By James M. Decker
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13
It would be impossible to write an essay that premieres near Memorial Day, an essay whose general topic is service to community, and not talk about the sacrifice and the service of those who are honored on Memorial Day.
Over the years, I have noticed the lines between Memorial Day and Veterans Day become more blurred, with both being treated as opportunities to honor our veterans and active-duty servicemen and servicewomen. As our Vietnam veterans grow older and as the number of living World War II veterans rapidly shrinks (in 2017, it was estimated that only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served were still living), it’s hard to not take available opportunities to honor those who answered the call and put themselves in harm’s way, even when the odds were bleak or when it was not popular to do so.
But with that said, I hope that we never lose sight of the original purpose of Memorial Day, to specifically honor those who died in the line of service, those who answered the call of John 15:13 and laid down their life for their friends. I stopped by Stamford’s war memorial on the post office lawn in the middle of the downtown square, to think about this a bit. This memorial is a collection of stone monuments that honor the men and women of the area who served in each war, from the Spanish-American War on to Operation Desert Storm. A separate monument stands for each conflict, and each monument lists those who served and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Over the years, I have considered what life might have been like and how I would have reacted if I had grown up in a wartime era such as the War Between the States, World War I, or World War II. Those thought exercises include hopefulness that I would have expressed the same level of honor and courage as my forefathers, along with great thankfulness for the men and women who DID answer the call, whose lives were inexorably changed by their duty, who created peace in the world so that my generation was not caught up in such a massive conflict.
And then, I think about the duty of service. Some of our forefathers laid down their lives, but all who served gave a piece of their lives to the proposition of a larger calling, to ideas that would create a better, safer, more prosperous world for all. Not all of us are sent to the Argonne Forest or to Iwo Jima, but all of us are called to serve in ways that we are equipped and in the places where friends, family, community, and country might need us. May we examine our lives and ask ourselves how we, too, can answer the larger callings that rest upon our rural communities and our country in 2019, to dedicate our life for our friends.
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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.