The stories of the fallen must have just hit me wrong. I was stranded in a hotel lobby in Munich surrounded by people speaking Italian and French. We were all idly watching CNN’s coverage of the tenth anniversary of the war in Iraq -- virtually ignored in the U.S.
CNN featured different art projects designed to note the cost of war. There was a photographer who took pictures of Dutch soldiers before, during and after their deployments. The young men aged like presidents.
Then there was a story of an artist in Portland, Ore., who created a 12.5 mile long drawing of the 4498 international coalition forces that died in Iraq. The names were drawn with chalk on the sidewalk.
“The names and dates no longer exist,” noted artist Nancy Hiss. “All washed away by rain. The people are gone, the names are gone.”
Maybe there is something profound in that. I think profundity (and publicity?) was the intention. I don't know. There must be something wrong with me because I just don’t think those kind of projects put together by people virtually untouched by war make much of a difference. How can coloring in the big bubble-lettered name of a person you don’t know mean much?
Instead, I am much more affected by any Gold Star Wife just living her life. This Friday, April 5 is Gold Star Wives Day. The Gold Star Wives of America is a group is an organization of widows and widowers whose spouses died while on active duty in the military services or as the result of a military service connected cause.
In honor of the worldwide event, one of their Facebook pages asked Gold Star Wives to share a picture and tell something about their fallen warrior.
The stories are nothing elaborate. They aren’t dramatic. The guys don’t look like movie stars. The widows don’t look like widows. This isn’t art. And it isn’t intended to be.
Instead these are just stories of people who met in high school. These are stories of guys who saw their babies for exactly 18 days before they died. These are stories of people who think about and talk about their fallen servicemembers every day.
Reading their accounts makes me realize that the problem with the fallen is that they are only fallen. They do not disappear. They do not wash away like names on a sidewalk.
Instead these Gold Star Wives and husbands demonstrate to all of us what it means to carry that servicemember with you always. Once a year we are reminded what it means when someone’s name is etched on your soul. Once a year they share with us how it is the happy memories of their servicemember that last longest.
That is something so worth remembering. It is not as polished as an art project. Not quite big enough for CNN. But it makes me profoundly aware of all those men and women in uniform that we have lost to war. And so grateful to all those Gold Star Wives who keep moving forward.