Yesterday morning my family and I had the honor of touring the World War II Memorial on its inaugural Memorial Day. As we expected, the site was crowded and its stone already adorned with faded pictures and old letters, wreaths, ribbons, and spangled flags in memoriam. But most importantly, and arguably the best reason my wife gave for taking our two young sons out in the dampening rain on opening weekend, the Memorial was decorated with the living remnant of that conflict, giving us the opportunity to thank those men personally. Whatever we may think of the new Memorial itself, its architecture and its locus, nothing could detract from the privilege of walking among those heroes and shaking their aged hands.
I will forever remember yesterday morning as the day I tried, as best I could, to explain the sacrifice of war to my three-year-old son. I had told him that we were going to a serious place, a sad place, and that anything less than his best behavior would come with dire consequences. Upon arrival, we met a man with "D-Day, June 6 1944 Veteran" emblazoned across his baseball cap. I thanked him for his service and he graciously bent down to talk to my son. My son shook his hand and, at my prompting, said thank you to the elderly veteran. As the man walked away, I began a surreal kind of history lesson, explaining to my boy that the old man had been very brave and that many of his friends had died. "Why did his friends die?" he asked, prompting a short lesson in war-theory that I doubted he’d ever understand. But my answer to his question was considered and distilled all the way back to our room, and when I asked him in the elevator why he had said thank you to that old grandpa, he paused only slightly before saying, "Because his friends died and made us free."
An answer I will never let him forget, and
yet another blessing from the greatest generation to my own.