I believe in ritual. Just as the larger Christian church and other religions believe that rituals tie the modern observances to their ancient foundations, I also believe that common physical acts, such as communion, tie the living and current to the ancient and past.
As a citizen and a soldier I asked myself last Memorial Day, having recently returned from Iraq, “What is that uniquely American ritual that ties us to the foundation of our nation?” After all, flag protocol and how we treat the American Flag has changed much over time; different formalities having come and gone since 1776. The National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance have only been around since the 20th Century. Delivering a speech at the Memorial Day observance in Duncanville, Texas, I finally arrived at an answer while the roll call of service was being performed by the local VFW chapter. As the bell tolled for the lost and the living, I determined that what ties us to those we memorialized on that day is that unwavering American ability see the need; overcome fear, ignorance, and prejudice; and brave great personal risk and danger to meet that need. Self Sacrifice in the form of organized volunteerism, and voluntary military service are uniquely western and American traditions. Far beyond even the worst mistakes we might make as a nation, the continuing impact of our export of these traditions to the rest of the world will prevail in importance.
Our willingness to give of ourselves, even up to the ultimate sacrifice, for our countrymen and allies, is the Common Thread. Self Sacrifice is the American communion. But it is not just that young man or woman who joins the military service and gives all. It is about that young man or woman who joins the Peace Corps or Americorps. It is about the mentor and the local volunteer. It is about those veterans who continue to give of themselves to make a better country by volunteering and supporting programs such as the VFW Children’s Home. It is and should be about all of us who go out with a renewed energy and vigor from a Memorial Day observance, and continue to ensure that a living thread ties us in honor to those we memorialize and revere for their selfless service in every field since the founding of our nation.
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