My great-great-grandfather, Arthur Lettington, was lost in WW1. His sons fought in WW2, including my great-grandfather George. I was brought up to understand the importance of those sacrifices, and respect them – every day – but no more so than on November 11. Please, use this day to remember and reflect, and to appreciate and thank all those who have served in our names. I hope the following has some relevance.
I have, quite thankfully, never been to war. I have never had to question the value of my own life over that of a complete stranger, or rationalize the deaths of others for the sake of abstract concepts like Freedom or Patriotism or the indecipherable motives of politics.
Thankfully for all of us, some have. My own great-grandfather was killed in WWI, a 45 year-old man who had spent most of his life in the service of Queen and Country. Even after he had left the Royal West Kent regiment, after a long career in England and abroad; after he had started a family and moved across the world to Canada, he volunteered and re-enlisted to protect his motherland when England went to war. He died of horrific injuries sustained – not while hurling bullets or blasting the countryside as we are so inured to imagine by movies and TV – but while repairing a bridge to allow ambulances through to the front. His crew was obliterated from thousands of feet above by German bombers. He was buried a few miles away in the town of Vlamertinghe, Belgium. He died, and now rests, worlds away from any family or any other life he knew outside of the chaos of war.
Most likely none of his immediate family was ever able to make pilgrimage to visit his grave. His wife and his children didn’t even know he was gone until months later. His loss was one of over 17 million. Millions of devastated families, widowed wives, lost and broken children. These men and women didn’t die for some great adventure, or in pursuit of glory and heroic acclaim. They did it for those same families that were left behind. They did it for their countries, who asked them to sacrifice everything to protect the things we believe in, to preserve our idea of humanity and hope for a better tomorrow. They did it for YOU. More than reason enough to keep the memory of our past, present and future soldiers in mind – not just today – but every day.
It saddens me deeply that, in our callous and self-involved culture, the tradition and keeping of Remembrance has gone far by the wayside. Here in my own home and native land, it is still technically a statutory holiday, but most companies (my current employer included) use it as a loophole to get an extra day off at Christmas. Many who do take the 11th of November off of work, spend it like any Saturday of the year, shopping in malls that should be closed, lunching in restaurants that should be dark, or watching reruns of Maury exploiting one more trailer park babymama.
Here is my one tiny request of all of you. What could be more important than millions of lives, bled out in mud and barbed wire, wrought into flame and explosions of flesh, sent cold and alone to the bottom of every ocean – lives that were given to service YOUR freedom and frivolity – what could honestly be more important to remember? Your license plate number? Your Yahoo password? What day some new game hits the shelf at the Wal-Mart? Who was voted off of Dancing With The Stars? How many snowflakes are on a fucking coffee cup?
If you can’t be bothered to keep it in your mind, or in your heart, every day, or even for one measly day out of the year… Take that one minute. ONE out of half a million minutes in the year. Take that one minute and think about some poor 20 year-old kid… thousands of miles from home, scared, alone and dying in the middle of a man-made Hell on Earth. Think about that kid for one single goddamn minute. Imagine it was your kid. Imagine it was YOU. And then appreciate every little thing you have in this life, because we ALL owe it to that kid and a million more like him that did what they thought was right to keep their own families safe. They are still out there. In Afghanistan and Iraq and all over this troubled planet, our children, our brothers and sisters, even our parents are out there doing what they think is right. And not just our families. You may not agree with, or understand these vague conceptions of enemies, on the other side of the world, but they have children, wives, grandmothers. They have innocent bodies piled in their streets. Children scream, and burn and twist away from the horrors of war in a hundred ravaged countries that they didn’t choose to be stuck in.
I think that’s worth remembering. It’s worth internalizing and contemplating, for at least one minute a year.
- Axel Howerton