Springtime's breezes stir more flags above American military graves today than they did last Memorial Day. The price of freedom -- in America, in Iraq -- has been paid yet again.
In the silences between today's patriotic salutes, the playing of taps and rifle volleys, new names are whispered by the heart. Hear them:
Pfc. Tomorio Burkett, 21, killed in action with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade on March 23 near Nasiriya, Iraq; a young man who loved his family, enjoyed comic books, and wondered how God might judge him if he were called upon to kill. Buffalo grieves for him . . .
Lance Cpl. Eric Orlowski, 26, of the 22nd Infantry, killed in a combat accident on March 22, leaving a young family in West Seneca. A child grieves for him -- as do we all . . .
There are more. There are, in fact, 180 new names carried on the wind of memory this Memorial Day, coalition force soldiers, Marines and airmen killed in the ending of yet another tyrannical regime and the liberation of Iraq. Some of them are British men, but 146 are Americans. Hear them:
Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a young woman from Tuba City, Arizona, who spilled Native American blood on the sands of Iraq when her Army supply convoy was ambushed near Nasiriya on March 23, in the same roil of war that claimed Orlowski and Burkett on those bloody springtime days . . .
Chief Warrant Officer Hans Gukeisen, 31, of Lead, S.D., whose 3rd Armored Cavalry medevac helicopter hit a telephone line and crashed into the Tigris River near Samarra just over two weeks ago, during an ultimately successful mission to save an Iraqi child injured in an explosion . . .
The red in the flags that mark their graves today has come to stand for blood and sacrifice, but the real meaning -- assigned originally to the colors of the Great Seal of the United States, not directly to the Stars and Stripes -- is hardiness and valor. Like the white of pure intentions and the blue of vigilance, though, it does whisper of both their sacrifices and of the price they paid on our behalf.
This war demanded fewer such sacrifices than others. The flags wave today over thousands upon thousands of graves, and the names carried on the wind are legion. From the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, from the Mexican to the Spanish-American Wars, from the nation-rending tragedies and triumphs of the Civil War to the world-redeeming sacrifices of two World Wars and the bitter battlefields of Korea and Vietnam, from the silent but steady toll of the Cold War to the heat and lightning of the first gulf war, payment for liberty has been made.
This war added only a relative handful of names to the roll of sacrifice and honor. But that does little to ease the pain of families left behind, the latest to whisper a name in sorrow. Hear them:
Capt. Eric Das, 30, of Amarillo, Texas, a 333rd Fighter Squadron pilot whose jet was shot down over Iraq on April 7 . . .
Lance Cpl. Alan Dinh Lam, 19, of Snow Camp, N.C., killed in a firing range accident with the 2nd Marines near Kut on April 22 . . .
Spec. Donald Oaks Jr., 20, of Erie, Pa., killed in action on April 3 with the 13th Field Artillery . . .
2nd Lt. Therrel Childers, 30, of Harrison, Miss., lost with the 5th Marines in southern Iraq on March 21 . . .
The names whisper on. Amid the current chaos and the struggle to rebuild an Iraq that has suffered its own burden of pain both in war and decades of atrocities, the American toll is only dimly heard. In time, though, Iraqis, too, will remember those who gave them a gift of hope at the cost of their own.
Until then, and beyond, the burden of memory is ours. And so is the pride.
Today is Memorial Day.
Pause. Remember. Listen.