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Import of holiday brightly illuminated

Moonlit flag inspires musing on meaning of freedom

It was dark as I left the house before dawn to head across town to exercise at a local high school. I made a turn to the southwest and suddenly saw a perfect full moon shining like a beacon, a perfect sphere of brilliant radiance like nothing I’ve ever seen in my half-century of roaming this spinning globe. I could see every crater, every feature of the surface, and it seemed so close I felt I could reach out the window and cup it in my hand.

I started thinking about the things that connect us. Not Facebook or Twitter, those fleeting electrons of transient trivia, but the things that universally connect us all. As I arrived at the high school, the American flag was standing at full salute in the face of a gentle breeze, and just for a split second, as I drove past, the moon aligned itself behind Old Glory, making the flag glow with a beautiful backlight in the darkness just before dawn.

That’s when it occurred to me that we are entering the Memorial Day weekend, the time we set aside to remember and revere all the brave Americans who gave their lives in the defense of you and me. And the moon made me feel connected to them, from Lexington to Gettysburg, from Europe, Africa, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and remote Pacific islands we’ve never heard of, where brave men and women have fallen in valor, defending our country.

The quest for peace is a part of the human condition, but so is war. Peace is purchased with bravery, blood and the lives of young men and women who fall in battle.

I thought about the moon, shining on their graves wherever they lay, and the connection between their sacrifice and the peace and tranquility I was enjoying on a morning in spring.

As I left, students were arriving for school, no doubt excited about the end of the year and the thrills of summer that lie ahead. Many are graduating and thinking about their future. Some will go to work, some off to college, some will begin raising families, others will form a new generation of heroes dedicated to the defense of you and me, doing our fighting for us.

Looking at some of those kids, perhaps 18 years old, I thought about the hundreds of thousands who gave their lives at that same tender age in some Godforsaken field fighting in some Godforsaken battle. They had dreams too but sacrificed them for a cause larger than themselves. We who enjoy the peace and the opportunity to live and pursue our dreams should share our gratitude for all veterans and servicemen who have raised their hand to take the military oath, in that moment vowing to lay down their life if duty demands it.

And on this weekend, we commemorate those who gave the ultimate gift. To every fallen fighter, and to every family that has lost a son or daughter or sibling, we owe a debt that simply cannot be repaid by those of us who live to enjoy the peace. Words are inadequate, but words and thoughts are all we have to recognize that we live the way we do because they died the way they did. The only words that seem suitable are: “Thank you: We shall never forget.”

So on this Memorial Day weekend, may a brilliant sun shine on their graves and a full moon illuminate their nights.

Steve Cebalt is a Fort Wayne resident. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.