I am bankrupt.

I can never repay the debt.

What these men – and women – sacrificed is beyond my ability to restore to them. Indeed, it is without any doubt beyond my ability to comprehend what they gave up, what they lost, what was taken from them, and what they gave.

My wife’s father is seen here with his pipe.

He manned a waist gun in “Nemo”, a bomber in the European Theatre during World War II.

Cotton, as he was called for his blond hair and complexion, gave up his young life. It could have been high above Germany on any of 25 missions. (He was wounded, in flight, and received a purple heart for that.)

It could have been during a desperate landing attempt at some English-countryside field. Their plane was damaged from flak and fighter attack several times.

Or it could have been in a shelter during a bomb attack at his airfield in England. If their field was within reach of their targets in Germany, then the bombers in Germany could reach their fields. And did, many times over.

Perhaps it is ironic that Cotton was killed by accident.

In the United States.

While on leave.

He dove into a lake, hit a submerged stump, and broke his neck.

But, does it really matter how he died after surviving all those horrors of war?

Cotton was at the lake trying to cram–in a few small days–the joy, freedom, and innocence he’d lost. Temporarily returned for a brief release to the sane world of automobiles, Sunday school, weekends and the comparatively carefree life, we can only imagine the desperation, the longing he felt, that he tried to recapture for a few hours.

Cotton’s life was sacrificed for us. It doesn’t matter whether it was at 15,000 feet over Germany struck by a piece of shrapnel or because he struck an underwater stump when diving into a lake.

So I try to remember on this Memorial Day those whose lives were lost as a direct consequence of the many wars, “police actions,” or simply from manning the lines, and not just from enemy-inflicted physical injuries, but also from “shell shock” or from the escape from what they endured into alcohol, or from the decades of life spent in wheel chairs, veteran’s hospitals, or in a back bedroom supported by a family who struggled to fulfill their needs, or whose future days hold little more hope than for a cardboard bed beneath some underpass.

Their lives, not just those of the dead, were sacrificed for us.

They gave up their futures, their chances for lives like those we now live but for which we, by comparison, have practically no basis for appreciating.

Our debt is so profound, so far beyond the words “Thank you,” that I can only …


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