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Mary Crigger: Pause to honor veterans' service, sacrifice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On this Veterans Day, I think back on where I spent this solemn holiday a decade ago.

My son was a plebe, in his first year at West Point. My husband and I bought tickets for the Army-Air Force football game and looked forward to a three-day weekend visiting our cadet. It was indeed a wonderful weekend spent with our son at his rockbound highland home above the Hudson.

At some point during the weekend, we ended up at the Old Cadet Chapel, which is right inside the entrance to the West Point Cemetery. It is a striking building, made of granite, just like most buildings at West Point. A series of imposing white columns stands guard at the chapel entrance. We wandered inside the chapel, walking carefully on the crimson carpet. We even found the plaque originally intended to honor Benedict Arnold's bravery, but whose etched name has been rubbed away over the years by those disgusted by his later deceit and treason.

And then the three of us silently walked the West Point Cemetery, our son in his gray cadet uniform. I noticed how the shade of gray of his uniform was the color of the Old Cadet Chapel's granite facade, and the color of many of the headstones surrounding us. The headstones were a veritable history book: Gens. Westmoreland, Scott, Goethals, Clay. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Seventeen Medal of Honor recipients. On that day, the veterans who fought in long-ago wars were at rest. We should remember them, and pause to honor their service and sacrifice.

Section 36 did not yet exist.

It is here, in Section 36, where West Point graduates who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. My son knew several of these young men and women whose lives ended at far too young an age, before their dreams were realized or their potential expended. We should remember them, and pause to honor their service and sacrifice.

The defense of this country is a somber and serious business. In generations past, this responsibility was accepted by many. Today, that responsibility is accepted and borne by few. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military. We should remember them, and pause to honor their service and sacrifice.

I know as a nation we are tired of war. Eleven years is a lot of war, especially if you fight in it. As we go about the daily activities of our lives, the cycle of deployments to hostile lands continues for our men and women serving in the military. Are we as civilians unintentionally allowing ourselves to become more disconnected from our brothers and sisters who wear the uniform because we are tired of war? I hope not, but yet it is a possibility.

A decade ago, as I wandered West Point's cemetery, I was in awe of the somber history surrounding me. Ten years later, I am in awe of the young men and women in this country who continue to step forward and choose to serve in America's military as enlisted or officers. They are all members of a distinct and exceptional group. They are veterans. We should remember them, and pause to honor their service and sacrifice.

Mary Crigger lives in Charleston and may be emailed at mcrig5@aol.com.


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