By Mark Lehman, Riverbend wRiters
Last weekend an airline flight delay leaving Washington D.C. gave me a couple of rare free hours. I could choose to see new monuments, a museum, or just visit favorite landmarks in this wonderful and uniquely American city. I opted for Arlington National Cemetery.
I have been to this historic landmark numerous times and I have always been emotionally impacted by the scene of 624 acres of rolling hills marked with over 400,000 white grave markers of American soldiers. This trip was especially impacting as preparations were underway for Memorial Day remembrances. Volunteers were already positioning crates of small American Flags around the property so that other volunteers can place them on each grave as a Memorial Day tradition.
Memorial Day is a time we as a nation honor Americans who died in military service. Unfortunately, the real purpose of this day seems to get lost among announcements of super blowout sales at the local mall and the bedlam associated with the start of summer vacations.
In my shoebox files is a large envelope of letters titled “Norvin Davis letters”. Previously, I only knew that I had a second cousin named Norvin who died in World War II at the age of 22. But from these letters I learned about his dreams, his philosophy about his own death, how he died, and why he was honored to make the ultimate sacrifice if necessary.
At West Point his classmates nicknamed him “Smiley” and he was considered the ultimate optimist and team leader. He loved to fish, was an avid horseman, and signed up for every volunteer military competition with his fellow cadets. He and his roommate, “Saint”, took early graduation to enter the war effort where Saint went to the European theatre and Norvin to the Pacific. The letters passed between them as fast as time and distance would permit.
I learned my cousin dreamed of getting married and starting a family. But he did have his priorities and the first thing he was going to do when the war was over was get his “very own big yellow dog.” In one of the last letters to Saint, he wrote of dying: “I am not afraid of dying, but the hard part is knowing the ones I love will suffer.” He would have been comforted knowing his academy classmates and the entire squadron he commanded devoted much of their post-war lives to comforting my aunt and uncle with calls, personal visits and all those letters.
Lieutenant Norvin Davis – 1921 -1945
In one condolence letter, Lt. Gen. O.W. Griswold, Commander of the XIV Corps, wrote fondly of Norvin, concluding the letter by saying: “I have no doubt we will win this war. What concerns us all after that is whether the people themselves can win and keep the peace. If this can be done I feel that our American boys who fell in battle will have as their memorial the greatest monument ever built by the human race.”
I am grateful these letters were preserved as an important part of my family and our nation’s history. Philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Therefore, it is vital to the future of our nation that we take time on Memorial Day to remember all soldiers who died in military service. They shaped our national history. Most importantly – we cannot just honor our dead – we must learn from them. The future of this great nation depends on it.