The maxim “There but for the grace of God” frequently comes to mind when we escape some predicament or calamity because of a fortunate turn of events. After all, grace is a freely given and unmerited gift from God.

If the IED with the copper warhead had struck my HMMV 12 inches higher, then my worldly journey would have ended in Iraq in 2007. Grace? For sure.

But what about those who fell in battle? What about their need for grace on the day that they gave their “full measure of devotion?” More importantly, did their sacrifice mean anything?

For those who have served in uniform, the answer is an intuitive yes. On a personal level, to have not let your buddy down is more than sufficient to justify any sacrifice and a grace freely given.

But wars are fought on a national scale and sometimes it is difficult to recognize how individual valor regardless of its magnitude translates into a blow for the larger cause of freedom.

During a two week tour of faith-based programs in Romania, I was asked one Sunday to give the message at a local church. Sitting in front, I scanned the many faces of the elders of the congregation. During their nearly 50 years under Nazi and Communist tyranny, they were the saints who had kept the faith alive despite persecution and martyrdom. They were soldiers in their own right, yet without uniforms or any weapons other than their faith.

I remembered the words of a local grandfather who told me he knew the Americans would always come. With those few words he validated all the efforts of those men and women in uniform who manned their posts.

Whether they chased Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic or the broad Pacific; endured the harsh weather during to deployments ranging from Korea to Germany; fought in Vietnam, the Caribbean and Central America; or stood alert in missile fields and on air bases, they were the sentinels of freedom. People were watching and given heart by all these American warriors who came to see very quickly that the Cold War was cold in name only.

As I stood at the podium in Romania, I spoke for all of us who fought and defeated the Communists: We came as fast as we could.

Shortly before Ronald Reagan joined the Army at the start of World War II, he wrote in a magazine “that along with a few million other guys I feel pretty strong about my country. As for believing what you are doing is important — well, if fighting to preserve the United States … isn’t important, you name it.”

More than 70 years later, his words still ring true for those who fight for America … and die for her. If anything, our armed forces today not only shoulder the responsibility of protecting our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic, but also of representing the beacon of freedom. For if not us, America, then who will carry this torch?

This Memorial Day, the headstones, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, challenge “us the living (to dedicate ourselves) to the great task remaining before us — that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led the military effort after Hurricane Katrina, perhaps said it best for our times: “To be born free is an accident; to die free is a privilege; to live free is a responsibility.”

By their valor of serving and in many cases dying for our country, each of our honored dead gave us the gift of grace — a gift that was both freely given and unmerited. We should accord it with the dignity and reverence that it was given and, above all, not take it for granted.

Mike Boyce of east Cobb is a retired U.S. Marine colonel.


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