Reflections on a War Memorial Dedication

On Saturday, I attended the dedication of the Peoria World War I and II Memorial, commemorating those from the Peoria area who died in those wars. It was a rainy day, so I was surprised at the large turnout. A co-worker of mine who is a Vietnam veteran invited me to go, and we had opportunity to chat a bit afterwards about some of his experiences in that war.

It was a standard political ceremony. In other words, it was partly boring, partly interesting, and partly emotional. I wasn’t even living in Peoria when the planning started for this monument, so I don’t really know the people who were being recognized for their work on this project. At the same time, these people did do a lot of work to get this monument in place, so it’s proper for them to be recognized.

The Peoria County Sheriff Department’s Drill Team was on hand. As part of the ceremony, they did some drilling. If you’ve never seen something like this, you really should. Imagine juggling with rifles. That’s what I’m talking about. (Here’s a link to the US Navy Presidential Ceremonial Honor Guard so that you can see this being done.)

Of all the men that spoke, General Wayne Downing stood out. He is the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. After his retirement, he was appointed by President Clinton to assess the 1996 attack on the U.S. base at Khobar Towers in Saudia Arabia and, in 2001, was called upon to serve as National Director and Deputy National Security Adviser, reporting to Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. He was born here in Peoria, and he has returned to live here. That’s a pretty heavy hitter for where I live.

He is also the son of a World War II veteran who died in action. I was deeply moved when he spoke of his father’s death, of his mother gathering her family together to tell them that he was not coming home.

At the end of his speech, General Downing invoked Iraq, saying that the troops currently serving there deserve our honor as well. I was also thinking about Iraq as I stood there, so I thought that it would be good to discuss this for a moment.

I’ve been on record in various places as opposing the war in Iraq. But, I want to make clear that this is not because of a lack of respect for the military. Rather, my respect for the military is part of the reason for my opposition to the war. One of the most important ways that we can honor those who go in harm’s way for us is to ensure that we have a just cause for sending them into harm’s way in the first place. Sometimes, you need to fight to protect that which you love. Sometimes, that means that you have to die. But, if it could be avoided without compromise, that would be a far better thing.

To close the event, the master of ceremonies read “In Flanders Field”:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Honor Guard fired a salute.

A trumpeter played “Taps”.

There were tears in my eyes.

When I finally walked away, I thought of this hymn:

Crown him the Lord of peace,
whose power a scepter sways
from pole to pole, that wars may cease,
absorbed in prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end,
and round his pierced feet
fair flowers of paradise extend
their fragrance ever sweet.

One day, the kings of the earth will bow to their King, Jesus Christ. And in that day, He will do away forever with war. There will no longer be war memorials to spur on the living, for there will be no more need. My soul longs for that day.

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