010.

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is named. —Shakespeare, King Henry V, 1598.

Remember them.

Give them a thought. Give them your thanks.

They are the Guardians. On land, at sea, and in the air they have been the guardians — of our peace and peace of mind.

They have been the guardians of what we hold dear, of what we enjoy without thought, of the nation, and of the idea that encompasses these things. While we have indulged the luxury of expressing what we think just and justified, while we have pondered the right and wrong of war, they have preserved for us that bubble of security and serenity in which we write and rail and make known our thoughts as a free people.

As the years of our lives have unfolded and a strange imperative geography has elbowed its way into our consciousness with once-unfamiliar names — Bastogne and Tarawa, Schweinfurt and Guadalcanal, Inchon and Danang, and Kuwait and Baghdad — the Guardians have always been there for us at the near ramparts and at the far reaches of the earth.

They have not all been brave, not all virtuous, or wise, or disciplined. They have not all felt the very fire of battle. Indeed, for all those who have winced and curled at the shell’s concussion or survived some hasty heroism in the face of the “rifle’s rapid rattle,” there are many whose service has been in some noisy engine room or at a clerk’s desk or a remote supply depot.

They have served with pride, with extraordinary courage, with a deep sense of duty. They have served with reluctance, with fear, with fateful resignation.

But they have been there.

They have always been where we as a nation needed them.

Yes, they get a little loud sometimes when they’ve had one too many down at the VFW. They look a little embarrassing to some when they try to suck in that paunch while marching with the American Legion on Memorial Day. And sometimes, in splendid detachment, we try to measure their pensions or medical benefits in dollars, totally ignorant of the fact that they must be figured in a dark hard coinage beyond our calculation — a coinage stamped at the cusp of harm and numbered in years lost in a Japanese prison camp or sleepless nights of cold terror on Pork Chop Hill or the hidden scars from that day the Humvee was ambushed in Iraq.

They have kept a rendezvous with death, stiffened their sinews in times of alarm, and made the best of the misery of the battlefield and the tedium of the long watch in wars both hot and cold. And all the while, the precious, irretrievable thing we call “everyday life” streamed unlived out of their lives.

Thank these, the Guardians, for their service and sacrifice. And pray for those who serve now, the new Guardians, who have taken up their positions all over the world. Pray that these men and women, too, may serve and live and one day proudly wear the title “veteran.”

Ralph Kinney Bennett is a contributing writer to THE AMERICAN.

FURTHER READING:  Bennett also writes “Duty and Sacrifice,” “Funny Thing about Christmas,” “Remembering: With Pain, Anger, and Vigilance,” and “Fallen Heroes, Never Forgotten.” Leon R. Kass and Amy Kass explain “The Meaning of Veterans Day.” Sally Satel discusses “The Wrong Way to Help Veterans.” 

Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.

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