(The following is a Memorial Day piece I wrote for Big Peace in 2009. I usually repost it every Memorial Day, but not this year, so here it is for Veteran's Day instead)
My father Roger E. Tapson, a former United States Army Staff Sergeant and veteran of World War II, died five years ago and was buried near a small lake in the rolling, pastoral grounds of the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery alongside thousands of other veterans - their names, as poet Stephen Spender might say, "feted by the waving grass, and by the streamers of white cloud, and whispers of wind in the listening sky, the names of those who…left the vivid air signed with their honor." It’s exactly the kind of place my dad would have described – without a hint of Oprah-fied, feminized, New Age devaluation of the word – as “spiritual.” It was the way I once heard him describe a still, brisk, early autumn morning on a gorgeously wooded golf course, his favorite place to be.
Spiritual indeed, but not in the same degree or kind as "civilian” burial grounds. Not to diminish the final resting place of anyone interred in the latter; but to stand in a military cemetery among the unadorned, uniform white markers that stretch out in precise rows like an army-in-waiting, is to feel a spiritually heightened quality to your surroundings that demands humility, gratitude, and a more solemn reverence. The “vivid air” of a military cemetery is undeniably suffused with something extra, because it’s not merely a graveyard, but a memorial to qualities that constitute the best of humanity – honor, courage, dignity, service and sacrifice – and to warriors who once embodied them. Their grave markers stand as a challenge to those of us who remain.
And that makes us all the more fortunate that there are those who can and do rise to that challenge, on front lines around the world. It takes a special American to embrace that responsibility and earn a uniform of the United States armed forces, and it takes a special family – warriors too in their own way (“they also serve who only stand and wait,” as John Milton wrote) – to support their loved one from the home front.
I was too young for the Vietnam War draft, and when I did come of age I was much more interested in playing guitar in a rock band than having my hair shaved off and being yelled at by a drill sergeant. Today, when
is engaged in an epic clash with worldwide jihad, in addition to
facing threats from thuggish dictators to Central American drug armies
to a re-emergent America ,
I’m frustrated and deeply regretful that I never served, and that the only way
I can now contribute to the fight is through my writing. Russia
Is the pen mightier than the sword? It sure doesn't feel like it – it’s pretty obvious which one I’d rather have in a fight – but the pen is what I'm stuck with. Meanwhile I'm grateful and humbled that the men and women of the
military have the
rare and noble qualities it takes to be the sword between me and United States ’s